Local artists make space to create
By Zack Sherzad
“This is my commute,” says Sacramento artist Judith Johnson, locking the back door behind her. We walk together through a lush backyard garden, pausing briefly to study a reflecting pool busy with mosquito fish and a tall cinderblock barrier that wards away the sounds of an adjacent railroad.
“When I built the studio, I build it so that I had to leave the house and lock the door behind me,” Johnson says. “So it’s like going to work every day. And that’s pretty much how I treat it.”
Before moving to Sacramento in 2016, Johnson lived in Austin, Texas, where she worked as an investigator for the Texas attorney general for 30 years. Painting has always been a constant in her life. “For about 15 years, I was painting and putting them in closets and boxes,” Johnson says. “I didn’t have the emotional strength to deal with the business side of art while working full time.”
When Johnson bought her current home in Land Park, she made putting together a studio a priority. It didn’t need to be especially aesthetic or inspiring, since her inspiration almost always comes from what she sees when she’s out and about. Rather, it just needed to exist.
“I always had really bare-bones studios because I want to get in there and work,” Johnson says. “It’s not meant to be a gallery. I don’t care if it’s cute. I don’t care if it’s full of little knickknacks and treasures—that sort of stuff is in my house. I’m more concerned with just getting out here and getting to work.”
Johnson’s current studio is built flush against the house’s exterior. Inside, she has paintings and assemblages quite literally hung right on the siding of her house, which makes up one of the studio’s interior walls. The other three walls are a unitized walling system, a utilitarian construction material made of aluminum, plastic and abundant window glass which, along with a pair of skylights, floods the space with natural sunlight—an important resource for anyone who works with color. The plain concrete floor, flecked with drops of spilled paint, is a straightforward and unfussy surface that serves its purpose well.
In Austin, Johnson was a member of an artist co-op that rehabbed some old apartments into studios. But after a fire destroyed the building—along with a large amount of her work—she’s no longer interested in sharing her workspace with other artists.
“I don’t really want other artists borrowing my paint,” Johnson says. “I really liked the camaraderie and the synergy of being around other artists, but I didn’t like the noise, and I didn’t like the risk. I feel safer being in a place where I control what’s going on.”
All said, Johnson estimates the studio add-on cost her $22,000. She’s happy with the space overall, but there are some things she’d do differently if given the chance. “I probably would have put better heating in here,” Johnson says. “I have an oil radiator, but I have to come out here and turn it on early in the morning. There’s no insulation, so it’s really chilly. In the winters, I’ve been working on watercolors in the house or just drawing.”
Not every artist wants or needs a separate space outside the home. Margaret Eve Blanchfield, a primary schoolteacher, owns and operates sacramentoartclasses.com. She streams digital art classes from the comfort of a spare sitting room in her Arden Oaks house.
“It only cost me maybe $1,500 in equipment, and I don’t even use it all. You can do so much with just an iPhone now,” says Blanchfield, showing me the “ring light” she uses to hold her phone while she streams classes on Facebook, and a swinging arm she repurposed out of a broken lamp.
“I didn’t know I was going to like having this at my house so much until I did,” Blanchfield says. “It made me feel all important to have a space somewhere else. But then it was like, well, I can see the TV from here. I can see my kids—they’re grown now so they’re never here—but you know what I mean. I have everything I need here.”
The walls of the studio are dense with Blanchfield’s own paintings, and a single table houses a document projector and small assortment of art supplies. There is a sink in the garage, only a few steps through a nearby door.
“This door leads to a breezeway, which leads to the driveway,” Blanchfield says. “If I wanted, I could curtain off the path to the rest of the house and have people come directly back to the studio.”
When asked about what she would change, Blanchfield hesitates. “I really don’t know. This is probably the best room in the house! I guess I can’t say I absolutely love this tile. It was here when I bought the house. But it’s perfect for a studio—easy to clean!”
Zack Sherzad can be reached at email@example.com. To recommend a home or garden for Open House, contact Inside Sacramento at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.