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.


On Space — 8 Comments

  1. I love this post. I have a tiny office at home which I struggle to keep tidy. And my definition of tidy would look like most people’s ‘disaster area.’ I also have a little corner in another room for reading which is beautiful but not used enough. But this is very timely as today, for the first time, I went to the pool to work! I took my planning folder, paper, pen and specs, claimed a sun lounger and alternated between steam room, pool, sauna and work. I have been meaning to do this for ages – it’s only seven minutes’ drive from my home and is a haven away from phones, housework and other distractions, plus I get very creative sitting in the heat. It was very crowded today and I realised I needed extra towels and a robe, but it’s a good start to what I hope will become a regular habit. Makes a change from home and a great incentive to do those boring planning jobs that I usually put off!

  2. Hi Jani! I relate to the space issue so much! I used to create a lot more when I lived in a big house with my parents. I wrote, sewed handbags, made jewelry, and painted. I’ve lived with my boyfriend for the past few years and I no longer have the space to do anything as elaborate as sewing or painting. Like you said, you really need a space where you can leave your materials out and come back to them. In my current little apartment, my desk in our living room is so small that I’ve started using our couch as storage for my notebooks and sketchpads. I mostly just focus on writing and making comics now because you don’t need that much space to do it, but I really hope I get to use all my fabric again someday!

  3. Hi Jani, this is such a timely post, I love the idea of downsizing my arty stuff, so I’m on the look out now for a little writing desk, I can just tuck away in the corner. Maybe when I get a bigger place I’ll have more room, but in the meanwhile, thank you for these lovely hints and tips. Will have to go out now, and find a “land art” space, 🙂

  4. My main art space is just a little nook in the bedroom, which is enclosed by curtains at bed time. It is small but perfectly formed (for me anyway) and I like it.

    I also have my sewing space set up on the kitchen table and my teaching space in the spare bedroom. So I’ve basically taken over the whole house 🙂

  5. That sounds like a great idea – keeping work and sleep spaces separate! I see no reason at all why art shouldn’t occupy the main part of any house – it does mine 🙂

  6. Glad it came at a good time for you, Wendy! Do share pics of your creations, won’t you 🙂