Artful Spaces: A Tale of Two Studios

by Giovan J. Michael
March 2020

Painting can be chaotic, with ideas flying like lightning from the artist's brain through the paintbrush and onto the canvas. But to produce beauty in that chaos, artists need control. To be at their peak performance, they need to find a place where they can focus, feel comfortable and get into a flow state.

Wilmington-based artists Chip Hemingway and Clinton L. Meyer have done exactly that. Not only have they built spaces where they can create beautiful art, their studios are pieces of art in themselves. These intracoastal renaissance men have each created a studio that fits their unique styles of both life and art, with the perfect blend of chaos and control.

The Barn: Chip Hemingway

There's a lot to take in when you enter the barn. At first look a shed-roofed rectangle. The wide skylights and windows fill the white walls with a lush light perfect for painting. The studio doubles as a gallery and an impressive array of Hemingway's portraits, landscapes, and en plein air paintings are on display. But it soon becomes clear that this is so much more than a studio, and significantly larger than it seems.

Along with a wide-open space for Hemingway to paint in, there is also plenty of room for the couches, refrigerator, oyster table and a wood stove. One doorway opens to a guest room, another to a den. The den's walls are adorned with guitars and surfboards. This is a place meant to be lived in as well as worked in.

It is his third studio.

"Painting has funded them all," Hemingway says.

By day, Hemingway is an architect, designing homes and public buildings, including Lebanon Chapel's master plan, the three North Carolina Aquariums, Jennette's Pieron Nags Head, Nir Family YMCA in Wilmington, the Wrightsville Beach Bath House Pavilion and the Battleship North Carolina's cofferdam, hull repair and memorial walkway.

Wrightsville Beach residents might also remember his design of the town's lifeguard tower 10 to 12 years ago.

Hisarchitectural knowledge really came full circle as he was restoring the barn to be both studio and "perfect man cave." It was slightly dilapidated and in danger of falling, but he was able to save the historic landmark on the grounds of the second oldest house in Wilmington, Shandy Place.

"This barn was a part of that property, where there were fruit and pecan orchards, all kinds of crops and fields," Hemingway says.

The structure is hundreds of years old, originally two barns constructed in the 1700s.

"One of the barns was used as a stable," Hemingway says. "There is a rumor that the other one was used as slave quarters by the original owners, but we don't know for sure."

The two buildings were eventually combined, and the large space was used for many things, including boat construction, until the Hemingways purchased the property.

The previous owner, whose son was also an architect, added water and electricity. A movie filmed there in the '90s had a lead character who painted in the space. As Hemingway observes, "art mimicking life or life mimicking art."

He says that he'll often have friends over so that he can enjoy their company while he's working. It's a lighthearted time filled with energy, music and laughter. But when he needs to focus, he can also close the double doors and escape into his canvas.

Every Little Detail: Clinton L. Meyer

In Clinton Meyer's contemporary studio, completed in the spring of 2019, there isn't a single variable that hasn't been accounted for. There are 6-foot-high north-facing windows along one side, which allow the artist to paint with natural light. Access is through French doors, so large canvases can be carried into the studio. The companion studio doors contain pocket doors that can be closed to block off the light. Same for the bath.

When Meyer paints at night, the lighting is provided by hung LED panels at exactly 5,000? Kelvin and 90 CRI to simulate the color of daylight.

"5000 - 5500 Kelvin is equivalent to north light," he says.

The walls are painted with a medium gray green (Benjamin Moore 1490 "Country Life").

"This is a color many artists use in their studios," Meyer says. "The color cuts down on reflections off the walls that would throw light into the shadows of a model. It also works well since the warmer skin tones of a model stand out nicely with this as a background."

Located on what was a family half-basketball court, the studio is part of a property that goes back to the King James Land Grant. The title references "between the creeks" as a landmark. It was once a part of the estate know as Eschol. A cistern from that period still adorns the property.

The creation and the function and character of the space was made possible by Linda Tuttle, the architect living next door.

"I felt the exterior must be contemporary and simple with materials relating to the house, but not look 'small house like' in any way," Tuttle says.

She began working closely with Meyer five years ago to design the perfect 1,000-square-foot studio space anchored by a flying porch that would fit every one of his needs.

"It is a place to paint, create, study, share with other artists, and a gallery to be enjoyed by friends and others," she says.

The studio can be opened, "extending the space to the deck and private east garden, an outdoor room intended to rest the mind and eyes," Tuttle says.

The height of the shelves and cabinets are even scaled up to perfectly match the artist's 6-foot, 5-inch height.

"A lot of times, I will paint standing up," Meyer says.

Tuttle designed the dividers for the frames to not take up much room.

The two have known each other for years, and it's clear that there's a mutual admiration for their respective talents. There is a sense of camaraderie between them, which shows in the beauty of the building. It couldn't have been completed without the combination of Tuttle's skills and Meyer's expertise in painting and light.

The studio was designed to become an interior canopy and sky. The 12-foot-high ceiling is painted a 10 percent formula of green to unite it with the walls.

In addition to operable windows, the bath and cleanup room have ceiling fans to remove any toxins from the air.

"One of the criteria for the design was wecould recirculate the air in here, quickly," Meyer says.

This isn't the first time the two have worked together. Twenty years ago, Tuttle designed Meyer's home, where he first taught himself to paint. From the balcony that artfully overlooks the ancient live oak tree in the front yard, Meyer slowly experimented with color and form until he eventually achieved the level of mastery he has today.

Now, his studio is filled with his portraits, many of them with a familiar green background. When he's not painting a live model, he works from the huge screen placed next to his easel. Here he can reference the photos he taken from around the world, which led to such portraits as the Flower Hmong girl from Vietnam or the Himba Woman from Namibia.

When he needs a break, he can grab a soda from his studio refrigerator -- which is the perfect shade of green, of course -- or step next door to the attached drive-through boat shed that shelters his flats boat for fishing and his bicycles.


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