As I sit down to write a blog post about the importance of creating a positive, low distraction, working environment for oneself as an artist, I am immediately encountering certain challenges and ironies. I set up my laptop at my worktable and am about to sit down when Zig the cat (Zig lives in my studio space and over the years has become an important part of my process), steals my place. I try to kindly explain to him that I am about to do some work and gently push him to the floor. He does not take kindly to this, choosing to deposit his frustration in the nearby litter-box all the while maintaining, might I say, an unnerving amount of intense, unwavering eye contact. I clean the litter-box, take the garbage outside, wash my hands and again, attempt to sit down and work. Zig, seeing this, chooses to knock over a stack of records while simultaneously unplugging my laptop. Zig is encouraged to go outside through an open, ground level window. Perfect, now I can work. Except, I need tea. Great, I have tea but now I have to pee. Ok, perfect, but I realize that I must have candy. Candy acquired, I go to sit down again and realize that the whole process would be less distracting if I was to put on headphones. I put on headphones,…ok,…I think you see what I mean.
All of the above distractions are happening on a normal day in what I would describe as an ideal environment within which to get work done. Creating this environment has actually come at the end of a semi-long process. It’s this process that I’d actually like to write about and not the cat specifically, promise.
Since leaving NSCAD, I have always had a dedicated workspace of one kind or another. Sometimes my workspace is a separate room within a living space, sometimes it has been a dedicated space outside of the home. This space has always been a sacred space of sorts, in that it has always been uniquely dedicated to making work and it has always been accessible twenty-four, seven. Lately, it has occurred to me that some very specific conditions have to exist for me to be able to do any quality work and I’ve given myself permission to become bull-headedly, single minded about this.
The space has to be organized (obviously, “organized” is up for wild interpretation) and clean (I understand the irony of “clean” coming from a person who works almost exclusively in the media of broken electronics and dead bugs). Everything has its place and there must be enough floor space to be able to comfortable walk around, or roll as the case may be.
At certain points (hours, days, years) I must be left completely alone with no distractions. I have the same rule for my studio space that most vampire societies have. You may absolutely come and visit me but in order to enter, you must be invited.
The space has to have good energy, or if it has bad energy, it can only be my own. Having spent week long periods working on projects while sobbing and listening to the soundtrack from the movie Vanilla Sky over and over again, I can definitely attest to the healing power that continuing to work on any project of any kind can have over a broken heart. Also, the idea that my personal life and my art life are correlated but not contingent is of great comfort to me. For example, I’ve also shed my fair share of tears in the walk-in fridges of the food service industry over one sad time or another but it has in no way prevented me from making a hell of a god-damned, good sandwich. Similarly, so long as I can see and use my hands, I can produce a very respectable drawing while at the same time wetly lamenting the temporality of love.
Though the specifics of this process are, I’m sure, very different for every artist, I imagine there are certain aspects that we all have in common. Space, however you may choose to define it, is key. This may mean that you create a psychic space for your work where you prioritize the energy you dedicate to it over many other things. Depending on the nature of your work, you may also require a physical space, for most of us it’s a combination of the two.
Making these rules has come through trial and error. Any violation of said conditions has definitely come at my peril. I currently live in a space that is definitely more studio than apartment and is only inhabited by me and two, small, feline, assistants. I realize now that the tone of this post may (quite fairly) make me seem hermit-like and standoffish. I certainly don’t mean to imply that I don’t like visitors. In fact, I’d love it if you visited me, just call ahead, and oh-my-god, please bring cake!