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Painting a studio

By June 17, 2017Uncategorized

I have a new little studio to fix up. It’s a mess of a space; low ceilings, filthy and rough, but full of potential. I thought I’d let you know how I make decisions about fixing up a studio space. Today, I’ll talk about the paint. Painting an empty room is such a simple thing, and yet I’m about to discuss it at impressively extensive lengths. Do not overlook the simple things. They can be very complicated. 


As an ex-paint professional snob, I am fundamentally opposed to Behr, awful stuff, but other than Behr just about any paint company is fair game. Most companies have top quality and low quality products within their lines. There happens to be a Sherwin Williams across the street from me, and the guys there have been great to work with, so I’m going with Sherwin Williams’ paint. I chose the Super Paint. Honestly, Super Paint is too nice for this application, but I figure 1 coat of great paint is better than 2 coats of shitty paint, it’s on sale, and nothing could be better than a paint store across the street. As far as paint quality, if you’ve ever painted a ceiling with a roller, you know nice thick paint means more paint gets on the ceiling, and less on you, and that can be worth something. Also, nicer paint isn’t as fumey (to me), and it’s a pleasure to work with. I like watching good thick creamy paint go on the wall. It covers well, and I enjoy myself.  


I like the way the studio floor looks already. It’s old plywood, with the previous layer of old grey-blue paint benignly chipping off. It looks old and worn. I like the sense of time in it. Plus – who cares? It’s a painting studio! I’m just going to get it messy anyway, right? So the floor doesn’t matter. But…. it is a little dark, it is definitely dirty, paint chips come up when I walk on it, there are splinters here and there, and it’s too rough to clean with a broom or a mop. Since I crawl around on my studio floors a lot, I drop things and want to be able to pick them up without having them covered in debris, and since I touch the floor, then surfaces that I don’t want to get dirty (like nice paper). A dirty floor will make for some sad future moments. That settles it. I’m painting the floor. I’m painting it with with SW Porch and Floor acrylic.


The walls are bumpy and flawed, so I chose flat paint. Whereas glossy paint flashes dark and light at every bump, calling attention to flaws and making a surface look hard and sharp, the tiny granulations in flat paint diffuse the light, and soften roughness. I like the way flat paint looks, but not the way it feels to touch, so any areas that are touched (doors) will be in semi-gloss. This isn’t for washability, it’s for touch-ability. 


I didn’t like any of the whites in the Sherwin Williams fan deck. Not for this studio. Too grey, too pink, too yellow, no no no said the picky person. None were quite what I wanted. I am particular about these things. I wanted the maximum amount of light reflection, bright as possible, so the base of the paint was “high reflective white.” To that, I wanted a bit of warmth. I did want to make the room feel soft and friendly. I wouldn’t recommend this color to everyone, but for my own personal preferences, yellow ochre is the undertone for almost every painting I do. I love yellow ochre.I love any color mixed with yellow ochre. Yellow ochre is in my paintings, it’s in my skin, my favorite scarf. Other colors go in and out with my moods, but I have always felt happy and comfy in this color. A bit of yellow ochre mixed with bright white looks like mascarpone: creamy. So I made my own recipe: I asked for Y3 pigment in the paint. Y3 is the paint store equivalent of yellow ochre. I saved my own special recipe: “Studio Walls.” Yum.


Before I choose any color, I look to see where the light is bouncing. If it’s bouncing off the ceiling, the floor can be dark without darkening the room much. But here the brightest source of light is bouncing off the floor. The first surface the light bounces off of in a room determines the light and temperature of the whole room. If it’s black, it’ll eat the light. If it’s red or green, the light will bounce red or green. In the studio, there is a window that lets in light. It comes in and hits the floor. So even though I’m not a clean white floor kind of gal, this light is important to me and I want to facilitate its travel through the room. I chose a color that has a lot of Y3, plus charcoal grey: “Useful Grey” from the Sherwin William’s palette. The light from the window comes in, hits the warm light floor color, and carries through the room. Perfect. 


Because it is a small room, and I want to de-emphasize all the stops and starts and angles in the room. I want to keep the continuous flow of wall-ceiling-door surface as smooth and undramatic as possible. I want my attention to be on my paintings, not on the pretty color of the doors. This means keeping color transitions to a minimum. Instead of changing colors and having pretty colored doors, I used the same creamy color on everything: ceiling, walls, trim, and doors – changing only the sheen on the surfaces I’ll touch. 


I like good paint, and I like good brushes. They make the work enjoyable. Purdy used to make the best brushes, but they’ve been bought and sold and bought again. Wooster brushes are now my favorite. Give me a 2.5″ Wooster alpha angled sash and I’ll happily paint all day.


Day 0: Installed window, replaced trim, kicked some ass (Thanks Steve!)

Day 1: Pulled out nails and poky things (Thanks Lauren and Derin for doing this while I was outside painting the mural)

Day 2: Spackled, small repairs, sweep, scraped floor while listening to Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red, and a podcast about sound engineers for nature documentaries.

Day 3: Primed ceiling and walls while listening to Lendy read school numbers, then left for the day because the primer stunk, and we were surrounded.

Day 4: Painted ceiling, painted walls, painted floor (1st coat) while listening to the Archers.

Day 5: Painted doors and trim, painted floor (coat 2) while listening to Radiolab’s story on The Gondolier.

Tomorrow: New electric wall plates; a worthwhile splurge.




This is a painting studio, not a suburban palace. So while I am particular about light and color, I’m not aiming for flawless. The house painter in me wants to do another coat, but the fine art painter in me sees the moments where the slightly grey-white primer can be seen through the luminous top coat, and it looks like areas of paintings I admire. I think paint moments like this are beautiful, and they’ll help me remember to stay relaxed with my paintings – even if I don’t consciously see them, an imperfect room is much more relaxing to me than a perfect room, so I’m leaving them. Goals achieved, perfection is imperfection.

Photographs of subtle paint holidays are not easy to take, but here’s a little corner moment:

So – there it is. Painting studio painted. 


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