No Space to Work…
When I graduated from Mass Art as a “fine art painter” I believed that the only thing I really needed to be successful was a studio space to paint in. It was the thing I most took for granted as a student, and assumed would come naturally as a professional. My ideal studio would be good sized, with lots of natural light, in a building with other artists, and preferably in Boston. As the years went by post-art school, real-world reality sunk in (bills to pay, a family to feed, etc...) and my must-have list for that “dream studio” whittled down quite a bit. A small area of a friend's dark, damp unfinished basement started looking like a good option.
Ten years after I graduated college, while I still didn’t have an art studio, I was actually making a living as an artist, or at least just beginning to. Rusty and Ingrid Creative Company, the fine art screen printing business my husband and I own and run, started out in a 780 square- foot condo in downtown Gloucester. It had 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, and a small kitchen that was open to the living room. There was no attic or basement or garage to make use of. Our second bedroom was shared by our two children, ages 3 and 1 at the time. A lack of space was one of our many limitations when we started out, but we knew we couldn’t allow it to hold us back.
I remember the day we screwed hinges right into our kitchen table to convert it to a dual-purpose dining/screen printing surface. It felt like an act of defiance. All of my old, naive presumptions of what it meant to be an artist had been replaced by a stubborn determination to make my own way, or rather, our own way.
Without a proper art studio to work in, we started working in our home. We hung clothes lines across the living room to hang prints to dry and set up IKEA utility shelves in the entryway for art supplies and packing materials. These shelves eventually spread into the living room. Our bedroom served as a storage facility for supplies and craft show materials, including three 10 x10 foot pop-up tents. We figured out pretty quickly that a bathtub actually makes a great washout booth in our converted bathroom/darkroom. The bathroom floors were splattered with dried up drops of red emulsion liquid used to transfer our drawings onto screens. After the kids went to bed each night, we were able to spread out, making use of the full living area of our condo for work space, only needing to mostly pack it all up before they woke up the next morning. This is the way we worked and lived...for a while.
It wasn’t until three years in (and so many more IKEA shelves later), that we finally gave in. It had begun to feel less like we were working in our home and more like we were living in a crowded art studio, and it was nothing like the romantic industrial artist lofts I had pictured in my art school days. It was a significant step for our business to move all of our art production into an actual commercial space, but looking back at those early years, the challenges we pushed through, and determination that drove us, the time working in our condo really defined our success.
Out of the hundreds of designs we currently sell, over 80 percent of them were created in our condo, many first printed after midnight, on our little kitchen table. A proper work space isn’t something needed to get going (although it is great if you happen have one), but it's something you need to earn and to achieve! For myself, a proper art studio will never again be the thing I see as a defining asset to determine my qualification as an artist, but at the same time, I will never take it for granted.