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Should I burn it all?

.......and other questions passionate creatives ask themselves!

Our studio spaces are an extension of us. Whatever space you can call your art-space, making it whole-heartedly yours allows you to feel comfortable and get in the zone. I share my home with my husband and two kids, the spaces have to work for all of us. I like a fair amount of clutter and colour but it’s controlled to fit all our needs.

My studio is mine, and it has grown organically as a space with regular reshuffles. Because it is separated from my house, it is a private space and I don’t feel I have to present it for anybody other than my own requirements.

It is a multi-functional place acting as a work-room, office, filming space, storage and inspiration area. I have belongings in there which are meaningful for me, gathered along the way, that I just can't let go of. As well as those there are practical items, tools for the job of making art as well as for framing and packaging.

Storage is always a problem, the space is never big enough. There is less to-ing and fro-ing with equipment now that I teach online courses, but I still have boxes of kit for that purpose. My Ikea cube unit is wonderful for boxes of supplies. I keep fabrics in a chest of drawers with the over spill in baskets (nothing ever fits in the storage allocated!). Papers are in boxes, the bulk of it in plastic storage tubs, some in a filing cabinet (arranged into different colours) and then I have a shoe box on my desk with ‘special’ pieces of paper - old book dust jackets, vintage letters and paper ephemera. I love wooden boxes and have a stack - one with framing tools in, another with stray wires and cables, another the stamps I like to use in my work and when addressing packaging. There is a method in the madness and mostly the storage works; there are places for items to live and though mostly a studio of creative clutter, it can function.

It is important to me to have sentimental items around me, mementos of life. They are amulets of the artist’s life. There is my Grandma’s pincushion, there is a small clay token given out at an exhibition. I have one off items that I have made and found items that I have gathered. There are postcards and affirmation cards tucked in behind reels of cottons or wools. Anything handmade gets to stay (patchwork cushions, clay pots), pebbles are gathered and displayed.

My studio has ledges that these are gathered and grouped on, half curated, half haphazard. These ‘shelfies’ are miniature installations that say a lot about my style and personality - eclectic, experimental, mixed-media, colourful, textural, raw.

It is like looking at myself in the mirror - my studio is an extension of me. I get bored of it, like seeing my own face too often. It doesn’t look neat enough, the work is not focussed enough, the clutter is not stylish enough. Just like reaching a point of accepting our silver hairs and wrinkles, I remind myself to accept my multi-layered, multi-purpose space. I am full of gratitude for it and how it evolves and changes and new work grows there.

It seems to me that being in creative flow is very much about self-acceptance. Being able to sit with the successes and failures, see each piece as a stepping-stone to the next. I used to be overly self-critical, I couldn’t live with my own work and found it strange that others could have their own work in their homes. But as I grew creatively and got to know myself better, I could value my artwork - not because it was perfect but it captured something of the journey of making - the expression, the purpose. The pieces I have in my home that I have made are often about new directions in my work, about a new confidence.

I suppose within this discussion of living with our creative output is what do we choose to get rid of? Artists are a passionate lot. I have been inspired by stories of Georgia O’Keefe and Pablo Picasso burning work from periods where they were dissatisfied. There have been pieces of work that I have loathed and destroyed - I ask myself ‘Do I want to be remembered for making this?”. Though we are not always of sound mind in these judgements. It is best to enlist a friend’s objective eye. (A friend prevented me from burning a lot of work in a fit of despondency).

What do you keep and what do you let go of? I have a plan chest stuffed to the gunnels with art and prints, my archive stretching back 25 years. Some things have to find new homes. Just because it’s not in your keep pile doesn’t mean that it wouldn't be loved by someone else. I gift works from time-to-time, or you can swap (I have a very lovely sculpture swapped for a framed picture). And if work isn't appealing anymore, cutting it up into postcard sized pieces and adding new elements, creates a stash of birthday cards. These could also be miniatures to leave in odd places to be discovered by passers-by. Add an affirmation on the back of these and you could really make someone’s day.

There is a balancing act between the ‘in’ and ‘out’ of studio life. I get a great amount of joy from being surrounded by inspiring items and future projects. I have just bought a table loom which has yet to find a sensible home in my studio, but ooooh, the potential! But after a while if equipment has not been used or projects finished, I think it is best to move on, sell off, or give-away. Make way for new energy and flow.

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