07 November 2008


Hi there!

This blog tells the story of how I designed and built a painting studio on my back lot. It's easy to look through. Go to the right sidebar and refer to the Contents list. You can begin at The Prologue, Number 1. and proceed numerically via the sidebar contents (remember to read each section from the bottom up — blogs present the most recent content first) or browse in whatever section looks interesting. This blog is no longer active, but my painting blog is.

Come see what I now create in my studio at suzannemcdermott.com. You can also visit My Great Day.

Learn about my Online Drawing and Watercolor Courses where you can join me in my studio online!

Thanks for coming by.

23 January 2008

Full Circle

I am leaving you with the two paintings that hang by the side of the front studio door. The top is the second watercolor I made in the studio, a copy of Carel Fabritus The Goldfinch featured on the opening post on My Great Day. The bottom is my painting of the old shed that originally stood on the site of the new studio and is featured in the prologue to this blog.

Have I told you how much I love it here in my studio?  I do!  And how grateful that I was able to realize this project?  I am! 

If you've arrived at this page as a first time visitor, I refer you to the contents in the sidebar where you can read about the designing, building and coming to life of my painting studio in an orderly manner.

This blog now merges into my other blogs with daily postings from this studio:

Landscape into Art, my main painting site

My Great Day where I post influences, art history and music essays, videos, photos and personal what-not

Studies and Sketches, various studies and drawings

and The Grand Tour, weekly Sunday posts of paintings made while I was touring as a singer songwriter.

Many thanks to Laurie McCarriar for her support throughout this building project. Laurie is a photographer in Asheville, NC who makes fabulous prints and notecards of my paintings and with whom I've collaborated on a number of design projects.

Buy or download my Songs and CDs

22 January 2008

Landscape into Art

Finally, I was ready to undertake my major project, Landcape into Art. A year to prepare and, as I write this, three months underway.

21 January 2008

The Garden

The studio was dressed in paint but otherwise looked rather naked. I laid out and dug perennial beds. Along the path I planted lavender, geranium, rosemary and other delights. I was so looking forward to the lavender maturing but not one of the eight plants survived the brutal heat wave and extreme drought last summer.

One by one, I replaced them with marigolds and other things. A friend said that a perennial garden is never finished. This past year, I've learned what thrives (rosemary, geranium, salvia, anise hyssop) and what doesn't.

Here's the end of the first summer in October glory.

20 January 2008

Private Lessons

On occasion, I will give private lessons. In this case, guitar lessons to the daughter of one of my charter class members.

Ten-year old girls should rule the world.

19 January 2008

Book Shelves

I cannot even remember when I made these but one day, I woke up and decided to put everything on hold and build these shelves. At day's end, I was very pleased with myself.

18 January 2008


I found this photo of myself taken not too long after moving into the studio. I figured that it should be included here somewhere, so here 'tis.

Meet Tallulah

The short story is that I released the kitten after her recovery then trapped the extremely feral cat we thought was her mother. That cat, who saved the kitten's life and doted on her, turned out to be male and Feline Leukemia Positive. He could not be released back into the "wild", he was not a cat who could be domesticated and the consensus among the veterinarians was to euthanize him. It was one of the worst things I have ever had to do and he is buried out back under his favorite bird hunting spot.

The kitten had to be isolated and tested for Leukemia at three and again at six months. The original plan was that the studio was going to be a cat free zone. Well, I thought, OK, six months. She sat at the front door and watched for her parent cat for weeks.

But here she is as a wild kitten...

... scrawny and flea bitten.

And here she is, a month or so later, helping with art history research.

Fourteen months later, she is as much a part of this studio as I am. She has it made, is content, thriving (Leukemia free) and, I admit it, I am head over heels in love with her.

What can I say? I mean, look at her.

To paraphrase Jean Cocteau, the cat is the soul of the studio made visible.

17 January 2008

Charter Class

Most of the students from my fall 2006 Basic Drawing class at Cheekwood continued directly into my Basic Watercolor workshop and follow up series of classes at the new studio. We had a really great group and it was an absolute delight to break the new studio in for teaching with them.

The kitten helped get everything ready...

...after I rearranged the furniture for a class.

16 January 2008


See, it was like this...

There were a few stray cats that Aubrey, next door, was feeding. One was a kitten who, at a week or two old in April, had been carried to Aubrey's back door by an older cat. By fall, I decided that the strays should at least be fixed and vaccinated for Rabies before winter and Aubrey agreed to split the bill.

The kitten was more interested in food than being shy so was the easiest to trap. As she turned out to be a female, her recovery time from surgery was at least a week. Aubrey's son loaned me his dog's carrier.

15 January 2008

Nashville Daily Photo

Around this time, I was making my "practice" blog, Nashville Daily Photo. You can see the results by clicking on that link. I took the above photo of the Nashville Skyline from the highway overpass a few blocks up, at the far end of my street.

My first foray into blogging and my first real project from the studio, I had to quit it for various reasons detailed in the last post of that blog but mostly because, hey!  I was here to paint, not to make photos.

14 January 2008

All Dressed Up

It was a relief to have the painting finished and I was very happy with the colors. It's the most beautiful house in the neighborhood now, from the front and the rear.

But my favorite color is the Fairy Dust back door and thank god for that because I certainly have to look at it an awful lot as I go in and out and in and out and...!

13 January 2008

Preparing the Canvas

The came highly recommended by my star contractor, these brothers from Columbia (South America, not South Carolina). We started out friendly enough but by the end, they were frustrated because the job took them longer than they expected and I insisted that they paint over areas they missed.

The studio was done well enough but that's because the Hardie Board was already properly primed. Less than a year later, I had to have all of the trim on the house and the back door completely repainted. The painters who redid the work were fabulous, we worked together well and they were very entertaining.

12 January 2008

Exterior Palette

You all know, and if you don't, someone will tell you how difficult it is to choose wall paint from a one inch square sample chip.

I was out of money and over the project but the building had to be painted and frankly, so did my house, so I forged ahead. If you build it, they will come. Do what you love and the money will follow. That sort of thing.

I knew that I wanted a warm grey with cream trim and some accent colors. There is a row of Hackberry trees that, more or less, line the east side of my property. So I stuck the chips up on the bark and "Voila!" A Palette.

The Ralph Lauren colors are as follows:

Body of house and studio - Forde Abbey
Trim of house and studio - Loft Living
Front door of house - Black Truffles
Back door of house - Fairy Dust (Glidden)
Front, back and shed door of studio - Khaki
Front patio floor, back utility room floor and exterior steps - Mombassa Mint

11 January 2008

Training Wheels

Where to begin?

First things first. I painted a thank you gift for my friend, Tom, who loaned me his truck for three months. He's a white water rafting nut so I painted a white water rafter in the throes of white water. It was the least I could do. If you squint, you can almost make it out.

I had not painted but a few things in over a year. After my last Age of Flowers piece, I packed up my Charlottesville house and studio and made the move to Nashville where there was unpacking, adjustment, orientation and small repairs and improvements. Then, suddenly, I was designing and building the studio. That was my art project of the year.

Now, here I was at my drawing table in my new studio and I had no notion of what I would work on. A Swedish songwriter friend came over to visit and, after taking it all in, said, "Well, this is quite a commitment." Indeed! Inspired or not, it was time to get to work.

So I picked up where I left off, with flowers.

But that no longer felt genuine or interesting or satisfying. So I made some copies — always a good exercise — Carel Fabritus, David, Kandinsky.

I joined a local plein air group but that wasn't what I was after.

Eventually, through trial and error, turning in many circles and throwing a lot of work away, I found my way to the beginnings of Landscape into Art.

10 January 2008

It's Alive!

Thanks for taking the tour!

Now that the studio is built and functioning, it's taken on a life of its own.

Over the next couple of weeks I'll post some highlights of our life and work together so far and some developments of the building itself. Oh, and a rather unexpected surprise and addition.

I hope that this blog is of service to anyone who might want to undertake building a workspace on a low budget. If you ever have any questions you think I might be able to answer, please leave a comment on any of the posts.

09 January 2008

Inner Sanctum

I thought about whether or not to post this part because it's really my private space but what the hell, you're all select and privileged readers and this is one of the most important parts of the studio. My fort.

I cannot tell you how much time I spend working on this day bed. I read, write and sketch here.  Sometimes I even paint here.   In fact, I am writing this to you as I sit here.   I think that this year I am going to try to take more naps here.

If you've ever been to Thomas Edison's house and studio or workroom or whatever he called it in Ft. Meyers, Florida, you may remember that he had a bed set up next to his work space. I understand that he used it quite frequently and took a lot of naps.

Sometimes I call this the back room but it's really the dream room and you can see why.

Above is the alcove over the plumbing box where I eventually got around to building book shelves

And here we are turned back towards the front of the building. You can really see the hand-mixed pink of the back room walls that I'm so proud of and pleased with.

08 January 2008

First Objects

Objects and images are important in studios. Stuff we like to look at for various reasons. I made this cut out space for light, a design element to echo the transom and for psychological space. Naturally, as a flat surface, it immediately started to accumulate things.

What things? An early bottle of Canada Dry Ginger Ale (still sealed!) because it reminds me of comforting things from my childhood, a cow skull to remind me of death and for a student drawing prop, a favorite pitcher glazed in gold and cream parked temporarily because the light reflects on it beautifully, an architectural reference book because it found a flat surface and a Chinese bowl that was parked there temporarily because I had my hands filled with something else.

The first images that went up for reference were photographs of Easter Island from a NYT article because they were great photographs and the images were stunning and mysterious. Easter Island is one place I would really like to go. Before it becomes a casino.

07 January 2008

View from the loft

This is fun. Straight out from the top of the ladder, past the fan, through the transom...

over the workspace...

Out the front door. (Hope you're getting a good look at my carefully arranged socks and sandals.)

and over the work table and media center.

06 January 2008

The loft

Hey! Let's go up to the loft. It's the first place all little boys want to see.

Up we go.

To the left.

To the right. Basic storage and a fun place to sit for a while, not to mention great psychological space for the studio as a whole.

05 January 2008

Supply Room

To the far left is the supply room. There's the stack of Indian Village paper I bought from Daniel Smith just after I'd unpacked it. You can see some of the paintings I've made on it here.

The sink and shelves. I've added a good dish drain - very important. You can't see from these pictures, but there's an awning window over the sink just like in the front room. If you go back to the plan elevations or framing (see sidebar), you can see it. I never have to turn on the light in this room during the day.

Here are the shelves for supplies and stuff.