I know a lot of people have reservations about calling art “work.” When you really think about it, that’s exactly what it is. It may not pay well, and you may lack healthcare, but art is essentially work. To do it, you have to have some training, you have to practice at it, and you have to do it several times a week. Since art is work, it’s best to create for yourself an adequate workspace. Here is a photo of my workspace. This is essentially where I do everything: my blogging, fiction writing, and drawing.
The table itself is a cheap fold-up cardtable. I for one like using something so plain and inexpensive; if I dribble paint on it, it isn’t a problem. The important thing about a workspace is to have your tools, accessories, and reference materials nearby. For this photo, I’ve numbered all of the items I use on a regular basis.
1) MacBook: At the risk of sounding like an adman for Apple, let me say that the MacBook was a great investment. Prior to this, I owned a Toshiba laptop, and it was always slow, froze up randomly, and wasn’t much use when it came to creative projects. Two of the most aggravating things I’ve experienced in my life happened with Windows based software. First, several years ago, my laptop crashed and I lost much of my early attempts at fiction. Granted, much of this wasn’t particularly good, but it would’ve been nice to at least have these as examples of how much I’ve improved since then. What was worse was when, about a year ago, the expensive home PC I used for much of my writing also broke down. This time around, I was smarter and had backed up my writing, but the problem was, I didn’t do it frequently enough. With my book The Madness of Art: Short Stories, I sometimes did as many as five drafts of a story. When the computer went kaput, I lost many of my most recent drafts, some of which I spent hours on. Afterwards, I finally told PCs we had to move on, and I got a MacBook. I wrote all of my book A Rapturous Occasion on this without a hitch.
I also use my MacBook for blogging and for coloring in my illustrations.
2) Light Box
A light box is a drawing tool used for inking illustrations. To use it, you take your sheet of penciled illustrations and place it on the box. You then put a clean sheet of paper over that. Once you turn on the box, light beams up from below, and you can trace your earlier image in pen. Mine cost only about $40, and saved me much time and frustration.
3) Pencils and Pens
It’s good to keep a variety of pencils, pens, and paintbrushes nearby. If you’re doing any kind of drawing, experiment with different types of lead or pen tips. The cup I keep them all in just happens to feature Darth Vader, which doesn’t hurt. Personalize your workspace with items that excite or delight you.
4) Light Therapy Lamp
Technically, this is a light therapy lamp, otherwise known as a “Happy Light.” It’s intended usage is to simulate sunlight to help people like myself who ail from Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as “winter blues.” I’ve found it serves a double purpose. Because it emits a high intensity of light, it’s perfect to keep nearby when working on drawing. Small ones like the light featured here cost about $40. You can buy larger ones offering more luminosity for around $180.
5) Pencil Sharpener
This one might seem like a no-brainer, but you wouldn’t believe how many people will let their art suffer for want of a sharper pencil. Dull pencils create dull lines. It’s easy to be lazy when penciling, especially if the sharpener is out of arm’s reach. It could be that you don’t want to tear yourself away from your drawing. Easy solution: keep the pencil sharpener close by.
If you work with visual arts, then a ruler is your best friend. Again, keep it nearby. I would recommend, as soon as possible, you acquaint yourself with the metric system. With simple illustrations, using inches is fine, but if you want to experiment with things like the golden ratio you’ll want to learn to use centimeters instead. With inches, you have to constantly convert your measurements from one thing to another, which can be a huge headache. With centimeters, everything’s nicely established in multiples of 10. …And yes, my ruler does feature Disney characters for some reason dressed in medieval garments.
This is an obvious one, but you’d be surprised how much I’ll forget to have paper handy. If you’re at your workspace, you’re not going to want to get up and walk to the living room. Next thing you know, you’ll be raiding the refrigerator or watching TV. Keep a few types of paper nearby too. For most of my drawings, I use regular old carbon copy, but in a box nearby I keep watercolor paper, large sheets of bristol, and different sized sketchpads.
8) Reference materials
When I’m working on fiction writing, I like to keep books nearby that contain different styles of writing, that way, if I feel I’m using the same sentence structure too many times, I can look and see how Henry James composes a sentence versus how Philip K. Dick might. I don’t directly copy either, but it helps to see how a sentence can take so many different forms. With drawing, it’s similar. I tend to rely heavily on stock poses, i.e. ways the characters stand that’s easy for me to draw. Because of this, my attempts at comics tend to seem wooden or overly traditional. I like to keep comics nearby to flip through and see how different artists choose to make their characters stand. Out of envy, I frequently look at the artwork of Jacques Tardi, such as the phenomenal work he did with The Adventures of Adele Blanc Sec. With his work, I see how a single panel can be composed as well as a painting. To counterbalance this, I’ve also been admiring the artwork of Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba from their series Daytripper. In that book, the art is loose and playful. The perspective changes from panel to panel like a well-made movie.
So that’s it folks: that’s where the magic happens. I’ll occasionally be a yuppie and write at coffee shops, but most of the time, I do everything right here.
If you’d like to see what I’ve churned out from this table, purchase my novels A Rapturous Occasion and The Madness of Art Short Stories, both of which are available on Amazon. If you want to see what I’ve been drawing on this table, check out my Flickr site.
Whether your an artist or not, do you have a workspace? If so, what’s it like?