We are pleased to share the workspace of photographer Patricia Bender.
A couple weeks ago I threw in the towel on my rarely used formal dining room, already overrun with art supplies, and turned it into an official artist studio. I’d created a darkroom and dry workspace in my basement over ten years ago, and now I was moving some of my work upstairs into the light, giving myself the gift of more room to draw and play. My husband Louie often teased me about being bi-coastal because I have a darkroom on the banks of the Raritan here in New Jersey , and in Michigan, where I spend part of the year, along the beautiful Red Cedar River. Now, in New Jersey, I’m bi-level as well.
This was a big step. It was me, finally acknowledging to myself that I am an artist. And it was me, honoring myself and what I do by giving myself the luxury of lots and lots of space to create. I can’t describe how good it felt. We all need to learn to be nicer to ourselves, I think, especially when it comes to our work.
Organization is not my strong suit, so both my darkroom and studio are in a bit of disarray. This suits my temperament. I make piles, not files. Much of my work stems from allowing chance and chaos into my process to see where it might take me. If my space was too tidy and slick I don’t think I would feel as free to let loose and go wild when creating my work.
I also believe the art spaces we work in evolve over time. We grow into them. I still have very little art on my upstairs studio walls. I’m looking forward to filling those blank walls with work that inspires and excites me over the coming years.
You can see in the photos that I draw on an old lecturer’s podium I found at a surplus and salvage store at Michigan State University. This store has been a treasure trove of finds. I’ve discovered photography supplies, wonderful glass objects, an amazing variety of papers, pencils, paints, you name it. If you have such a store near you, you should visit it on a regular basis. It’s my first stop every time I return to Michigan.
My darkroom, including the sink, was built by my incredibly talented brother-in-law John. I chose to make the walls green because I wanted to make certain I would enjoy being in the room. I know too many photographers who rarely use their basement darkrooms partly because they are so dank and gloomy. The green worked for me. I love descending my stairs to the darkroom, and I can’t wait to return when I have to leave.
What objects of inspiration do you have in your space?
In the darkroom, I have a beautiful old brass scale that once was used for measuring photographic chemicals. It is a work of art, and reminds me how much I love the hands on nature of the work I create.
In my new drawing studio, I’ve just hung a lush and gorgeous oil painting by my friend Bob Bernstein. We met years ago over photography. While my practice has since expanded to include drawing, his has led him to painting and sculpture. The painting — in addition to being a wonderful work of art — reminds me that you must challenge yourself to try new, maybe scary things in order to grow as an artist.
I also tape New Yorker cartoons on my darkroom and studio walls. It’s an ever changing installation. A great cover will sometimes make an appearance as well. My world would be so blue without Roz Chast and Richard McGuire.
Do you have any favorite tools in your workspace?
At an estate sale in Michigan several years ago I unearthed two ancient camera filters from a now defunct portrait studio. I use them as diffusion screens/filters on my enlarger and would be devastated if anything ever happened to them. They give my prints a soft feel without overdoing it.
At the Michigan State surplus and salvage store I mentioned earlier, I discovered a whole slew of copper rings of various sizes. I think they must have been used for plumbing. They make perfect stencils for creating the circles I love in my drawings. I would also be lost without the Lucite measuring tools used by quilters. They are unmatched for drawing linear geometric shapes.
If there is one thing you could change about your workspace, what would it be?
My darkroom is pretty much perfect. I could use a better system for drying my negatives, and I wish the door opened out instead of in. That’s about it.
The drawing studio is still a work in progress. But, I must warn you, if you have cats, make sure your studio has doors. Mine doesn’t, and my cats, Huck and Finn, have discovered how much fun it is to play with brushes, pencils, and, believe it or not, painter’s tape, when I’m asleep at night. The floor is littered with art supplies when I get up in the morning. I’m still working on a solution.
Any advice for someone thinking about adding a workspace?
First, do it! If you’re serious about your art you need to work every day. You want a space both physical and mental that is dedicated to your art. Second, take your time and make it yours. You want the space to be as user friendly as possible so that it is easy to get to work, and it is a pleasant place to continue working throughout the day… or night. You are honoring yourself and your work when you give yourself the gift of a workspace, no matter how small or unassuming it may be.
Patricia thank you for sharing your workspace. To learn more about Patricia Bender please visit her page at Patricia Bender.
To see more artist spaces please visitWhere We Work.