The Studio Day: Creativity & the Great Balancing Act

Last September, I engaged in a much-needed weekend in my studio. Looking upon my upcoming role as Surface Design Association President, I knew I MUST prioritize making time for balance and creative work, so critical to making the rest of  life function well. In that,  I am just like 99.9% of our SDA members and all my other colleagues I know outside of SDA. All ages, all stages.

Suddenly I had an idea: talk about the importance of a studio day.  A day later, I read that I’m not alone in my thinking. Here’s the piece in the New York Times.

What follows are the closing comments I made at SDA’s Made/Aware: Socially-Engaged Practices Intensive at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. (Read a wonderful summary of this event, written by Tamryn McDermott for SDA’s NewsBlog.) I appeared in my studio garb, my SDA “uniform” —apron, t-shirt and torn jeans, rubber gloves in my pockets. I spoke to this gathering of artists, educators, students, makers, who among them have amassed an impressive list of accomplishments and inquiry, with dedication and enthusiasm.

This is what I said, illustrated here with photos from my past:

We are first and foremost, a community of makers. Many of us working in textile and new media do this as a tactile antidote to our increasingly digital world. In whatever stages of life you find yourself—longtime artist, recent college grad, juggling paid employment, or retired but wanting to rekindle a longtime interest —creative work is never an easy fit into a busy life. The quest for work-life balance challenges all of us and increasingly is part of a national conversation, as recent media articles have pointed out.

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Anna Carlson (left) and I have been roommates at SDA conferences for years. This photo is from one held in Kansas City about 15 years ago.

SDA helps us to promote connections with our fellow makers. Our group of largely textile-centric makers is the most diverse of any national textile organizations available to us. The SDA Journal, NewsBlog and our members show us a broader way of thinking about what we do, as do SDA’s tools such as exhibitions, grants and fellow aficionados to talk shop with.

How do YOU make time for creativity? No one path fits all. Creative success is rarely about being secluded and monastic, — it’s about living fully within our lives, a frame of mind. Often, it’s about enjoying the ride, the process rather than the final outcome.

My own life confirms this. I joined SDA as a recent college grad and worked in my studio in addition to jobs and new motherhood. I always referred to my studio work as my fourth child. If I didn’t pay attention, it screamed and hollered. There was a time when my creative moment coincided with Mr Rogers Neighborhood on Public Television.

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When my children were young, I was a weaver creating tapestries , resist-dyed pieces and collage. Looms are endlessly fascinating to children of all ages and quickly become staging grounds for imagined events in the theatre of play.

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The best place to piece was on the floor, also the best place for kid and cat play. Ikats, above and below.

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When my youngest of three children entered kindergarten, I took on an interim teaching position at the University of Iowa, with classes in weaving and printed and dyed textiles. Here I test out clamp resist by first experimenting with folded Japanese paper. The kids help.

Later, I saw firsthand how the kind of creative thinking that artists employ brought new ideas to the table in our  Downtown District, where I worked as a long time manager for Iowa Artisans Gallery, a 4000 square foot business with 200 artists, and served on committees for community initiatives. And it wasn’t just me. For a time, the interim head of the local Area Chamber of Commerce was a graphic designer who injected new life into the organization. As a business manager/owner, I hired artists with both retail and creative abilities, or others who simply wanted to be creative, encouraging them to pursue and fulfill their own personal life destinies as artists of all stripes.

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Iowa Artisans Gallery window, plus a Gallery Walk reception at 14 local venues. I am the coordinator and PR maven.

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Part of the staff and group of owners at Iowa Artisans Gallery, specializing in contemporary American craft and works for the wall.

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Throughout this time, I always tried to guard my studio day on Fridays.  Make no mistake: work-life balance is an issue for everyone I know.

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I invite you to join me in making time for creativity during a weekly Studio Day, whether it’s by learning/contemplation only, or by active doing, —for an hour a day, a day a week, or many days every month, whatever fits. And wouldn’t it be great if SDA, as an organization, took a “studio day.” (Mind you, I’m not saying we should shut down our website  for a day a week, just that our Board, staff and members can commune together in that great notion.) We share the importance of creativity to the structure and balance of our lives.  Let the community of SDA members inspire us to be more than who we are working alone. It is not selfish. It is about good self-management practices that make us more meaningfully productive in all of life.

Lastly if you believe in SDA and its community, here are a few easy things you can do to help strengthen this organization. First, invite a friend to join the SDA community. Our membership numbers are crucial to publishing our robust, quarterly Journal. And there’s more, but that’s for a future discussion. Second, thank our advertising partners and suggest new ones. (I’ll do it here for the ones I have used for years in my own work: shout-outs and thanks to ProChemical & Dye, Testfabrics, Dharma Trading.) They wonder if their ads are unseen, down some big black hole. WE NOTICE!

So, I’ve come to the end of this little talk, and on behalf of the SDA Board, Staff and all of our volunteers, I wish you a safe and inspired journey home, to the heart of your creative work and life and your very own SDA uniform! Ciao!

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Teaching others has been important- whether customers at the store, staff members whom I invite to an annual painting party (above), students at the local Home Ec Workshop, at Guild meetings, or at major teaching venues.

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Penland School of Crafts, teaching “Screen Printing for the Home Studio” in 1997

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Cat learns screenprinting at Home Ec Workshop.

One Trackback

  1. By The 100 Drawings Project: February Update on February 7, 2016 at 9:02 pm

    […] Association, I had a serious talk with myself. I’d need to make a serious commitment to work-life balance or be swallowed up by administration, regret and  resentment, because, truly,  I’ve […]

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