I want you to do something for me.
Think for a minute about what your dream creative space looks like.
Perhaps you’re in the Capital with views across London from full-height windows, or maybe in a country barn with cattle in the next field. Is there a swanky coffee machine in one corner and maybe, if you’re really lucky, an assistant in the other, to prime boards, paint frames and manage your social media?
I’ve had numerous ‘spaces’ over the years and it got me thinking…does the quality of the space correlate to the quality of the work? Or is the space pretty irrelevant and time the greater influencer?
I’ve had shared space, limited space and no space, but also no time, snatched time and more time (but never enough). I’d say the two came into balance last September when I built a studio in the garden (and yes, I do have a coffee machine but sadly no assistant). But does this space outshine every space I had before it in terms of productivity?
Taking it home
The most chaotic of scenarios was my first home studio. My husband and I gave up our palatial master bedroom and scuttled up to the attic, turning the largest space in the house into a bomb site crammed with toys and canvasses. The kids had the lion’s share as a playroom, with me shoehorned into the bay window to make the most of the natural light. Surprisingly in that space I produced some really ambitious paintings, detailed work that took months to finish, capturing iconic London views, paintings I was really proud of and still am. During nursery hours, the space was mine to paint, sip coffee and listen to Radio 6. Afternoons were less idyllic when the cherubs returned and we tried to share. A low point was finding my youngest, aged two, smearing buttery Prussian blue across a pale sandy beach I had left on the easel to dry (lesson learnt – two minutes is enough time to climb a chair, grab a brush and cause merry hell!).
The most exciting and pivotal space was Wimbledon Art Studios. The place itself was hugely inspiring, heady with the smell of paint and turps, jampacked with fellow creatives. I shared a small space with the lovely Chrissie and we had a blast. The open studio weekends were exhausting but thrilling, my first opportunity to sell direct to the public. The service lift became a bar on the launch night and the music and chatter flowed through the corridors, merry punters leaving with canvasses under each arm. It served me very well for six years, but time there was always snatched around work and then later, children, so paintings were quick and spontaneous. I sometimes wouldn’t make it there for months – I just didn’t have the time. Looking back, it was probably a good thing that the space was out of sight - I think if it had been under my roof while the children were really tiny and required my full attention I would have become frustrated.
Having no space was a real low point but one I naively didn’t see coming. We moved from the house with the playroom and stored my equipment in the garage of our new home, putting up a few drying shelves under a strip light next to the lawn mower. I was a plein air painter now – the open landscape is my studio, right? True to a point, but where’s the opportunity for contemplation and assessment? I missed what I had in the playroom and my routine of having an early morning peek at the works in progress. This I have realised is a crucial part of my process and one I can’t do without. Thankfully, I was able to remedy the ‘no space’ situation after just over a year with my garden studio, my most coveted space yet. And I’m sure the neighbours think I’m bonkers when I skip down there in my dressing gown most mornings for a peek and a think.
Start your journey
So what have I learnt? I think the crux of it is, find any space you can. It doesn’t have to be smart or huge, or exclusively yours. Natural light is preferable (although at Wimbledon Art Studios we had no windows, only light coming through the shabby warehouse roof that would ebb and flow as the clouds rolled over).
I’m thrilled with my studio now, it is my space and I love it. But I can’t say in retrospect that the other spaces didn’t do the same for me.
I can’t say I’ve reached painting nirvana time wise and I’m not sure I ever will. There are never enough hours and always too much admin, when all I really want to do is paint. And then there is life to squeeze in too…
If it’s important to you and you enjoy the process of creating, carve out some time. I was told once that artists have to be selfish and it’s true – realise that devoting time to your creative journey is imperative. Prioritise it. Just stepping into any space you have, for a minute or a morning, is time devoted to the process and well spent. If you’re anything like me, creating makes you a more pleasant person to be around so everyone benefits in the long run! Just ask my husband…
If you don’t want a space at home and would prefer to be surrounded by other creatives, start looking and you will find an opportunity – just get on the internet or tap into your local artist community for information. Essentially, stop making excuses and find a way – you don’t know where it could lead. My journey began on a dining table – where will yours?