Advice: Don't ever help an artist move

Given that this is an art blog, I kind of have a thing against posting without pictures. But since it has been a while since I have posted at all, I felt I should give an update and reaffirm my presence in the land of the living. We have moved!   I have spent the last few weeks clearing out, packing up, moving in, and then doing it all over again with the studio. There is so much stuff!! My advice to you, if  you happen to know an artist who is moving, is to steer clear of them and don't come back until the dust settles! Moving an artist is the worst. I am thoroughly over it, mentally, that is. In actuality, though I am still slogging through  boxes, (and boxes and boxes!) and trying to set up a household. I have my eye on the prize though, and  am looking to the future.

I have no studio yet, and I think I can safely presume that this will be the case until at least the fall. That is probably OK since I am still trying to find out where I packed the toaster. But it would be more OK if I could look forward to painting outdoors. But though summer has just begun, it is already so blazing hot outside right now that even the cats are panting in the shade by 10 AM. Hopefully there will be a break in the weather soon.

We have a larger property now,  mostly in full sun. When we bought this place we envisioned building a studio with similar features to the last one, but with ample northern natural  light and in the exact location we desired (which was not the case in the city).

We still may end up doing that, but at present we are actually considering converting the pre-existing garage rather than building an entirely new structure. It is already north-facing, with foundation, electricity, and plumbing intact.  (What's not to love?) It could save us a considerable sum, and If I put my office in the house (and who really needs a formal living room any way?) I would have my own little wing, with a larger studio workspace and an office connected by a short hallway, just through the back door.

So that's where we are right now; mulling it over and consulting contractors. We are looking into a good solution for a "wall of windows" as well as an entry door, some supplemental (artificial) lighting, and some built-ins for storage. If it works out as we imagine it to, it could come together much more quickly and less expensively than the last studio build. Here's hoping, any way!

At first I was resistant to the idea of not having a free- standing office/studio. It was what I was used to, and it served me well for several years. But I am coming around to the idea of having the studio connected to the house, so I can enter it at all hours if I want to, without having to don boots and a parka to do so. I am also liking more and more the idea of a separate office.  I can easily allow myself to be interrupt- driven, and it will be nice to have that extra layer of impulse-control built in.

I posted ad nauseum about my last studio build, and since this will be a different animal, I will try to do the same this time around.  I hope to be posting again soon, too--about painting! And with some pictures to boot! In the meantime, if any of you out there have built a studio from a pre-existing garage and would like to chime in with some advice, I am all ears.

Big change ahead

So this is a bit of a personal announcement, but since it's definitely going to affect my art making ability this spring and summer, it seems worth announcing. We're moving.  The new house is not too far from where we are, but it's out of the city and into the county, to a small college town of Ashland, VA. It's a very cute walkable town with a lot going on, (for a small town) only about 20 minutes from the City of Richmond. This is going to be different for me as I have lived all of my adult life in the city and pretty much have loved it. But it will be a good move, and the new digs will have more space for our family, a bigger yard, good schools, and the kiddo will actually have a place to ride a bike.

What it won't have is a studio, and leaving my current one is kind of breaking my heart. If you've read this blog for any length of time, you will recall my chronicles of building my current studio from the ground-up. I thought it would be my forever studio and I very much doubt we will be able to undertake that kind of elaborate project again any time soon. But the new house does have a garage that I think will be serviceable to convert. No doubt I will be consulting my own blog archives when fixing up the new site for a work space!

Any way, this is all happening pretty fast. What this means for this blog is that if there are some large gaps between posting, I will likely be packing 10 years worth of accumulated "stuff", fixing up the old house for the market, and fixing up the new house for living.  I will have my portable easel at the ready, so I still hope to do a little painting, and even some posting here and there too. Wish me luck!

Happy Thanksgiving! Plus, a little studio tour!

On this eve before Thanksgiving, I feel extremely grateful for the blessings of both my personal and professional life.  To my collectors, past students, and readers of my blog and newsletters, I give my heartfelt thanks. Knowing that people have taken such an interest in my art (and my meandering thoughts about it) does my heart more good than I can adequately express! Happy Thanksgiving to you all! One of the many other things I've been extremely grateful for professionally these past few years, is my studio. Since  I just cleaned it up, I thought it might be nice to show some pictures of how it looks today (now that I have had about 5 years to break it in.)

The last time I posted pictures of my studio, I had only barely moved in. But, while it may have  a little bit more clutter now than it did initially, it is still a "clean, well-lighted space".  It continues to be a place of inspiration for me,  and now for my little daughter as well. And since I've become a mom, I have thanked my lucky stars these last few years that I have my studio within a stone's throw of my back door. Sometimes the only time I have to paint is in the wee hours, so proximity has been key.

Any way, without further ado, on with the tour!

This first shot is more or less the view straight on as I walk in my side door (the main entry door for me as it leads to the house.) Following this path leads me straight back to my painting space, which sits across from that big brown easy chair and the French doors beyond (just out of view to the right). In that far back corner are storage bins (built by the D.H.) for frames and canvas.

Jennifer Young Studio & Gallery

From this spot, looking slightly to the left, you will see the framing table and flat files. That table from Ikea, as well the room divider, hold all of my framing tools and shipping supplies, small canvas and panels, etc. I got the flat files for a song at a thrift store. Luckily it just so happened they fit under the table nearly perfectly.


Directly across from the framing table is my computer desk. I also have more storage for frames, shipping tubes, bubble wrap, etc., in the loft area overhead. Nothing too heavy goes up there, as the only access is by that very tall loft ladder!

Art studio of Jennifer E. Young

Here's another shot of the loft, as well as the "side door" that I use to enter. To the left of this area I have carved out a reading nook. This area has kind of become a little annex for my daughter's arts and crafts, but I still can use it for guest seating when I need to.

Art studio of Jennifer E. Young

art studio of Jennifer E. Young

Moving past the room divider now, we come to my painting area. Being my primary workspace, this side of the studio is a little more about form following function. ;-) The sink sits in the far left corner. The "mini-split" we installed for heating and cooling sits on the wall nearby. It  keeps things nice and comfy. I have another one over the windows of my reading nook. In hindsight I really think I could have gotten away with just one of these units in this space. They are very efficient!

art studio of Jennifer E. Young

So there you have it! The nickel tour. Again, Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I'll be out of pocket for the holiday, but back to posting again by this weekend  Eat well and safe travels!

Happy birthday studio!

It's hard to believe it is already October...I am still trying to figure out where September went. The leaves are starting to turn, so I've spent a good deal of time this week in the garden trying to get some new shrubs in the ground around the studio. Needless to say, I haven't any new paintings to share, so I thought I'd share a slide show of my year-old studio and the even younger gardens. This slideshow is from a web album I created for readers of my email newletter. It shows the development of my studio from groundbreaking to what it looks like today. Blog readers will recognize many of the photos from the studio build because I blogged about the whole process ad nauseum! But here it is easier to see the progression, and the garden pictures are new: 

To page through the album at your own pace (and read the captions) click here. I'm only in my 5th year of gardening, and while there is a great learning curve, it's been fun. I certainly had a blank canvas to work with after the studio went up! Hard to believe the groundbreaking was only about a year ago.

Garden Sentinel

I have always had a thing for these ugly guys:

plein air garden painting by jennifer young

Garden Sentinel Oil on Linen, 20x16" Contact for purchasing info.

Typically you might think of gargoyles peering their gloomy countenances over the edifice of some Medieval cathedral. But there are also garden varieties, and in southern France I enjoyed seeing a number of them lurking in the shadows the private garden nooks and flower beds last year when I happened to pass by on my walks in the countryside.

Throughout the course of the spring, I've been trying to fashion my studio garden with favorite elements from the gardens I've enjoyed during my travels. It's the feeling I'm going for more than any kind of exact replica, but I'm aiming for something of a cross between the gardens of Provence and the Aquitaine and the courtyard gardens of New Orleans and Key West. ( I plan to post some photos of my studio garden soon.)

I painted this piece en plein air in about 2 1/2 sessions. The dappled light changed very quickly in this spot, so I really only had about 1 hour per session . I had to just take note of the time of day and report back at that same time so that I could work with the same lighting conditions. I have been told that my little garden gargoyle is called a "house protector." Dave just calls him Ed.

Happy 4th of July weekend everyone!

"Early Risers, Southern France" (WIP painting complete)

Another milestone... I'm christening this painting as the first studio piece in my new art studio! Since I've made a commitment to myself become an earlier riser lately, I thought this title was appropriate:

southern france landscape painting pastoral by Jennifer Young

"Early Risers, Southern France" Oil on Linen, 24x30

SOLD I shooed away the pig that had wandered in on the left hand side of the painting in the last version and finally got the hang of painting sheep.

french landscape painting by Jennifer Young

I think I'm getting the hang of painting these misty, foggy scenes. They're a lot of fun, as they really challenge you to pay attention to your edges. I've kept almost all of my edges soft and values fairly close together.

landscape painting by Jennifer Young

I also feel that it helped immensely having painting a study of this scene on site. I remember this morning so well. This scene was just a walk up the country road from the old convent where I was staying last year in the Lot Valley. It was very early and mist was rising off of everything. The sun was just trying to poke through and gave everything a lovely cool rose glow. It really was a magical moment!

 I'm off to drawing class this morning but I should have the painting uploaded to my website by this weekend. Note: website has been updated. Click on the image or links above to purchase or for additional information.

French pastoral WIP and art studio WIP, cont'd

The misty painting of the Lot Valley continues....

Lot valley france landscape painting

Still trying to keep things soft, but articulate them at the same time. Today I'm working on the sheep. Meanwhile, I've been told that it's okay to continue my obsessive postings about the new studio ;-) . So here's a little mini tour:

First of all, so much of the furniture in this space came from IKEA that you'd think I had an interest in the company or something (none exists--other than a serious interest in shopping there. ) In fact, we put so many of my "IKEA finds" together that Dave started calling it "I killya" because of how much this stuff weighs. Still, there's no denying that they have some intelligent designs to outfit an office and art studio (and the price is right too!)

Here's a view of my painting area and the sink. At first I was going to go with a regular utility sink and cabinet, until I found the "Udden" sink at IKEA.

artist's studio jennifer young

That sink nearly DID kill us, actually--trying to lift the coordinating cabinet up to screw it into position in it's nifty little slot. For a while after that little ordeal I seriously thought I had nerve damage in my hand (my "painting hand, too!)

Below is a view from my little sitting/library area looking toward the art bins that Dave built for me. There are some more bins on top temporarily, but they will go up in the loft area when we're finished with them. At this writing, we're still working on studio storage, so I'll write more on that in a future post. A bookcase blocks the view, but the sink sits across from the bins, and my main easel stands across from the full-length mirror pictured, so I can check my work in reverese.

artist's studio jennifer young

And now flipping my position, here is a view of my sitting/reading area from beside my art bins (still populating the shelves with my many art books!)

artist's studio jennifer young

I have divided my sitting and office area from the painting/sink area with a large 6 foot room divider with storage cubbies from IKEA's Expedit storage series. I like that it divides the space while still giving me a feeling of openness. What is hard to see is that I've bolted this unit at a right angle to a white bookcase that faces the French doors for added function and stability.

The ladder is actually an old telephone ladder like this one that I bought cheap on Craigslist. We're still working to make it a moving ladder on a track...almost there.

Now we're on the other side of the room divider looking at my table where I do my framing, plein air panel prep, and flat art-mounting. All those little drawers are great for my framing tools and fasteners.

artist's studio jennifer young

In this same "room" sits my office. Can you tell how much I like paperwork? I've rather been avoiding going through my files, but since it's tax season, it's the task before me:

art studio jennifer young

Note those big squares of light from the windows and how far they come into the room. This is why I opted not to have east-facing windows also on my painting side. I will likely put up some kind of sheer window treatment soon to diffuse this light so it won't be so harsh.

Conspicuously absent from these pictures are my paintings that will in future be on the walls and in the bins. We have yet to get them out of my temporary storage space until we have finalized our art storage solutions....but more on that in a future post.

French pastoral WIP and new studio sneak peek

Like everything else these last several months, it has taken longer than I expected to get myself set up in the new studio space. But I love how it has come along; and I'm happy to say that I am at least set up enough where I am working again. I must admit I feel a bit rusty with my painting. At least I've done a little bit of drawing during the chaos, so in that way I have been able to keep my hand in it, so to speak.  But for me, the discipline of painting is a bit like the discipline of physical exercise. It seems to take a while to get "in the flow", but it's oh so easy to get out of shape. (What's up with that?!) The only thing I know to do is just get started and work through the awkwardness.

I thought I'd start up again where I left off--by working on another studio painting based on a plein air study from my trip to the Dordogne. Here is the study:

french countryside plein air painting Jennifer Young

When I originally posted about this piece I called it a "Work-in-Progress", as it was my intention to finish it. But ultimately I would reap greater benefit from it by keeping it as a study. In misty, foggy scenes, the values are so close together and it can be a real challenge to achieve this effect. So even though this is not a "complete" piece, it had a lot of information for me to reference in terms of accurate values and edges captured on site.

Here is the larger piece (24x30") currently under way:

landscape painting of southern France by Jennifer Young

At this point I've kept everything pretty much as flat shapes and used very limited color, as I work out a general pattern and design. I'll need to keep adjusting the values as I know they are stronger than the study overall, but particularly in the middle distance. I also plan to use a lot more paint and more color variations, all the while keeping color subtle and the edges very soft. That's my aim, any way. It was challenging on a small scale and even more-so on a larger one! But I'm game. (I think!)

As for my other "WIP" (my new studio), I do have some more pics to share, as I've begun moving in setting up workstations. But I'll give my readers a break from "construction-speak" and save that for another post. Meanwhile, just a sneak peek at my painting area:

artist's studio setupÂ

Studio building project- the final stretch

My online presence has been a little quiet lately because we are getting down to the "finishing touches" of prepping my new art studio for move-in. After my lights were installed, I finally came to a decision about the color of the walls, and I've spent the majority of my time in the last couple of weeks painting the walls and trim, installing picture moulding, painting more trim, and touching up walls and trim some more.  (Just one more door to go!) Not only am I body-weary, but I am also decision-making weary. So it is a good thing that most of the big decisions are now behind us. I really had a time trying to decide on wall color. I knew I wanted a color (as opposed to white/off-white). But having had yellow walls in my last studio, (great color for the gallery walls, not great for art-making) I also knew I wanted something that was neutral enough so as not to cast the wall color onto my paintings and palette.

While the color that's so popular right now with many portrait painters (mentioned in this previous blog post) was waaay too dark for my taste, I did like the idea of a neutral gray/green. So I decided to start my quest by playing with a sample of the portrait painters' color (Benjamin Moore's "Mohegan Sage", #2138-30) to see if I could figure out the underlying base color by tinting it with a bit of white.

It may look a little more "colorful" on the computer monitor, but the lightest tint was a fairly dead-looking gray. Benjamin Moore lists Mohegan Sage as a "black", and having tinted it I can see why. It probably is a combination of black with just a touch of yellow. It's very rich in its full strength, but none too inspiring in my tinting experiment! Still, tinting up to an almost elephant gray, I couldn't deny that it is a very neutral color, and thought I could use my tinted sample against some other color swatches to find a related color that was both lighter and more inspiring but still neutral for my studio walls.

What I found was a beautiful rich color that seemed to be in line with the darker sage, though perhaps a tiny bit cooler. It's a color called "Storm Cloud Gray" (also by Benjamin Moore, # 2140-40.)

art studio building wall color

While this color is a good deal lighter than the dark sage, I was still a little concerned that it would be too dark. So I decided to use it on just one wall as an accent and do the rest of the walls in an even lighter shade that I also liked-- again a gray green called "Paris Rain," (BM color #1501). Here is the result:

art studio wall color Jennifer Young

Here are the lighter walls running into the deeper accent wall, complete with sleepy husband reporting for cleanup duty last Saturday morning (what a guy!)

art studio wall color Jennifer YOung

I find both of these colors really lovely and pleasing. Sometimes they look more gray, sometimes more green; though in either instance they still remain neutral enough not to overpower.

In the above picture you can also see the picture moulding we installed so that I can hang artwork. Unlike the trim moulding, I decided to paint the picture rail the same color as the walls, both because I wanted to keep the high walls looking "high" and because the picture moulding was fairly plain and nothing special.

Since Dave (and friends) installed both the floors and the trim moulding, I wanted to do all of the painting myself to give the poor man a break. I totally underestimated how much time it would take. I guess it was those high walls that fooled me, but at last it's more or less done and we've had the "SmartBox" delivered (portable storage box). Over the next few we can actually start the process of moving in, assembling furniture, and piecing together my various work stations. This too will take a while (and likely a few more trips to IKEA) but it's actually starting to feel like a real art studio now. I'm excited about the prospect of being in there and getting back to painting again (as in ART) on a regular basis!

The next big challenge will be figuring out some storage solutions that make sense for the new space. Much of that will have to be dealt with after I've gotten my main workstations set up, but I will be sure to blog about it as I go along. Meanwhile, I doubt I'll do much blogging over the next few days, as we will be moving and dismantling my office for a bit.

Frayssinet Village painting- WIP resolved

I have been doing a TON of painting lately!! Unfortunately the painting I'm speaking of involves latex paint and a roller rather than the oil on canvas variety. The good news though is that I'm getting steps closer to finishing the new studio. (I'll post new pics of the paint colors I've chosen soon, once I've finished painting and had a chance to clean up the debris.) The other bit of good news (to me) is that I carved out a bit of time to steal away to my temporary studio space/closet to finish the French village painting I was working on a short while ago. This is yet another painting I will likely try and re-shoot when conditions are better (Note: Mission accomplished!). The color is definitely truer, but the details are lost. (I know I'm sounding like a broken record about my photography woes, but it's a significant frustration that I completely underestimated when I was planning my "interim" period between moves from old studio to new.  I like to get good photos, both high and low res.,  of whatever I paint. It's one reason why I'm not doing the weekly updates to my website that I'm normally accustomed to (in addition to the fact that I'm just not painting as much due to the current construction project.) But since we're dealing with a lot of ice/sleet/rain here in Virginia with  no chance of photographing this outside, I'll quit my whining and post what I have:

vibrant landscape painting French village by Jennifer Young

"Light and Shadow, Frayssinet, France" Oil on Canvas, 24x30" Sold!

As you can see if you compare this to my last version, the main edits were in the focal area concerning the figure. I also decided to shed a considerable number of years from my little lady (if only I could do that in real life.) Grandma looked so tired walking up that hill, so I let her granddaughter take the trek. LOL.

I now consider this painting pretty much resolved to my satisfaction. Thanks to those of you who chimed in on my soliciations for the last round of edits. Whether it's obvious or not, I feel that I took all of your thoughts into consideration, while still holding on to my original intent for the piece. 

By the way, this is the village where I stayed last year during my "artist's retreat" in France, and where I've planned to hold my own retreat/workshop for June. The gateway to the right leads to the courtyard of Le Vieux Couvent, and you can see part of a building on the left (behind the irises.) Sadly, I am now at a point where I'm considering cancelling this trip...or at least postponing until the economy improves. We'll see. More on that when I know more.

All aglow with studio progress!

We've had some delays, but lights have finally been installed in the new studio. We still have to get the final electrical inspection, but I'm really excited as I can now move forward and paint the walls and trim. Then we just need to install the sink and address all the little picky finishing, stuff and then I can move in!  I only had time to take a quick snapshot before I head out for a life drawing session, but here's a sneak peek, with more/better pictures to come: (Note: the ceiling fan was mounted with the 6 foot down-rod recommended by the store, but I've decided this is too low so it's getting raised tomorrow.)


I was pretty happy and relieved to see the amount of light we were able to achieve with the fixture/lamp combo I selected. I was also happy to see that the wall color paint sample I'd chosen still looked as I'd predicted it would, without much (if any) discernible color shift due to the installed lights. It was all kind of a crap-shoot, because no matter how much reading and deliberating I'd done, there was really no way to know if my plan was sufficient until the "deed was done" and everything was installed.

In the end I went with T5HO (high output) fixtures with 5000K temperature lamps. These lamps are among the thinner, newer tube type fluorescents on the market. Because they're so new and also high output, replacement lamps will have to be ordered online. But with 24000+ hours predicted in their life-cycle, I shouldn't have to order them all that frequently.

It's pretty bright in there now, but fluorescent tubes are always their brightest at the beginning of the life cycle, with no dust or dirt to diminish them. I've also installed track lights, so in the event that I need more light I can supplement with some of the full spectrum Solux halogen wide beam floods in my work area.

I have to admit, the main delay in installing the lights was due to the fact that I changed my mind about the fixtures. I was getting pretty frustrated with myself and my inability to make up my mind. But my good husband reminded me that there aren't any manuals out there on the perfect formula for lighting an art studio with high ceilings and no natural northern light to speak of. Believe me I've looked!

Initially I was going to go with an open industrial-type direct lighting fixture (the kind they use in warehouses) that would accomodate more lamps and a whole lot o' light:

 I may have over-thought the whole thing, but for the oil painter there IS such a thing as too much light, especially if it's shining right on the painting surface. Not only can it cause glare, it can really skew your perception of colors and values because a very bright light makes your pupils contract so much.

It's the reason plein air painters often employ the use of an umbrella to shield their work from the direct sun. The few times I did try painting outdoors without angling or shading my canvas from the sun, I found my colors and values appeared much too dark when I brought them inside.

So while I wanted a lot of light, I didn't want too much of it either. Nor did I want glare or direct light that cast shadows over my canvas as I worked. And that's the danger with a lot of the high output direct lighting fixtures I was finding--even when mounted at 15 feet up.

After scrapping my original idea, I called a halt on the electrician and went back to the drawing board (and back to "the oracle"--A.K.A. Google-- to search for more ideas.) I eventually found this helpful article from the DesignLights Consortium on energy efficient commercial lighting designs for various functions and environments (schools, factories, offices, etc.)

The article has a lot of ideas about lighting, and delves deeper into many good points I'd already considered about light quality, including the importance of glare control and color temperature.  But there were other points I hadn't considered quite as much, such as issues of reflectance, contrast, and wall color.

For instance, while you don't want lights bouncing around willy-nilly off of a ton of shiny reflective surfaces, you can use reflectance to your advantage. Wall color is important. Darker wall colors have their advantages, but lighter walls and ceilings painted in matte or low sheen surfaces can go a long way towards maximizing the reflectance and distribution of light in a room without the glare.

As to contrast, while some of it is needed in order to define shape, a lot of contrast can cause eye strain and fatigue. So even if the work area of your studio is sufficiently lit, if the rest of the room is dim or dark your eyes have to work a lot harder, expanding and contracting the pupils to adjust light intake each time you look from one part of the room to another.

I'd been so focused on how to light my work area, but now began to consider lighting up the whole studio space a bit more evenly so as to avoid this overly-contrasty affect. Choosing fixtures that have an indirect feature (up-light) as well as a direct feature (down-light) can help with this. By washing some of the light up onto a white ceiling it can reflect back down into the room to diffuse and more evenly distribute light across a broader area.

Armed with this info, I did finally find a fixture that I thought might work. It's actually a commercial light that you'd find in retail stores. It has an up-light feature so we've pendant-mounted them to take advantage of this fact. It also has a wide beam spread and louvres shielding the lamps, which help to soften and diffuse the light even more. I've installed two 8 foot fixtures over the side of my studio where I intend to paint, and one on the framing/office side, which also gets a lot of natural daylight from the east. Each fixture has its own switch so that if I want to work in low light I can douse one or more (for a dramatically lit still life, for example.) These fixtures don't accommodate as many lamps as the industrial warehouse fixture, but since the lamps are high output I think it will be close to, if not more than enough. Onward-ho!

P.S. This is part of a series of posts I've explored while building my new art studio. For my earlier in-depth analysis on studio lighting for artists, go here and here.

Art studio update: doors & floors

I have a new painting completed but it's been raining so much lately that I haven't been able to get a good shot of it. The sun has finally returned though, so hopefully I'll have a picture of it to post soon. Meanwhile, in spite of a holiday break, progress continues with the new studio. We've done some exterior painting to the posts and doors, and I finally have a floor as well!

This shot shows the doors painted red to match the doors on our house. The pavers create a sidewalk and courtyard to connect the studio to the house. I'll have enough space on either side of the french doors for some flower beds. It's probably good that I'm shooting this in winter while the Crepe Myrtle is dormant, as I'm able to get a good shot of both the side and end elevations at once:

art studio building

It's interesting to note how different the angle of the sun is in winter. During the summer we don't have the long shadows coming over the yard from the trees across the street. The end elevation (below) faces the back door of our house. This is the door I'll use most often:

art studio building progress

I took a shot of the Pergo flooring just before covering it up with contractor's paper. I initially considered solid bamboo but at less than half the price I really had to go with the laminate. I must say this looks pretty good for an imitation:

building an art studio

I think the hanging wire and bare lightbulb really tie the room together ;-)

building an art studio

We're cutting the trim/mouldings this weekend, and we hope to install the track lights and overhead fixtures next week (more on the lighting I've chosen in a future post). After that, we just need to take care of the sink and the interior painting. I do think I want a wall color other than just plain white--though nothing near as dark as the deep sage color mentioned earlier that seems so popular with many of the portrait painters. Right now I'm eyeing a much lighter neutral gray/green/beige. My description makes it sound like a hospital color, but it's really quite nice.  I'll wait and see how the color looks after the lights are installed, however. It's amazing how much colors shift in different lighting conditions.

Getting lit during the holidays

If you thought this was going to be a post about raucous overindulgence at Christmas parties, you'll be sorely disappointed. ;-) This post is about something else I've been consuming (or rather, something that's been consuming me) -- information about lighting for the new studio.  This post may have limited appeal, but since there is such an overwhelming amount of information both online and off in regards to full spectrum lighting, I thought I'd share some of my thoughts for other artists who might have some of the same considerations. As I'd mentioned in my previous post, I believe the best choice I've found for general non-directional studio light from an artificial source is in the form of full-spectrum tube fluorescents. Of course, full spectrum is a bit of a misnomer, because NOBODY is going to mistake fluorescent lighting (or any artificial light, for that matter) for natural daylight. But what fluorescents do provide is a more even lighting that can't easily be achieved by track lights or other kinds of task lights I've researched. Here are some other things I've discovered:

Fluorescent Full Spectrum Lighting

There are a lot of products out there claiming to be "Full Spectrum" fluorescents, and while fluorescent lighting has come a long way from the lights you've seen in old office buildings or "big box" retail stores, fluorescents simply cannot truly mimic the spectral rendering achieved by natural daylight. The reason for this is that even the best full spectrum fluorescents experience mercury spikes, particularly in the blue and green ends of the spectrum, as well as dips or gaps in the reds. Compared to daylight, where the full spectrum is rendered without gaps, spikes, and dips, it's understandable why some people complain that full spectrum fluorescent lights can seem "cold" or "harsh." Nevertheless, advances have definitely be made in these lamps so that they give off a much cleaner, whiter light than the old yellow fluorescents of yore.

Color Temperature and Color Rendering

I also previously mentioned that the Kelvin temperature of daylight ranges from around 5000K to 5900K.  Actually, this is a bit inaccurate, as there are different temperatures of daylight. But for my purposes, this range is supposed to give me a clean, white light with all colors being more or less balanced with little to no color bias.

But color temperature alone doesn't tell the whole story. Two lamps stating a color temperature of 5000K can still render colors differently, so it's also important to consider the color rendering index (CRI) of the lamp. Wikipedia gives a good definition of CRI in the excerpt below:

"The color rendering index (CRI) (or colour rendering index in British English; sometimes called color rendition index), is a quantitative measure of the ability of a light source to reproduce the colors of various objects faithfully in comparison with an ideal or natural light source. Light sources with a high CRI are desirable in color-critical applications such as photography and cinematography. "

In the world of fluorescent lighting, lamps with a CRI of 80 or above are considered to have high color rendering. But in graphics, photography, and film, there is a big difference between a CRI of 80 and one of 90, so I'll be looking closely at lamps with a CRI of 90 and above.

Quality Vs. Quantity

Okay, great! I know I'll get pretty good quality of light if I can find a lamp in the 5000K range with a CRI of 90 or above. But here's the rub. Typically fluorescent lamps with the highest CRI's have a lower lumen output per lamp (meaning they aren't as bright). So when shopping around, it's important consider the "design lumens" of the bulb or you might not get as much light from your lamps as you expect.

T12's, T8's, or T5's?

Fluorescents come in a number of shapes and sizes. The most common tube-type lamps are probably the T12's, though the smaller diameter T8's are quickly gaining ground and in my town I'm seeing more and more T8 lamps stocked in the "big box" stores. The benefit of the T8 lamp is its ability to give off the same amount of light as the thicker T12's, using fewer lamps (hence less energy) and less mercury. T5's are even thinner, and the same principle applies in terms of light output and energy use, though since they are among the newest offerings they aren't as readily available in my area should I be in need of a quick replacement.

On the up side, any one of these lamps  installed in the appropriate fixture should last a good long while--several years, in fact. Most lamps claim an average life-span of about 20000 hours. Compare that to about 3000 rated hours for better halogen bulbs like Solux, and you can see the advantage of the fluorescents for general lighting (especially on a 15 foot ceiling!)

Let there be light!

So what have I concluded? I'm going to start with some 4-foot T8 fluorescent fixtures and lamps that offer the best color rendering/color temperature/light output that I can find. I suspect I will have to experiment with different bulbs and/or combinations to find a level and quality of light that I'm comfortable working with (see links below for an interesting "studio lighting experiment" and discussion). I also plan to have track lighting installed and will outfit some of the track fixtures in my work area with Solux bulbs and diffusers.  It's my hope that blending these light sources with the natural light from my windows will give me a good combination of clean, balanced, diffused light for my new studio.

Further Reading:

Studio lighting experiment: Check out this discussion on WetCanvas! complete with visuals showing the quality of the fluorescent light with bulbs of different color temperatures.

Is it really full spectrum or a marketing ploy? This Wikipedia entry casts doubt on the benefits and accuracy of products marketed as full spectrum lighting.

More than you ever wanted to know about fluorescent fixtures: This article compares the use of fluorescents versus Metal Halides in commercial lighting, but has some good general info about fluroescent fixtures about half way down the page.

Visual comparison of full spectrum fluorescent lights to Solux bulbs: Keep in mind this is Solux's marketing material, but it does have some interesting graphics showing the spectral spikes, gaps and dips characteristic in fluorescent lamps.

P.S. This is part of a series of posts I've explored while building my new art studio. For my additional in-depth analysis on studio lighting for artists, go here and here.

A painting between contractors- St. Cirq La Popie, France

Well, I've stopped fooling myself that I'm going to get away any time soon to work on larger oil paintings. Setting these kinds of impossible goals when we've scheduled back to back contractors for the new studio (painters, hvac, electrician/lighting) just sets me up for frustration. So the last time I stopped by my temporary painting space, I grabbed my watercolors and a few drawing supplies for a little painting at the "kitchen table studio". It's been some time since I've done any watercolor work, so it took me a while to get a feel for it.  But it sure is nice to focus on something other than lighting fixtures, and the great thing about these kinds of pieces is that I can always later develop these compositions into larger oil paintings down the road:

France landscape painting St. Cirq La Popie

"Private Garden, St. Cirq Lapopie" 9x12", Watercolor and Conte Crayon


I had the thrill of driving to the beautiful village of St. Cirq Lapopie (St. Cirq is pronounced something like "San Seer") at the tail end of my trip earlier this year to the Lot and Dordogne in southwestern France. It was a thrill because it was a breathtakingly beautiful location; but as well because my rental car felt not that much bigger (or safer) than a tin can, and  the winding road that leads to the village hugs the cliffside that drops a few hundred feet to the Lot River below. This is a view of the village from the overlook near the parking lot:

St. Cirq Lapopie 

Even though the hike down the near-shoulderless road was also treacherous, I'd have to say it was all well worth the risk. It's a touristed village,  but with good reason. Wonderfully preserved 13th to 16th century Quercy buildings with pitched rooves line narrow streets overflowing with flowers.  Perched high above the ambling Lot river, its "picture-book prettiness" has earned it the well deserved designation of one of France's most beautiful villages. To be sure, I'll be posting more paintings of this village (watercolors and eventually oils) in the days ahead.

Still in the dark about art studio lighting

Now that we have the drywall up in the studio building project, I'm anxious to pick out a paint color and get going on the walls. But since the appearance of the paint color is so dependant on the quality of light you have in your space, I've decided I'll need to tackle the lighting requirements first. I have spent waaay too much time reading about "full spectrum" lighting, color rendering index (CRI), foot candles, lumens, and Kelvin temperature, and I can't say that I'm that much clearer on any of it! I knew going into this project that I would not have the benefit of the full natural northern light that is said to be ideal for an artist's studio. But that's okay. I'm kind of used to working with different lighting conditions, and in any event no amount of northern exposure is going to help any artist on drab or stormy days or after sundown. But what I want for the new studio is as much diffused natural light as possible, and supplemental artificial light that comes as close as possible to the color and quality of daylight.

From my reading I have learned that the balanced color of natural daylight has a Kelvin temperature somewhere in the range of 5000K to 5900K. Kelvin temperatures numerically lower than 5000K turn towards the yellow and then red ends of the color spectrum, and higher numbers tend towards the white and then blue ends of the spectrum. As a point of reference, standard fluorescent lighting is fairly warm and yellow at 3500K, and standard halogen tending more toward the red at 3200K.

Keeping these things in mind, my aim is to light my studio (and especially my painting area) with a light that is as pure, balanced, and near to a clean white as possible in order to better see and mix accurate colors in the studio. (Paintings are always going to look a bit different under different lighting conditions, but I hope to avoid a massive color shift once my paintings leave the studio). I'd also like light that is non-directional so as not to cause a spotlighting effect or glare on the reflective surfaces of my oil paintings.

I have looked at a ton of options online (to the point of brain overload!) so I thought I'd share the leading options I'm considering below. Each have their pros and cons, so the answer will likely be to choose a combination solution that gives me enough light without breaking the bank!

Option 1: Install one or more Solatubes.


  • Bright, evenly diffused and true natural daylight when it's at its best.
  • Less expensive than skylights without the spotlighting and worry about "hot spots" sometimes associated with them.
  • Uses solar energy, so there's a potential for lower overall electricity requirements.


  • Costly to install, so even though they require no electrical power, it would likely take many years to recoup costs with energy savings.
  • Just as with studios that have northern lit windows, an alternative light source is required for nighttime work, and even likely on cloudy days.

Option 2: Installing high bay, high output compact fluorescent fixtures. (Note: High bay fixtures are optimal in my case due to the cathedral ceiling height of my studio.)


  • Offered by many manufacturers in a variety of styles and color temperatures, including "daylight" bulbs. (A few resources are listed here.)
  • Availability is catching up totungsten and halogen bulbs, and daylight versions are even being offered in the big box stores like Home Depot.
  • Bulbs last much longer than incandescents, sometimes lasting for years.
  • Much more energy efficient than incandescents and most halogens (fewer bulbs/energy required to achieve the same amount of lighting).


  • Difficult to dispose of. While there are more and more recycling options being made available, these bulbs create a pollutant due to the toxic mercury within. It can also be dangerous if care isn't taken to handle the bulbs properly in the event of breakage. (The up side of this is that assuming the bulb realizes a natural life cycle, you won't go through as many bulbs as you might do with incandescents due to the extended bulb life of compact fluorescents.)
  • I am not convinced that the fluorescent "daylight" bulbs can achieve the effects of full spectrum light, no matter what the packages say, though these newer bulbs certainly are an improvement with a much better CRI than the old "office" type fluorescents of the past.
  • Cost: While the fixtures can be relatively inexpensive in comparison to Solatubes and some track lighting, if high bay fixtures are needed the cost quickly edges upwards. Bulbs touted as "full spectrum" are also on average typically priced much higher than incandescents, ranging from $8 to $15 a piece.

Option 3: Solux bulbs used in track or other fixtures.


  • Chosen by a growing list of galleries, museums (including the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Musee d'Orsay in Paris) as well as artists for the clean natural quality of the lights.
  • Versatile. Bulbs offered in a number of different Kelvin temperaturesand can be used in low voltage track lighting to illuminate artwork or work area, or in task lamps that can be moved to different locations.
  • Small bulbs are a lot easier to store than 4' long fluorescents!
  • Long-lasting


  • These are essentially "directional" lights, with limited spread. While they appear excellent for lighting artwork and even small focused tasks such as reading, they are not going to light up a room or achieve a diffused ambient light. And I'd likely have to focus a number of these lights on my painting area to blend the beams for a large enough  spread.
  • More potential for glare on my canvases, due to the directional focus,  though I could purchase the optional diffusers which may help with this somewhat.
  • Cost. These bulbs are relatively inexpensive if used selectively, but could be prohibitive if used widely, as bulbs range in price from around $8-up, and the fixtures are not cheap. Task lighting fixtures are also rather expensive.
  • Halogens generate a lot more heat and use more energy than compact fluorescents to achieve similar lighting levels.
  • I have heard reports that colors shift over time towards the warmer end of the spectrum as the bulb ages (but this is true of most halogens and fluorescents too.)

So there you have it. Okay so I may be overthinking this, but since lots of quality light was on the top of my "ideal studio" list from the get-go, it's pretty important to me. But even after all of the research, I'm not sure if I've really shed much decisive light on the subject! Ideally I'm leaning towards a combination of Options 1 and 2, with #3 reserved for the occaisional supplemental light, if I happen to install tracks down the road.  But let's face it, I also have the very real consideration of a budget to deal with as well, so I'll have too see how well reality meets up with the ideal. I would really welcome any additional suggestions, thoughts, ideas or experiences on this topic, so please feel free to leave your comments on the blog.


French pastoral complete, and another in progress

We've had a lot of rain here this fall, and when it's not been raining, I've been trying to manage the parade of contractors who are working on the new studio . Unfortunately this means I've mostly missed the chance to capture the gorgeous fall colors en plein air. Well, it's a worthwhile tradeoff, I think. Meanwhile, I have the consolation of finally having finished a painting:  

 landscape painting in southern france

Pastoral, St. Germain de Bel Air Oil on Canvas, 20x24" Click here for more info.

I'm also just beginning to lay out a new composition, again of the beautiful part of Southwestern France I visited last spring. To you it may just look like a bunch of scribbles. But trust me, I'm sketching out a street view of Frayssinet, the village where I stayed. I'm attracted to the scene for the sheer beauty of the place, but also by the interesting cast shadow pattern of the afternoon light:

french village painting work in progress

WIP- Frayssinet, 24x30"

What I have  done here is just a pretty transparent wash to figure out my composition and the rythm of the shadows. To do this I've used a mixture of Transparent Red Oxide and just a little Ultramarine Blue.  Transparent Red Oxide is the one earth color that has consistently made itself at home on my palette of late, and I'm finding it such a useful addition. For an underpainting it adds a warm glow, but unlike Cadmium Red light, it is beautifully transparent. It also lacks the high staining properties that Alizarin Crimson does so it is easier to make adjustments in the preliminary stages.

Back in the saddle (WIP)

Or rather, I'm back at the easel (I think.) At the risk of jinxing myself I'll say I'm painting again. It's pretty slow going though, as I've been fighting a cold and sore throat. For me, painting is a bit like exercising. Get out of the habit for too long and  I start to feel a bit like a (flabby) fish out of water. It's also been a while since I've done any kind of painting indoors, so I'd thought I'd get started by just having fun with lots of color and a manageable sized canvas (20x24").  Because  this is a scene attempting to evoke a pasture (southern France) struck by the golden glow of late afternoon, I started with warm colors right from the get-go:

 French landscape painting WIP

It has been too long. It's not that it's really taking me forever to paint this, just that I'm still pretty easily distracted. The shell of the studio is pretty much complete, save for a few adjustments (photos to come). But we've a long way to go before the inside is in move-in condition, and I'm anxious to get it DONE. 

To whoever suggested that angst is good for creativity-- sorry, I didn't get the memo! (Obviously  I didn't get the memo about patience being a virtue either.) But since it looks like it will be at least December before I can move in, I might as well try and get a little painting done in between all the hand wringing, eh?

I'm off to IKEA for most of tomorrow (Monday) to see what they have in the way of sinks and shelving,  but I hope to have this piece completed by Tuesday or Wednesday. Here's where I've left off:

Southern France landscape painting WIP

Studio progress; moving right along!

We are aiming to largely be out of my current studio by the end of this weekend, so I'm afraid both the blog and the easel may be neglected for the next week or so. I do have a few pictures to post of the progress on my studio though. The builders had a bit of a rough start in the beginning slogging around in the mud due to the pretty heavy rain we had just prior to their arrival. But once the ground started to firm up, things moved much quicker.  Here's the way it came along over the weekend:

art studio building

art studio

By Monday I was able to take a peek inside. Here is the framing for the high windows on the wall of my painting area:

art studio

One of the builders, Gene, after a hard day's work. Gene felt my picture needed a center of interest, so he kindly obliged:

art studio

This is the portico side as it looked this morning. This side faces the back porch. This area will be my future office area. There is some loft space for storage in the portico above the door.

art studio

When I looked outside this A.M. they had pulled out the siding, roofing, doors and windows. Not sure how far they'll get with all of that, but based on the progress so far, I imagine things will look very different by evening's end.

Plein air on the James- a class and a painting of my own

Yesterday I held a small plein air painting class down by the James River. It was actually scheduled for today, but we came to a consensus to switch the days due to the impending weekend cold front heading into the area. It was a good move. Yesterday we had lots of sunshine and temperatures were in the 80's. But by the afternoon the clouds were rolling in, and this morning there is a soft, steady rain. As for the class, it was a great day of teaching, sharing, and painting but by the end of the day I was thoroughly pooped. Meanwhile on the home studio front, we now have a mountain of building material on our property, which means that if the weather clears the builders can start their work as early as tomorrow. According to our builder, the shell could be up in five days (or less). I was shocked when I heard this, especially since this is stick-built rather than prefab. But I was reminded that basically this is a rectangle we're talking about, with no custom framing for the windows or doors. So apparently by building standards it should be a fairly simple project. I'll have to be on my toes if I want to document the build in photos--if I blink they'll be done!

Lastly, I do have a small painting to share of my own--another one of Brown's Island--not done in the class, but earlier this week. I just haven't had time to post until now:

james river plein air painting by Jennifer Young

"Morning at the Levee" Oil on Multimedia Artboard, 6x12" Contact me for more info.

I was very happy with my work on this painting but stupidly did not store it properly and my backpack fell right across the middle of it on the drive home, causing a huge smear! I've repaired it mostly, but I think I'll bring it back to the site to adjust the distant trees.

I'm becoming more and more enthralled with painting down at the James River. Brown's Island alone offers hundreds of painting possibilities. As I've noted before, it's also a fascinating site for Richmond's history, where Civil War and turn-of-the-century industrial ruins stand right alongside our modern architecture. I found some additional info about the levee on a nearby sign upstream:

james river plein air painting blog

It's somewhat ironic that I've only recently begun to explore this particular point along the river just at the point that I'm moving out of my downtown studio. Looks like I'll still be coming downtown to work from time to time, even after my home studio is built.

Studio progress; concrete is poured!

We've actually begun the first stages of moving my studio. We spent the weekend moving  my office and carving out a temporary setup at home. Next weekend we'll move my painting stuff and set up the temporary studio at another location. So for a while, my office computer and my studio workspace are going to be separated, which means my blogging is going to be (even more) erratic over the next few weeks as we move and I get used to my new temporary setups. Not an ideal situation, but I rather expected this given the tight timeline we put ourselves on to get the new studio built.

Meanwhile, progress has been made on the studio building. Here are a couple of shots of the foundation:

Forms were set, in preparation for pouring the concrete:

art studio buliding

After the concrete was poured they took the forms off:

art studio building

This morning the concrete guys are finishing up their work, including backfilling and grading the ground, and then we'll be ready for the builder. We've gotten word from the builder that they can be ready to start this week, so long as my special order doors come in. Fingers crossed!