“I’d love to visit your studio!” by Jeannette Froese LeBlanc

Not my studio…

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!”

me finalJeannette 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

28 Responses to ““I’d love to visit your studio!” by Jeannette Froese LeBlanc”

  1. Oh I so get it! I don’t mind people coming in, even unannounced, but I prefer having them to tell me when they’ll show up! (I don’t have any display to show my work, so they just have the mess and materials to see).
    My troubles started when I opened my studio to a friend jeweler for her to work as well in it in a situation of relative emergency. It lasted only 3 weeks, but everything has been put in places as she literally felt at home in the place (to a point where I didn’t feel the place was mine anymore…)

  2. TOTALLY get it… I have had people come into my house and think (yes you can see it on their face) “OMG Seriously?” (family) and others that come in and head for the biggest pile of stuff to see what it is (other artist) – HOWEVER I have the latent “training” of fear of anyone coming over and the house not being perfect (the Studio is my best up-kept room) so that keeps ME from having people in! LOL! (I have been known to slide off the couch when the doorbell rings and crawl to the hall and then get up and run to the bedroom window, crack open the blinds to see who’s car it is BEFORE even entertaining the idea of opening the door.) 😉

    • Oh that is a riot. It reminds me of a time I visited a friend who is a potter. She opened her shop only on certain days…and I was there unannounced on one of her closed days. She sat at her pottery wheel as still as a rock. I called to her through the door–“you know I can see you?”

  3. I was a little dismayed when a fellow jewellery maker and friend came to see my studio and suggested that I do a major destash of my ‘dragon’s hoard’ of stones and pearls. I love having access to an abundance of inspiring materials, I ‘get’ that they tie up money but I was still a little bit offended that she was suggesting there was too little space in my studio due to my abundance of well-organised supplies and tools… you just never can tell how folk will react!

    • When I was a kid my mother used to call any kind of cooked meat “money in the bank” as it was a meal ready to go. I would think your stash is “money in the bank”…it is an investment that could be made into something for sale. I’d hedge my bets that your stash is making better interest than a government bond.

  4. My husband strongly suggested I get a studio outside of our house because I had projects and components everywhere. As I moved into my studio space I realized I had to be more organized which encouraged me to “design” a space that displayed my creations AND allowed me to have creative space to work. My studio is located in 1 of 4 rooms up stairs in a house that is over 100 years old. The other rooms are occupied by other artists and the main floor will be gallery space. Overall a very productive space for creating art, especially since I have 24 hour access (and I do take advantage of those early or late hours)

  5. Georgina Brown-Branch

    What a timely article! My heart beat a little faster when I saw that phto of the studio you have with the article, and wished that mine night look likw that for even a few moments in my career *LOL* I am agonizing over my recent decision, and up coming move, to go from a nice clandestine 11 x 7 studio in my home, to making my jewelry at the front of a huge 1500 sq ft space in the former church we just bought. The soace will also be an art gallery for other artists work to be displayed in! This is terrifing and exciting all at the same time. I am not used to the idea of everyone seeing what I do and the mess I make while doing it! As I am sure most everyone else’s space range from photo-perfect pristine to utter chaos after a push for a show or bunch of commission pieces, how am I going to manage to create with this overlay of not letting it all hang out to keep it tidy for the masses? Maybe I need another small, hidden space where I really do the bulk of my work & just do the neat finishing details in the church, on display? This and other perplexing question will be answered when this all goed live next spring! 😛

    • Oh I hope you’ll share photos of the progress of this space with us! Maybe you could have a messy space and and a public working space. But they’d have to be side by side or you’d forever be wanting tools etc that are in the opposite place.

  6. I’m just going to say – it’s your choice. But if you would increase your sales or opportunities then you need to suck it up. Some people will be overwhelmed and they will say it. Some will be Fascinated by your stashes and treasures. Then there will be the people that are interested in why and how you create – these are “your” people. They want to be more like you, they may have the artists eye but not the ability. Don’t worry they won’t want your stash or your mementos –but they will be more interested in you because of them. Never fear.

  7. Thanks for a fun article! I always open my workshop, and people seem really drawn to it, I’ve had people visit who come back time and again. I do try to keep it tidy, but I find the clearing up and cleaning after a big making session very therapeutic, it sort of clears my mind out and prepares it for the next tasks. Most people who I apologise for the mess to say ‘it’s not a mess, it’s a working studio, we love it’ I’m lucky enough to be located in a 400 year old barn where lots of happy memories have been made so it has a really calming and welcoming atmosphere, I often have to be called out to go home! I do love showing it off though

  8. Oh my God! You just described my studio exactly. I’ve got chachkes all over that makes sense to me but would not make sense to anybody else. And piles of material that also look like I am a hoarder but they are potential projects. LOL my room was once clean, but I need all my stuff around me to get my juices flowing. I like it just the way it is. Don’t touch any of my stuff or put it away. I know exactly where everything is. LOL

  9. A messy space is the sign of a creative mind. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Yes, my office/studio is a mess with piles of stuff everywhere, but I know where to find what I’m looking for. Everytime I do tidy the place up I find I waste so much time searching for stuff I used to easily lay my hands on. It’s your space. Don’t apologize for it.

    • Thank you. I just feel the need to rationalize the mess when someone comments on it. I recently had a friend follow me to my studio…the studio I felt was in pretty good shape after so much purging and organizing. His comment when he entered was “whoa”. My heart sank. But I pretended he was “impressed”.

  10. Susanne

    Omg! This is soo me – we just did a fabulous addition (950 sq ft to a 1500 sq ft house) and that included my studio 1/4th of this space – a year plus later I am Still trying to get it organized – was asked to do a studio tour and turned it down as I was stressed to get it finished and it would totally mess up my creativeness…if customers ever stop by and I happen to need to get something in there they follow me in, they are so excited to see everything stacked and all my stuff…the only person who has ever made a negative comment ‘OH NOOOO! How can you work in this?’ Was a fellow designer!!! Needless to say i can put out a lot more product in my little piles of Chaos because I do know where it all is !! Yeah to the True Creative Soul!
    Love ‘Where Women Create’ but it’s a pipe dream for me

    • Yeah, having a studio ready for a magazine shoot will never happen for me either. I admire the featured artists ideas and storage and overall neatness. It just doesn’t seem to be the way I work. I’m hoping by sharing this fear of guests in my studio I’ll get over it quicker.

  11. The primary way I sell is through my studio. My studio is in a cooperative and we have Open Studio sales several times a year. What I and many of my fellow resident artists have done is to separate out a display space from the rest of the studio, both to highlight the work for sale and to (sort of) hide the mess! If customers walk back far enough they will see the rest of the studio, but I am no longer embarrassed by it: I just tell them “that’s where the magic happens!”

  12. I designed my actual workbench space much smaller in my new studio in the misguided hope I would be forced to work “neater”. So far I haven’t really gotten the hang of this neatness thing but I am becoming a world class stacker! When I’m mid project the place even embarrasses me. I only share carefully edited workbench photos. Cleaned up it looks so boring, mid project it looks like a whirlwind centered by my chair.

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