A VISIT WITH WILLIAM WHITAKER AT HIS STUDIO IN PROVO, UT
Text by Bonnie Gangelhoff, Photos by Scott Hancock
This story was featured in the May 2014 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art May 2014 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!
Describe your studio. My studio is about 25 by 26 feet, with a ceiling almost 24 feet high. I have three rows of windows, and each window is equipped with blackout blinds that open either from the top down or from the bottom up. I can configure all 13 windows in any number of ways for whatever project I’m doing. All of my studio furniture rolls on the best wheels I can get—a wood floor is very nice to have. I can rearrange my studio very quickly depending on the project. I have a nice, deep sink, and I have a gas fireplace. I love it.
What elements were important to you in designing your studio? The single most important element is light. I’ve always gone to a lot of trouble to have natural north light. You want indirect natural light coming down onto the subject at a 40 to 45 degree angle. The higher the window, the farther away you can be from it. A window facing north (in the northern hemisphere) is best. Of course overcast days work for a window facing any direction. In fact, a light overcast is even better than a perfectly clear, blue sky because the blue sky absorbs light, whereas a light overcast reflects light back through your studio windows.
Do you listen to music while you work? I have a balcony storeroom high above my painting room on the east wall. I keep a tiny and very clever musician up there. He’s only 18 inches high, so he doesn’t play very loud, but he’s very good on guitar, lute, and piano. He will play Bach for me. Otherwise, I listen to audio books while I paint. I have to be distracted, and I also encourage visitors.
Describe the surroundings outside the studio. My wife, Sandra, gets the credit for finding our home. It’s located on the beach of what was ancient Lake Bonneville—a post-ice age lake that once covered most of Utah. The location is very convenient to an excellent art-supply store, yet high enough up the mountain for the wildlife to think they own the place. It’s impossible to have a garden unless it’s enclosed and covered. There was room to build the studio complex behind the home. I can enter the studio from two outside doors, or when the weather is bad, I can come in through a special hallway that joins the house to the studio. My commute is about 20 feet. I like it because I feel the studio is physically separated from my living quarters, but not by much. I’ve had studios in all kinds of locations, including industrial parks. As long as it works inside, what’s outside doesn’t really matter.
Do the physical surroundings influence your work? My neighborhood is certainly nice, and our dry, relatively bug-free environment is a well-kept secret, but the best part is the lack of noise. I grew up in a rural mountain valley, and I much prefer the quiet to traffic noise. It’s good to take breaks, go outside, and look up at Cascade Mountain towering over me. It makes me feel secure.
What attracts you to the figurative genre? Hard to say with complete confidence. Artists are simply attracted to their subject matter. I’ve always drawn well. I like history, which means people. People and likenesses are hard to do, and I continue to paint them because they challenge me. When I get good at people, perhaps I’ll lose interest and begin to specialize in sunsets.
Describe the style of your work. It’s evolved into a hardcore, classical painting technique. I started out loose.
What do you like to keep in your studio? Most of my toys. I’ve gathered a lot of stuff over the decades—most of it having to do with my painting. I have a large room devoted entirely to clothing props.
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