Posted by: Liz Massey | September 19, 2012

Build Your Own Studio I: Why

Photo courtesy of SXC.

Today we begin a series of posts exploring the importance of constructing a space to explore your creativity, whether you call it a studio, workshop, office, nook or by some other name.

Making space for creative activity is one of the components of the decluttering stage of my Creative Momentum model. What I had to say about it in 2008 still holds true today:

Physical de-cluttering simply involves fashioning a space in your house, or wherever you work on creative projects, that allows you to do your art. For writers, this may be as simple as finding a quiet place to sit down and write in your notebook, or type on your laptop. Other artists, such as painters, sculptors, dancers or musicians may have more rigorous requirements, which could involve muffling noise, ensuring an open space for movement, or devising a zone where they can safely “play” with at-times messy materials.

On a mundane level, the “why” of studio-building concerns safety and practicality – dancing through a floor strewn with toys could be dangerous, and even those who own their homes may not want to give particular rooms (the kitchen or bathroom, for example) the patina of dried paint splatters or random clay remnants.

But creating space for art-making or innovating also has a spiritual and emotional component. Claiming space for an activity indicates you’re making it a priority.

Miranda Hersey, writing on the Studio Mothers: Life & Art blog, notes that,

When you have a work space that feels inviting and inspiring — even if it’s just the corner of a room — turning to your creative work feels like a delightful retreat, rather than just another item on your endless “to-do” list. We also know that one way to dispel resistance is to shape your environment to support your goals. The easier it is to get at your work and get down to business, the more likely you’ll be to actually follow through.

Belinda Lanks, a senior editor at Co.Design, recently did a review of the photo-book Where They Create by photographer Paul Barbera with writer Alexandra Onderwater, and hit on several other reasons why being intentional in our choices relating where we create is often as critical as the choices we make about how and what we create.

A person’s workspace is regarded as an outward expression of her inner stirrings–the thoughts that in turn feed creativity–and the desk stands as a shrine to the muse. This is no doubt true of most designers, who immerse themselves in thickets of visual inspiration, tools, and materials.

Lank also quotes Barbera as he discusses one of the major draws of seeing the workspaces of other artists – a chance to see the stage upon with their artistic energy or mojo is played out.

[Barbera says,]“There is a voyeur in all of us. Human beings are inquisitive creatures, intrinsically intrigued by what we normally cannot see, where we don’t have access to. The place where the magic happens.” But to peer into where the magic happens, you need credentials. “The photography is almost a by-product,” Barbera says. “You can’t just ask someone: ‘Can I come over to see what you do?’ They’re never going to let you in. It’s an instrument to be in a place and sneak around.”

Another reason to examine the physical environment we create in is a growing body of research about what sorts of architecture and interior design elements encourage alertness, positive mood, concentration, and relaxation – all important precursors to highly creative work sessions. A 2009 Scientific American article on room design by Emily Anthes highlights some interesting findings about where creative folks (including scientists) work best, including:

  • Ceiling height affects the way you process information – lower ceilings encourage focus on specific details, while high ceilings promote abstract thinking.
  • Although gazing out a window suggests distraction, it turns out that views of natural settings, such as a garden, field or forest, actually improve focus, even for children with Attention Deficit Disorder.
  • Human brains seem to be put on higher alert when viewing or interacting with objects with sharp edges or angles, so it’s possible that furniture with rounded edges may be more relaxing than a space filled with angular chairs and tables.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing tips and some inspiring photographs and stories about different types of creative workspaces, and explore further the relationship between where we make art and what kind of art we make.

The questions to you

  • Where is your primary creative workspace – in your home, at school, in a community space or something you take with you (think laptop or sidewalk performances)?
  • Have you intentionally set a side a space in your home to do creative work? What did you do to make that happen?
  • If you haven’t created a studio or other creative workspace yet, but want to, what has been standing in the way?
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