Every artist has his or her own working method, and we are very particular about the space we work in. Since living in Rwanda, I have realized a lot about my own preferences since I am less in control of my environment than I was in the States. This has forced me to think about my personality and its effects on my working method.
The biggest division of personality is introversion vs. extroversion. To understand these different types of people and how they operate, I suggest reading Quiet by Susan Cain.
Introverts like to lock themselves alone in the studio and work for hours without disturbance. They tend to be orderly and listen to instrumental music at a reasonable to low volume. Chaos drives them mad because they are very sensitive to external stimuli. Their studios are clean and everything is always in its place. When it comes to intricate details and tedious, technical paintings, introverts are amazing. These artists can spend countless, uninterrupted hours perfecting one square inch of a painting. However, when it comes to exhibitions, gallery talks, and networking, introverts fall a little short. They stay near the walls, talk to a few guests, and leave early if they can. Too much stimuli and they will shut down a little bit, but they are at ease in their own silence.
Norman Rockwell is a good example of an introverted artist. His brushwork is tight and his studio is clean and orderly.
Extroverts are an entirely different animal. They tend to make large-scale paintings, and their studios can barely contain their charisma. They have difficulty focusing on tedious tasks and work in spurts. They require interaction and a certain amount of chaos. They are not as sensitive to their surroundings, so they require a massive amount of stimuli. They have messy studios that are always open to visitors. These are artists who blast lyric-heavy music, with the TV on the background, while they pace back and forth to get different views of their work. They take a lot of breaks to get out and interact with other artists. (Hopefully the artist in the studio next to them is not an introvert.) Extroverts tend to be very expressive with large brushwork as opposed to the tight realism that introverts prefer. They love to exhibit and give gallery talks. They network easily, and are the last to leave any event.
Francis Bacon was an extreme extrovert. The majority of his waking hours were spent drinking with friends. He required so much stimuli that he used alcohol to deaden him to a state where he could focus in the studio. Artistically he was a genius, although it also required him to be an alcoholic.
I have learned that I am an omnivert, which means that I fall somewhere between the two personality types. This means that I can get the best and worst of both worlds at any given time. I require a certain degree of chaos and human interaction, as well as calm isolation. My ideal studio is a private space where I am able to leave my space and interact with other artists, but return to my privacy as I wish. I like loud music while I work, or to play TED Talks or C-SPAN. My studio is generally pretty messy, but everything has its place. I have also noticed that while I work I am always hungry. I enjoy painting with a box of Cheerios or a bag of pretzels (Rold Golds if possible). I take frequent breaks, but I am able to focus when I need to, as long as I have enough sensory input. In graduate school, my studio was everything I needed. Isolation mixed with interaction. Chaos and comfort.
In Rwanda nothing is ever quite right. I have very little satisfying social interaction. At the same time I do not have privacy. There are no Cheerios, and there is no C-SPAN. I can only work in about a three hour window each day when the light is adequate. I can’t work in the evenings, because the electricity cuts out around the same time it gets dark, which does seem to defeat the purpose of having electricity. This hardly gives me time to get myself focused and productive. It has forced me to know what I need to do to be productive in a short period of time, and to know what I need in a studio space after I finish my Peace Corps service.
Salvador Dali is more difficult to place. I believe that he was either an omnivert or an introvert masquerading as an extrovert, which is quite common. His studio was clean, and his brushwork was precise. He may have used his bizarre persona and as an excuse to limit and control his social interactions.
What kind of environment do you need to be productive?