Inside the artists’ studios: 5 Seattle-area creators give us a peek

As you walk through the Seattle Art Museum’s newest exhibition highlighting the work of artist Alberto Giacometti, you may notice a unique section not often accompanying an artist’s completed work. A section and a series of photographs have been dedicated to highlighting Giacometti’s studio space, a modest space that he worked out of his entire career.

The Giacometti Foundation, the French organization that protects and disseminates the work of Giacometti, not only called the artist’s studio inseparable from his legend, but necessary to understanding his work. Portraits of Giacometti in his studio show him surrounded by his artworks, capturing an image of a man famous for his sculptures of solitary people. Within the walls of this studio, Giacometti spent 40 years creating.

“His studio crystallized his work, personality and life into a single compact space,” said art historian Michael Peppiatt in a photo essay from the Tate in London. “In the end, the studio came closer to his vision than any single work or even a body of works, and certainly closer than an exhibition or book.”

Earlier this month, we checked in with five Seattle-area artists to find out what we can learn about their art and goals from the spaces in which they create their art. We asked each artist to tell us about their workspaces and work, in their own words. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Marita Dingus

Artist Marita Dingus, known for her multimedia works using found objects, works out of the home in Auburn in which she was raised. Dingus splits time between her Auburn studio and her home in Renton, where she lives with her spouse.

My father bought the land in 1950, and he built the house in 1956. When my parents died, my brothers and sisters said it was fine that I could keep the family home for my studio. It’s a house that sits in a seven-acre forest in Auburn. I have lived in that house the better part of my life. I left many times to live in other places, but I always came back. I’ve been there 66 years, I’ve always loved it because of the forest.

People who come out say, ‘Gosh, you’ve got your very own forest.’ The forest informs my work. If you look at my work and you think of the fact that I grew up in a forest, I live in a forest and my studio is a forest, it will make a lot more sense to you why the aesthetic is what it is.

Most of the art I make, I make out on the patio outside because I’m outside in nature on the cement deck, looking up at the trees. I do get inspiration from the forest outdoors, but a lot of my inspiration is from African art. Of course, my favorite African art was from the groups that lived in the forest, like the Congo people. So I say, I must be a descendant of a forest dweller since forests really get me excited.

I’ve always known I love the forest, but I love it more the older I get.

Romson Bustillo

Interdisciplinary artist Romson Bustillo works out of Seattle’s Good Arts Building, creating art that ventures into mixed media and printmaking. Bustillo moved into this workspace shortly before pandemic lockdowns began in 2020, having previously worked in a studio on South Jackson Street for several years.

What’s important is that I have this space where I feel comfortable to work, space that I can think things through, I can make, I can pause, reflect and so on, without too much distraction or outside pressure to go one way or the other . That’s why the space, for me, is critical. Sometimes you have studio spaces and they’re open spaces. Ours are individual actual rooms.

Light is super important. I’m a person who has to have a window. Sometimes studios are interior, so mine tend to be exterior. When I first enter a space, there’s something, it’s hard to explain — I try to feel the vibe of the room. I have a little ritual where I make offerings, in my own way, to the space to allow me the privilege to work in that space.

And it’s really [about] not needing to worry about things like orderliness or whatnot. It’s a space that allows you to work without distraction. That’s the most critical factor for me. It can look like a hurricane, actually, during the process of making. And the idea is that you can have that freedom. During the making, for many of us, the idea is to let whatever comes out at that moment — knowing that no one’s going to knock on your door. Just go for it.

Barbara Earl Thomas

During Barbara Earl Thomas’ storied career, she’s seen many studio configurations: At one point, working out of a large building and squeezing in late-night studio time after work. At another, sharing studio space with her living space. Now, Thomas crafts her intricate cut-paper artworks in a converted house in the Columbia City neighborhood, walking-distance away from where she lives. Walls and tables are lined with her current projects and printouts and images that serve as inspiration.

Whatever configuration you have, it has good aspects. When I’m living in space, I roll over and there everything is. If I get an idea, then it would be right there. When I’m away from it, I go, ‘Isn’t it great? It’s not about washing the dishes and getting my clothes up off the floor. It’s just about this one thing.’

My gallery work that you’ll see, each series grows out of the last thing I’ve done. So you go back 30 years, everything keeps growing out of the fertile ground that I planted or made before. I come here, and I go, ‘OK, I’ve got a show to finish.’ I have got to just set my eye on that mark and just walk towards it. Then, in the process of doing that, all kinds of things that I have not imagined or anticipated start to happen. The work kind of builds on itself, my skills build on themselves, and the work starts to appear. I’m good at following the idea rather than generating an idea from which I will not wander off the path. I start out and I have a general idea and the work starts to unfold.

Whatever comes into my space becomes fair game. So I try to surround myself with things that I want to influence me or that I want to think about or that I want not to forget. I really envy people who do the journal thing every day. I just never developed the habit. You do have sort of cursory notes. If I hear something, I write it down so that I can remember that word or that phrase because it’s connected to something that was interesting to me.

Aramis O. Hamer

Walking into Aramis O. Hamer’s studio, you’re met face to face with the scale and bold colors of her spiritual murals. Hamer works in a Ballard studio inside a converted building that has had drywall put in to allow a variety of artists to have their own individual workspaces. In what is essentially a corner office, Hamer is surrounded by ceramic artists, photographers, painters, fashion designers and more. Half of Hamer’s space is dedicated to her efforts to sell and ship her work and another side features the unstretched canvas of her newest work stapled to the wall.

I actually came from a studio where it was a collective studio space, which was amazing. But as my practice started to grow, I realized that I needed my privacy. I needed something where it was my space. In the collective space, I had to pack up all my stuff and make sure I was considerate of my neighbours. One thing about moving from painting in my living room to having a studio is, I can just leave stuff out. So when you come back to your creative space, you can just jump back into the practice.

Typically the way that I paint, I’ll lay the canvas on the floor and I’ll pour on it. You can see a little spiral here in the middle of my floor. I had a smaller canvas laid there and I poured paint. What’s nice about a stretch canvas, it’s like a plate. You can turn it and it drips a certain way. What’s cool about the unstretched canvas — you can completely fold it. From that folding of the canvas, you make this sort of psychologist inkblot, Rorschach type of symmetry that gives you another layer.

And it’s able to give me scale in an affordable way, because huge canvases that are already stretched in the store are really expensive. So there’s the cost benefit, the storage and the creative practice of having that flexibility to create different forms by using the canvas and folding it on itself.

It was even more businessy in here [before recently reorganizing]. It was frustrating me because I felt like I was a shipping distribution company versus an artist. So much square footage was boxes and shipping, which is great. Like, as a full-time artist, I’m selling, I’m getting things out. But I really wanted to prioritize the space for my creative practice.

Jake Prendez

Lining one wall of South Delridge’s Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery is the artwork of owner and co-director Jake Prendez. The opposite wall features the work of other artists from marginalized communities. But tucked away in a corner is Prendez’s workspace, where he paints steps away from the gallery and store’s checkout counter.

It’s not ideal, but it’s working. It gets a little distracting because you’ll be painting in a zone and then, ‘I would like to purchase these things.’ I’ll be painting here and I think a lot of folks will get curious. They’ll come over and just kind of watch a bit and maybe ask some questions. Usually, it’s like, ‘Oh, what kind of paint do you use? What are you painting?’ And I’ll explain.

‘Art Jake’ was born in LA. I got really involved in the Chicano art scene in East LA. We were hosting all these pop-up art shows and doing the downtown LA art walk. There were just amazing spaces, and I was surrounded by amazing artists. There were these sort of Chicano stores that sold art and apparel, and then these community spaces. The idea was it was an autonomous space. It wasn’t a non-profit, it wasn’t a business. It was completely community funded.

One of the things I realized in Seattle right away was, we had the talent, but we didn’t have the space. I met some amazingly talented artists. They were all doing all these shows and never really crossed paths. I wanted to be that glue that brought people together. This space, the community immediately took to it and supported it.

We’re realizing we’ve outgrown this space already. This was the first step. The second step is a larger commercial space. The big third step is the Nepantla Cultural Arts Center. It’ll have a gallery, a maker space where you can create, a digital art space, a tech program that teaches through an anti-racist, anti-sexist curriculum. And affordable artist studios. That’s a few years down the road, but it’s moving really fast.

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