Monday, January 24, 2011

Take Heart, Harried Artists

Yesterday I received another comment from someone saying her life is harried and she doesn't know how to find the time to be creative. I've received many comments like that over the years so I'd like to respond with a message of hope and encouragement. I truly know of what you speak!

All my children are grown up now and most of the time I am alone, so, yes, I have a lot more time to be creative. It wasn't always so. I had six children in ten years and for a quarter of a century or more I lived in a swirling whirlwind of activity. I didn't have my own studio and much of the time I didn't even have my own bedroom! There were a few years when I was so inundated with the daily tasks at hand that I didn't do any artwork at all. My children were my canvas.

As things eased up, however, the art came back. If you can be creative at all, you can apply that creativity to adjusting your own life and schedule. It is important to aggressively search for opportunities to enjoy whatever creative outlet gets your juices flowing. Good mental health is important for good parenting, so giving yourself what you need (physically, nutritionally, socially, emotionally, creatively, spiritually...) is not optional. It is a must.

Carve out a place for yourself as a workshop or study. For many years, I used the dining room table as my creative place. I had a small bookshelf and a few boxes stashed nearby with supplies. When the children were small and we lived in a Chicago apartment, we had a 4ft x 6 ft pantry off the kitchen which I made into a tiny sewing room. (I am reminded of the little closet Stephen King said he worked in for years.) I had boxes under the bed with my meager supplies which I had to take out and put away for each short burst of work.

Years later, we moved into a real house and I took over the heated porch room for my "office." It was such a delight to have a place of my own with a door I could close. Unfortunately, that didn't last. We moved a few more times and I was again relegated to using my bedroom as a studio. When we finally moved into our 200 year old farmhouse here in Vermont, I still had six other bodies to share the space with. By that time I was divorced, so my bedroom was my own. For about ten more years that bedroom was my sacred domain. I had a desk (work table) and bookshelves in it competing for space with the bed. A small closet housed my supplies, most of which were stashed on shelves, in drawers, and under the bed. I set up my first version of a "Night Studio" in there, with a small television and an easy chair. I often shared the bed with whatever project was laid out on it. I tried not to roll over in the night so I wouldn't crush my work. Its amazing what you can accomplish if you just focus on the work rather than on your own situation.

It has only been a few years since I've been able to take over some upstairs bedroom space as a studio and sewing workshop. While this is a wonderful development, it is not essential to the ability to create.

I am reminded of the time a few years ago that I interviewed my favorite illustrator, Gennady Spirin, at his home in New Jersey. Mind you, Mr. Spirin is a world famous artist who has won the most prestigious illustration awards and has produced dozens of books. So I was amazed to find that his studio was merely the small den in his house. No easel. No closet. There was a large desk, a wall of reference books, and a small sofa for visitors. He worked at the desk with a minimalist set of supplies in the drawers. His working canvases were stacked on the floor next to the desk. That's it. I was so inspired by his lack of paraphernalia that when I came home a burst of work flowed out of me, unchained from the notion that I "had to have" this or that in order to be a real artist.

Make time: Another important aspect of living creatively is time. If you are a parent of small children it is easy to let their schedules dictate what happens in your life. Resist laying down on that altar, I beg you. There are so many ways to give yourself what you need (or at least enough to keep from starving) if you make a commitment to yourself that your wellbeing is as important as anyone else's in the family. The same principle applies if you work outside the home.

The reason I have a Night Studio is that for decades night was the only time I had to myself. I was rigorous about having a Quiet Time during the day, even for older children (time for the whole house to be quiet in the afternoon, for reading, homework, napping, doing something quiet in your room.) I also had early bedtime. You didn't have to actually go to sleep. It was like an evening Quiet Time where everyone retreats to their bedroom to wind down and eventually go to sleep. I didn't allow television in their bedrooms (we didnt' have internet then.) I would make the rounds and talk to each one or sing to them -- or I would "hold court" in my bedroom before having a couple of hours to myself to write, paint, or sew before sleep. It is amazing what you can produce in a year with only a couple of hours each night. If you just keep going, small steps can take you a long way.

I am a professional life coach now - but even then I was counseling other mothers about the importance of thinking up creative ways to give oneself time off to recharge by pursuing something that interests or inspires.

Buck up, all of you out there who think I am so much more prolific than you. Everything is relative. Time will change your circumstances. Be gentle, patient, and generous with yourself. Give yourself what you need to be creative because whatever you do that makes you happier will spill out of you as a blessing to those around you. There is nothing better than living in a house with a happy person.


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