On arrival at Polly’s studio I find a minor disaster has already struck. In the process of retrieving an archived image of a print for inclusion in a book being produced to commemorate 20 years of the Norwich Print Fair, plastic flowers have cascaded down from the top of the filing cabinet and vases broken.

Polly used to have a studio at St Etheldreda Artist Studios well known in Norwich as a studio complex in St Etheldreda Church in King Street. She then moved to the cellar space at home that had been recently vacated by her interior architect husband before moving upstairs to the front bedroom. Using a space within the house as a studio came to end when a whole plastic pot of acrylic gloss bounced down the stairs and exploded at the bottom causing dark blue paint to be splurged far and wide.

The aforementioned husband then set to work designing a studio that would fit in the back garden. This design was manufactured by a shed making company and erected in the spirit of an American barn raising with friends and relatives rallying for the installation process. At that time Polly was primarily a print maker and sculptor with the new studio offering space for her printing press which is adapted from an old mangle. Now the studio was operational it was then decreed that the artwork should now stay in that space and not migrate into the house. On the back of that, Polly decided that garden equipment would not have place in her studio so an addition by way of an adjoining shed would house these items. The interior furniture – benches, filing cabinets and a beautiful wooden plan chest – were rescued from art school clear outs or were donated.

Polly spends on average 3 days per week at her studio and being located in the back garden makes early mornings, late nights and short stints possible. Accessing the back garden studio via the house involves, as Polly puts it “passing through the tyranny of the house” and all the domestic tasks that loom there.

As Polly’s work moved from printing and sculpture, to sculpture and photography the printing press was worked around and then utilised as a shelf before it found its new home folded and tucked away in a corner. Polly’s studio contains many many objects and she said “there was a point when I was arranging the studio rather than making the work. Its personality was taking over”. This type of curating of space will be familiar to many practitioners and has its uses – there is a sense that re-working a space allows for a thinking processes to be kick started. Polly has recently taken her work away from the busy visual distractions of the studio to reflect upon it, utilising a flexi-space in artist run project space. This offers a distance from the place of production and moves the work towards an idea of an exhibition.

To close our visit I asked Polly about how she felt about inviting people into her studio. She was very clear about taking care when considering who and when people would have access to the space. When she developed a body of work for an exhibition at Norwich Arts Centre she commissioned Krzysztof Fijalkowski to write a catalogue essay. He visited her studio as part of his research for the essay and she remembers clearly the look of astonishment on his face when confronted with the quantity and variety of objects contained within the heaving shelves.

Polly compares a studio visit to looking in a diary or an artist sketchbook – it is a hidden world that sometimes becomes accessible in certain circumstances.


A conversation focused on ‘the studio’ with five Foundation Art and Design students that I work with revealed some interesting ideas about communal space, sharing ideas and getting value for money within a Higher Education setting.

During the first Exploratory stage of our Foundation course the students undertake a series of workshops which change daily so it isn’t until the Pathway stage, that usually starts around the beginning of November, that studio spaces are constructed and allocated. The individual spaces are all the same size and are supplemented with the addition of flexi spaces which allow for larger scale work.

I started by asking the students ‘how they feel about their studio spaces’. They talked easily about the positive benefits they felt came with having their own space, finding it easier to work, opportunities to personalise spaces with research and inspiration material and a feeling of being more comfortable when making work somewhere personal and defined. Those who had work desks at home found these were often cluttered and used for a range of activities. They found having a dedicated workspace in the studio was positive (and less cluttered) although one student did report that their studio space was also cluttered and that was a true reflection of themselves and the number of ideas they had.

When asked ‘what happens in the studio space’ they shared thoughts around the process of laying out materials over a period of time, it was a creative thinking space, and that having one enable them to focus on the task in hand. The Graphic Design student in the group didn’t consider her studio space to be her workspace but rather the Mac she creates all her work on. Her studio space is used as a place for writing up annotations and reflections.
When I asked about how much time they spent in their studio spaces it ranged between 20-80% of their course time within the working week.

There are 30 students on the Art Foundation course with all the studio spaces housed in one room and I was interested in how this communal workspace worked for them. One student reported being most productive when the only one in the studio, as this allowed work to be laid out across the floor and the radio to be on. Other students reported that they sometimes find it distracting working with so many other people around but also that they themselves also distract other students from working. Some felt they wouldn’t want to work alone as they wouldn’t be able to see what others were doing. There were lots of comments about sharing ideas, knowledge and suggestions for artists to look up. They found being in a communal space motivating and it was nice to know there were other people around to share ideas with if needed. The studio spaces are modest in size and some reported that they did feel restricted by this at times but with flexi spaces available (access to which they tend to manage between themselves) this allows for larger scale work to be produced.

I was interested in how, when attending open days for Higher Education courses they considered the studio spaces on offer. It was observed that generally the studio spaces in London where smaller than outside of the capital and that in this sample group generally they felt they would like the opportunity to have a space they could call their own. They felt it was was important to have a studio space and somewhere to store work, flexibility of access was also something they considered. The Graphic Design student said she was more focused on looking at the computer facilities than any studio spaces. The notion of students being customers isn’t any thing new but some of the group reported that they had used the size of studio spaces on offer as a way of evaluating if they would be getting value for money for the £9,000 per year fees.

This was of course a very small sample group and I could ask another group the same questions and get a different answer but its interesting to see how how this group of 5 feel about having a defined work space. Some kind of communal work space was considered more desirable than a solitary one, there were benefits of working together and the opportunity to share ideas was important. It was also interesting to find out how significant studio spaces can be when considering applications for Undergraduate study.

With thanks to Alison, Amy, Benjamin, Julia and Kate.


Just to clarify at the outset, I rent my studio as do the majority of other artists I know, if indeed they even have a studio space. However through the payment of rent there is a sense of ownership – albeit on a month to month basis. The space can be engineered, arranged, neglected, and shared at the will of the artist who is in charge. I have gone through stages of having studios and then operating from the kitchen table or home office but one thing remains constant is the appreciation I have for the opportunity to rent a spaces in a commercial setting. For it is being the outsider within such an environment that I find so interesting. Seeing industrial processes and equipment, the immediately overwhelming smell of solvent which I quickly become accustomed to, the colour of the plastics being used, the scale of the work being produced. My space looks like it used to be the draftsman’s office, with partition windows into the adjoining workshop and a view to derelict land beyond the road in front of the building. There are other artists there but I rarely see them, if ever. My studio tends to be a solitary space, well all except for radio 4, the artist studio staple.