I am ahead of myself this year in doing a studio turnaround . . . Suitcases are away for the winter – all my out-of-town teaching is finished until next Spring. I am clearing things out and re-organising others to make way for some new occupants in my small studio space.
For quite some time, I made do with digitally-printed text or hand script for my books, but the lack of craftsmanship to this approach has always disappointed me. Digital is flat and characterless. Hand script is a horror, for I am no calligrapher. I tried finding tiny rubber stamp fonts to use, which met with more or less success. Gradually, I moved to using my grandfather’s old Smith Corona typewriter from the 1960s. This approach to text insertion spoke more deeply to my soul, and helped to bring my grandfather’s writer spirit into my work. Last year saw me acquire in rapid succession an Underwood Universal typewriter from 1938, and then a small and perfectly formed Royal from the early 1950s. Those typewriters have had a presence in my work over the last year or so that I find oddly satisfying and pleasing. However, my longing has always been for the deeply textural, craftsman appearance of letterpress. I have a deep attachment to the craftsman feel of letterpress, and have longed to be able to print the content of my artist’s books in this way. Now I can, at last, begin to produce the pieces my mind has been hoarding for this moment. Yes, indeed, I have lucked into something I thought I would not realise for years yet. With the fortuitous help of a dear friend in Ontario, I have this week acquired an Adana tabletop 5×3 letterpress.
I can hardly wait to begin. Along with this piece of machinery entering my space, it has become time to move to more hardwearing surfaces and to incorporate a workbench and the paper cutters recently gifted to me by a friend. I am moving into working more in leather, metal and glass, and need space for a drillpress and clamps, etc. Between a workbench and the letterpress cart, replacement of the thick carpet with a more hard-wearing surface and the addition of a ventilation system, my lovely antiques-filled studio is starting to take on a harder edge. As much as I long for these tools and equipment, I will be sorry if my studio starts to lose its cocoon-like quality.
The sanctuary of my studio is deeply important to me. In a recent interview, I was asked whether there was a process or ritual I go through before I begin creating. I told the interviewer I usually tidy my studio before I start working. My studio gets into a hell of a mess when I’m teaching alot and running running running. I tend to just put stuff down and close the door. But I can’t work that way. I need to have my tools and materials accessible and under my hand, and to be able to move freely around the room. Otherwise I get irritated and frustrated. I avoid that by tidying up the room and my desk first. That time helps me to connect and get into the right zone or head space and prepare for work. It also inspires me by ‘visiting’ with my things. This place is my sanctuary, the cradle of my creativity. I bare my soul to its walls and it embraces me with tenderness. Through the changes, through the growth and development of my practice and my interests, and through the morphing of my studio into a harder-edged workspace, I mustn’t lose that.
To help me maintain the atmosphere of sanctuary, I keep things around me that touch my heart. This includes some of my daughter’s tiny sculptures that she has gifted me over the years. I always have a meditations deck on my desk if I need help to centre or focus. I tend to work in silence, and so working in my studio is a deep thinking time for me. Sometimes the thoughts carry me off in different directions and away from my intended focus. Meditation helps. My vision board next to my desk contains words to inspire me (and another of Millie’s tiny sculptures).
The moon and star symbol has been the symbol I have used to sign my work for more than 35 years. I keep this charm on view to remind me of the creative vision I have carried throughout my life, and that it is always present even during the dark phases.
My grandfather’s typewriter continues to preside over all. It makes me feel like he is watching over my shoulder as I work. He’s been my greatest inspiration and still mentors me even though he passed more than two decades ago.
These two little Cloisonne buddies remain at eye level on my desk shelves. The penguin was a gift from my sister when she returned from a tour of duty on Guam. It was made in the year of my birth. The little frog was a gift from my dearest old friend Lyn. They remain there to remind me of the endurance of love.
Surrounded by the symbolism of these things, I realise that these are the things that create the sense of sanctuary. It is not really about tools, or machinery or surfaces. It is about a sense of place. From this grounding place, I am ready for all 2013 will bring, and eager for the exploratory work of my hands. I can have hoped for no greater things from 2012 than to have grown in my practice and my ability to realise my potential; to have companionship and camaraderie with a growing worldwide circle of creative visionaries; and for an ever-burgeoning creative vision of my own. There will be many things to share with you throughout 2013, and I look forward to doing so from my newly revamped space.