A friend once showed me the studio in which he did carpentry and sculpture. He was careful not to call it a shed, he said, because he wanted to work in a place that would foster his art, and a shed is not a place, either in name or design, that nurtures the artistic spirit. Thomas Moore
Most of the artists I know work at their kitchen tables, in spare bedrooms, in the laundry room, or wherever they can find space to spread out and be messy. I’m not alone in having to make adjustments in order to have space in which to create artwork. I’ve always believed that necessity is the mother of invention. Christine Ivers
I am an artist whose name is JAZZ. My ‘studio’ began at our dining room table. Sun entering this room came from two sides, through wide and tall windows. Painting here was a joy. Watercolor prints were found scattered on the dining room floor while they dried. I had expanded beyond the table. I had taken over the room. As I took my painting more seriously, began selling and filling orders, I wondered if a more professional or permanent space was needed. Putting everything away when dinner was served or walking gingerly amid the paintings drying on the floor was tiring. How I longed for a place where I could make a mess and leave it. This studio in the sun-filled dining room was feeling temporary.
Above the dining room was my office and would be the next studio space. The light entered differently than in the dining room. The energy seemed off, not as alive and playful. The windows were smaller, the ceilings lower. A studio in this room felt almost forced, but not seeing another option, I was determined to make it work. Don acquired a second hand drafting table for me and we moved it into one corner. With care and intention, I set up my paints, water jars and brushes. Roommates with my consulting business and the writing of my master’s thesis, artwork had now squeezed into this small room. At the desk, I wrote reports and documented research. At the drafting table, paints and brushes were in readiness. Many times, I felt as if the left and right sides of my brain were divided in this room, one in each corner. All waking hours were devoted to the thesis and the business. “I will paint when I have more time.“ I told myself. Time passed. The paints remained unused and silent. It was nearly unbearable to see them, to have them in the same room. I felt failure. A feeling of guilt would join me from time to time. My good intentions to paint were not materializing. Eventually I packed up all art supplies, removed the drafting table from the room and put everything in storage in the basement. Out of sight, out of mind.
While no longer in my view or near at hand, the paints were not far from my yearning heart. I re-framed this absence from painting as a pause, not a stop. Someday we would find each other again. As I remembered an earlier time when I put my dance life on hold, then returned three years later with bountiful energy and new choreography, my heart was comforted and calmed. May this be so.
Years passed. In conversation with a friend, she mentioned she was taking an on-line painting class. Not a watercolor class, but one using acrylics and large canvases. As she talked, I realized that I was desperately wanting a new experience, to push limits, to discover what was inside of me waiting to be expressed. This was the perfect opportunity to return to painting. In calculating the space required for large canvases, giddiness overcame me. I was about to move beyond a small table.
Fall weather coincided with my on-line class. A wild idea also arrived. I hatched a plan, then talked with Don. “What if I made one side of the garage into a studio? And that large shipping crate that your printer came in, could I have that to be my easel?” His excitement in seeing me return to painting was affirmation enough. We set to work. One of the cars would sit in the driveway while I expressed myself in its vacant berth. The large shipping crate easily became a make-shift easel. We added nails to the wall of our old detached garage for additional canvas space. I was ready.
With the open garage, exhilarating autumn air and bountiful light filled the space and rested on the canvases. My eyes were wide with wonder. I remember trying to take a deep breath, emotions filling every inch of me with tears ready to fall. Energy as I had never experienced seemed to fly in through the open door and grace every brushstroke. I could be deliciously messy and I was. The dancer inside of me showed up. With each brushstroke, sweeps of paint danced from my body across the large canvases. I played. I explored. Every muscle moved and expressed itself. This was heaven.
Then winter came to Wisconsin. Heating this exterior space was not a viable consideration or a very inviting thought. At the same time, giving up this awakened sense of artistic expression was also not an option. Knowing I needed to move the studio inside, it was quite clear that my space requirements were more demanding. The dining room table and the upstairs office could no longer hold this part of me.
The most reasonable place was located in the storage area of the basement. That meant shoving things around, putting up partitions to avoid seeing the fullness of stuff that was sharing space with me. I pushed, moved, and re-stacked anything in my path. Don and I hung a gray tarp from floor to ceiling, covering the poured cement wall and the visible insulation. The easel made from the shipping crate was hauled in from the garage and rested against the wall. The canvases had a home.
My great grandmother’s dining table, stored under the basement steps, was activated for duty. A table that once was the place where aunts and uncles gathered for Sunday dinners, Michigan Rummy played, and conversations lingered for hours. I could hear my great grandmother giggle and see her eyes dancing with glee over this new use for such an old table. My watercolors would be very happy here. Shelving was cleared off for art supplies and paper. The drafting table was set up. Chairs and benches were brought from other parts of Simplicity. In addition to the small basement window, the two overhead bulbs were changed into natural light while task lighting was placed on both tables. Light was so important. Would this be enough? As the pieces of the studio came together, I wondered if I would feel creative and happy in my new place. Could this quadrant of the dark basement with its encroaching storage feel welcoming to my creative spirit? Time would tell.
Rarely do I say, “I am going to the basement to paint.” Rather, I give this creative act a sense of dignity by saying, “I am going to my studio.” It deserves respect, for such incredible happenings occur there. Transformation of a blank paper or canvas often takes me, the artist, on a journey I had not planned. Something magical happens. A connection to a vulnerable and playful part of me wakes up. Watching the paints turn into expressive statements creates a peaceful solace unlike any other experience. Without awareness, minutes fly into hours. Do the work. Trust the process.
Naturally frustrations join me in the studio. They are my companions and I have learned to respect them. Each frustration teaches me something new. While I dislike their nagging and doubting voices, if I stick with it, push into each one, before long an opening appears. No longer tedious, creating becomes effortless. There is transcendence into a totally unplanned moment that results in a work of art that is worth all the hours and days of frustration.
While this space in the basement works, it is not ideal. I miss the natural light, smelling the fresh air, hearing the outdoor sounds of birds and children at play. I miss the energy and freedom I felt when I was painting in the garage. Maybe someday I will have such a studio. For now, a corner of the storage room is doing its very best to be my current studio. For that, I am grateful.