Every artist or craftsperson has thoughts of their own studio workshop from the first time they get serious about whatever medium they are working in. Many end up using a portion of their living area, but that limits what you can do. You have to think about noise, dust, chemical smells, fire safety, and many other things.
You can’t really start up power tools in an apartment nor can you use oil paints in your painting as the turpentine will start to waft down the hall eventually. I have had people let me use their studios over the years, and it was great. But a borrowed studio is never yours, and you can’t make changes to their set-up.
I have built and leased several spaces over the years to work in, and they were never just what I wanted. I can remember back in the Fine Arts Program at Arizona State, I started doing little sketches of the shop I would want some day and over the years I kept thinking about it. As my worked changed, so did the sketches. One thing I came to realize – no matter how big a space you had, you would fill it up.
Just before I left Northern Minnesota to move to North Florida, I built a roll top desk for a man, and that is a pretty complicated project. So, as I worked on it, I set aside every tool or clamp on one side of my shop. When I left, I took everything I used and sold the rest. When I got to Tallahassee, I rented a 20×70 foot space in the Railroad Square Art Park. At first, I had plenty of space. It took only about three years to fill that right up.
In 2009, when Wanda and I moved to rural Madison, Florida, I decided to build my own shop with space for a bit of a showroom for my work. I was in the woods of North Florida and wanted a structure that would blend in with the rural area. In Perry, Florida, in a park there is what they call a Cracker House that was built in the 1870s, and I took a look at that and liked the idea of a building built up off the ground on wood stilts. It would keep airflow under the building, and as I build with wood, I thought the air circulation would help keep the wood from rotting. So I now have MY studio. It is not as big as I want, but it is big as I need. I did have to add a screen porch on one side to sand in, and I expanded the back porch for the table saw as I needed to keep the majority of sawdust outside. The front porch is my gallery and can be closed off with a wide sliding door as can the front and side porches.
Is it crowded? Yes, but not too bad, and I work hard to keep it clean and that helps. Although sometimes it gets to the point that I have to spend a whole day or more putting everything back in its place, and I am forever moving tools around thinking that this is just the right place, but keeping it the same spot gets boring to me, so I know I’ll be moving them around again. The place would probably be more efficient if I didn’t have so many windows, but then why be in the woods if you can’t see them? I have been there long enough that the sounds I make don’t bother the wildlife. I have seen fox and wild pigs and many birds out the window when I am working. It does slow things down when I stop to watch, but that’s OK. Yes, if you are wondering, Florida heat does get bad for about four months a year, and the amount of work I get done suffers, but then it did at forty below in Northern Minnesota. Slow work periods are good for any artist as it gives them time to think about what they want to do next.
My shop looks great, but it is a working shop, and that is different from the woodworking shops you see in woodworking magazines. I don’t spend my time making neat looking cabinets to hold my tools, nor do I line the walls with tools. I make things, and I know where every tool is when I need it. I usually have several projects going at one time so that when something is clamped, and I am waiting for the glue to dry and set, I can be working on something else.
Woodworking is work, and you do get tired of sanding. So it is nice to be able to stop doing that for a while and do a little carving or some cutting on the band saw. Woodworking is work, but if you want to keep doing it for decades, you had better be able to make it fun and even exciting, and that is what I strive to do in my shop.
I have two stools in the shop, and sitting on one of the work benches if fine, too. So, if you happen to be in this neck of the woods, stop in, and we will talk wood, art, wildlife, or gardening, or all of them for a spell.