Carving Out a Space to Create

When There is No Space

A studio space–you imagine it wistfully but it seems like a dream. You have ideas, but there’s nowhere to work. It’s frustrating. And it can feel like you could actually make something if you just had a little room to do it.

But there’s no room, certainly not a studio space–and the size of your house or apartment ain’t changing anytime soon.

The Politics of Space

Carving out a space to create within the confines of your home can feel like a compromise that doesn’t make you happy. I get it. I have a studio now, but I didn’t always. And I still had to fight for this space. It’s especially hard for a woman to claim a space and keep it.

For instance, after we bought our place which included a giant warehouse/garage for my husband and a smaller but spacious studio for me, it amazed me how many people said to me about my studio, “Wow, you could rent this out.” People who know and love me. And usually right after I had said, “This is going to be my studio space.”

Not one person said that to my husband, and his space actually has more commercial viability. The reason it’s hard for most women to assert the need for space is that it’s hard for the culture to accept that we deserve/require any.

Since most of us have bought into that cultural message as well, it can take a lot of chutzpah to assert you need something like that.

And if you’re super busy, you might be worried that you just won’t even be using it enough to justify having it–why waste a perfectly good hissy fit on something like that and then have to face raised eyebrows when you’re still having difficulty finding the time to create and it sits idle?

A Tray of One’s Own

When we bought our house, I had just gotten a job that pretty much consumed me, and my studio lay idle for quite some time. Quite some time.

If we’d had kids, it definitely would have gotten surrendered to their needs. Since we didn’t and my space was already a done deal, I mostly just had to widen my eyes and glare each time someone (including my DH) mentioned I could “rent it out”.

So if you ARE super busy right now working or taking care of little ones, consider your options before you go to bat for a room of one’s own.

Perhaps something smaller could be win-win.

This could range from using a tray as your workspace (or stacking trays–maybe something like this: http://www.usplastic.com/catalog/item.aspx?itemid=22803 ?) to taking over a closet (here’s an inspiring example of that: http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/la/look/converting-a-closet-into-an-office-078942).

The Upside of Narrow Parameters

If your work area is a very small space, it does affect what you can make and probably affects what you imagine making as well.

However, this doesn’t have to be about diminishing or belittling your ideas or creative requirements.

It’s just a creative work-around, like when you were in art school but totally broke.

(For me, that meant getting very creative with wheat paste, pine needles and uncarded wool. I made lots of artwork that cost me very little to produce and I still like most of it even now. Rather than inhibiting my creativity, those narrow parameters enhanced it.)

So if you find yourself confined to a workspace the size of a tray, that might mean focusing on beading or knitting, both of which have fantastic possibilities, but it can also still mean collaging or painting or art journaling–5″ x 7″ or 8″ x 10″ pieces can all go back into the tray when you’re done.

And a closet-workspace just amps up the options for this same variety of media, as well as include sewing and some projects that might require several drying stages–like some kinds of decoupaging, gold leafing, or home decor projects.

However, if you do have dreams of working bigger but are confined to a tiny workspace, consider working in smaller units that create a large grid as your final piece–a series of 12″x 12″ canvases could cover a wall and working one unit at a time is a wonderful creative framework–a great idea even if you have lots of space!

The Eventually

Creating in a small space is definitely better than no creating. And your space requirements will evolve naturally as you keep making, so you won’t be confined to a tray forever.

And as your space requirements evolve, they will also make sense to everyone around you (rather than seem to come out of the blue when you blow your top in your frustration from not making anything). It’ll be more of a “my mom makes art–she used to do stuff in a tray but now she needs to use the whole dining room table.” thing. (You’ll clear it off for Thanksgiving.)

Or it might feel like a wonderfully low-key way to assert your creative self again while keeping expectations comfortably low.

You can casually pull out your tray(s) and start beading or painting collage backgrounds when everyone plops down together to watch TV in the evening, and then just slide it onto the top of the buffet or china cabinet out of harm’s way when you’re done. Nice.

What do you think about these ideas? Do you have enough space to work? Do you feel frustrated about having to put things away? Is your family understanding and supportive or not even aware that you need space to create? I’d love to hear your comments–or send me an email if you’d rather share privately.

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  1. Kiki Neumann says:

    I was so serious about creating a wonderful workspace that I just finished building 6 artist studios for hard working artists in Houston Texas!!!
    Please see my blog:

    I am a woodworker who builds using street cast-offs and recycled things into useful items again! 12 years of making things and then selling them. Too fun for words.

    Thanks…hope you all find a “room of one’s own”.

    Kiki Neumann

  2. Sarah says:

    That is awesome Kiki!

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