Saturday, September 15, 2007


When Norman Rockwell launched his illustrious career, his first studio was a small attic room in a brothel. All afternoon a piano played in the parlour downstairs.

Rockwell later recalled, "a rough wooden stairway without railings led up to a trap door in the third floor ceiling." There Rockwell painted in a room so small that whenever one of the prostitutes who lived downstairs wanted to come up to smoke a cigarette and chat, Rockwell had to move his easel so the trap door could open.

The famous painter Rene Magritte lived with his wife for 24 years in a cramped three room apartment in the industrial suburbs of Brussels. The only space for his easel was in their small dining room. There he painted most of his pictures that are now hanging in major museums around the world.

Even the great Michelangelo worked in a small space. For a while, he lived in a tiny room under San Lorenzo, where his charcoal sketches on the walls can be seen to this day. At one point in his career, Michaelangelo constructed a hat with wax candles on the brim so he could work in the dark. Guided only by those flickering candles, he made some of the most beautiful art in the history of the world. Irving Stone quoted Michelangelo as saying that a small room is better for working than a large one, because a small room focuses the mind.

Sometimes I think my own work would be better if I had big skylights with good northern exposure, or large surfaces to spread out on, or a more current version of photoshop. Then I think again.


Blogger Mats Halldin said...

Cool, even Michelangelo!
I feel my 21 sq.m. flat is going to make me a real genius in no time (but following my death, of course).

Nice little post,
/ Mats

9/15/2007 6:20 PM  
Blogger Nuclear Sugar said...

Found no other way to contact you... so I'm commenting here!
I have been incredibly influenced by the cultures that the internet has created. The fate of anyone can be changed with the freedom of information that is now available. People now find their favorite influences much quicker. This culture will not decay, it will only grow with enhanced technologies.
I have sought to create a time-capsule from the future. This time-capsule acts as a virus upon the realities of the human mind. Forced full of dangerous warnings and strange excitement of the things to arrive. With a sky of soot, abstracted ideals bloom unto the perplexed viewer. Will anything be understood and taken from this insistent virtual reality?
Without leaving the realm of artist foundation, I valued total experimentation with persistent themes through a fluid narrative structure. Conceived and totally constructed within one semester of school, by one artist.

9/16/2007 2:31 AM  
Blogger Mark Stroud said...


My grandfather looked like Norman Rockwell, especailly in that famous self protrait he did. Anyway I live in a small studio apartment that seems like a palace compared with the examples given. Since I'm starting a very intense next few months to completely reinvent myself artistally maybe my small space isn't so bad.

9/16/2007 2:44 AM  
Blogger Dylan said...

Nice post. My flat, where I live and work is pretty pokey and dark. i often wish for something bigger and brighter too.

9/16/2007 3:03 PM  
Anonymous Sketchybeast said...

This post has made me feel a lot better about being moved into the kitchen after our new baby boy got the spare room!

9/16/2007 3:29 PM  
Anonymous daan said...

i thought the candle hat was Goya!!!!

9/16/2007 6:50 PM  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

great stories

9/16/2007 10:11 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Mats, Michelangelo was recognized in his own lifetime (Vasari called him "Divine Michelangelo") so there's hope for you yet.

Nuclear: cool-- I espcially like the flying tricycle.

Mark and Dylan, I'm not saying it's pleasant to work in cramped quarters; all I'm saying is that there are a lot of great artists who came before us who refused to let it distract them from their pursuit of art.

9/16/2007 11:12 PM  
Blogger around the world said...


9/16/2007 11:19 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Sketchybeast, I know from experience that the kitchen table is uncomfortable, but you are making the right trade off. I have two children and as far as I can tell, there is no act of creation in art that can compare with creating and nurturing new life.

9/16/2007 11:24 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Daan, perhaps Goya used candles as well, but Michelangelo invented the hat with candles so he could continue to work far into the night. Vasari, his contemporary, saw the hat several times and even wrote about how Michelangelo used goat tallow rather than beeswax for the candles. In the days before electricity, Michelangelo just couldn't bear to lose productivity when the sun went down.

9/16/2007 11:30 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Thanks, Lotusgreen.

Around the world, that's right-- all three of these artists were illustrators. Rockwell illustrated for the magazines of his day, Magritte supplemented his income with commercial work in between surrealistic paintings, and Michelangelo, of course, illustrated the Bible on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

9/16/2007 11:50 PM  
Anonymous stiftet said...

One can always wish for something bigger or fancier. I often do. Sometimes I belive that a new tool or a bigger studio is finally gonna make my art lift of and take me to my rightfull place among the famous. Then I think again, and instead of the latest Adobe application or sandingmachine, I realise that the only thing I need to do is to sharp my pencil and take a new sheet of paper from the pile behinde me and start all over again.

9/17/2007 7:53 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Bravo, stiftet!

9/17/2007 10:17 AM  
Anonymous Brian said...

Your mind is the studio. A samll mind in a big studio is nothing. A great mind in a small studio stretches out to the universe and beyond.

9/17/2007 10:24 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

Right now sitting in a garden cottage with three whiny Jack Russels running around yelping at birds flying above, feeling miserable about my fate...

My mood's been lifted, thanks David!

9/17/2007 10:44 AM  
Anonymous Jim said...

"Let me have men about me that are fat, sleek-headed men and, such as sleep o’nights. Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much, such men are dangerous."

William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
Act I, scene ii

Ol Ceasar knew that the lean and hungry men of the world are the ones to look out for, and I believe him.

In fact, I would submit that the genius of these great illustrators happened not in spite of their adversity early on, but rather because of it! Or, perhaps as our fathers might say, 'it builds character!'

Success has a way of dulling the edge of even the greatest minds. With sucess comes comfort and with comfort comes the desire to continue in comfort, which is a very different motivation for creation than that which would move one to fashion a candle hat.

Just some grist for a very interesting mill...and a caution for all of us up and coming illustrators...

9/17/2007 2:21 PM  
Blogger Heather Lister-Cook said...

I love nosing around other peoples 'artspaces':)so atmospheric, whatever the size ... this topic was a treat for me!!
I really enjoy reading your blog, thanks :)

9/17/2007 4:50 PM  
Blogger SpaceJack said...

My theory: Beyond a large space being distracting, a small (and perhaps unpleasant) environment makes a good incentive to live in your mind and immerse yourself in your work.

9/17/2007 7:13 PM  
Anonymous Daniel van Benthuysen said...

Great post. I'm lucky enough to share a rather large house with my wife but don't mind that my studio is far and away the smallest room. It does indeed help one focus. Unless of course you're trying to do a very large piece in which case it's just a pain.

9/17/2007 8:31 PM  
Blogger Diego said...

I have been "mobilized" from our spare bedroom when my daughter was born, and now have to do with the living room, which is larger, but more of a populated place with the little one crawling around, my wife asking me to do some chore (or if I remembered to do it before) the TV blaring and the phone ringing at my side. In fact I've been thinking to move to the shared laundry room in the last floor, since nobody seems to go and laundry there. Just hope there are no ghosts there, or something like that.

9/18/2007 9:29 AM  
Blogger 艾迪 said...

your blog is Special
i like your blog

9/18/2007 3:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! Your post gives me hope! I especially like the point that a small room focuses the mind.


9/21/2007 5:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amazing. And here I've been whining about having only a tv table to work my polyclay objects on....I am humbled...

9/21/2007 11:05 PM  
Anonymous Charley Parker said...

Thanks for this. I sometimes jokingly say that I put on my studio rather than going into it, but I have to think it's nice just to have a dedicated room to work in, no matter how small or cluttered. Any whims that a larger studio would somehow solve lots of problems are dispelled by my equally cluttered hard drive and brain.

9/28/2007 4:31 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Charley, for someone with a small working space, you must be the most hugely prolific blogger I know. It just goes to show.

10/01/2007 3:29 PM  

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