See inside Canberra artist Samantha Small's Fyshwick studio
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See inside Canberra artist Samantha Small's Fyshwick studio

Forget romantic notions of paint-splattered tables, air spiked with solvent fumes, overflowing ash trays and long-forgotten coffee mugs. The reality is a little different inside the studios of three Canberra artists.

At a time when most of her tradie neighbours are knocking off for the day Samantha Small has grown accustomed to unlocking the doors and pulling back the pink curtains of her Fyshwick shopfront studio to start work.

The suburb's industrial setting would seem an unlikely choice for an artist, but after making art in spaces as small as a bedsit Small has fallen in love with its size.

"It's a bit like when people talk about money, you spend the money you've got, you use the time you've got and in terms of a studio you kind of think into the space," she says.

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In the bedsit Small found herself making art that was mostly two-dimensional.

Artist Samantha Small at her studio in Fyshwick.

Artist Samantha Small at her studio in Fyshwick.Credit:Jamila Toderas

Her artwork grew in size when she moved into the "domestic scale" of a studio at Strathnairn before she set up at Fyshwick last January to work on rebuilding her Canberra Museum and Gallery installation Stalemate MK II after it was chosen for inclusion in Sculpture by the Sea.

"In Fyshwick it's a totally different situation, it's more space than I have anywhere in my life," she laughs.

"I wish I could be living here."

The trades-based environment has also influenced her art, opening her up to new possibilities and materials she'd never thought to use before like her latest favourite – lead which she is using to create an installation inspired by bunting hung for celebrations.

Artist Samantha Small polishes her bronze artworks.

Artist Samantha Small polishes her bronze artworks.Credit:Jamila Toderas

"I try to stay away from art stores, I feel always really quite lost in an art store with specialised brushes and paints," she says.

Instead she sources materials from hardware chains, second-hand stores, flea markets and most recently enjoyed collaborating with some of her tradie neighbours to make her wood and steel upscaled toy tank installation more robust for inclusion in Sculpture by the Sea.

After starting out with photography Small broadened her art practice trying her hand at video, installation and most recently metal work including bronze casting.

Ideas rather than materials are her main drivers.

"I have some fantasy that I will be the artist that when she gets asked 'what do you do?'… I'd love to say 'I'm a painter and I love paint, or I'm a welder and I love steel or I'm a textile artist and I love soft fabrics and learning those traditions that have been upset by feminism' but I'm not," she laughs.

"Every time I begin a project it's like a new learning and I think I love that challenge.

"I relate to the art student more than the career-based artist.... I'm always discovering something new and that's part of my art process."

Small juggles time in the studio with casual work as an arts educator at the National Portrait Gallery and admits finding a work/life balance can be difficult at times.

"Yes I work [in the studio] eight to four but that tends to be 8pm to four in the morning so getting up for the job at 9am is complex," she says.

"There's no routine to my practice, there's highly intense periods where there is a little bed set up sometimes in the back.

"I'm very much working almost against people's routines in order to find that quiet, solo, space.

"Those hours I find incredibly productive and incredibly rich… when you feel like you're working in your own bubble without distraction."

Procrastination only becomes an issue between projects, she says, but Small prefers to think of it as "planning".

"Once the project gets going it's very much about having to keep it moving," she says.

"In some cases the result of that… is adrenalin where sleep is less important, actually food is less important, all sorts of things become less important."

Clare Colley is Head of Audience Engagement at The Australian Financial Review. She was previously an online editor, arts editor and journalist at The Canberra Times.

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