My Space

It’s Monday morning, so time to trip off to the office, boardroom, classroom, or whatever kind of space you grace to make your daily bread. For most of us, work means adapting to a workplace, whether that’s squeezing into a corporate cubicle, having a belligerent boss breathe down your neck, or seeing some hair-flicking, lash-fluttering intern strut purposefully past your post each morning (some environments are tougher than others).

But for freelancers, the dread of a dire desk or demanding colleagues is scotched, since they get to work out their workplace exactly as they want it. Lots of lines of work, from accounting to acting and aerial performing, can leave a person free to shape the kind of environment that’s best for them for crunching numbers, or getting creative. British photographer Sam Peach recently worked on a portfolio of pictures called Freelancers, tracking down the self-employed in their natural habitats.

One subject is Lucy Harvey, a stylist, who works from her bedroom: “everything happens beneath my bed: making, researching, organizing and procrastinating. My room is a stimulating distraction of things… I constantly defy the rules of good taste.” Then there’s Ulrika Jarl, a lighting and home-ware designer, who has a bright workshop with a view of Brighton: “this is where I create the products I hope people will want to keep for a lifetime.”

Today’s painting The Artist’s Studio (c. 1868) by the French painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796 – 1875) ushers us into another kind of work environment. The painting shows a lady sat at an easel, looking at a landscape on the canvas in hand.

Corot had short-lived career in his family’s drapery business before turning to painting (with the help of a small allowance from his father) in his twenties. By 1827 he’d had his first work accepted at the Paris Salon and with that his reputation started to grow. Soon he’d established himself as a successful artist, with a very personal style, which would be a major influence on the next generation of French artists. Although primarily a landscape artist (to some extent he anticipated Impressionistic landscapes), Corot was equally skilled in figure painting. During his late career in particular he produced a number of nudes, portraits of friends and family, and pictures like this.

Though this picture is of modest dimensions (62cm x 40cm) it has a magnetic feel. As is often the case with Corot, he’s used a limited range of colors, creating a calm and intimate feel with a blend of browns, beiges and yellows. One result of this restrained approach, is that when a color does ‘pop’ off the surface (the red hair ties, in this case), the effect is all the more stunning. Rather than with color, Corot achieved visual variety with subtle tonal relationships of light and dark: see here how shadows and highlights lend depth and tangibility. The surface texture is creamy and smooth, due to the use of small, quick brushstrokes.

When preparing a still-life, Corot sketched en plein-air, a process that lent freshness to his views. And though this is a thoughtful, interior scene, there’s a subtle snap, crackle and pop of energy, if you look closely. We’ve caught the subject mid-grab: she has her right hand on the neck of a lute and her left on the edge of the canvas. These small, incomplete gestures impart interest and immediacy. And see her canine companion, also mid-movement, raising a paw for attention or food.

And as for the setting in which she’s working? How does that strike you, as an alternative to your workplace?