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A Day in the Life: Studio Space

A Day in the Life : Studio Space

Written by Amy Dryer // @amy.dryer

When I attended Mount Allison almost fifteen years ago now, I lived in a rambling old house just off the university campus. Cuthbertson was a Victorian style green building with multi colored stained glass windows and about ten different students’ rooms. In my room, I had small antique lamps that I had purchased at the local Sally Anne and a special picture beside my bed.

I woke up and went to sleep to that picture – a photo of an empty space with old hardwood floors, treelike beams and light pouring through north facing windows.

Scrawled across the top of the postcard, in black Sharpie marker, I had written ‘my eventual art studio.’

The transition from post-secondary to working as an artist was both baffling and hopeful. For the first few weeks after graduation, I paced around my parent’s basement making to-do lists and trying to figure out how to begin my career. I kept the studio photo at the forefront of my mind, pinning it again on my bedroom wall. I started contacting a myriad of art teachers and old friends in an attempt to find a space I could work in.

It was June or July 2002 and I met with Bob Pierce at the ‘downtown Cannery Row studios.’ Upon meeting him, I shook his big carpenter artist hand and while looking at his studio, I knew I had to acquire a painting space there. Shortly after our meeting, I had a studio, though not the space depicted in the post-card. Nonetheless, I made the studio my own; by attaching photos on the dirty walls, buying art supplies and a stereo for some music. Days and weeks passed as I stretched canvas on the wall and began some drawings and paintings of the objects around me. A day in my life at that time was confusing and lonely; I felt squirreled away, creating in a small corner of the world no one knew about.

Not much time had passed and already a space down the hall was going to be available. The tenant knocked on my door to let me know that she was leaving and invited me to see her studio; it was massive! I walked into her studio and I took a breath. At that moment, I had a sense that I was in the midst of tumbling into my future; I was standing in my postcard! I felt in quiet awe of the studio and the potential that it provided me.

The space was dusty white light poured through massive north facing widows, the ceilings were fifteen feet high, the floors were old hardwood, and the beams holding up the building were solid, full trees.

To understand a day in my life, as an artist is to understand this space – my sanctuary, a place I could move from emptiness to fullness and back again.

When I first arrived in the studio, the hard wood floors had been hand painted a cream colour. I would stand barefoot on that clean floor, painting at a large easel. The space was empty, and open – like a blank, untouched canvas waiting to be filled. I wanted so badly, so impatiently, to fill the space with colour and music and movement.

So, I invited some new friends into the studio late one Friday night, and we all sat on the pristine floor, sweating, and listening to Jeff Buckley sing ‘Hallelujah’ at full pitch. His voice filled the room and christened the empty space.

As the years went by these floors were also filled; gesso, acrylic, oil, oil stick, charcoal, nails and staples accumulated. The floor is now covered with every conceivable art material that I use and reflects my tactile, expressive and messy process.

I wear pink crocs while I work now instead of bare feet.

Not only have I filled the floor with material, I have permeated the space with sound. Over the years I have accumulated a stack of CD’s, and I regularly listen to book tapes, rented from the library, to fill the space. The stereo – formerly pristine in its appearance – now rests on my shelving unit with layers of paint strewn across it from years of changing CD’s.

I work through large rolls of heavy weight canvas every year as I produce shows and stretch the canvas over cedar frames built by my father-in-law. When the fresh frames arrive, about twice per year, my studio fills with the smell of cedar, which reminds me of the forest. As I create, I place freshly painted canvases around the perimeter of my studio so that I can properly see and envision the body of work in its entirety. Each year, empty space and canvas transform into an abundant, textured and colourful world.

In the early studio days, friends commissioned me to do paintings for them. I also did portraits and figurative pieces for my beloved aunt and uncle and my parents, as well as their friends. These personal jobs, from direct family/ friend connections, started me off.

As an artist I tend to fluctuate between a minimalist love of vast open space and a maximalist appreciation of concrete objects. I dream of ideas, take photos and paint the objects and subjects around me that are close at hand. In order to create, I need to immerse myself in the subject matter that I am exploring.

Photo Credit: Aaron Jensen

Chelsea Kindrachuk CTK Photography

George Dimitrov Photography

To do a portrait for our family friend who was passing of a brain tumor, I visited his home regularly. I drew him, his wife brushing his hair, and the people around his bedside. My intention was to fully know him in life and in death and to in turn, do a portrait that would capture his spirit. In order to paint with a sense of personal authenticity, I jump into the pool of life.

To paint the figure in motion, I went to the Alberta Ballet studios and sketched the dancers. Recently, I explored the subject of my grandfathers’ dementia through the metaphorical and complex forest landscape of Banff. And this past year, I traveled to an artist residency in Reyjavik where I explored the Iceland landscape and began a series about the North. I am currently exploring both Iceland and the Canadian landscape simultaneously.

My creative process fluctuates between moments of vacancy and space into moments brimming with full and expressive detail. Now, as I recollect, I understand how the first years in my studio were my most determined and naïve ones – days of great loneliness, perseverance, passion and deep hope. Those days shaped everything I do now – molded my non-linear practice and style. Within the walls of my studio, I have found and continue to find daily sanctuary for my creative process.

It all started with a small glossy postcard tacked to my dorm room wall – a visual dream.

I looked at that postcard everyday and knew that I would eventually carve out a space for my art and myself. “A room of one’s own,” Virginia Wolfe would say – my room, with its hardwood floors, north facing windows, high ceiling, brick walls, and light pouring in: an empty room waiting for me to arrive.

Amy Dryer-9660-Edit-2

Photo Credit: George Dimitrov Photography

Artist Statement

My gestural style – characteristic of German Expressionism – emphasizes the subjective expression of inner experiences. The truest picture of a moment – the figure of a place – occurs in a balanced abstraction of everyday perspectives. To convey this I combine line, form and color to represent and yet slightly distort my subject matter. This creates a field of view that is both familiar and enigmatic.


Amy Dryer attended the Alberta College of Art and Design, the Glasgow School of Art (Scotland) and the Fine Art program at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, to receive her Bachelor of Fine Arts. In 2014, she was the among The Top 40 Under 40 Recipients chosen by Avenue Magazine, and in 2008, she was on the cover of Avenue Magazine as ‘Calgary’s Best.’ She has been featured as a ‘Profiled Artist’ in both Essential Magazine and Galleries West Magazine.

Amy completed an artist residency at Emma Lake Saskatchewan in 2009 and at the Banff Centre in 2013. In January 2017, she attended a third artist residency in Reykjavik, Iceland. Dryer’s paintings are in a number of collections throughout Canada, and the US, including the Alberta Foundation for the Arts public art collection. She shows in galleries across Canada. Amy is based in Calgary, AB.

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