In the Studio: John Duckworth
What age did you suspect or know you were an artist?
I was always drawing and coloring as a child. My folks had us doing ‘shrinky dinks’, pumpkin carving, ornaments, handmade cards, and our coloring designs printed to kitchen plates! But this was all just FUN. My first memory of being really proud of a drawing I was in the 6th grade. I drew in pencil a very realistic medieval knight on a horse. I think I still have that drawing somewhere.
What mediums do you work with?
I am an equal opportunity lover of all mediums – acrylic & oil paint, screen-printing, graphite & charcoal, colored pencil & pens, photography, airbrush, spray paint, film and audio. The medium is not the message for me, the medium is the messenger. I will alter my medium depending on what I am trying to say or achieve with a particular work of art.
Where do you make your art, how big is your studio and how long have you been in this space?
In 2007 I purchased a 1910 farmhouse with a barn-building on Johns Island SC. Previously I was living and working in an incredible 3rd floor space on King Street downtown Charleston. I had plenty of room for a great price, but the lease was month to month. As luck would have it I was able to get three years out of that space until the building finally sold and I had to look for a new home and studio. From my experience on King Street I knew exactly how much space I needed so when I found the barn-building on Johns Island I knew it was perfect for my studio. It took me a few years to renovate the building as it was pretty raw – with dirt floors, and open to the elements. I’ve since added a kitchen and a bathroom to the studio and moved in! My live/work space is about 1100 square feet and is perfect. I no longer have any separation between my ‘personal life’ and my ‘work’ – it’s all the same – and this suits me really well.
When you began working in this space did you plan any systems for the overall setup or did you let things evolve organically? How did past studio spaces or systems influence this space?
Based on my experience on King Street I had a pretty detailed sketch of what I was looking for in a new space. I not only have a regular painting practice, but a proper high-tech photography studio with specific system requirements. Everything was clearly envisioned beforehand, so when I found the home and raw barn-building on Johns Island I knew it was perfect for my needs. Of course I allowed room for an organic flow along the way – for instance, the rolling art rack system developed as the space was being built… and initially I had planned for the computers to be upstairs in the loft space, but placing them downstairs and leaving the loft as a bedroom proved to be a much better plan.
Do you consider yourself to be an organized person?
Yes, I am quite organized – I am a list-maker, and I keep a detailed calendar. At one time I considered this to be a rare trait among artists, yet I now find that most artists are very organized in their own unique way.
Have you ever worked with another artist or gallery? If so did you learn any systems for organizing?
My most impactful experience was working for an artist named David Baze in San Diego CA. I was 19-20 years old and had never actually been in working artist studio. My mother introduced me to him as he said he could use some help each Friday in his studio. I was impressed by the various systems of organization – a consistent daily routine, a painting studio with assistant, wood shop for frames and stretchers, office with bookkeeper and manager, the taking and cataloging of photos of artwork, press clippings etc… Seeing these various systems he implemented proved to be a revelation for me – it demystified the process. I realized that being an artist is like any other self-employed operation – it requires one to wear many hats, juggle many tasks, and create the systems as you go specifically for your personal intended use. There is certainly magic involved in the creative process, but becoming a ‘working artist’ is not magic at all – it’s the daily grind of hard work, organization, goal setting and implementation.
How or where else have you learned your organizing habits & systems?
My parents, having five children and little extra money, became masters of organization. I learned the importance of the efficiency of a properly articulated plan.
What types of schedules, systems, tools or processes do you use to help maintain organization in your studio? Would you like to share any tips?
Now-a-days so much of my organizing is done online and in the ‘cloud’ – I use Google Doc spreadsheets for everything – tracking sales, client leads, work orders, list-making etc… For my photography I have found that I still like to have a hard-copy “work order” that follows the piece through the various processes from proofing to delivery – I created a “work order board” so I can, at a glance, see exactly what stage each artwork is in. Because I sell photographs in editions, I incorporate a system of checks and balances to maintain accuracy between my online spreadsheets, hard copy handwritten work orders, and QuickBooks. I also use client specific and password protected online web-galleries that are very helpful in organizing potential artwork sales.
Tip – experiment with different ways of organizing until one feels right for you, there is not a correct or wrong way to do this. And don’t resist altering your method along the way as new ideas appear.
What kind of materials/tools do you find challenging to keep organized or locate when you need to use them?
Everything is where it should be, as designed, providing easy access to whatever I would like to use. If I develop a new process, I adapt and evolve my system to accommodate.
How many projects are you usually working on at once? Is this due to space constraints, creative process, organizing systems or other influences?
I have multiple projects going on at once, all the time. I might have a dozen paintings, as many photos, and an audio and video project too – all happening simultaneously. The idea of compartmentalizing my creative process sounds attractive at first, but it just doesn’t pan out well in practice. If I lose energy in one direction, there is always some other artwork that I am ready and excited to tackle. Bearing in mind that the most important aspect is for me to have an overarching plan and direction that is moving forward – within this larger vision, I am free to move throughout my day organically from one project to another. Often though, I find that “single-tasking”, exerting concentrated energy in one direction for a prolonged period of time, is necessary to finish a large project – but this immersive focus happens in waves that wax and wane.
How often do you purge, clean or de-clutter your supply stash and space due to space or other constraints? (ex. yes monthly, few times a year, or when I feel like it, because I have visitors etc…)?
My cleaning and purging is an ongoing daily process, I am always making messes and cleaning them up. Because I live in my space there is a certain level of tidiness needed for me to feel comfortable, but the space ebbs and flows from immaculate to trashed. I generally clean up my studio at the end of each day, just as I wash the dishes after each meal. I do find that special visitors are a healthy incentive to clean up my space.
Please describe how creative cycles of organization or dis-organization affect your creative process… Are there certain phases of projects that are more or less organized?
One thing that I have noticed over the years is that I flow back and forth between creative process, management, household chores, and rest & relaxation. If I have spent a large amount of time away from creative process I have a cleaning ritual that I must do prior to starting, a reset of sorts. I will spend an entire day thoroughly cleaning and organizing my entire space. It’s an interior cleanse as well – cleansing my mind to prepare myself for diving into creative process. I touch every aspect of my life & work to ensure that I feel comfortable disappearing into the creative flow – a mindspace that is only concerned with its’ own very unique form of organizing shapes, colors and forms (and is not very concerned with dates, time, finances, meetings, email, cleanliness, or phones :).
How much thought do you give to your artistic body in terms of historic value and the overall legacy you will leave behind? How do you store/archive your work or records?
I consider legacy with regards to how my life’s work affects others – this concerns all aspects of my life, work and personal, as for me they are both so intertwined as to leave little separation. Historic value is of no concern to me – human value is paramount: has my life & work contributed to the betterment of myself and those around me? and how far do these ripples of influence remain?
My wish is that through seeing how other artist work we can learn from one another. There is no ONE correct system or way of organizing…Just as John mentions, don’t be afraid to experiment and let things evolve! There are as many creative systems as their creative makers! My aim is to highlight these unique makers in each interview. A HUGE thank you John for inviting us into his studio and Living Space as well as providing the photo’s and explaining how personalized systems for organizing affects his creative process. If you want to see a full 360 STUDIO TOUR click the link, it’s gives a wonderful perspective of his space! Please check out John’s work over HERE and learn more about where his work can be seen both in Charleston and beyond!