The Freedom to Leave a Mess

NOTE: This piece first appeared October 4, 2016, in Leap Little Frog, a lovely blog curated by the multi-talented Shannon Heaton.

I had my first real art space junior year of college. A corner in a basement studio, with high casement windows. We were upper classmen and so had designated spaces, each of us quickly claiming with canvases and taborets an area of our own. Everything had years of use, with layers of paint from previous inhabitants on the floor, the stools, the easels.

That is when I first tasted having my own space. Here, I could work, and then leave; I didn’t have to pack up everything and lug it back home, I could paint to the very end of class and not have to worry about allocating time for clean-up. We had keys (the old kind) and thus had 24 hour access. Friday nights you could find me there, painting, listening to the other undergraduates drunkenly stumble by. It was as lonely as it was productive.

The need to have this space traveled with me. My first apartment out of college was a third floor (nearly) garret. The front room had lead-paned North-facing windows and I claimed that room for my studio. Then it was California, and a corner of my sleeping loft. Next, the breakfast nook in a shared beach cottage. Once, I hit gold and landed an apartment where I had two tiny rooms. The bigger of the two housed my easel, my paints.

We do this, you know, we sleep small so we can paint big.

The least amount of room I had was while I was in a relationship with another visual artist. My little corner squeaked, versus the howl of the rest of the room. It mirrored us. Me–self-effacing, playing to type, “I’m not as talented, so you should have more room;” always accommodating, always being nice. The work was small, the resentment, enormous.

A life shift and I was a step-parent with a dog and a mortgage and a garage. Children were now in the environment, so I abandoned oil paints (highly toxic, bad fumes, and disposal always an issue) and moved to acrylics. I carved out my spot, again a corner in a room. While I enjoyed being able to create and be with my pack, my ability to focus, to be absorbed, was compromised. Everything still had to be “put away.”

After a year, I took half the garage. I fashioned walls from IKEA shelving, then draped them with fabric for privacy and demarcation. I had a space to stand, to stretch, to ponder, to create. Yes, the temperatures were extreme; the light less than ideal, but it was mine. And I could leave a mess without little hands getting into anything that was in process. When we have a household to run, swim meets to attend, kid homework to supervise, reclaiming 30 minutes of set up/breakdown time is gift.

Two years ago, we moved to a house with fabulous light, enormous windows, high ceilings, and an abundance of wall space. The final treat was the garage; casement windows facing north, finished walls, and 14-foot ceilings. I re-created my IKEA set up, but it didn’t take advantage of all that air and light.

This summer, Joe suggested we “do the garage. “ I thrilled at the idea of a sink to wash brushes that didn’t also have to wash vegetables, a surface that could handle a torch, drawers to hold paint and wax.

The work took a month, with plenty of weeding and sifting to empty the space and then fill it again. Digging through boxes marked “Art Supplies” and finding old sketchbooks, half-finished paintings, drawings and lists of ideas.

I am inspired and excited, and yes, a little scared.

tools of the trade

tools of the trade