In 2016, in the days before toddlers, when it was only cats and dogs underfoot, I built a very fancy desk.
It is lightweight, made of balsa wood, with cabinet hardware hinges mounted on the sides, so it can be easily detached for a different angle, or swapped out for one of 2 others just like it. It has a shelf with a fancy angled book holder for reference, great lighting, a chair that had been locked at the perfect height for excellent working posture, and reference monitors everywhere. It is an ideal working arrangement for me. Not pictured is the cabinet I am standing over for the photo, which contains all of my rare and exotic tools. Everything is within arms reach by simply swiveling around. It is a wonder of engineering and DIY craftsmanship.
And since having kids, I have used this setup a total of 3 times.
Since having kids, I use my fancy desk only for livestreaming, (it does look fancy after all!) and never for actual work. The truth is that 99.99% of the drawing and painting I do, I do on a basic, regular old clipboard. I know that is not something anyone wants to hear, but it’s the truth. Everything has to be instantly mobile nowadays. Toddlers are always climbing on desks and pulling over lamps and trying to microwave the cat. You have to be quick, lightweight, and always moving. I dress like a ninja every day, eat only coffee and scraps I can steal, and keep all of my drawing tools rubber banded to a clipboard. I have gotten used to drawing at kitchen tables, drawing while sitting on the living room floor, drawing while standing, drawing while cooking, washing dishes, brushing toddlers teeth, and in the very best case scenario, drawing on my clipboard, which has been placed for a moment on top of my fancy drawing table.
2 x Staedtler 925 05 (in HB and 2B) stored in leather sleeve
1 x Generals Layout Pencil
1 x Kimberlys 2H Pencil
1 x Mono Zero eraser
1 x Smudge Stick of unknown origin
Not Shown, but present:
1 x Small hand sharpener, firmly affixed to a wall, hidden in a hall closet.
1 x heavy duty cover sheet. (Danger is everywhere. Keep your drawing safe!)
5 x Cups Black Coffee
The Staedtler mechanical 925 pencils are essentially hypodermic needles with lead in them, so I keep them in a leather sleeve. (One learns these things quickly with toddlers.)
This setup didn’t happen all at once. There was a few years of spills, throw-ups, scares, slips, breaks, ambushes, house-fires, actual floods, shocks and near death experiences, before my fancy desk evolved into the magical mobile one shown here. The last disaster involved a robot floor cleaner, that found something horrible the dog had left in an unseen corner, and spread it across our entire house.
One has to be quick to survive in this world.
It took a while to realize that I actually didn’t need all my drawers full of gizmos and tools and exotic leads. I didn’t need all my monitors, or my lights, or my perfectly tuned chair. Like someone in a post-apocalyptic survival film, disaster after disaster helped me whittle my gear down to only the most essential, durable items. Ones that can be effectively maintained with nothing more than bailing wire and a bottle cap.
And weirdly, I have found that this new mobile drawing table actually made me, against all possible reason, a better artist. Since I began using it, I have gotten more done, and the work that I have done has been more in keeping with my own goals for my work.
I have done the same with a watercolor board as well, with a simple tray of watercolors command-hooked (velcro’d) to a similar clipboard, and a tiny vial for water. (I’ll try to share that in October.)
I’m not really sure what the lesson here is. Maybe it is that we never need as much as we think we do. Maybe it is that if you are dedicated to a dream, you will find a way to make it work, whatever the circumstances. Maybe it is that there is power in simplicity.
Whatever the lesson, I thought I’d share this bit of kit with you. I wish it was fancier, or that it had some clever hardware on it, like a steampunk swiveling magnifying lens, or that it folded out into an elaborate chair, but this is it.I hope it encourages you that you don’t need a perfect setup, or anything fancy to do good work.
Justin Gerard is an illustrator who has traveled the world in search of the perfect medium to paint in. He has not found it, but along the way he has met some fascinating people, seen some interesting places and had a chance to paint a lot of great subjects.
His work has been featured in Spectrum Fantastic Arts, Society of Illustrators and Expose. He enjoys good music, chocolate chip cookies and tank battles.