Welcome to this week’s sneak peek, inside the studio of Amanda McLenon! I hadn’t met Amanda formally before this interview although I was familiar with her fun paintings on nautical charts and old mirrors that I’d seen at the Marion Square Farmers market here in Charleston. I can’t recall exactly what made me reach out to her but I came across her work again recently and decided to email her to see if she would take part in the interview. She said yes! I still get thrilled (and this will never stop!) every time I find a new artist who agrees to be featured. After a bit of back and forth we arranged a time for my visit and as always I requested she not clean up for my visit. Amanda has carved out a couple little spots for her work and she paints right in her bedroom or outside when the weather is nice. What really impressed me is how compact she keeps her workspace in her home (but it does spill out into the shed as you will see). I love that she is a natural and self taught artist and that her studies in Marine Biology just compelled her to begin this work. I hope she keeps it up and I can’t wait to see how her work grows, evolves and continues to educated and delight people.
HKPS::What age did you suspect or know you were an artist?
AM::I did not discover my painting ability until 4 years ago- in my 30s! It was shocking honestly. Now that I look back I realize I was very interested in art at an early age. I was in an art club in 1st grade, but when we were forced to choose later in school, I chose math and science. I was very influenced to follow these strengths instead. I wish that our schedules would have allowed us to explore all the options for longer.
Now, I still paint with a sense of awe- because I do not know where it comes from. It is not a conscious choice to be an artist- it is an energy that builds within me that I have to express- the way many songwriters describe their process. A painting will form in my mind over many weeks, and then will have to come out.
HKPS::What mediums do you work with?
AM::I work in acrylic mostly, and I paint in reverse on glass. In the beginning I experimented and painted anything I could get my hands on: shells, wood, canvas, paper, metal. But glass was what I started with and it is still my preferred medium by far.
HKPS::Where do you make your art, how big is your studio and how long have you been in this space?
AM::I originally had a space in Tivoli downtown, and then I moved to another warehouse on Cannon St., and then a more finished space on Spring Street. In the end, I moved my studio home, and my easel is in my bedroom. My painting space is about half of my room, and the middle bedroom serves as an office and framing space (probably 150-200 square feet total). Even though I have an easel set up, I end up creating most of my paintings on the floor spread out over a blanket, in the middle of the night, with music playing and paints spread out everywhere.
HKPS::When you began working in this space did you plan any systems for the overall set up or did you let things evolve organically? How did past studio spaces or systems influence this space?
AM::Things definitely evolved organically in my studio as my paintings evolved. I experimented with all different types of surfaces and for a while became a collector- of antique frames, anything with glass in it, old windows, paints, charcoal, watercolors, brushes, etc. Unfortunately much of this stuff became clutter and I spent the last month clearing out all of the things that were not inspiring me. As I slowly determined what works for me, the space I use to create has followed.
I started with an easel pretty early but I did not take to using it until recently. I have tried many different systems for organizing my paints, from shelving units to tool buckets. My most recent system seems to be working really well- I took an old shutter and I slide the tubes of paint into the slats. This allows me to see all of the color options at once, and it also helps me gauge when I am about to run out of a color. *Brilliant tip! Thanks Amanda!
HKPS::Do you consider yourself to be an organized person?
AM::Yes and no. I am organized enough to be productive but there is certainly room for improvement! (as we can see from the books on your desk:)
My main goal in 2014 has been to create a space that helps me create in a healthy way (ergonomically – without bending over on the floor or sitting incorrectly at my easel). I realized that often the rush of creating makes me less mindful of my body position which leads to physical aches and pains later.
I am still seeking the perfect furniture for my studio. I have yet to find a table the right height and size to keep my reference material (usually my computer) and pallet within reach.
HKPS::Have you ever worked with another artist or gallery? If so did you learn any systems for organizing?
AM::I have shared studio space with other artists but everyone’s style is so different- I don’t think I really looked to them for ideas to organize my space. But that’s a good idea!
HKPS::How or where else have you learn your organizing habits and systems ?
AM::Probably from school. I am a lifetime student- with two Masters degrees I am not (technically anyway) using right now. I always enjoyed organizing spreadsheets and folders of papers. I also worked for my parents growing up, they owned a grocery store where I would do the books for them. At least the paperwork end of owning my own business is probably inspired by their systems. I have always kept a physical planner and calendar too, to this day.
HKPS::What kinds of materials/tools do you find challenging to keep organized or locate when you need to use them?
AM::Brushes! I have so many and still have not figured out what each type does- and so I find I am often searching for that favorite one. I usually get into a zone and complete a painting using only one or two brushes anyway so I probably should get rid of some.
HKPS::How many projects are you usually working on at once? Is this due to space constraints, creative process, organizing systems or other influences?
AM::I work on lots of projects at once, but usually only one painting at a time.
HKPS::How often do you purge, clean or de-clutter your supply stash and space due to space or other constraints?
AM::A few times a year. Anytime I have trouble finding something I realize it is time to de-clutter or reorganize. This year January was a major time of de-cluttering and moving anything that was not in use out of the creative space.
HKPS::Please describe how creative cycles of organization or dis-organization affect your creative process? Are there certain phases of projects that are more or less organized?(ex. I can’t focus unless things are put away, creative chaos inspires me, things get messy as I work but I clean up at the end of projects)
AM::A little chaos seems to be good for my creative process, but I do always straighten up the studio before I paint. All of my paperwork and business has to be complete too, before I feel like I can sit at the easel and create.
Something else I realized is very important for me is having a space for creating that is safe and warm and comfortable. In addition, I surround myself with inspirational and sentimental objects.: a painting I did previously that I really like, my ribbon from the North Charleston Arts Festival, natural objects collected on my travels, and a painting one of my nieces did- (to remind me not to take myself too seriously and have fun with my creations).
HKPS::How much thought do you give to your artistic body of work in terms of historic value and the overall legacy you will leave behind? How do you store/archive your work or records?
AM::I take photos of every painting I create and just have a running spreadsheet where I add basic information about each one (size, where it sold, who purchased it, etc.). This system is in place for the large paintings I create, but honestly I have painted so many things in the last 4 years I don’t have records of every one.
I am setting the intention this year to keep better records and to create works that tell a story in succession.
I am not worried about a legacy so much as having an impact in the present day, encouraging an appreciation for our natural resources and inspiring action to preserve them. I do put effort into my artwork being accurate as far as the wildlife I portray, and I like using historic maps for a sense of place and time- and in this way perhaps they will have value someday.
My greatest wish is that through seeing how other artist work we can learn from one another. There is no ONE correct system or way of organizing. There are as many creative systems as their creative makers! My aim is to highlight these unique makers in each interview. A HUGE thank you to Amanda for inviting us into her studio and sharing her personalized systems and how organizing affects her creative process. Please check out her work over at her website and if you live in the Charleston area or are visiting be sure to visit her at the weekend farmers market at Marion Square. She’s a very talented lady and I’m so glad to have her in our local community!
* Inside the Studio was my brainchild in 2011. There are a lot of popular studio features on the web and in magazines but I’m specifically interested in showing how organizational process influences the artists studio work. These photo’s are not styled and are typical of how the artists working studio looks. I request that each artist leave their space as it would be on a daily basis (just like I ask my clients). This series is meant to highlight how artist REALLY work rather than showing STYLED shots (popular in home and organizing magazines and blogs). I’m sure just like me, you are fascinated by the “behind the scenes” sneak peek into these artists working lives!