A unique tropical studio

July 10, 2020 6 min read

A unique tropical studio

Hello, art lovers!

Welcome to my part of the world. I’m Rachel Ireland Meyers, and I am based in the Northern Beaches of Cairns, Far North Queensland, Australia. I am surrounded by wildlife, tropical gardens, rainforests, the Coral sea - and yes, we have crocodiles too. This is my home, and I have come to appreciate every part of it. I have been creating artworks here for the past 4 years and it still remains a real novelty for me. My studio is a long room, open to the elements on two sides (but, completely protected with louvre windows) and attached to my home. I love the feeling of fresh air on my face, being able to move freely, and I get a real buzz out of the birds who come for a visit each day. I always enjoy being outdoors, and it has been a great deal of fun finding the right balance between creating a space that suits my needs as an artist and, finding a way to work within the broader conditions of the environment. Over time, my studio has become the ‘hub’ to all things creative, and it works for me as an artist and for my family’s needs as well. In terms of climate, Far North Queensland (FNQ) enjoys both a wet season (December - March) and a dry season (April - November).

A little history

Fourteen years ago, my studio was a very different place. I lived in the cool climate of Hobart, Tasmania, with its stunning natural landscapes, its history, and heritage architecture. I should add that, Tasmania has a unique literary, musical and artisan culture, including a myriad of specialist makers and designers. When I reflect on my time there, I was incredibly lucky to begin my journey as a painter in such an amazing place and build lifelong friendships with other artists. I’d never change that time! Like many artists I’ve come to know over the years, I’ve used any extra space I could find to paint. It is vital for all artists and creatives to give themselves permission to have their own creative space. And, it doesn’t have to be big, or fancy. I’ve created artwork in sunrooms, bedrooms, spare rooms, and also a warehouse studio (it’s always good fun when other creatives are a part of the mix). However, it does take time, practice and reflection to know exactly how you work; what types of equipment serve your needs the best; and, when you feel comfortable to work. There is nothing worse than trying to paint in an environment that is ‘freezing cold, or stinking hot,’ because neither extreme is pleasant - I know, I’ve endured both.

A unique studio in the tropics

Creating a studio space that sits within a tropical environment and climate, did require extra thought and consideration of how I work and what my immediate daily needs are. We moved recently and I was fortunate this time around to have the time to plan. I have implemented a number of things to make my own art practice more sustainable, and easier on the “physical” aspects of being a painter - especially, where my arms, shoulders, neck and lower back are concerned. As most artists know, it’s easy for the hours to go by, and for our “movements” to be minimal, especially when standing for extended periods of time in front of large works (and, moving back and forward to view works just isn’t enough for our bodies in terms of our physical well-being). And, it remains one of the reasons that I always walk, stretch (yoga is great), bike, or swim each day, before working in the studio.

The Magic of Wheels

I decided to create separate zones to provide a sense of variety and purpose.

Zone One has a large desk to do planning, create journal works, colour swatches, small artworks, works on paper, experiment with materials and draw. The desk is height adjustable, and it’s been one of the best investments I have made. This area, also has a large trolley on wheels, that holds a flat table easel, or I use the top surface for old palettes and mixing colours. It has a shelf for jars of brushes, and shelves for my large baskets of paints, canvases, drop cloths and so on. This area is above all, practical and easy to clean. And, I can walk away, leave everything as is, and come back to it the next day.

Photo of Rachel Ireland Meyers in her Cairns studio looking at her paintings.

I like working with neutral space around me, and I use the space to “move” as much as possible, and Zone Two (pictured above) is for painting large works and photography. I decided to ‘ditch’ (pass on) the heavy and bulky easels I’d used in the past, and designed a double-sided recycled wall easel - which has the name “Ted.” On one side, Ted has a shelf for display items when I’m photographing paintings, and is also on heavy duty wheels, which makes him easy to move. I have always liked working on walls, and in the past often put heavy ‘bolts’ into walls to hold large canvases (it was simple and effective), but it’s not something I’d suggest if you aren’t in a house you’ll be in for a long time. If you work in a shed, or warehouse, it’s a perfectly good way to stretch your budget each year, and allows you extra money towards art supplies. This area has movable storage (again, it’s on wheels) with a number of shelves and that holds 85% of everything else that I need access to. I have an old table with chairs that I use to take breaks, eat a meal, read and enjoy looking at the trees and birdlife. It’s somewhat of a halfway point, and a place where my family and friends can enjoy spending time, and something I have come to really value and appreciate.

Add Your Favourite Plants

Over time, I have also added a large variety of indoor plants. Looking after plants and watching them grow is a perfectly slow and relaxing pastime, which is a good thing considering the fast pace of our lives today. They also offer a constant source of inspiration with their patterns, textures and shapes. And, they often find a way into my artwork, drawings and sketchbooks.

Photo of one of Rachel's indoor plants which lives in her art studio in Cairns, Queensland, Australia.

The studio is tiled, easy to sweep and clean, and I often use the floor space as well. It’s a simple and useful strategy for laying down the first layers on canvases, spraying water, and letting the colours run or just spreading out and doing a large planning session. With the exception of a DSLR camera and lenses, it is also a technology free zone and that’s by choice. It simply allows me to paint and work without being distracted or interrupted by other things, and I made that decision consciously.

Photo of Cairns artist Rachel Ireland Meyers working in her studio.

Photo of Cairns artist Rachel Ireland Meyers putting the finishing touches to a piece of art in her studio.

Zone Three is my office and that’s where the technology is. I have computers, a wall easel, i.e.,  large pegboard, and storage for canvases and finished works. It serves as a hub for the things that go into creating and running a small business, checking emails, making calls, working on the website, and so on. I have learned it’s necessary to take a break from all painting in the outdoor studio during the months of January, February and a couple of weeks in March, simply because of the heat, and humidity. I have lived in and explored other states including: Sydney, NSW; Melbourne, VIC; Fremantle, Western Australia; and Tasmania. But, I’m very much at home living in the Tropics of Far North Queensland, and each day remains a novelty and one that I never take for granted.

Recycling, Reusing, and Repurposing

When working as an artist, I’m mindful of wasteful practices. Let’s face it, we often make mistakes, mess - and lots of it. Collect jars, tins and things you might find useful for storage. You can visit auctions, go to thrift stores, and there are plenty of groups on Facebook or online platforms, where you can find useful things for a studio (think old architect draws, if you do works on paper). Use a glass palette (with, white paper on one side), or see if you can find an old medical trolley, with a glass top. There are good options available, but using something like plastic party plates to mix colours and throw out is wasteful and not good art practice. Use micro-fibre cloths and rags (wash, keep and reuse) instead of paper towels. Micro-fibre cloths can be used wet and dry, no matter what media you work with. Above all, look after the art supplies and equipment that you’ve invested your time, energy and money in. As long as you feel comfortable, are free to move and experiment (and, make plenty of mess), have access to good natural light, a place to clean up (when you’re ready to), and one that’s useful to whatever media you might use, you will always enjoy your own creative journey.

Rachel xx