Nothing stops me in my tracks quicker than a friendly offer to come to my studio. My studio has been a mess for years. Last summer I started the mammoth task of cleaning it up. I think it looks pretty good now, but I still fear company. I used to blame the mess. I’ve recently come to the realization that I have other reasons. (Photo is NOT my studio…this is from the magazine Where Women Create, May 2014.)
One of the reasons is that my space is very personal. I have treasures on display…but not on public display. Rocks collected in Newfoundland, a kazoo Santa gave me, my military dog tags, a metal toy kitchen that was my mother’s, an old lamp in the shape of a green Buddha…stuff I like but that I don’t want to explain to another person why they are special.
It was just last week, while sitting at my sewing machine, which occupies a corner of my jewellery studio, that I realized that my studio was not “designed” for customers to come and see my latest pieces. This is a space for me to work. My sewing machine sits on a table my paternal grandmother used for her sewing machine. It is a plain maple table…with a big cut out in the middle where her machine sat. I have repaired the hole with a board and some screws. It’s not a pretty table, but it is sturdy. While sewing I paused to mull over how many times I had hovered over my grandmother’s shoulder as she sewed at this table. She taught me how to sew. I’m talking about French seams, invisible zippers, proper bias cuts…the really good sewing techniques. A few years before she passed away she gifted me with her sewing scissors. These shears are over a foot long and are heavy. But when cutting out large items like fabric for drapes or upholstery…nothing is better. Hanging over my sewing machine is a wind chime made of very thin shells. It makes a very light “tinkling” sound. When I hear it, I am instantly brought back to memories of summer breezes in my maternal grandmother’s kitchen. I enjoy these things in my studio.
My studio is full of memories. I don’t know how I’d feel if a studio guest picked up my grandmother’s shears or ran their hand over the wind chime. Maybe it’s just me and I need to get over it. I do love going to other people’s studios.
A second reason I don’t feel comfortable with company in my studio is that I instantly start to view my space through the guest’s eyes when they enter. I don’t notice the piles and “messes” until their eyes stop at a mound of “things”. For example, I collect soda cans, thin metal tins and old leather jackets from yard sales. To me they are potential “art materials”. To others it looks like I need to put out the recycling and maybe call a therapist for “hoarding”. I know a few other artists who do not participate in studio tours as they don’t want to “clean” their spaces. One said that he doesn’t want to put away tools and projects that might be forever interrupted. I get that. I also wonder if maybe they too have piles of “art materials” they might clean out for the tour and then miss later.
A jewellery-designer and friend of mine has just started to let people see her studio after years of avoiding visitors. (But she is only showing her studio in photos mind you!) We used to kid about the magazine “Where Women Create” and how they would NEVER call on us for a photo shoot (even though we’d be flattered.) The studios they feature are bright, airy, creative and well designed. Is this what people expect when they come to an artist’s studio? As an artist myself, I don’t have that expectation. But I became wary of having customers in my space after a visit from a friend of mine who stopped in one day while I was in my studio. She knocked on the door…I yelled “it’s open”. She came in and didn’t see me and called for me again. I was at my bench, hunched over a project with my back to the door. She then asked me, “How can you work in here?” I answered, “Just fine!”
Jeannette Froese LeBlanc is the editor of Creative Fire and former editor of Metal Clay Artist Magazine. She keeps a studio in rural Ontario, Canada and works in etched aluminum and metal clays. You can find her work online www.SassyandStella.com