Elizabeth Briel, Travel Artist

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Getting Down & Dirty with Art

Taking a break from socializing at my Cyan Studio artspace, Hong Kong 2008

Wanted – Artists Studio: A Clean, Well-Lit Place for Art

Making art is a messy business – even messier than selling it these days in an art market turned upside down. While some art-processes are relatively clean – say, pencil drawing – most aren’t something you’d want to do in your living room. I was reminded of this after looking at the ruined polyester carpet in ours after I made batch of cyanotype photos at home. This just after we’d moved to Sydney, and my need to test negatives outweighed what others call common sense.

Last week I returned to Sydney, with a fistful of art projects to complete before going to Asia for more work next year.  I’ve been searching on Gumtree and speaking with artists I’ve met here, and should nail down a short-term studio soon.  Over the past 15 years I’ve made art in all sorts of spaces, and have learned a lot about what I need when looking for a studio.


During university I worked evenings 30 hours/week, but devoted daytime to painting at our campus studios. Any empty classroom in the art building was fair game. Shared turpentine trays spewed fumes in the air as sparrows flitted through rafters overhead. Once I began to explore  encaustic painting for a grant program, my wax fumes added to the toxic mix.


For two years I shared an unheated/uncooled warehouse space in Minneapolis with other artists: painters, furniture designers, sculptors. We built a gallery surrounded by our studios. The raw space had charm, but it was hard to paint while shivering.


In Korea and New York I squeezed my life and art studio into tiny apartments, and the work I made was terrible: precious and small, with a vision to match. The main problem? Not enough space to get a good look at the work I was making.


When I lived in Cambodia and made the Bokor in Blue series, I rented a house and had everything an artist could want, especially bright Cambodian sunlight. And the odd uninvited guest: scorpions, mostly.

jo and nathaniel

Guests of all ages & sizes showed up at Cyan Studio openings


Shortly after I moved to Hong Kong I rented a separate apartment with rooftop next to the sea, and called it The Cyan Studio. Once a month I opened up the studio and featured local artists from the island where I lived. While it was a great way to meet many creative neighbors, the ceilings were low while the one-bedroom layout was small, as was the work I made there. Small size – and scope – is a common criticism of much of the work made in Hong Kong; some of this is dictated by the spaces available to most artists.

Easy-to-clean floors:

During the transition from HK to Sydney, I had a home-based studio for awhile. This was fine as the illustrations I was finishing were small, and cyanotype spills were easy to clean up from our tile floor.

My plan for summertime in Sydney: make messy blue cyanotypes in a separate studio during the day, and write my book/work on the tidier, large-scale Calendar Girls in my home studio at night. No time for afternoons at the beach this year, there’s too much work to be done.

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