Art Studio Construction / by Nerina Lascelles

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An artist’s studio is a sacred space that houses the sacred process of creation.

When I completed my artist’s residency at Dunmoochin the question I has asked so many times before had circled back into my world once again. 

“Where am I going to create now?”

For over 20 years, since leaving art school, I found myself painting in all manner of spaces. From back sheds in share-houses, shared garages with other artists, cottages in the bush, and unused rental shed at the rear of a healing centre and to when in desperate need, setting up an easel in my own bedroom.

In every dwelling, I surrounded myself with the perfect recipe of materials, inspirational books, images and music to invite creativity into the space. To feel safe, aligned and in tune enough to allow the invisible to manifest through the artistic process.

Circular Carport Studio

Circular Carport Studio

Before Dunmoochin I had painted in circular mud brick carport that was the first building completed while my parents built their new home. This beautiful space was large enough to house five cars, had a domed roof and lots of skylights to allow natural light into the space. I recall feeling incredibly ‘held’ in this circular, womb-like space. To be completely surrounded by a circular cave of earth appeared to enable me to delve more deeply into my own inner world and to then emerge with new creative inspiration to express. Creating in this studio felt still, centred, magical and powerful.

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In 2012 dad had finished building the stunning new mudbrick home that was to later feature in newspapers, magazines and on national TV. Dad was ready for a new project…. and work towards my new studio began. I’d like to extend an enormous thank you to both of my parents, Helen and Wayne who supported this construction, particularly dad who utalised his architectural and project management skills – in addition to ‘hands-on hard-yakka’. Thank you also to Mark Phillips and his apprentice, Ryder for their incredibly skilled work building the studio. Thanks to Chris and his daughter Gypsy for the roofing and Stewie and his son for the electrical work. Thanks too to Marcus, Shane and other friends who chipped in to make this dream a reality 

Studio Site

Studio Site

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Positioning Windows and Doors

Positioning Windows and Doors

One Sunday evening at Henry Hursts pizza shop, the concept was born. 

Roughly scrawled on a serviette, the initial concept which pictured three circles and was reworked into two. One larger circle was the proposed working and exhibiting space and the smaller was to accomodate a storage area with a sink for clean-up and a small room allocated for a composting toilet. The ‘smaller’ circle was indeed smaller in diameter but was designed to be ‘double-storey’ with half of the circle covered over with a mezzanine which was proposed to store paintings. These two circles were drawn to be connected by a ‘link’. That serviette which was crumpled and wine stained became the precious blueprint that birthed this unique art studio from a dream into reality.

The next step was to visit the actual site and decide on an optimum location where all existing trees could be spared.  We walked around the site until we came to a clearing which was reasonably level before sloping away into the gully below.  A few white pegs were then replaced by a spray marker painting the two circles on the ground.  

Having successfully used a simplified form of fast track construction known as ‘ferro concrete’ or ‘ferrocement’ on two smaller, circular out buildings on the property (a potting shed and a wood shed) I was confident that this was the most effective method to use.

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Dad invited local builder Mark Phillips to visit the site and asked for his involvement on this project.

As per the ferrocement building method, walls were to comprise of large cylinders of reinforcing steel which would be tied together and covered on each side by sheets of expanded stainless steel mesh. Once all of the windows and doors had been positioned within the two cylinders, the mesh walls would then be rendered, both inside and out with two coats of cement.

After a local contractor levelled the site with his bulldozer, we commenced without a budget and ordered the 20 x 20cm Cypress Pine posts. Cypress pine is termite resistant and the bases of the perimeter posts were also coated in a bituminous solution to repel insect attack.

Posts were located at the ends of intersecting timber roof trusses so that they would bear the roof load rather than any structural load be imposed on the 3.5cm thick walls.  

As there is no electricity available in the vicinity of the studio, a 250 metre extension lead was installed and linked with the main house. The initial power switch to the building site was attached to a gumtree. (pictured below)

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A huge advantage of this form of construction is that no concrete foundations are required.  The reinforced concrete walls form a strong, circular ‘drum’ similar to a reinforced concrete tank.  Without the render the ‘drum’ appeared like a cage.  

In preparing the base for the walls we found a consistent shale  and also areas of dense reef rock which had to be removed by jack hammer. Some of these large boulders were later used as steps in the link between the two levels.

We decided to use recycled timber glazed doors and windows which were fortunately located through Ebay in Panton Hill! The installation of the doors and the windows was the next step in the construction process. They were secured to the Cypress poles. 

The next step was to erect the large ‘cages’ of reinforced steel and then to cover the cage in a layer of expanded mesh. 

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At this point we hired a mini mixer to fill a reinforced concrete slab to both buildings. I placed paint brushes and other meaningful items into the footings as a ritual to laying the energetic foundation of the studio space.  A team of helpers pitched in with trowelling the concrete slab.  Later the slabs were coated with a water and dust proofing paint.

Dad decided to introduce a highly efficient thin ‘Kingspan Insulbreak’ foil wall for insulation just inside the internal expanded mesh which would later be rendered.  Once the internal wall insulation was placed, another layer of expanded mesh covered it and was pinned into place with handmade clips that hooked through to the eternal mesh. 

Finally Mark Phillips applied two coats of render to both the inside and outside. This cement was mixed using a blend of naturally coloured sands.

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Mark Philips and Ryder Lockwood framed up the rooves over the two ferrocement ‘drums’.  A local master roofer, Chris Powell and his daughter Gypsy constructed the distinctive colourbond, octagonal shaped, steel rooves.

To line the roof I introduced a highly efficient ‘King Aircell’ insulation with reflective foil  over the roof battens.  In the major area clear skylights were introduced with grey tint skylights in the roof over the smaller storage building.

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Two important items that I was was able to source on Ebay were (i) - A pull down timber attic ladder to gain access to the storage mezzanine and (ii) – An LP gas (space?) heater to (?) the main painting/exhibiting area.

A system of spot display lights has been installed along the intersecting roof trusses with warm white fluorescent lighting on top of the lower chord of the trusses.

To set the correct colour rendition the interior walls have been coated with neutral Grimes & Sons ‘colorcoat’ paint.

All seem to agree that this building blends so well with the surrounding bushland.

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Using ferro concrete construction was the principle key to the success of this studio in that it could proceed without foundations over just a few weeks – rather than typically taking several months.  The extensive experience of Mark Phillips in this form of construction, and his being also skilled in timber framing allowed the project to flow naturally together with an excellent roof which was constructed in 2 days by Chris Powell and his daughter Gypsy.

The use of recycled glazed windows and doors, an attic ladder and LP Gas heater all assisted in containing costs.

The expertise of Stuart Adcock in devising lighting systems of spot lights and warm fluorescent uplighting on one meagre 8 amp lighting circuit was quite remarkable.

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