Chapter 13: A Space To Support Your Creative Spirit
How to Make Your Creative Dreams a Reality:
Strategies to Cultivate Your Talent
A Space to Support Your Creative Spirit
For the first three years of my career, I worked in the corner of my utility room. My bench was across from the furnace and hot water heater. At the time, the environment matched my level of ability and technical knowledge. It was comfortable.
But as my work progressed I connected the utility room to a 600-square-foot addition that was disguised as a two-car garage. (I was worried about violating zoning ordinances.) It felt spacious, and the additional room allowed me to bring in an assistant. I was able to equip the space with a modest selection of new equipment.
All went well, but after 27 years I was feeling the pinch. I wanted to experiment with larger forms. A small house next door was for sale; it was on a dead-end street that connected to my property. I thought it would be a wonderful transition if I could work in a larger studio away from my residence.
It was a difficult decision. On one hand, I was 56 years old, and knew that a larger studio could facilitate new work that would advance my dreams. However, it was a risky, complicated, and expensive proposition. It required me to go to the municipal zoning board, and get an attorney to represent me for a commercial variance in a residential neighborhood.
I was apprehensive about this step because if I were turned down I would likely have to move or rent a commercial space. (This turned out to be a rewarding part of the experience, though: The zoning board was aware of my career and complimented me as they approved my application.)
It was a major financial commitment. I added 1,800 square feet to a two-bedroom cottage.
I wasn’t building myself a palace or an opulent space to show off. I had no interest in having the facility stand out in the neighborhood. In fact, I wanted to blend in. I was investing in my career. I was creating a comfortable sanctuary for my creative dreams.
My wife Pat and I talked it over and we decided it was a good move, knowing that the artwork produced in this new space would allow me to be challenged with new ideas.
The new facility impacted on my career in expected and unexpected ways.
Having additional space allowed me to do more ambitious work and take advantage of part-time assistants. One unexpected benefit was that having a large space accessible to the public – not connected to my house – provided Pat and me more privacy when museums included me in field trips that were often tied to Wheaton Arts and Philadelphia museums.
Over the last twenty years, my most valued time is arriving at the studio between four and five in the morning. Prior to opening the studio door, I star-gaze, fascinated by the scale of the universe. I feel at once humbled by the magnitude of the experience but spiritually enlivened by the majesty of God’s design.
My studio is a blend of the practical and the spiritual, as is art. You blend the physical and metaphysical in ways that celebrate your feelings.
Think about your space as your spiritual sanctuary and as a sacred space crucial to your profession as you pursue excellence. The adornments you choose should challenge you, not distract you. My space is not decorated with niceties. The cultural clutter references opportunities to be explored and refined.
Don’t neglect the relationship between your workspace and the quality, range, and evolution of your art-making. It’s not about creating an extravagant environment. It’s about investing in a quiet space that doesn’t distract you from your work, a space that is special to you.
I always prefer to work in the studio. It isolates people from their environment.
They become in a sense... symbolic of themselves.
-- Richard Avedon
To have a sacred place is an absolute necessity for anybody today. You must have a room or a certain hour of the day or so, where you do not know who your friends are, you don't know what you owe anybody or what they owe you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be.
-- Joseph Campbell