The Ups and Downs of the Artist Loft Life

Most artists agree that living with your art 24/7 in a live/work space is both a blessing and a curse. The ability to work at any hour, be surrounded by your art, ditch a commute, and share resources and inspiration with other artists is the benefit of a live/work space. But these spaces are sometimes small, often set in old, repurposed industrial buildings, and offer little escape from the job.

artist loft
Collage artist Susan Savory and her husband, painter Bruce Dean, share their live/work space at The Brewery in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Roberta Wax)

“I’m a workaholic, so living in my studio is good and bad, because the work is always there,” says mixed-media artist Teale Hatheway. Hatheway lives at The Brewery, a 16-acre, 310-unit artists’ complex located on the edge of downtown Los Angeles, California, and situated near a train station, a UPS truck depot, and spitting distance from a busy freeway. Units there range from 1,000 to 6,000 square feet and rent for $2,000 a month and up. When her muse calls, Hatheway can immediately answer, living amidst her art in her narrow 1,500-square-foot studio where she has resided for more than a decade.

Public art walks and open studio days are bonuses offered at many live/work studios; they give residents exposure and encourage the community to support local artists. The twice-yearly, two-day Art Walk at The Brewery helped build a client base for Hatheway, who creates large-scale architecture-inspired acrylic pieces as well as textiles.

Art Walk, she says, gives her a personal connection with potential buyers. “People trust you more when they’ve been in your home.” On the downside, however, during Art Walk, strangers may peer not just at your work, but into your private space as well. Artists respond to that in different ways, with some using curtains or screens to shield their living spaces.

Being at work around the clock can take its toll, notes photographer Marshall J. Vanderhoof, who has been at the Brewery for nearly a year. “I’m a workaholic anyway, so it’s hard to turn it off when you are living in it,” Vanderhoff says. “If I’m inspired, I just keep working. I’m still trying to figure out the work-life balance.” With smart phones, however, even non-artists find it difficult to disconnect from work while away from the office.

“I like having my art and materials all around me,” says collage artist Susan Savory, who has also created jewelry and fiber art. “I have to see things every day. When I had an outside studio I didn’t work as much because I have to be surrounded by (my art) things.”

artist loft
Mixed-media artist Katherine DuBose Fuerst lives and works in her studio at Western Avenue Studios in Lowell, Massachusetts. (Photo by Katherine DuBose Fuerst)

“Living with my work full time, I can work any time, day or night,” adds fiber artist Susan Garry, who lives and works in a 1,500-square-foot loft at Western Avenue Studios, a five-acre, three-building former mill in Lowell, Massachusetts. The complex is similar to the Brewery, with 50 live/work lofts, 250 work-only studios, and a co-op gallery. Rent for the live/work lofts ranges from $1,000 to $1,800 a month.

“There’s opportunity to drift into the work, to have an idea and execute it, or try it out right away,” adds Garry, who has lived at Western Avenue since August 2014. “No one else’s schedule is in play. I don’t have to get dressed for work.” She also loves the community aspect, which might include regular critique sessions or sharing a model for figure drawing practice. “In interacting with other artists, my art is broadened,” Garry adds. “I gain confidence to try new things, expand my range.”

“I have definitely enjoyed, and benefited from, the inspiration and interaction of the artists around me,” notes Katherine DuBose Fuerst, who works with oils, collage, and paper clay, and lives in a studio just under 1,500 square feet at Western Avenue. “Many artists are somewhat reclusive,” she adds, “and I’m no exception. It helps to be steps away from friends and colleagues when you need supplies, a sounding board, or another pair of educated eyes.”

Being around your work all the time is good and bad, she says. “It’s good because it’s hard to procrastinate finishing something that is in front of you, but it’s bad because it’s hard to leave something alone when it’s in front of you.” Also, she can’t close off a room when she works with strong-smelling products.

But, artists agree, the tradeoffs are a small price to pay for living among one’s art with others who embrace the same muse.


Roberta Wax is an award-winning journalist and imperfect crafter. Her work has appeared in a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Los Angeles Times and a variety of craft titles. Roberta has designed for several craft companies. Though she has no formal art background, she was a crafty Girl Scout leader. Visit her website at creativeunblock.com.


This Backstage Pass article is featured in our March/April 2018 edition of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. See what else is inside this issue when you view our lookbook preview!

The March/April 2018 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors has everything you need to explore new mixed-media abstract art techniques and materials. Learn from top artists like Dawn Emerson, Karen O’Brien, Becky Nunn, and more!

 

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