Friday, September 14, 2007


When Norman Rockwell launched his illustrious career, his first studio was a small attic room in a brothel. All afternoon a piano played in the parlour downstairs.

Rockwell later recalled, "a rough wooden stairway without railings led up to a trap door in the third floor ceiling." There Rockwell painted in a room so small that whenever one of the prostitutes who lived downstairs wanted to come up to smoke a cigarette and chat, Rockwell had to move his easel so the trap door could open.

The famous painter Rene Magritte lived with his wife for 24 years in a cramped three room apartment in the industrial suburbs of Brussels. The only space for his easel was in their small dining room. There he painted most of his pictures that are now hanging in major museums around the world.

Even the great Michelangelo worked in a small space. For a while, he lived in a tiny room under San Lorenzo, where his charcoal sketches on the walls can be seen to this day. At one point in his career, Michaelangelo constructed a hat with wax candles on the brim so he could work in the dark. Guided only by those flickering candles, he made some of the most beautiful art in the history of the world. Irving Stone quoted Michelangelo as saying that a small room is better for working than a large one, because a small room focuses the mind.

Sometimes I think my own work would be better if I had big skylights with good northern exposure, or large surfaces to spread out on, or a more current version of photoshop. Then I think again.