Chilly, dark days call for a bright, West Coast weekend update, and painter Mary Finlayson’s San Francisco home studio fills that quota with flying colors. For our new In the Studio, Finlayson gives us a photo tour of her sunny spot in SF’s Potrero Hill hood, and answers our Qs about her space and process. In the pics, you’ll see windows that let in lots of light and a mantle covered in her colorful paintings, along with myriad artful little objects, potted plants, and brightly bound book stacks that serve up inspiration for the artist. Since Finlayson’s work often focuses on interiors, we were dying to ask her (and get a look at) how that’s informed the way she approaches and arranges her actual home and the studio inside it. Read her response below, where she also discusses the winding path that finally led her to face her fears and dive into being a full time artist, what a gift it is to have somewhere dedicated to artmaking (even if it’s just a corner!), the special satisfaction of a fresh set of brushes, and so much more. Sneak a peek below.
Love Finlayson’s work? Welcome to the club. If you want more of it, be sure to scoop up her 20x200 edition. Then you might wanna check out the puzzle she just launched with Goodfit. And if you happen to be on the West Coast, nothing beats seeing her art in person. Spot her pieces at JoAnne Artman Gallery in Laguna Beach or Zinc Contemporary in Seattle. In March, pop over to San Francisco’s Glass Rice Gallery for her solo show. In the meantime, cozy up to her In the Studio! And don’t forget to follow @paintedmary on IG to ogle her art from anywhere. — Team 20x200
Where's your studio?
My studio is in San Francisco in a neighborhood called Potrero Hill. It’s a sunny little patch of the city with no shortage of hills!
What's your favorite tool in the studio?
I’d have to say my brushes. There’s really nothing that quite compares the satisfaction of painting with a good set of brushes, especially when using a new brush for the first time. It just sorta sings when you pull it across the canvas. I love that. Unfortunately, it’s short lived and you need to replace them frequently, but I never tire of the experience of dipping a new brush into paint then giving it a swirl in freshly changed water.
What do you wear when working in the studio?
Jeans and a t-shirt. Nothing special. I just wear my regular clothes and usually some big thick socks because it can be chilly. If I’m working on a very large piece or a mural I’ll maybe wear coveralls, but otherwise I just wear whatever I already have on. Most of my clothes have some evidence of this choice!
What's on your in-studio playlist?
Always Gillian Welch and often Angel Olsen, Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen, Beach House, Bon Iver, and Fleetwood Mac.
What's your work style? Late nights? Intense creative bursts? Slow and steady wins the race?
It depends. I definitely would say that I work best at night and am most productive during these hours. I work whenever I can, day or night and usually both. I’m a mom to a toddler and a new baby, so I work whenever there’s a window of time whatever that window may be—I’m not choosy at this point! My studio is in my house, so I am there as much as I can be and often at strange hours.
Interiors and the objects and ephemera people surround themselves with are a recurring source of artistic inspiration for you. How has that informed your relationship with your own real-life interior spaces—your home, your at-home studio, etc.?
My home is definitely a reflection of my work and vice versa. I love color, pattern, and plants, and my home definitely reflects this. I also have many trinkets and collectibles that I’ve gathered over the years from travels abroad or have found at flea markets, etc. Some of my favorite things are kid’s drawings which have a special naiveté to them or small rocks I found in my daughter’s jacket, etc. I love stumbling across things that someone else deemed important so decided to hold on to them. I like to give these objects a special place, in my art and home also. I don’t like homes that feel static. I like there to be a presence of life and an evident story of the people who live there, and my home definitely reflects this.
What's your favorite way to procrastinate in the studio?
Probably sketching. It's not exactly “procrastinating” because I do refer to my sketches heavily in my paintings, but I often get sucked in at this stage and will complete a sketch even if I know it’s not very good and won’t serve any purpose later. I love the very preliminary stage of the creative process, probably because there is so little invested in the piece at that point, so there’s a freeness to it. If I had more time, I’d spend much more time in this stage of development.
Whens, Hows & Whys
When did you first realize you wanted to become an artist and how’d you get there?
So long ago! I always, always wanted to be an artist. I think it may be the only thing I ever wanted to be. It was a long, wobbly path to get to this point, and I really never believed I could actually be one, but little by little I chipped away at it and finally got tired of pretending I wanted to be anything different, so fully committed in 2017 and haven’t looked back since. Walking away from a steady income and a professional career was scary, but as time went on the idea of not walking away from my career became the thing that really scared me and that realization forced me into action. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be either, and once you’re finally doing the thing it is you’re really supposed to be doing everything just feels easier, even if the reality of it is harder.
How do you get over creative blocks?
Sketching and playing with different color combinations.
What do you like best about 20x200?
The curation of artists is very, very good. There is such a huge range of work representing so many talented artists! I’m completely honored to have my work included among them.
Which artists' 20x200 collections do you most covet (and why)?
I love Kindah Khalidy’s artwork and also Lisa Congdon’s. I’ve been a long time admirer of both artists. I love the energy in Kindah’s pieces and Lisa’s color is just so good. I also love the work of Amber Vittoria and Helen Levi.
Why do you think it's important to have a dedicated work space for your art? What advice would you give to artists looking to build a creative work space?
I do think it’s pretty essential to have a dedicated space for your art, because the space is almost a metaphor for your commitment to it. When you have a dedicated space your brain shifts into gear right when you enter that space. You know why you’re there and what your intentions in the space are. You’re not distracted by the hum of the fridge or whatever else might be pulling at your attention. Your only purpose in that space is to work. It is such a gift to have a place where your attention isn’t divided and your work deserves that. On the flip, I completely get how difficult it is to afford a space, and there are so many practicalities that get in the way of actually having a separate space (trust me, my studio is in my house), but just try to work with what you have. If you don’t have space, try to make some wherever you may find it and use that space only for art making. Put up an easel to create a visual barrier or even put up a curtain—just try if you can to have a space you treat as sacred to your art.
The 411 on Mary Finlayson
Mary Finlayson is a painter originally from Vancouver, BC. Mary combines her love of pattern and color to create boldly decorated, visually-layered interiors. She is now based in San Francisco.