In My Studio - Ken Christensen

I have always been an on-site (plein air) painter for several reasons. My greatest admiration has always been for the Impressionists and later, the Fauves, and I wanted to imitate their style and method of work. So, although Van Gogh, Monet, and the others also worked in their studios, I wished to work quickly and frequently in order to speed my progress as a painter.  There is something about painting on-site which cannot be matched by studio work. Everything you need to know, even for abstract work, is in nature, the light, colors, and composition which makes for a good painting. Add to that my inherent love of nature which makes a day spent outdoors so satisfying and fulfilling. Too be out in nature is to be a part of life and part of the passing parade and not an isolated figure holed up in the studio with one’s obsessions and alienation.  But there was always a practical reason as well to work outdoors. I never had a proper studio. During most of my years living in Europe, I lived in a small room with no space to paint and enveloped in the smell of oil paint from the canvases I’d recently completed. Later, returning to the States, my studio was often the garage where I shared the space with tools and lawnmowers. Finally, in Michigan, I had my own gallery and a large space to work in the winter, but the barnlike structure was freezing in the winter and the little space heater couldn’t keep up with a Michigan winter.

Finally, after a lifetime of painting I have come to a safe harbor and a proper studio. I now live in a large house of my own in Los Osos where I have an entire room dedicated to my painting studio and library. I even have a deluxe, heavy duty studio easel so I don’t have to drag my French easel in from the van and set it back up indoors. I have a lab coat so I can paint at a moment’s notice, putting it over whatever clothes I am wearing, so I can jump into a painting for a quick touch up at any time. Plus, I have a window next to my easel, (northern light!), and great spotlights which can be adjusted to any angle or strength. Need I mention that it is nice to have a bathroom handy and a pot of coffee at the reach? So, with these comforts, I find myself working indoors in my studio more and more. Perhaps a third of my work is now created this way.

My studio work most often focuses on France, a country I dearly love, where I lived for eight years, and have visited for months at a time, including two months last summer. I always paint in France, oils when I have the time, and watercolors when on the move or time is short. Last summer I painted about ten oils, and forty watercolors. So, back home, gripped by nostalgia and the search for something new to paint, I go through my sketches and watercolors of France for subject matter. I am always trying to push my style and the quality of my work further, but in these French paintings I also indulge in the selfish pleasure of nostalgia. For a while in my studio I am back in France and remember everything about that day I painted that particular watercolor. Like the day painting in a park in the Marais in Paris when the sun was low and the park and buildings glowed gold. I sat on a park bench and painted while chatting with the very tall, young woman next to me. She was of mixed race and beautiful and I learned that she was newly arrived in Paris and a model. My painting kept pace with our conversation over the hour it took to complete the painting. In my studio while interpreting the sketch into oils, I was once again back in the park with that charming young girl, timid, but making her first steps into the big world. I’ll share that painting with you and some others executed in the same manner.  Check out more of my work at