Here’s another post from the Archives. (Guess I’m in reruns for the time being.) Originally posted July 12, 2011,it’s a description of what comes alive in the studio as I work and listen to a great book on CD or a radio interview and make further connections to my process and choices.
When we last spoke, I was becoming curious about the workings of My Creative Block, hoping to at least ease the resistance and struggle, daring to think it could even be perverse fun. You don’t have to read that piece to understand this one, but it might illuminate. Anyhow, it was curiosity that led me to pick apart the components of the Creative Process to see if and how Blocks fit in. That’s what I’m gonna talk about here.Read More >
Legions of artists fantasize about The Perfect Studio. Whatever the particular siting, configuration and appointments, it comes down to it being a vortex of personal creative energy where the conduits of genius become pure and we are blissful.
I’ve walked around a few incredible art-making habitats, many with zen views, which gave my artist’s soul the same frissons as Disneyland’s Peter Pan’s Flight did for me at age 6.
After the thrills, though, come the tidal waves of malicious envy followed by the dirty backwash of self-admonition: “A lot of artists don’t have any studio at all!” The Voice nags. So I go clean and rearrange one more time, dutifully attempting to bloom where I’m planted.
Sometime late last year I got a case of INeedABetterStudio-itis that was not induced by envy or guilt, but by a strong re-conceptualization of how I work best. I noticed things go better for me in my creative space when:
1. It has an open feeling with largish work tables and good task lighting.
2. It has dedicated places for tools, supplies, and other necessaries and they are clearly labeled.
3. I have separate areas for wet clay forming, bone dry and bisque work, and for decorating and photographing work.
4. Deep storage and side activity supplies are not visible.
5. It is inviting and pretty easy to keep clean.
6. There’s a private feeling, separate from my household.
Those were the qualities that I kept seeking in the yellow space, a large back bedroom located off the laundry/pantry pictured below. But, I was asking too much of it. I wanted it to be an active studio as well as a major seasonal storage area, a photography studio, an Etsy Shop inventory and shipping area, a place to stage and prep my outside-the-studio teaching and volunteer projects, an art reference file cabinet and a mini meditation hall. No wonder I had no lasting success in wrassling it into a dream studio!
It was clear, though, that I would not be moving off-site, out in the yard or be converting the living room. What, oh what to do besides more Sisyphean tidying? Eventually it occurred to me I could switch out two rooms by moving the active studio around the corner and down the hall to the off-the-beaten-path red room, taking only the necessaries with me and leaving the other functions behind to be joined by the exercise equipment.
And that is what I did. See the just-moving-in shot at the top of the post.
As I continue to pay attention to what I need in my studio (to make it vortex of personal creative energy by opening the purest conduits to genius and thereby fostering my ultimate bliss,) I make adjustments.
I stand when I work, so I propped the tables up on bedrisers and topped them with HardieBacker board, a smooth and durable work surface. As a bonus, the higher tables make the storage beneath them accessible without groveling.
I can reach everything on all the shelves, no footstool required, and I am able to keep stuff nearest to its likely use.
I swung the decorating table 90 degrees to create more elbow room, found sturdy, stackable clementine boxes to hold everything on the shelves and labeled them, got rid of the odd-shaped wareboards, threw out the broken and moldy and gave away anything not often used.
Albert Einstein, an earthly genius, said, “Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler.” In the spirit of simplistic balance, I am scrutinizing my remaining tool collection and questioning why I have 8 cut-off wires, 16 needle tools, 23 ribs, dozens of similar wooden modeling tools, a deep drawer full of sponges and a whopping 212 brushes – I just counted them!
I think the bulk of these need to go. They are going.
In practice, I only use about 20 favorites from all categories, which I keep handy on my right side along with my water tub, spray bottle, sponges, hand towel, brushes, slip container, and a cache of beloved sticks, straightedges and dowels. It’s an artist’s version of a mise en place, which works really well and I have begun to hone.
I now drive a custom cockpit of ceramic creation. Here’s a non-action shot (because an action shot would be less clear.)
My entire studio is becoming a pretty decent personal version of Japanese workplace organization called 5S Methodology
1. Sorting (Seiri)
2. Setting in order (Seiton)
3. Shining (cleaning) (Seiso)
4. Standardizing (Seiketsu)
5. Sustaining the discipline (Shitsuke)
There are three other Ss that accompany this methodology: Safety, Security, Satisfaction. While they mean something different for factories and schools, I see them more as positive emotive qualities, emanating from the newly organized and clean space, helping me feel professional by fostering my sense of privacy, comfortable confidence and pleasure in my craft.
It’s a practice, this studio functionality perfection biz, but, I swear, now that I don’t need to kick a fire lane in to the work area every time I enter, only to stand there both fog-brained and hyper-distracted – essentially pre-defeated by the disarray – I’m making better art and having a way better time at it too.
Oh my, the final fourteen weeks of the 2009 Local Talkers project were wild! There was the woman half hiding behind a wall and the guy with the sunglasses and face mask. Unbelievable!!! If I were making up a face a week, I would never have gotten as out there as these real life respondents to the Good Times Local Talk column did.
And that is the nutshell reason I even attempted this: Truth adds more unanticipated detail and surprise augmentation than Fiction. One almost just needs to provide a well-orchestrated capturing mechanism, whether it is the photograph, videocamera, written word, painted impression, or in my case, the small handformed face jug.
Almost. I know my Genius walks the streets, though.
This was the last sub-group to be formed and successfully bisque-fired. It is delicious to have gotten to this point, so let’s take a moment to gaze at the first collective shot of them all.
I am wincingly aware that I am nowhere near being done. The real problem-solving starts with beginning to think of all 53 individuals as a unified group and of how to go about finishing them and displaying them to emphasize that. (And I am definitely NOT displaying them like these casual shots!)
I have taken a few stabs at this unifying need over the past year, but now I am calling in some experts. I have a set of fellow ceramic artists whose aesthetic senses I revere who I will consult. I will do a lot of testing. I will take it slow.
Maybe I first need to be clear on how I will display them before I know how to unify the decorating. One long shelf? Four shelves? Individual shadowbox cubbies? Risers? Wall? Table/pedestal? Frontal? 3D? Pyramid? Wood? Black velvet? Bamboo?
I am in another Gathering Phase of the Creative Process. I did not work this hard for more than a year to rush through, either. I am savoring this part: letting the right surface treatment present itself as I run my options. I know I will feel its goodness when it arrives, just like I let the right face come to me each week and I let my formal response to it come around as I worked the clay.
It’s that well-orchestrated capturing mechanism being developed, spliced, edited, restated and glazed in order to turn it into art and I am good for the breadth and the distance.
I am in the throes of forging a new, for-the-time-being manifesto, commonly known as my Artist Statement. What defining words are possibly the truest and most adequate for telling anyone about my current art and my process?
The latest version literally has more questions than statements. I have asked several diverse, sensitive and dedicated groups for feedback. I am grateful for what they have responded with:
1. Could be shorter. Hmm, a lot shorter in the main section, really.
2. Not so many questions!
3. Love, love, love the concluding paragraph! (Paranoid me wonders if that is because it is finally over.)
4. You sure can write some heady stuff!!!!
This is great to know. I can do this. Better to shorten than to fluff and all that. Do the words sparkle? Are the concepts true? YES!!!! I just need to wrangle them into a smaller, terser corral. Practically done.
What’s left is the greater question of what the hell is an Artist’s Statement? It can be nearly anything. There are guides out there to help us write them: Alyson Stanfield and Ariane Goodwin, to name some VERY helpful contemporaries. Even with rules and suggestions, they don’t whisper a word about it being easy.
Harder still is to come to terms with why do we write Artist’s Statements? Just because that is what’s done? To springboard off of Elizabeth Gilbert from her recent profoundly wonderful TED.com talk on genius, (http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html): You don’t see Chemical Engineers struggling over their Engineer Statements! Why is that?
A slight glimmer of why Artists write Statements: provided they are well written and ring true, their friends, collectors, interpreters, the general public and me often find them just as fascinating as the work itself. It Explains A Lot. I know I have been able to go much deeper into many an artist’s exhibit with a good written revelation of both thought and process.
Work that usually springs from that wordless place in the brain gets better in valuable ways when it circles all the way to the forebrain and back. So, short answer: We write so others can more fully understand us…but in doing that writing we can more fully understand ourselves!
So struggle away. Write your truth with vigor and honesty, knowing that we all benefit from it in ways beyond and in addition to the words, words, words, words.