On Space

Not the space that’s really, really big…. the other space.  The type of space you have all to yourself!

I’ve come to the conclusion that space to create in is more important than time, materials or even ideas to an artist.  Many of us have limited time to spend on art – and certainly no long stretches of time to devote to it, as perhaps we’d ideally like to.

The thing with having a creative space is, you can work for ten minutes and then leave it, knowing it will be undisturbed and you can come back next time you have ten minutes, or more.  No having to pack away materials, it’s all just ready for you when you need it.

Now, these days I am a lucky girl and I have a little yellow room all of my very own, complete with creative cushion nest in one corner – observe:-

My creative nest

…and a nice big desk on which to make pretty things.

Here I am, me in my yellow room making something pretty!
But it wasn’t always that way.  Sure, I’ve prioritised studio space when I could, but even so it’s not always possible. I’ve shared a very cold old warehouse/garage with two other artists (no loo, no running water, no heat in the winter, lots of spiders) and I’ve converted a garage at home into a painting space (more spiders).  At other times, I’ve simply not had the money to rent anywhere, or the space to commandeer somewhere at home.
In my little mousehole flat I had before this home, I came up with a cunning solution.  I went SMALL with my work, mainly journalling and mail art and the like, and used a writing desk.
It cost me just £5 at the local waste recycling centre!   Using this lovely piece of furniture meant everything was in one place and easy to stash away when I was done.  I also had a little bit of a Jane Austen feeling every time I sat down.  Mind you, Jane Austen had neither a room of her own (she shared with her sister), or even a writing desk.
This is me, touching the ACTUAL TABLE she wrote at, at Jane Austen’s house museum in Chawton.  Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!  Did I mention Jane Austen actually LIVED IN SOUTHAMPTON for a bit?!
I’ve also used cunning storage boxes, so that materials can be easily got at, and fold out tables.  I’ve sometimes just had a sketching kit in a handy bag with a sketch book and a few drawing things.
The most radical way I dealt with this was the move to land art.
This medium meant the outside world became my studio and natural things I found became my materials.  All I needed was a camera and somewhere to upload pictures to.  These days, I just use facebook, as I’m not really in the process of marketing my work (but there’s a nice big portfolio building should I ever choose to!).
Me in the studio!
Very few of us will have the opportunity to have the studio one sees in the movies (you know, the huge loft space with kitchen and a mattress on the floor in one corner).  In addition, it’s worth considering whether a studio away from home is best for you, as you always need to make a special trip to go and work there.  My experience of an out-of-home studio was that it was great when you needed to forget the outside world and focus, but I didn’t go there more than a few times a month.
Another big attraction is to chance to work with other artists and give feedback and encouragement to one another.  Here in Southampton we have three group studio spaces which let people do this.
But there is a way around this, too.  The concept of a ‘Jelly’ co-working event can be adapted to suit creative people.  We have one at The Art House, every Wednesday afternoon.  People come along with laptops, sketchbooks, notebooks etc and work together in the same space.
This would be relatively easy for ANY artist to arrange in their home town, even once a month.  Many pubs and cafes have quiet times when they’d welcome a regular group.  Or, you could even meet at a library – many libraries also have free meeting rooms for use.
Friendly local cafes are a big resource for any artist, giving you a space where you can work away from the distractions at home for the price of a few cups of coffee (don’t forget to order Fair Trade!).  It’s one of the reasons I was so passionate about founding our little arts cafe and it gives me a massive thrill to see art actually being created there.

Why I don’t want to win the Lottery – and 10 handy steps that meant I didn’t have to!

I remember saying this at one particularly yuk office job years ago, long before the now well known stories of lottery winners lives gone horribly wrong.  I would HATE to win the Lottery.

Working in a nine to five job that few of us felt any real connection with, my colleagues would often cite the lottery as their best hope for getting out of there – they would pay off mortgages, go on dream holidays and upgrade the car.  All their worries would be over.  Their dreams would suddenly be right within their reach.

My opting out of the weekly office ‘pool’ was met with suspicion and astonishment.  Especially when I explained that I’d actually totally freak out if I won a million.

So yes, on some level I realised that suddenly coming into a lot of cash may well bring it’s own problems, as is proven by the many statistics on people going bankrupt within a few years of a big win.  I’m not great with money and I’ve no reason to believe I’d be any better with £1million than I am with £1000.

I also had seen the odds.  Around 1 in 14,000,000 for the Jackpot and 1 in 56 for a tenner prize.  I saw a news report once, I don’t know how well researched it was, which said that, if you sellotaped a pound coin to a card with your name and address on it and flushed it down the loo, you would have more chance of getting it back that way than if you played the lottery.

Most of all, I’ve always had this sneaking suspicion that the lottery stands as an invisible barrier between people and their dreams.  The tantalising promise of a huge cash windfall means you can just buy a ticket every week and one day, maybe,one day you can start really living the way you want to.  

In the meantime, because you have the remote hope that those numbers give you, you don’t do very much else to create your life of awesomeness.

We made this!

We made this!

Now see here.  If I had waited to win the big prize to start The Art House, odds are pretty high (14,000,000 to one, in fact) that I’d still be waiting, still be in that office job and I’d be around many £££s poorer to boot.

In order to start The Art House I gave up where I was living and put the money I’d have spent on rent into our first quarter’s rent.  That was £460.

Less than I’d have spent on all those lottery tickets.


Here’s what lessened the odds, in 10 handy steps:-

Step (0) was – I TURNED OFF THE TV.

1) I stopped WAITING – for the big win, the perfect time, the right people, enough money, security, perfect health, perfect skills……

2) I told everyone what I was planning to do.  Literally, EVERYONE.  This recruited me a big ol’ team of helpers and supporters.

3) I started saying ‘yes’ a lot more – to opportunities, experiences, everything.

4) I spent less, buying secondhand, holidaying in a tent just up the road and generally enjoying life on the cheap.

5) I focussed on doing the things I loved as often as I could.

6) I put myself out there – went to classes, did some art markets, joined in. 

7) I got my act together and went travelling (even though I realise now I probably didn’t need that step – but more of that on another post).

8) I’d been waiting not to be in debt, thinking I had to keep working until the balance was zero – except it never got any closer to zero.  I decided to do the best I can to pay things off, but not to let my past hold me back any longer.

9) I took the difficult step of letting go of things that were holding me back – where I lived, where I worked and sadly my marriage (at the time it was awful, now we BOTH have the radically different lives we wanted and neither of us is miserable – win).

10) I embraced all the experience I’d gathered in all those boring jobs – it came in VERY HANDY and I started to suspect that those jobs had been a training ground for what I’m doing now, because the universe is clever like that.

There’s a bit in Thelma and Louise where Thelma says to Louise “something crossed over in me, I can’t go back, I just couldn’t”.  I remember the day I felt that way.  It was scary as hell, but I made a commitment never to go back to only half living my life.  It’s still pretty scary sometimes, not having that rug of a secure job under me,.  I’d got awfully comfortable on that rug! 

But something crossed over in me.  I couldn’t go back, I just couldn’t.

Living your dream life does take a fair amount of risk.  For at least the first bit, security may be on the line.  I don’t have the exact figures though, but I’m 100% certain that the odds on getting everything, EVERYTHING you dream of if you get busy right now are much, much better that 14 million to one.  

Much,  much, muchmuchmuch better.

So, play the lottery by all means – now that I’ve worked on a few lottery funded projects, far be it from me to discourage anyone from contributing.  

But don’t make that your plan to get that life you really want to be living.  



The Joy of Quotes

I’ve been in my little yellow studio of wonder today creating some teensy weensy quotesy canvasses and paintings, as well as doing some serious start-of-the-month planning and journalling.

One of a the useful things about facebook is that I’ve been able to join a number of groups which post inspiring quotes & sayings every day.  These little bite-sized morsels of marvelousness often set me up in the morning, by putting an uplifting thought into my head first thing before I even get out of bed (hooray for smartphones).

I’ve always been a massive fan of quotes.  Yup, it probably indicates that I have a short attention span (I do) and that I need outside help to remain positive (who doesn’t?!).  Thing is, it’s little extracts of wisdom that have helped to form my life, keeping me on course and reminding me that, in this journey of creating-an-awesome-life-to-get-excited-about-and-spread-glittery-splendidness is not a lonesome journey but something that lots of rather clever people have done before me.

So, anyhoo, here are some of my favourites……

“This is the true joy in life – being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” ~George Bernard Shaw

“I sense the world might be more dreamlike, metaphorical, and poetic than we currently believe–but just as irrational as sympathetic magic when looked at in a typically scientific way. I wouldn’t be surprised if poetry–poetry in the broadest sense, in the sense of a world filled with metaphor, rhyme, and recurring patterns, shapes, and designs–is how the world works. The world isn’t logical, it’s a song.” (David Byrne, Bicycle Diaries)

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”  (Roald Dahl)

“You live like this, sheltered, in a delicate world, and you believe you are living. Then you read a book… or you take a trip… and you discover that you are not living, that you are hibernating. The symptoms of hibernating are easily detectable: first, restlessness. The second symptom (when hibernating becomes dangerous and might degenerate into death): absence of pleasure. That is all. It appears like an innocuous illness. Monotony, boredom, death. Millions live like this (or die like this) without knowing it. They work in offices. They drive a car. They picnic with their families. They raise children. And then some shock treatment takes place, a person, a book, a song, and it awakens them and saves them from death. Some never awaken.” (Anais Nin)
“If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities.” (Maya Angelou)
“You should never hesitate to trade your cow for a handful of magic beans.” (Tom Robbins)

“If you are going down a road and don’t like what’s in front of you and look behind you and don’t like what you see, get off the road. Create a new path!” (Maya Angelou)

…and of course, Henry David Thoreau, source of so many of my favourite ideas about how to live in a splendidly wondrous fashion……

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.”

The ‘M’ Word!

Oh dear, I’m going to talk about dirty, dirty money now!

I caught myself having a little shudder earlier as Bik and I were discussing the quiet week we had at The Art House last week.  Sunny weather always means fewer people want to come in and enjoy what we offer, although this year we’re creating lots of summery goodness and even takeaways which is helping.

It’s something we know about and plan for, so it’s not a train smash, but it does bash the bank account every year and, as we get bigger, so does the shortfall each week on our ideal target.

So, anyhoo….we were discussing some other local, independent businesses in the area and coming up with ways in which they are successful and saying that we feel The Art House, being as awesome as it is, given the hard work that goes into it, should be more prosperous financially.  We are successful beyond our wildest dreams in terms of people knowing about us, how many people engage with us and our reputation in the city.  It feels like time to translate that into shiny coins to spend on wonderful dreams.

The extra money we could be making would build roof gardens, expand into the derelict space next to us, help other small creative start ups, and much more besides.  It would also mean we could pay people to do the nitty gritty stuff, leaving more time for us to have a real vision for where we’re going, to focus on our real reasons for being here (whilst creating fabulous jobs for people as well!).

Thing is, we know that we’re less likely to make a huge profit (well, in our case it’s actually called a surplus as we are nonprofit) because we spend out more on ingredients, choose ethical (and often more expensive) suppliers and do things that aren’t making much, or any cash.

The art exhibitions and crafts, for instance, actually make a loss!

In a normal commercial business, we’d knock the crafts and possibly even the art on the head (though of course, the art makes the walls look nice and brings people in!).  Many of the groups we run, also, don’t make enough on their own  – this evening we had a composers group in, paying donations to use the space.

However, if we want to be sustainable long term and thrive, we’re going to have to get a bit of wiggle room between the costs and the income.  Right now there is a little, but it’s a tight squeeze and it’s hard to shake the feeling that we’re six really hot, sunny weeks away from disaster.

Now see here, like many ethical, arty types, I shudder at the thought of money.  Somewhere along the line, I’ve embedded the belief that financial success always equals sellout, greed, and lots of other bad things besides.

Unsurprisingly enough, this belief means I’ve never been particularly prosperous (at least not in the money department).

Over the past few years at The Art House, however, I’ve felt my perception shifting.  The money we earn isn’t for buying useless stuff, or having power, or being greedy.  It’s quite simply the vehicle that carries us along.  It’s not the reason we are here, but we can’t be here without it, and that’s the reality.

So, I’m not quite ready to aim for that Porche or the holiday in Barbados, but I do feel a shift, an opening up to the possibility of financial security and success, not just for The Art House but for me as well (see, if I’m struggling, worrying about money and can’t even afford a short break away, I’m less capable of taking our little project to new heights!).  This is quite a big deal for me and will be done in little steps, to ensure the sellout road is never taken.

But I guess what I am saying is:  we work hard, we’ve created an amazing space people love.  There needs to be enough in the bank account to make it more amazing, and to reflect the work that’s gone in.