This article is a reprint. To see the original article click here. Over the years Ann and I have heard from so many artists how her article changed their lives. Read on and heal your “artself”.
My studio has always been an active working space, more of a workshop where things are made than a quiet space for inspiration. I’ve never needed a girly-girl space because I was a “Serious Working Metalsmith” and my professors, teachers, smithing friends all had, for want of a better description, tool shops. Everything creates grime!! To me having a clean space to do enameling meant one square foot of clean tabletop.
I used to do casting production runs. If you are not familiar with that, it’s often making one hundred of one thing in a week, after which of course it was a really dirty workshop. But I never questioned it. My work was fulﬁlling and proﬁtable, and I loved it. And so it went for 40-plus years and several different studios.
Viewing a Crafthaus exhibit, Studio Sanctuaries, created by Pat Morrow caused me to contemplate and reevaluate the space where I spend so much of my day. I felt it had become divided between the computer desk, bookkeeping, and fun-interacting with friends and the overstuﬀed, chaotic workshop side. This was something that had been bubbling up in my thought process and banging at the door of my conscious awareness for some time. The struggle between the messy “get to work” side and the computer “play” side ﬁnally crystallized into a thought. I had been disrespecting myself, my work- er self and my inner self, my whole self.
We all get busy and have to make choices on what we can spend our time on. Even though I’m very active in the art community, I had obviously been making the choice that everything else was more important than me taking the time to order my life, my art, my being, my whole self, my Artself! It was a cathartic moment! Oh, my poor studio, my poor Artself!!! Looking around, I realized that my Artself was in chaos. Was that what was inside my head? My soul? Certainly not! Where was the calm and serenity I knew I possessed in my inner being?
Buried somewhere under the chaos of too little time and too many commitments?
I decided to excavate!
Taking out my little calendar/year planner, I scanned for empty days. For the next two months I wrote in “Clean my Studio” on every empty day, even the weekends. My ﬁrst step in taking back my Artself was simply by penciling myself in!!! I looked at all the junk stuﬀed under my jewelry and glass benches and realized a trip to buy plastic drawers was in order. I took measurements and shopped for days until I found a size and style that would ﬁt the most number of drawers. I felt it was a guilty plea- sure…shouldn’t I be working???? Just that little bit of shopping for plastic was somehow comforting and rewarding and ﬁlled me with anticipation! In came the new drawers!
No matter how many ways you re-arrange your stuﬀ, it’s still Your Stuﬀ, your baggage from life. When you take out each piece of junk/treasure one by one, memories are conjured up. As you go through your stuﬀ, all kinds of thoughts spark in your mind, emotions are triggered, and the re- ally good experiences are released to enjoy all over again. You kind of get reacquainted with your art life. But I also realized that the artsupply hoarder in me needed help. I enlisted my hubby (and photographer) Howard. I mean really, how was little old me going to get that new butcher block table from Ikea put together? Who else would help me let go of bag after bag of stuﬀ that I had been holding so dear for so many years? In came the new tables!
I still have my ﬁrst bezel rocker from college, and the ﬁrst stone I cut there… it was fancy lace agate. I remember each and every stone, like the time I picked up turquoise nuggets oﬀ the ground in New Mexico… I still have those. Was I saving those to make into jewelry, or was I keeping them as a treasured memory? As I went through my boxes of precious stones, my mind began to wander contemplating their beauty. It’s a funny thing about gemstones: Buddhists say they are a life form be- cause they grow… ever so slowly. I like that. If you could reincarnate as a stone, which one would you choose? Would you be in a state of eternal bliss if you were a diamond? You would have eternal beauty but not be able to move and perhaps only think a thought every millennium. Hmmmm… the Artself inside me wonders about that. This is also known as creative procrastination, something I’m good at. But it’s time to delve into the next box of stuﬀ.
Found objects, fake found objects, old game pieces, fake old game pieces and plastic ﬂies! What was I thinking? I guess that was all left over from my recycled jewelry phase. I never really connected to that concept very well, but I sure had a good time collecting stuﬀ. Now I have a big box of stuﬀ. I determined that it all had to ﬁt in one small storage box because I hadn’t touched it in years. But who knows when I would need some of it? Better to hang onto just a little bit. I can’t quite let that past go. Not the plastic ﬂies.
Another box. Full of glass sheeting. When I started making lampworked beads in the early 90’s it was hard to get rods in many colors, so I strip-cut glass and melted that instead. And a frit maker! A giant piece of pipe welded to a backplate with a pounder, a heavy thing that probably hastened my arthritis, but after all, you couldn’t get frit back then either. Did I really need to keep that stuﬀ?? Out it went.
And tracing paper. I guess I never could ﬁnd it when I needed it because I had dozens of old pads of it squirreled away in diﬀerent places. Out went all of it, save one. Airbrushes. I have one in every ﬂavor, but I had sold my compressor with my sandblaster. Yet I still love airbrushing – how could I ever have put them away? In came the new compressor!
Books. On every possible art subject. I have a voracious appetite for process. I don’t read ﬁction. I would rather curl up with a copy of how to build your own forge, or how to take yourself oﬀ the grid by becoming an electric power station. I kid you not. There is actually a book on that. Barring WW III, I probably would never use these books again. Into the back of the SUV they went. By the time I was done, the whole back end was full. Now, you can’t just throw away books, that’s not right. Instead I snuck up to the library late at night and ﬁlled their book deposit to the brim. An anonymous donation to Fairfax County Libraries. They would ﬁnd good homes for the books.
Maybe the books more than anything re-introduced me to the curious artist I had been. When did I have time to do all that stuﬀ? I was quite surprised by all the various journals and scrapbooks I had accumulated over the years. I didn’t realize it but I’ve always written down my thoughts while drawing jewelry designs. I’ve left sooooo many notes to myself! And now I can say hi again to my Artself. Gee, some of those drawings could beneﬁt from further contemplation. I saved the promising ones and tossed the rest.
Files. Files going back decades. Twenty-year-old business ﬁles. Seriously, Artself? That’s just taking up space. Out they went. Many, many old portfolios. A dozen prints from Lithography 101 class. They all had to ﬁt in one large portfolio folder: it was me or them. Out the rest went. Silkscreens. Really? How many did I need? And frames for canvas. I had hoarded those. I would never live long enough to stretch that much canvas. Out they went.
For over two months I focused on getting rid of old ideas and accumulated stuﬀ. Trash can after trash can, I tossed stuﬀ that had become artistic baggage. The Latin word for baggage is impedimentum. That was something that struck a chord with me back in high school but has really come full circle into my awareness now. The Roman Legions moved slowly with impedimentum. Apparently, so did I.
At the end of the cleaning I had released my-self from a whole lot of baggage and created a lot of space in my head and in my studio. Now it did need a little bit of a girly touch. In came the silk wisteria. I also realized that I had been fussing for years about the studio’s lighting but had not given myself time to do anything about it. In came the new lights. My past life had a practical ﬂoor covering. In came the new carpeting, purple no less. Finding the ﬁrst stone I ever cut reminded me of the charts of minerals on the walls at college. Ya gotta love Google. In came the original charts, but laminated this time!
Now I smile every time I see the old charts on the wall over the modern equipment. A nice touch. Old and the new. Peace inner and outer. Kind of a joining if you will, of the Artself I am now with all the art I have done in the past. It is amazing how much what you have and see around you controls your thoughts and feelings. Study a problem in jewelry construction and then look around your studio with that in mind…each thing your eye falls on sparks a diﬀerent solution. The ebb and ﬂow of ideas so often seems to be based on what you are seeing. Now I was seeing one continuous whole.
I don’t think it was just the cleaning, dusting and vacuuming that made such a change for me. It was picking up every single thing I owned as an artist and either owning it or letting it go. Claiming it as still my stuﬀ or saying to some things, “you are not my stuﬀ anymore.” It was truly liberating. Do I miss any of my old stuﬀ? Not one single thing.
Years ago I used to own an art rubber stamp company, and one of the stamps I created really celebrates the way I feel now: “Welcome to the State of Bliss. No baggage accepted.”
I still don’t clean up every night, because I like to ﬁnd my tools and work pieces exactly where I left them, so I can get straight back to whatever current idea I was working on. It’s like a bookmark for me. And I love having a home studio where the dogs and I can go anytime day or night to pick up where I left oﬀ,in process and inspiration. It’s so right for me, my Artself, and I.
ANN DAVIS is a pyrolytic artist who loves to melt things until they look like jewelry. “If it’s a torch I own it, if it melts I’m there,” Ann was infamously quoted as saying. She got her first box of matches when she was 5 and never looked back. She has spent most of her artistic life eluding definition.
Editor’s note: The alternate title for Ann’s article was “How to Enlarge Your Studio Without Moving”. Yes…that is her metal clay kiln in her bathroom!!! Her kiln is happily in her studio now. While this image is really funny and a lot in Ann’s article shows her sense of humour, the big point she made was about healing your “artself”. This is has been an amazing realization for many people who have read her article–that the art stuff in our studios could be holding us back. That these things are full of memories, represent a different time in our lives or remind us of the money invested. Thank you Ann for sharing your journey with us! ~Jeannette Froese LeBlanc