Tips & Tools

Studio Visit Strategies

May 6, 2014 |

The art of the studio visit is an endlessly fickle and complex form, clouded in mystery because of its intimate, private nature. There are two or more people, sometimes strangers, immersed in the artist’s cultivated environment. They act as witnesses to that artist’s deepest beliefs, secrets and desires. These witnesses either aim to become the artist’s compatriot, to steal from the artist, or to shop as if they were in a thrift store. It is a dance, a chess game, an OkCupid date, a conquest and, at least in part, up to fate.


The gestures of ‘sizing things up’, ‘checking things out’ or ‘looking up and down’ run rampant. First people look the building up and down, then the stairway and then, of course, the studio space. This, for the more frugal of us, provides some small talk, “Wow, how many square feet is this place? How did you find it? Do you mind me asking how much it is?” etc. Then we start checking each other out, which soon becomes intermingled with checking the artwork out. And so it goes, back and forth, trying to find the link between the objects and the person and a point at which to immerse oneself or penetrate even.

One might expect certain questions and receive them all with relieved and open arms. On the other hand, one might be slapped across the face by something unexpected and either crumble under the pressure or find courage despite your smarting cheek. Best of all, you could be asked exactly the questions you have been searching for your whole life, those that have been burning deep inside your subconscious for years. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in this last situation, the earth might shift beneath your feet as everything you thought you knew becomes informed by your visitor’s generous insight.

Here are twenty tips that I have witnessed or performed myself (although, obviously, everything will change a bit depending on the reality of your situation). You are welcome to take or discard them for your next studio visit, whether you are the visitor or the visitee. You are also welcome to just have a laugh. These are little secrets of our trade that might help you better direct (or redirect) the energy of your next visit.


1. Beware of jutting saws and planks.

2. Bring a 6 pack of beer per two-three persons, no more no less (just enough to make you smile).

3. And one or two non-alcoholic options, like a bottle of sparkling strawberry lemonade.

4. Locate the best seat in the studio as quickly as possible and resume the throne.

5. Have three to five spots on your walls prepped for hanging various things and trade your objects out as the visit progresses. Keep it fresh and spacious.

6. Hang sketches, doodles or source imagery off to the side. If they are noticed, that person is looking closely and displaying interest in the artist’s practice, not just their distinct pieces.


8. Keep your hands behind your back while nodding frequently, it’s respectful.

9. If your eyes wander, find and stare at a specific spot on the floor or wall where you can hallucinate the spoken ideas or descriptions.

10. During an awkward pause that lasts forever, just pretend you’re playing the Silent Game, and you’re winning.

11. Crouch as if you were a jaguar about to pounce on your prey (or in this case the artwork being discussed).

12. Try to caress the art object with your eyeball, literally brushing over the object’s surface with your eyelashes. It shows you really, really care.

13. Smell the art object, why not? If it smells good, go in for the finger lick.

14. Offer your visitor a reclining chair for a quick nap. And maybe some home-baked cookies.

15. Display your strength as a Herculean artist by lifting panels and MDF boards as if they were made of Nerf foam (this will encourage god-like treatment).

16. Wedding walk towards a painting (imagine that you will be spending the rest of your life with it) and then take three large fugitive leaps backwards. And again.

17. Respond to a forlorn and lost expression by pulling out a book from your studio library. This offers some context for your work as well as something outside of the moment to talk about.

18. If the person you are talking to speaks insanely fast, respond by speaking veeerrrry slowly and visa versa.

19. Share personal stories carefully: use them to break the ice or as a gesture of friendship or as a secret that that person is privileged to hear.

20. Touch everything.

My Tool Box: The Floral Hammer

April 8, 2014 |

My good friend gave me a lovely, but curious gift for the holidays: a slightly smaller, far daintier-than-most hammer. The head of the hammer is a glossy white, green, red and black floral pattern that vaguely references no specific South Asian or East Asian art (my best guess would be that it draws from Indonesia’s lyrical floral patterns). The metal base of the hammer unscrews to reveal a Phillips head screwdriver that has other attachments screwed into its own base. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a hammer so specifically designed for women before, the hammer itself has a certain feminine quality, not because of the pattern but most importantly because of it’s slender frame and delicate head. This object has self-awareness and a very direct way of addressing women, specifically.  I like looking at it, but I am also adamantly refusing to use it for some reason (probably because I don’t want to be who it says I am), instead it is an object that rests on my dresser to be admired. My strange relationship with this hammer is even further complicated by the fact that I often have a hard time finding tools that suite my body.  Last summer, my studio-mates and I built partitions, which involved drilling hundreds of aluminum screws. Every third screw would present itself as impossible, I just couldn’t find the right leverage, is what I’ve decided. I’ve also noticed that when holding many of my tools, my fingers are sticking out all over the place, on the verge of a pinky-out look. I just can’t seem to get a good grip on most tools like hammers, wrenches, chop-saws, jig-saws, tin snips etc. My relationship to building with tools, then, is an issue of bodily proportion, scale, gravity and grip. hammer (opt 1) I’d like to propose to start imagining what an ideal tool might look like, one that suits all body sizes and finger lengths. The first thought is how to make a tool more flexible; how to give a tool the characteristics that enable it to be sensitive and respond to the individual needs of its user. I’d like to meet a tool that can self-customize. I used to embrace my role as a pre-teen consumer and would obsess over and crave things like beanie babies, Lisa Frank stickers and, the most expensive of all: the Sensa Pen. This pen has a gel like substance around the area where your fingers would go: it squishes and molds to your grip. Would it not be wonderful to have a transformational soft material that can create an individualized, renewed grip each and every time it is held? Obviously this would mean a serious upgrade to the Sensa gel: it would need to be thicker and I’d want it to have a skin-like quality, transforming the tool into an extension of one’s own body. It would be the definition of flexibility, accommodation and acceptance. My other thought is that I wish tools were more like exercise machines. I might just be missing the daily access to a free gym that I had at school, but I always loved punching my personal information into that giant, robotic elliptical machine. That ritual action created a kind of ambivalent trust and it enabled a feeling that your accomplishment was somehow unique and perfectly designed for your specific body. Imagine if your tool knew exactly how strong you were, how big you were and could reorient your body’s center of gravity to give you optimum leverage. Tools, I suppose would become a main feature of contemporary art following in the steps of Mark Bradford and his sander, (I wonder if he feels one with his sander). So, in conclusion, anthropomorphic gel plus personalized technology equals a big bright new world of building for me and those like me. Until then, I’ll let my Indonesian flower hammer continue to mock me.

Beyond The Art Supply Store: Beauty Supply Store Edition

March 25, 2014 |

Beauty Supply Stores!  I love going into them and “browsing…just browsing.”  Hopefully I had one specific item in mind while walking into the $3 instant gratification labyrinth that is a Ricky’s in NYC.  It is so easy to buy nail polish, a lipstick, something to make you feel brand new: the spring 2014 version of yourself!

So why not let your work feel like the Spring 2014 version of itself?! Breathe some new life into the surfaces untouched by fresh air since Fall 2013.  Beauty supply stores have amazing products that can be and have been used on paintings!

By my estimations, the number one product at a beauty supply store with indispensible uses is a Hair Color Bottle!

hairdye bottles

I hope that reading that was not the most lackluster moment of your day.  The hair color bottles are great for studios.  If you are a painter- you can put paint in them!  You can fill them with mixtures of mediums and paints for pouring.  They have thin nozzles for precision. If you buy in built, they can alternatively be used as vessels for cleaning supplies.  And if your friend wants to dye their hair in your studio- you’ll be ready for that too!

I am always on the prowl for different brands of squeeze hair dye bottles- large, small, and say you can’t get to a beauty supply store but you happen to be moseying by a restaurant supply store…ketchup and mustard bottles also do the trick.  But restaurant supply stores have many other opportune supplies for another column, but that’s for another day!

The Best Advice: Draw.

March 17, 2014 |

Q: What is the Best Advice You Ever Got from Another Artist?

A: Draw.

When I think about a single important sliver of information that I obtained from another artist, I realize that I got it from a plethora of amazing artists that have greatly influenced my practice – whether they know it or not.  So, let’s give credit where credit is due: Rochelle Feinstein, Sam Messer and Carroll Dunham.

Prior to obtaining my MFA, I really wasn’t much of a drawer.  I suffered through foundation drawing classes in undergrad and tried to find more fun in it through other courses, but it never stuck with me- I never felt like I owned my drawings.  I felt like they owned me, and it didn’t feel good. It was like I was always speaking a foreign language without the verbs! I wanted more feeling!

When I was making work to apply to grad school – let’s get real – I was making paintings full of color- color has always been my strength and I was sticking to it.  When I realized I had to make drawings to bring along to the interview, my solution was to “draw” with eyeshadow and lipstick and…paint.  Drawing is an open-ended term.  But it was like I was hiding from myself psychologically.  Why wouldn’t I just confront my one artistic fear?


The first drawing I made that I can remember that I really liked was the most simple and complex drawing I could imagine: it was a pencil drawing on computer paper.  But this drawing was a composite of EVERYTHING, derived from a timeline of my life (both public and private).  To make something that is still so important to me out of something as dumb as a pencil and crappy computer paper was and still is miraculous to me!  Materials can often be excuses- constantly hunting for the right thing to draw with, the right paper to draw on- it’s far more simple than that.  You have to find yourself to draw.

After that, it felt like I needed to prove I could draw, and in turn, I would prove that I could confront myself and what was important and meaningful to me in my practice.  Sam Messer had me drawing on the wall, literally.  With charcoal.  I’ll admit- it brought me to tears.  This may sound fun to some, reminiscent of being a bad kid drawing on the living room wall.  But for me, the dry chalky charcoal coating my nostrils, smearing on my legs was not redeeming itself.  However, when I looked back at what I had done- a drawing of whatever I wanted on the wall, coming together in a bizarre mural accented by interjections by my peers, I found that I could have fun, relate my body to lines, and let go.


The final installment of drawing encouragement that I received in academia- and the final push that I needed to become an artist that could truly consider drawing an integral part of their practice- was receiving one simple piece of advice from Carroll Dunham in a drawing workshop with my peers.

The simple phrase: Drawing Without Resistance.

There was probably a lot said before that and after that- but this simple three-word phrase turned on a light switch in my mind.  Suddenly I had no regrets!  Suddenly I felt like I was allowed to do whatever I wanted.  Why did I think I couldn’t do whatever I wanted to do before that?  Well, probably because I was tormented by negative feedback that I just wasn’t doing it correctly.  But now, being given this simple allowance that I could do whatever I wanted, I felt so empowered!  If simply putting pencil to paper was right, how could I ever be wrong?

The hardest part is starting, whether it is drawing or writing or even exercising.  I’m working on constantly starting these three things- and I always feel like I’ve gotten through the hardest part already once I’ve gotten past the first mark, word, or step.

Winter Survival Tips: Dream Solo

March 9, 2014 |

This winter was really hard. Not only did the weather make me feel like an ostrich, but the bad vibes started trickling into my studio too. My work got slower, I could only make the gestures I wanted at certain moments during the day and there was a fortress of snow to climb over to get there. Horrible. In March, I had my first studio visit in ages. Maybe it was the fact that the weather was starting to hint at Spring, or because of my excellent studio companion, but after that visit, I decided to start imagining my first solo-show. I do not mean that I started to be concerned with other people’s opinion of the work that I was making. I know that’s a no-no. I mean that I decided to just imagine a place outside of my studio for a while, where my pieces could go on a little vacation. There, they could get all clean and dressed up and they could really flaunt all of their best qualities to their fullest potential. And it helped so much, it took me out of myself and into my ideal world, or rather, the ideal world that my pieces would want to live in. Because of this new mindset, the different pieces that I’ve been working on started to come together, loving and needing each other while also standing up for themselves. So maybe a trick to keep the spirits high in the studio is to close your eyes and imagine all your works in

all their glory, somewhere that your skin is warm and your pieces are acting like one big happy family in an environment that is meant for only them.

Apocalyptic Winter Survival Guide for Artists

March 1, 2014 |

Speaking from New York City, this winter has been the absolute worst. Storm after storm, checking the weather on your iPhone seems like certain doom.  Once you’ve avoided falling on an unpaved sidewalk or getting splashed with a, shall we say, “wintry” mix from a bus, get into your studio and try to believe that spring will soon come and grant us the relief that we need!  Here are 10 absolute studio musts to get through the winter doldrums without just painting every surface black and calling it a day.

  • Fingerless Glovesfingerless gloves

Fingerless Gloves are a Godsend if you want to do things with your hands while being able to grip, smear, and articulate while staying semi-warm.  They have been passed down by generations of bikers, bad boys, and Urban Outfitters catalogues, and have finally digressed to the simple artist’s trusty right and left hand.

  • Moisturizer

Most likely, you are washing your hands constantly because, well, maybe you are a mess.  Or perhaps you’re mindful of your health and manicure and wear plastic gloves in the studio.  Either way, your hands are D-R-Y.  You have to pick a great moisturizer for the studio to prevent cracking, bleeding, and all other unsightly winter skin conditions that become acute with exposure.  We recommend the following hardcore moisturizers for your soft baby hands to stay that way.  Some Amazon approved options are O’Keeffe’s Hand Cream: Working Hands and classic Corn Husker’s Lotion.

  • If your oil paint hardens, put it on a heater!

Try it, it works!

  • Should we mention space heaters?space heater_snow

Use with caution!  Please don’t use one that you found on the sidewalk or in your grandmother’s basement and it looks retro to match your studio furnishings!  Newer is safer.

  • Electric Hot Water Kettle

Possibly the most ingenious inventions known to man, hot water kettles that can be plugged into the wall for that boiling water effect are a godsend in the studio.  Not only can you make hot tea for your guests when the heat mysteriously kicks it, (see: you never had heat in the first place), you can also make easy mac, or oatmeal for that matter.  And you can use the warm water in the sink or to soak things- or to make rabbit skin glue- or so I’ve heard.

  • Studio Sleeping Emergency Kit: Get Cozy

When you are in a studio without windows, time can get a little…questionable.  Add in some massive snowfall that you just happened to not hear about and well- it looks like you are spending the night. Make sure to have a makeshift set up available to you in your studio should the cold outside become too much to bear.  Or maybe you just want that early morning start that you can’t get any other way! Beyond actual furniture, Ikea offers some cushion options that open up and fold up for easy storage.  A sleeping bag or old comforter from your childhood bedroom may also prove essential.  Please don’t use painting rags as your pillow.

  • Layers upon Layers

I keep a “studio closet,” which is a formal term for a reusable bag (way green) full of my clothes that have 1+ spots of paint on them.  In the winter, I will layer a t-shirt to a long sleeved shirt to a sweatshirt to a zip up sweatshirt to a weird painty stiff pair of leggings to really set off the whole ensemble.

  • Flora and Fauna: Remembering Things Can Be Green

Having something living in the studio besides yourself and unwanted visitors is an important morale boosters in the dreary months.  Hearty succulents and charming cacti are especially friendly studiomates as they won’t just die on you when you can’t make it to the studio for a couple of days.  Spring. Is. Coming.

  • Bright Lights

Clamp lights. Sun lamps. Need I say more?  Get that Vitamin D.

  • A Calendar

I said it once and I’ll say it again: Spring. Is. Coming.