If you walk up through our garden, past the potting shed, along the mown pathways in our meadow of a lawn, turn left past the washing line and an unruly boarder…. peep around the corner and …..you will find….. (under the apple tree)…..……. my new studio!
I’m delighted to be fully moved in now and feel that it is important to document how it came to be. I think it is the most special place…so longed for after many years of working on the living room floor or in corners of the kitchen. It is warm, peaceful and completely my own sanctuary.
As I write this it is June, 5 months after the build began and tiny apples are falling from the tree (Monty Don says this is called ‘June drop’) where the tree makes way for larger fruit to grow amongst its branches. I can hear each apple as it drops and the rolls along the width of the roof. Sometimes, a blackbird lands and starts pecking at it and I can hear its footsteps as it travels around the tin territory.
It all began way back when the days were very short, with my builder friend, Darren (owner of Farleaze Construction), messaging me to say that if I still wanted him to build me a studio he could start on Monday as they had had a job cancelled and needed a bit of work to fill the gap. Three days later Darren and Roy arrived bright and early with digger and tools to started clearing the area by the ponds.
I have to add at this point that, as with any of the major works that occur at our house, there is only, what I would call, a ‘fag packet’ plan*, that is to say that everything is sort of made up as I go along but with Darren and Roy’s collective experience it all seems to work out in the end! So, it started out with questions of how big, how high we could build without planning and worked within that…that was the plan!
(*A fag packet plan harks back to a time when people used to smoke real cigarettes and when, in need of a writing surface, would break open the only source of paper they had…the cardboard packaging)
Looking back, I think this approach has been a good balance between a little bit of winging-it-DIY-style and pro-construction with the knowledge and skills of an excellent and experienced build team. It’s meant that the end result is fantastic quality…creative, quirky and unique but not with the price tag of an ‘off the peg’ garden studio. It’s more work this way, but you get a lot more for your money.
My basic wish list was for it to sit nicely in the landscape of our garden, connect visually with our potting shed and to be bright, warm, spacious … and have electricity!
The studio site is midway up our very long garden in a lovely spot near the newly laid hedge. Once finished it would have a lovely view over the valley to the east of our plot where the the beautiful light changes almost by the minute. In the morning, the sun paints the sky purple, peach and pink and the in the evening there is a curious stolen light cast from the west which creates long shadows across the folds of the valley.
Access is difficult and although we can get a small digger up the garden, the option of adding a concrete base was out. Not one to be daunted by a problem, Darren trawled through YouTube videos to come up with a fantastic adjustable bolted base system. Once the bolts were concreted in place the base could be built on top and the height levelled and adjusted with minimal turns of the connecting nut. This kept land distruption and costs to a minimum and actually works better as no wood is coming into contact with the ground.
Over the following few weeks the rest of the timber structure went up really quickly with two window gaps left for the old windows which Darren and his partner Hayley had bought for another project but no longer needed. There was another window hole left for a picture frame piece of double glazed glass for the view of the valley.
I was around on most days of the build because with no proper plan, I was needed to make decisions on the spot. Most people would hate this approach but I LOVE working like this as I find the end product is an exciting combination of tiny decisions rather than a long standing vision. I am always interested in ‘process‘ and work like this when I am making art because I like having a set of creative problems to solve. When they are solved the art is done and the result is a combination of all those resolutions.
Luckily, Darren was very relaxed and happy working like this too!
So, with the base and frame constructed, in went masses of insulation sealed in place with OSB board and ply and then neatly wrapped up in a weather protecting layer. A tin roof was added as well as an old patio door bought locally via Facebook Marketplace for £100. Oak cladding (also bought on Marketplace) and left over from the potting shed construction was added but there was not enough so we had to buy a bit more from a local supplier. Here you can see the temporary door we had whilst we were looking for a patio door.
The View from the roof!
After the exterior was built, I was set for a week of filling, sanding, filling…and more sanding… I then painted the whole space white. There was no creative decision to this it’s just that we had a huge pot of white paint in the shed and it seemed silly to buy any more. Gav (my husband) who is a bit handy when it comes to electrics, then laid armoured cable and connected and installed them…which, to our amazement, worked first time!
The next decision was what to do with the floor and shelving. Storage was to be an important part in the functioning of the space and I had allocated one wall to the storage of books, boxes and files so the rest of the space could be a working area. The answer was old scaffolding boards sourced by Darren and fitted by Piers who, thankfully, was very happy with the making-it-up-as-we-go-along-approach… as long as I kept plying him with tea and biscuits.
He laid the floor, and recreated another of my, now famous, fag packet sketches of a slanted and very wonky shelving system (although he kindly and quietly adjusted my measurements and made sure the real life shelves were straight!) There was a bit of a dodgy gap by where the door had been fitted so he created an interesting boxed in sort of architrave from the remaining boards giving the look of a rather posh beam above the door!
And then…it was done! I have to say I couldn’t quite believe it! My view is like the most beautiful painting but is alive and moving and always changing.
(I did have a Disney moment just after this picture was taken when a blackbird perched on the window sill and a young deer then wandered through the barley in the field!)
I spent a few weeks moving all my stuff in and giving it really good sort out…not that you’d know that now. I kept my copious collections of paper but did part with lots of old art equipment which I was delighted be able to donate to local good causes who will no doubt be able to make much better use of it all.
Our ancient tabby, Bella, now retired from her summer walkabout adventures where she would disappear for weeks on end, has moved in to the studio and waits outside the door every morning so she can settle down for a snooze…
The beautiful calligraphic piece above the sofa is by Ann Hechle, the sofa was another FB Marketplace purchase and the little chair to the right was a donation from my Mum. I can’t remember what colour the windows are as it was another can of leftover paint in our shed that I had had colour matched to one of the blues made by Farrow and Ball. The old wool rug is from a car boot sale as was the art trolley but originally from Ikea.
Below are two of my miniature collages. I make these from bits of old artwork and I often make them if I’m finding art (or life) difficult as they keep my mind and hands busy. I like it that the piece with the green background looks like a tiny collection of ceramics.
Can you guess where I bought this old noticeboard below…yes…Marketplace! It was in the most beautiful house in Stroud but originally from an old village hall. It now exhibits bits and bobs I make, things that inspire and postcards sent by friends.
These bottles sit on the window sill and were created for the AGM exhibition with The Calligraphy and Lettering Art Society. The theme was ‘magic’ so I made potions for all creative and calligraphic maladies!
My favourite of these (and one that I would definitely like to take of swig regularly) is pictured behind ‘A Good Eye’. It’s called An Effervescing Remedy for Tears of Frustration and contains 20% alcohol. Dose: a glass or two or three times a day. (It’s sometimes referred to by it’s other brand name ‘Mother’s Ruin’!)
This beautiful paper artwork is a tunnel book created for me by my daughter Emma and shows me in my old studio at Victoria Works. I particularly love the painted shadows, lettering in the background and, of course, the two little blackbirds!
I spent many years making signs for my shop on notonthehighstreet.com. I created metal wreaths of tangled lettering, house signs and these alphabet pieces which were very popular amongst arty, designery sort of folk…and, weirdly, the wives of a lot of premiership football players! The lettering is all hand drawn then digitised so it can be cut out of mild steel and then rusted. They look very fragile but are really solid. Every letter is connected in some way through stem or serif.
View from the back. The mass of foliage is one of our big nature ponds which has taken on a life of it’s own! It’s home to hundreds of frogs who migrant along past my studio and into the lovely damp undergrowth by my door.
At this point you may have completely nodded off…but if not, here’s a little video by me taking you on a tour around the inside.
P.S It’s around 15 minutes long so perfect for a tea break…enjoy!