up in the battery: part one

My studio is at the top of the house. It runs the width of the building giving me two rooms plus a connecting landing large enough for me to  use as a clean space for printing and drawing. Of the two rooms one holds my easel and painting tables and the other is the ‘stack’, where frames and finished works are stored. The views over the garden and the valley below are beautiful. I’ve worked in these rooms for three years, sharing them with the Pipistrelle bats (hence ‘The Battery’) that roost in the roof space above and make frequent forays to pepper my paintings with their droppings. I don’t mind. I enjoy their company.

The rooms have their deficiencies. Natural light only comes from one direction and during the short days of the year I have to use floodlights to paint. Next Summer we hope to establish a new studio in the older wing of the house and so this may be the last Winter in the present space. In the past I’ve shivered with the cold through the Winters in the studio. This year however we’ve had central heating installed throughout the house and so I no longer have to ascend to the Battery dressed like a Sherpa!

Usually no-one apart from Peter, my friend and art dealer Martin Tinney and a few of the chosen have access to the studio. But in the spirit of this blog I’ve decided to invite readers in to see where I spend my days. In the photograph above you can see the three dormer windows of my attic workspace. Now step inside. Welcome to The Battery.

The space where I draw and print. (Click on the image to view a high definition version that you can zoom in on.) And yes, that is parcel tape sealing the gaps in the tongue and groove panelling lining the dormer window. So much bat shit has dropped from above into the nooks and crannies over the past century that until the room can be properly restored and the gaps caulked, this improvised stop-gap must suffice to keep the studio free of  dust and grit.  The window is plastic, a terrible affront to this elegant old building. At some point we’ll be replacing all three attic windows with wooden casements, though we’ll have to scaffold the entire building to do so. Mercifully these were the only plastic replacements installed in the house. The floors below all have their original sash windows. The hideous plaster render encrusting the attic walls is another horror and  must be removed and replaced with lime plaster. (The damned stuff is dropping off in chunks anyway!)

The chair is a comfortable favourite. I never sit to draw or print, but only when reading or having my morning coffee/tea break. (Tea in Summer, coffee in the Winter.)

You can see that when not in a state of total chaos I’m a bit of an organiser. I like everything laid out tidily so that I never have to hunt for what I need. Things are not always so neat. I’d just spent a couple of days giving the old place a much needed clean-up.

Drawings awaiting framing. Sketches for Saint Kevin and the Blackbird , a lino-print and some studies for the Equus illustrations. (Click to zoom.)

My desk. (Click to zoom.) The large figure on the window sill is by my friend the ceramic artist Meri Wells and is intended for the garden once we’ve built a plinth for it.

This is how I like it. Tubes of paints in ranks. Orderly, well spaced and ready for action. When I’m  ‘in the zone’ at the easel I can’t abide having to scrabble about looking for a missing colour.

My main work area with Saint Francis awaiting. (Click to zoom.) Note the radiator that makes the attic so much more comfortable than it used to be. Now I can actually get to my easel again… fitting the central heating had rendered the the room so unimaginably chaotic that working up there was out of the question… I can proceed with the painting without further interruption.

In a corner of the studio stands my Pollock’s Theatre. For the past few months it has languished in sad disarray coated in a blanket of grime and rubble. Yesterday I rescued it and took these photographs. I have a bit of a passion for the art of the toy theatre. It provides a few moments of distraction when things are going badly at the easel. (I have many sets and characters to ring the changes.) The model stage used occasionally to turn up in a painting, though not for quite a while now.

I’ve been greatly enjoying the wonderful re-telling of the medieval epic poem Gawain by the poet Simon Armitage. This is one of a number of maquettes I’ve made of the mysterious Green Knight. I don’t yet know where all this is going, but the studio walls are dotted with studies and models and so there’s no doubt that the idea is cooking!

Part Two of ‘Up in the Battery’ tomorrow.

13 thoughts on “up in the battery: part one

  1. I’m enamored of your workspace, Clive. Something about seeing where it all comes together really strikes me as intimate in a way, seeing behind the curtain as it were. Methinks a whole personality cloaks the studio and sidles up next to you when you work.

    • I wasn’t so enamoured of it before I cleaned it up and made some room to move around in. It’s surprising how uncomfortable I felt when there were boxes and furniture piled high everywhere and treacherous holes in the floor where the boards were up. I got very tense. Now I feel relaxed and happy in there, no longer anxious whenever I need to find a book or a particular tube of paint because I know where everything is again. Bliss!

      I’m glad you like the look of the Battery. Call around to see it whenever you like! Not that you’ll be passing any time soon I would guess. Would that you were. I know you’d vanish into the garden and take ravishing photographs of Philip, Henrietta and Agnes, plus any passing Red Kites or woodpeckers. We can put on quite a show here with our bird visitors.

  2. Pingback: Workspace | Via Negativa

  3. That is the cleanest studio I’ve ever seen. Love the name. Love the work. Very beautiful paintings and love the toy theaters. Where is your studio located? Not that I’m planning to drop by or anything. I just like hearing where people are from.
    Lynne

    • Ha!!!! Oh Lynne, if you had seen it before the three-day clear-and-clean session! It was beyond untidy. Like a junk shop that looters had rampaged through and left in the most unspeakable state. Worse! More as though a group of chimpanzees had broken in and held an impromptu party while we were out of the house! I just can’t work when it gets like that. I realised I was trudging up the stairs to the Battery with a heavy heart, knowing I would make slow progress with my painting because the place was like an assault course. But now all is well ordered and clean. Today I keep going in there and beaming with pleasure.

      Thank you for the encouragement Lynne. Much appreciated. I’d noticed that you’d subscribed to the blog.

  4. it’s a lovely space! seeing your work is always so inspiring for me…there are several horses here i hadn’t seen before, and the green knight! the saint francis painting is so beautiful!

    i have the same issue with lining up the paints. 🙂
    i’m glad you got the heat working!

  5. Good to see your work in its native habitat! It looks like a pretty homey space. I don’t think I’d trade my groundhogs, porcupines and squirrels for your pipistrelles, though.

    • Dave, I have enough trouble with the bats and mice. I can’t imagine what disruption larger mammals might cause! We do have squirrels, though not as yet actually in the house.

      I hear on the radio that skunks have been found in the Forest of Dean, released there by disenchanted and irresponsible ‘exotic pet’ owners. I guess there wouldn’t be much chance of getting these animals rehabilitated for life in the wild given that they were probably born in captivity. As for the wretched people who’d kept and then abandoned their hapless pets, I’d like to see how they’d fend for themselves if thrown out into the woods in Winter.

      • Sometimes I have skunks under the floor, too. They’re very quiet tenants, and I’d never know they were there at all if the other residents didn’t occassionally decide to piss them off, with the inevitible olfactory consequences.

        • OK , send the skunks. I’d appreciate some quiet tenants. The little field mice that set up home in the house each Winter may look as though butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths, but at night they party like alcohol-fuelled teenagers, stomping about and keeping us awake with a racket that belies their daintiness. Yet when I collect the humane traps each morning, there the culprits are, as quiet as one could wish for in guests!

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