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  • 09.17.13

4 Creative Lessons From The Studios Of Famous Artists

Painter and photo editor Sarah Trigg takes you inside the studios of several artists and reveals what you can learn from exploring their workspaces and creative rituals.

Back in 2009, Sarah Trigg, a painter and photo editor, was observing her own creative rituals in her Brooklyn studio when she began thinking about what other artists were doing in their studios. “What are their rituals?” Trigg wondered, “What do their collections look like?” She realized no one else had done a book-length work photographing artists’ studios, and says she felt “a calling, for lack of a better term,” to create her new book, Studio Life: Rituals, Collections, Tools and Observations on the Artistic Process.

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Here are just a few things she learned along the way from the 100 artists she includes in Studio Life, like conceptual artist John Baldessari, performance artist Nick Cave, and photographer and video artist William Wegman.

Studio Life: Rituals, Collections, Tools and Observations on the Artistic Process

When Tools Don’t Exist, Make Your Own

One thread that Trigg saw in many of the studios was that the artists she interviewed and photographed had made their own tools to make their work easier. In her own painting practice, Trigg made what she calls a “portable sink.” “When I paint I use acrylic, which is thinned with water.” Trigg explains. “I found I had to make a lot of trips to the sink, so I got a water jug with a spigot and cut a hole in the back so I could transfer it around.” The most complex tool Trigg encountered was from the painter Gordon Terry, who created a special table to make geometric shapes that look like colorful mollusks. “Each table leg is connected to a hydraulic jack that can be much like a car can be raised or lowered to move around the paints on the surface to create his works,” Trigg says.

Embrace Your Mascots


In her own studio, Trigg had a piece of foam that she kept every time she reorganized her studio, even though it was falling apart. A friend of hers dubbed it Trigg’s “studio mascot,” because it helped her feel at home. She discovered other artists had mascots, too. Her favorite is one from the Nick Cave, who makes enormous pieces of wearable sculpture called Soundsuits. He has a four-foot tall African figurine he got at a Chicago flea market, and Trigg feels its presence is similar to the Soundsuits.

Be Inspired By Your Surroundings

Trigg was impressed by the way each city she explored–Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and San Francisco among them–influenced the artists who worked there. “In Los Angeles, as a New Yorker, it was palpable to me how much artists have access to the film and TV industry and the materials that are used in that,” Trigg says. Joe Sola, a Los Angeles-based performance and video artist, hired a stunt trainer that trains actors to do their own stunts. He would then invite curators to his studio to witness his performance, in which he’d jump head first through a window (onto a mattress out of sight).

Allow One Project to Lead Naturally to Another


Trigg is working on a screenplay now. “It may sound like sort of a leap,” from painting, writing, and photography, she says, “but it’s actually fairly feeling like a natural progression. “Screenwriting is very much image based, the way I laid out the book has a very subtle narrative.” Studio Life deliberately starts with a door, in Carol Bove and Gordon Terry’s studio, and it ends with another door, in John Baldessari’s studio. ”In between, the book goes through artists’ curiosities. Art touches on everything in life, from things that are about spirituality, things that are about anxiety, things about talismanic powers, things about our identity,” Trigg says. Exploring the meaning of art in other people’s lives gave her the tools to create a meaningful new narrative.

Have a look through more images from Studio Life in the slides above.

[All Photos by Sarah Trigg | Courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press]

About the author

Jessica Grose is a regular contributor to Co.Create. She is a freelance writer and editor who writes about culture, women's issues, family and grizzly bears.

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