Dornwell Studios

We visited the shared artist space ‘Dornwell Studios’ in Three Kings, Auckland recently and spoke to some of the current residents about the studio and what it’s like to share a space with other artists. The eight artists presently occupying Dornwell are: Amy MacKinnon, David Petersen, Jane Thorne, Jo Dalgety, Mark Bosley, Raewyn Walsh, Sue Thomas and Trevor Bayley. You can visit their website here: https://dornwellstudios.wordpress.com/

How did Dornwell Studios form & how long have you been ‘operating’?
Jo
Two artists, Jude Grey and Carolyn Milbank started this studio space eight years ago when they were both looking for new studio space for themselves.
Amy
Sue, Jo and I were all thinking about sharing a studio together and looking for spaces, and spotted Jude and Carolyn’s ad on The Big Idea website. Pure serendipity! I remember helping to paint all the walls white, a full on job as they were all these intense and somewhat oppressive colours. We got more and more slapdash as the day wore on and you can still see the odd patch of a particularly unlovely and hard-to-cover blue. The space had previously been home to an after-school tutoring business and before then apparently some acrobats had leased it as a combined practice space/home. So I don’t know who was responsible for the original paint scheme. Or the orphan shower rose plumbed in with no tub underneath!
Jane
I’ve been here since at least 2009 and it was already up and running. I was so happy to be welcomed in and felt at home straight away.

Has the original crew stayed on or have you had some changes?
Jo
Both Jude and Carolyn have moved away from Auckland but a Trust was formed to keep the studio space going forward. Four of the other artists that originally began with them are still here. All the artists that have moved, most of them overseas, keep in touch.
Amy
People come and go, but slowly – it’s been pretty stable overall. It was scary at first: committing to a shared studio, with all of the unknowns. And then when Jude and Carolyn had to leave, I felt bereft,they were such valuable mentors. But once you find a good space, with good people, it’s not something you’re willing to give up! So there was this even bigger scarier commitment, helping set up the trust to keep it going. And it’s paid off hugely.

What are the best aspects of sharing a space?
Jo
Being able to discuss and be supported through the ups and downs of an artist’s life. The community that you create.
Sue
Being with like-minded people, all trying to hone their art, and all serious enough to be paying good money to do it. Being able to chat about the ups and downs of art practice; get and give opinion, input, advice and reassurance. You don’t get quite so isolated and I think you gather inspiration, probably unknowingly, from the work around you.
Jane
Being able to discuss ideas and work through problems with a fellow artist.
Amy
A creative, positive vibe and camaraderie. We commiserate, console when needed, then celebrate each other’s successes. It’s good seeing not just other artists’ work, but the evolution of their practice. Access to good conversation, considered advice, opportunities for collaboration. Plus being able to call on all these different skill sets – not only people’s creative practices, but their varied ‘day job’ sides as well.

…and what are the downsides? (if any)
Jo
Not very many.
Jane
For me there are none. Im usually disappointed if I arrive and Im the only one in.
Sue
None really, except sometimes envy at other people’s talent or ability or confidence or anything that you don’t feel you currently have!
Amy
Having to say goodbye to someone when they do leave – but (thanks to Jo’s diligent web management) the Dornwell website and Facebook page mean we can still keep the virtual connections/channels open with most of the Dornwell diaspora.

What does an average day look like at Dornwell Studios?
Jane
For me it’s varied. I typically arrive at about 3 which is normally a fairly quiet time to be working.  Usually there is at least one other artist around. I like to settle in to my painting after first wandering about the other studios getting inspired and drinking too much coffee.
Sue
There isn’t really an average day. People come and go at different times depending on other commitments. I tend to go on the weekend or on precious days off from my day job. [I] start with a period of procrastination and wander about with a cup of tea. Then eventually get going on the painting … it can be a slowish start but I usually get right into it to the point where it’s irritating to have to leave. I tend to do an afternoon stint into the early evening and I’ll work until I reach my known end point for the day. That’s usually when everything starts to look either really shitty or really good. I know to either leave it before I destroy it in a fit of frustration or leave it before I do something to stuff it up. Sometimes there are other people working there, sometimes not. Either is good.
Jo
Open the door and say this is heaven. Drink a cup of tea while checking out what is happening with everyone else’s work in progress. And then into my own work. Mostly it is more painting – but sometimes tidying, selecting, sorting and preparing paintings.
Amy
I work a day job but generally put in a full day Friday, arriving anywhere from 9-11. More often than not miss bus and walk (happily, from where I live it’s a bare half-hour away). Make tea (a common theme emerges) and change into apron and/or studio clothes – I keep a selection of painty jumpers, cardigans/threadbare t-shirts, ugg boots etc handy; being an industrial space with no insulation, temperature can shift markedly over the course of the day. Say ‘hi’ if anyone’s about, pad around or plunge straight in to work depending on mood. There’s a metal spinning business next door; their machinery has this  rhythmic ‘whaouump’ noise, strangely meditative. Similar to waves breaking on a beach? Sometimes when it’s quieter you’ll get scratches and rustles and coos – roof-dwelling pidgeons; occasional drumming rain or windy whistles. Or chatty coming and goings in the yard below (where the landlords run a self-storage business) and bursts of random enthusiastic radio from cars or the metalworks guys. Then at around 4.30 the outside noises wind down, the storage office manager shuts shop, shutters, doors and gates and all is quiet. Second wind, or wind up. A good period to put in a good effort until finish … either a call from partner coming to collect (joy, quick !!!! –  wash brushes, find keys, rinse cups/water/plates & palettes, no time to wash up properly, close window, where are keys again, find another plate/cup/brush, take recycling to bin, etc) or up the hill to miss the last bus (again) & walk home.

Do you have exhibitions in the studio space or open studio weekends?
Jo
We have an annual open studio day in December which is always good. This year will be our seventh! And an annual studio exhibition, though that is not here. We don’t have that type of space available. Maybe in the future.
Jane
We have our very special open day every year in December which I look forward to immensely. It’s a relaxed day where people can come in and look around our spaces. We also have a more formal exhibition mid-year.

What’s unique about the area the studios are based in? (Three Kings, Auckland) 
Sue
The area is semi-industrial … there are lots of businesses in the surrounding streets mixed in with residential streets. It’s not a wealthy suburb but it’s clearly diverse and it’s interesting as I drive to the studio looking at people’s front and back yards. There’s one house on the main road that is pretty plain but every summer the street frontage has this amazing display of really really tall, really colourful flowers streaming up from the otherwise concreted area. It’s quite weird but quite cool. The area seems to have its own kind of atmosphere and feeling. I like it.
Jo
Our studio space and the Pah Homestead being so close. You can always pop over there for more inspiration if you need it.
Jane
Three Kings is an unusual area it would seem, to be an artist, but its amazingly central to most places and it’s really close to where I live and work. It has the James Wallace Trust nearby in Monte Cecilia park which is a wonderful place to visit too.

Please click on the images of Dornwell Studios below to enlarge