Artist Studio | Scott L. Christensen

Scott L. Christensen

By Bonnie Gangelhoff

When did you decide to build your new studio? It’s been germinating in my mind for about 10 years. I just couldn’t figure out how to do it until now. I didn’t have the whole vision.

Was there a moment when you decided it was finally time? When I saw this property—the fish, the birds, the water, and enough land to build a studio. And there are views of the whole Teton Valley. It felt like home to me right away.

The studio building is 6,000 square feet. What elements were important to you in the design? I wanted a studio with north-facing windows and 12-foot ceilings, with enough space to work large and on either side of the room. I wanted to be able to have two or three easels I could roll around and a library.

Anything else important? I wanted four other spaces to show artwork that were intimate enough with some height but not overly huge so you feel like you’re walking into a barren room. People said they never got a chance to see my work, and now I am able to display it in the downstairs galleries. I have some works by Sherrie McGraw hanging, too.

Why do you create large works? They help you grow because you can’t do them in one shot. To me it’s a bunch of problems that just got larger, and I like to see if I can handle them. I like the difficulty and challenge. It’s a competition between me and the canvas to say what I want. And I like the fact that in larger works, you feel as if you can walk into them.

How does the new studio help? I pace around a lot when I work, and I can do that here. I also can sit a long way from a painting and look at it. I prefer being outdoors, but if I have to be indoors working on these mature paintings that take time, it has to be in a space I want to be in. And it’s almost like I’m outdoors because of all the light in here.

You wanted to change the pace of your life. Why? So I can produce my best work and not have to meet deadlines. One year I took on two shows and painted poorly for the second show. It didn’t take me much time to figure out there is a pace you have to have in art. If I go from one show to another, I don’t paint well. Everything seems deadline-driven today rather than getting work together and then having exhibitions. I paint as much as I ever painted, but I don’t assume that all the paintings are going to turn out. Now, I am able to say to [my business manager] Kristie, “do what you want with the paintings.” She can see people by appointment in her office, and I don’t have to know a thing about it. My studio has two big sliding doors that close and lock.

You say you have created a lifestyle here. What do you mean? It’s about peace and pace. And it’s about getting out in nature. I love to walk with the dog, shoot birds, and cook them. In the middle of winter, I can go fly fishing. I am intrigued by seasonal things and weather changes. When I am not looking for a painting, it finds me. I used to be regimented—paint from 8 to 5. But now it means more to me to come up with good ideas.

Do you work on one painting at a time? I work on several at a time. Some spend months in “the cooler.” I could get into trouble for saying this, but as artists we have to realize that not all paintings are worthy of a frame. We need to go back to the process and ask ourselves what we want out of our paintings. I could do a couple hundred paintings in a year. But not many would be good ideas. Enjoying the process is one thing, but that doesn’t mean everything I do is quality work.

What is the biggest misconception about artists? That we just paint and it just comes flowing out of us naturally. But it has to be a learned thing. Knowledge precedes execution. Most people think creating art is a feeling. That’s like saying Yo-Yo Ma must have just picked up the cello and started playing it.

Why did you want a space that could serve as a retreat for other artists? I have the whole valley to paint. I feel like I need to grow continually, and I want people around me to help me to do that. People may think they are coming to get something from me, but I always get something from them.

Is there a book that has influenced you? Painting as a Pastime by Winston Churchill. Churchill relates painting to doing battle. You have to have a plan and a strong reserve for both. What are you going to subordinate and what you going to enhance? In other words, you don’t throw in all your troops at once. It’s the strategy and decision-making that interests me.

What music do you play in the studio? Mostly classical music—Rachmaninoff, Bach, and opera.

What is the one place people will never find you? At a Prince concert. I don’t really like going to art shows either.

What is the one thing people will never see you doing? Passing out business cards.

When people come to visit, where do you like to take them? We take them outside and let them catch fish, we talk art, and we cook.

Scott Christensen is represented by

Featured in “My World” February 2008