Having a dedicated space for artmaking is a luxury by definition, something Ann Toebbe will be the first to tell you. She’s super grateful for her Chicago studio, a garden-level lair committed to her creative exercise and conveniently situated just a two-minute shuffle from her home. Toebbe showed us around and gave us a glimpse into her artistic process by answering a few of our burning Qs for today’s In the Studio.
In her interview, Toebbe talks navigating life as an artist with “drive and pluck and passion”. She’s a busy bee who’s a firm believer in keeping the momentum going, and a meticulous maker who invests herself in one artwork for months at a time … but she’s also pro-napping. Getting into some more of the nitty gritty, she explains how a culture of over-sharing on social media enabled her to create some painstakingly assembled, stealthily telling pieces. Another juicy Toebbe tidbit we uncovered: tees aren’t just her uniform of choice—they do double duty as paintbrush blotters. (We’re not the only ones!)
She talks a bit more about her process in a recent interview on the podcast I Like Your Work. Give it a listen. Other things Toebbe’s been up to include exhibiting in a forthcoming group show, Seasons, at the Nassau County Museum of Art, and another called Home Sweet Home: Is Home Sanctuary?, opening this December at the Children’s Museum of Art in Manhattan. Harper’s Magazine subscribers may have spotted her painting Friend: Jana in the October issue, and she just wrapped a solo show at Sarah Lawrence College’s Gallery at Heimbold Visual Arts Center: Swing State. Click through for some great context about Toebbe’s work in exhibition description. — Team 20x200
Where's your studio?
My studio is a one-bedroom garden apartment. It’s located in the same condominium community where I live with my husband and two daughters—just a two minute commute from home.
What's your favorite tool in the studio?
My favorite tool, hmmm … it’s a tie between a ruler and an Exacto knife. Both tools are critical to drawing and collage.
What do you wear when working in the studio?
I change into my paint covered t-shirts and pants/shorts when I arrive at my studio. I don’t drip paint but use my clothes as a rag to wipe my brushes as I work. I work in Acryla gouache so there’s no issue of solvents etc. The t-shirts are actually kind of beautiful.
What's on your in-studio playlist?
I listen to a range of music, podcasts and audiobooks throughout the day. My favorite morning radio show is Clay Pigeon’s show on WFMU. He plays all the music I love: Ramones, The Germs, Pixies, Mazzy Star, Mouse on Mars, Joy Division, Cocteau Twins, The Cranberries, The Beths. After lunch I might listen to a political podcast and am currently listening to Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, but taking a break with Charles’s Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities.
What's the first thing you do when you arrive at your studio?
I sit down, drink my coffee, and read The Washington Post. I answer any pressing emails and, of course, look at Instagram.
What's your work style? Late nights? Intense creative bursts? Slow and steady wins the race?
I’m a morning person, up at 6am, but my studio day starts at 9 am after I drop my daughters, age 9 and 11, at school. I work 9-3:30pm, sometimes returning 7:30-9:30 pm if there’s something I feel can’t wait until the next day. At the start of a painting I work slow and steady, mapping out the tasks: fill in wall colors, draw the dining room furniture, cut out the chandelier, paste the rug pattern. I can usually complete one to three tasks per day. A painting can take 2-3 months or more and I work on one painting at a time. Toward the end of the painting, it’s more creative bursts as I get the flow. In the final phase I really enjoy the work, am more focused, and often don’t take breaks.
You recently wrapped a (seriously excellent!) solo show at NYC’s Tibor de Nagy Gallery, exhibiting paintings of domestic interiors based on images you meticulously mined from social media. How has your process informed your understanding of those social technologies, and what sort of work do you see your art doing in transforming them?
My show Friends and Rentals at Tibor de Nagy cashed in on my access to the domestic lives of my FB friends. We all embraced sharing and got in the habit of posting family events and fun photos that happened to capture our homes in the background. I started saving these photos in folders and from the friends who shared the most (turned out to be my Ohio and Kentucky cousins) I re-constructed homes I’d never visited. It was satisfyingly challenging yet felt sneaky and creepy. Ultimately the process made for some very detailed paintings. It was shocking how much information I was able to lift from posts. I think the over sharing moment has passed, at least for me, and we’re all re-grouping as to how to move forward with social media. But the paintings creatively capture how a lot of the damage has been done. If someone takes the time to look, our information is out there.
What's your favorite way to procrastinate in the studio?
Taking a nap!
Whens, Hows & Whys
When did you first realize you wanted to become an artist and how’d you get there?
I honestly started telling my parents I was an artist in kindergarten. I had no concept of what it meant but my parents never deterred me and encouraged the idea. When choosing a college they pushed me toward art school, one of the best decisions of my life, and they have never—even to this day—questioned whether it was a good life choice. So I owe my laser focus to them. I feel celebrated in my family and despite all of the unknowns and ups and downs (especially the financial side) of a life in the arts, it has always been who I am. I’ve just figured things out along the way from being an art student to being an exhibiting artist. There is no template or assurances, just drive and pluck and passion.
How do you get over creative blocks?
To get through creative blocks I push myself to stay in my studio routine. Being in the middle of my life, with a family, I don’t have a lot of time to waste. I chose to roll this way. I like to be busy. If painting isn’t happening I’ll focus on the career stuff: grant writing, networking, residency applications. I try not to let the ball drop or over think things because making art is a fantasy life of sorts—you can’t let reality settle in.
What do you like best about 20x200?
Jen Bekman came up with a brilliant business model. 20x200 makes fine art more sociable because it’s affordable.
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’m an advocate for a separate studio space vs a live/work situation. It really depends on your finances. It can be a struggle to pay rent on a studio outside your home. I moved to Chicago for love but it may have been one of the luckiest decisions I made as I pursued an art career. My overhead is low and I have plenty of space. If exhibiting is your goal, my advice is to live precariously in NYC and LA while you’re young (young at heart) and consider a smaller art scene like Chicago’s once you have a network.
The 411 on Ann Toebbe
Born in 1974 in Cincinnati, Ohio, Ann Toebbe received her BFA from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1997. She earned an MFA in painting from Yale University in 2004 and a DAAD Scholarship to the Universität der Kunst, Berlin in 2004-05. She has been the recipient of numerous grants including a Pollock Krasner Foundation Grant, 2005 and 2015, a Sustainable Arts Foundation Grant, 2015, and a Chicago Dcase Grant, 2017 and IL Council for the Arts Grant, 2018. In 2017 Toebbe was AiR at The Pilchuck School of Glass. Her work has been shown at The MCA Chicago, The Elmhurst Art Museum, and The Fralin Museum of Art and galleries including Monya Rowe, NY and Zevitas Marcus, Los Angeles. In 2019 Toebbe had solo exhibitions at Tibor de Nagy, NY where she is represented and in the gallery at The Heimbold Visual Arts Center at Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, NY.