In February 2013 my brother and I were nearing the completion of a shed we had built together in Falkland. It worked well, perhaps better than we both expected, so a seed was sown. I could use the template of what we built there for my new studio here at Glassmount.
For years I have painted in the what was the old coach house up at the stables. The stable block is a stone built quadrangle with a central courtyard. In summer, with the doors open, it catches the sun, it's light and warmth. In winter the sun never rises high enough to provide either. The fireplace radiates little heat and there is no natural light. I'd never been precious about where I worked, fearful that if I did I might become intimidated by the space.
I felt that now after twenty five years I'd earned the right to build myself a proper studio. Nearly a full year has passed since I started, I thought it might be nice to illustrate here how that process came about.
My brother and his family moved back to Scotland, their dream house was only lacking a shed.
I was flattered when he asked if I'd help him build somewhere to house their bicycles, tools and lawnmower they were having to store in the basement they were about to remodel into a gallery.
We started in January, between the snowfalls, icy cold and short daylight hours we quickly erected the skeleton in timber. We found a roofing tin supplier nearby which was new to me. All the roofing on my previous sheds had been recycled. What evolved through the building process was a template which could be transferred to make an ideal studio space with a tweak here and there.
The morning of March 1 2013 was frosty with a clear blue sky. The ground was dry after a spell of rain. The site I had selected to build the studio had been largely overlooked. In summer it would be knee deep in stinging nettles. A winter storm had toppled some trees onto it. For years it had been the spot where we burned our garden and tree waste. On the positive side it had a clear view south between a gap in the mature trees. It would catch the sun late into the evening in summer.
I started the grey Fergie and levelled the site. I sawed up the fallen trees and cleared the foundations of the snowdrops and daffodils which were out. My brother was keen to return the favour and would come over for the weekend to help with the roof.
The main dimensions of the building would be determined by the recycled bus shelter glass. I found it while taking my car to the Council yard for it's MOT test. The yard was earmarked for closure, the glass would be binned. The guys there were thrilled I could find a use for it.
I spaced the main vertical posts out so the panes would fit between them.
John came over and we nailed together the roof trusses and got them up in position. Grace busied herself with some scrap wood and nails.
Bad weather was forecast so we had to be quick to clad the gables and secure the tin roofing. It would be unwieldy and dangerous to do in the wind. If we could get it up at least we could work under cover when the storm arrived. We just managed to get the last sheet of roofing on before darkness fell. The tin has a porous membrane on its underside which captures condensation and prevents drips.
The storm arrived as forecast. It brought sleet and snow through a bitter bone chilling easterly wind. I clad the remainder of the walls with shiplap boards and fitted the glass. After a few really tough days we had a weather proof shell.
At last sheltered from the weather I could lay the floor. Friends suggested insulating the floor and wall cavities. It meant a little extra work and expense but the insulation would make a huge difference. Once I'd made and glazed the door I really felt as though I was getting somewhere.
I made a series of benches around the west end, I would site the wood burning stove at the east end.
The stove arrived on a bitterly cold morning. The flue needed to go directly up through the roof. The flue pipe supplier wanted to sell me a system that cost more than the stove to go through the tin. I managed to do much the same thing using some clamps and ingenuity. The salesman couldn't argue with my solution and I could spend the savings elsewhere.
I insulated the wall cavity and lined the interior. A couple of coats of white paint brightened things up. My flue pipe system worked and was weatherproof, the stove turned the space into an oven, it seemed to run on next to nothing. It burned the smallest of logs, stuff that would vaporise in the big stoves down in the house.
A change in the weather came. It was still bitterly cold but at least it was dry. We turned our attention outdoors again. We painted the exterior and tried to excavate a weatherproof path, until now we had been squelching around in mud, every trip indoors left a trail of muddy footprints.
We dug out a path and filled the void with chips from the quarry. We transplanted snowdrops and daffodils into the spoil. I split and stacked some logs to dry under the stoop.
The untreated floor was never going to work. It needed staining and varnishing. With the stove on the stain and varnish dried quickly.
We set to planting a meadow on the spoil from the shed foundations and the gravel and silt we had recovered from resurfacing the drive. Throughout the summer the meadow was full of colour. The spot that had previously been a no mans land of nettles became our favourite place to drink tea and enjoy the sun. I thinned the trees to allow yet more sunlight through.
As Autumn arrived the studio had mellowed into its new landscape. The barley crop in the field had been harvested, leaves were falling and the first frost froze the water butts. The studio had been a revelation. It has been a joy to work in it. With heat and light year round it has changed the way I can work. I could have built it years ago but I doubt it would have the resonance it has now.
I'd like to have wrapped up the year with some pictures of snow on the ground, but with February and March 2014 still around the corner they might not be far off.