When I was eight years old, I decided and informed my family that I no longer needed a playhouse and that I was turning the tiny structure in my backyard into an art studio. I hauled all the cardboard kitchen appliances outside next to my playhouse and tried to convince my mother that the surrounding trees would protect them from the rain. I made and hung out a sign with the word’s ‘Art Studio” in multicolored acrylic paints. After a week, my mother discreetly removed the soggy cardboard kitchen appliances. I was official.
Chief among my happiest moments in the space was organizing it. Each spring and at least twice during the summer, I’d haul out all the art supplies and craft kits and sort the best way to arrange them for maximum space efficiency and creativity. I’d discover materials I’d forgotten about and launch into an idea I wouldn’t otherwise have had. These moments of re-discovery, coupled with the disco on my Realistic Cube AM radio unleashed, what to a little kid, felt like all the energy released in the Big Bang.
Who am I kidding? They still do.
Whenever I have a deadline for a major project, every fiber of my being wants to re-organize my studio. I have to take deep breaths, drink copious cups of hot tea, and promise myself as soon as the deadline/trip/project is done, I will dig in and discover just how many cool tools, pigments, inks, types of pencils and pens, stashes of metal, reams of good paper, rolls of real vellum, and half finished projects I have at my disposal. As an adult though, I tend to squelch the childlike glee with the stupid voices in my head that tell me I’m not being productive. Not fun.
Two back to back trips and all the associated pre-trip projects and deadlines later, I’ve finally gotten all my collage materials where I can reach them, found space for most of the new books I bought at The Strand, and those reams of paper are arranged by type and need (watercolor, printmaking, digital photography, etc.). We don’t need to talk about my bench. Not yet. It’s really handy that tools and tiny things come in zip top bags. Finished art jewelry goes into different, non-tarnish zip top bags. My bench looks like a zip top bag factory exploded all over it.
So here on the day of the week I pretend to refuse to work – Sunday’s, or as fellow artist Aimee Hoover calls them, ‘Introvert Sundays’ – I’m contemplating, as I always do, everything I did wrong last week and how I need to do it differently this week. (If you think being me is a little exhausting, you’d be correct.)
Acts of art are frequently compared with the mammoth efforts of gestation and birth for a reason. There is what fellow artist Kathleen Nowak Tucci calls ‘Mulling Time’ when you contemplate what might work both design wise and technologically. This is like the zygote phase just before cell differentiation. Things are cooking, but not in any form anyone else would recognize.
Once a project is begun and there are tangible parts to a future whole, there is definitely an obvious entity in the making. How long it takes could mimic the gestation time of a mouse or possibly as long as that of an elephant or longer. It takes as long as it takes. Birth is not only the completion of the project, it’s also the welcoming of it into the world by others. This is where your audience experiences your work.
Nearly every coaching resource aimed at artists suggests art dates with yourself to avoid burn out: gallery openings, museum, exhibits, walks in the park, networking events, sketching in coffee shops, or anything that gets you out of the studio and engaging with other possibilities. If these are the dates that lead to that gestation phase, then where is the sex? Where is that extremely important point where separate things connect to form something entirely new that didn’t exist before?
Today, as Introvert Sunday inevitably morphed into Extrovert Sunday of Endless Difficult and Often Rhetorical Questions by Me Sunday, I asked my husband this question about conception. – It’s ok, he had the whole context, so he understood my query was metaphorical and not insulting.
“Clearly, for you, it’s in reorganizing your supplies and equipment.”
“Then I need to see it as vital and stop judging myself for wasting time. I need to stop ‘lying back and thinking of England’ when I could be enjoying myself!” I quipped.
Alas, getting into the right space to make things happen is no joke. The challenges of being creative on demand are not the airy-fairy, dream career of doing whatever you’re inspired to do that non artists imagine. Artists who persist may create hundreds of images or objects in their lifetimes, however, most individuals don’t have hundreds of children. Showing up day after day for what it takes sometimes requires tricking ourselves into the required flow state to put that baby out into the world. Like parenting, lots of people do it, but it’s really not for the faint of heart.
The part of me that loves arranging my watercolor palette with every color I might want on the go, or figuring out exactly where a favorite pair of pliers will be constantly in reach yet easy to put away, needs to enjoy the romance of these moments. They are vital to connecting the dots that lead to remarkable work.
At least the evil governor of Georgia can’t unconstitutionally sign away my rights to this part of my being. It really is within my control.