Open Studios – Take #1

IMG_4245    If anxiety was a color or colors, what would they be? What shapes and images might appear if one’s anxiety was placed on a canvas?  Although these are questions that I have often explored with clients in my work as an art therapist, I didn’t have much time to ponder how they relate to me until this past weekend when I stood awaiting a steady stream of visitors during our art center’s Open Studios Day.  Due to the brevity of my time in the new studio, as well as a series of major, incredibly time-consuming life events, I felt inadequately prepared for the day.  Sure, the business cards were ordered in time, my artist’s statement was written and copies were printed out, and I had purchased a square credit card reader for my iPhone (a brilliant invention, I might add), but there was only a small amount of art for me to show… and that was anxiety producing.

I have made art since I was in elementary school, even winning awards at local art competitions.  My sister (also an artist) and I built a successful cottage industry around our hand-painted T-shirt designs when our children were toddlers.  I also worked for several years as a muralist for residential and commercial properties.  People may have seen, appreciated, and paid for my art over the years, but this was a whole different story. Yes, my home is filled with examples of my old artwork… but my art is so different now. I couldn’t just pull things off the walls and hang them in my studio.  My training to become an art therapist and my on-going work with clients has forever changed the art that I make, and I wanted to show only the art that reflects who I am and where I am in my life now.

So what did I do to help ease my anxiety?  I practiced what I preach to my clients… I made art.  I placed a canvas on my easel, selected a few colors and brushes, and I began to paint.  When there were pauses in the flow of visitors, I resumed painting.  When people came in, I stopped painting and showed them the finished pieces that I had from two series that I recently began working on — one involving painting and another, which are assemblages.  To those who displayed interest, I talked about influences and inspirations, why these themes were important to me, my creative process (which medium I had chosen for each theme and why), as well as what recurring symbols and metaphors they would find in my work and why it was important to me to include them.  I felt myself relaxing as people lingered to listen and learn more, and I appreciated it when they asked insightful questions and/or offered suggestions for readings that they thought might further inspire me on my creative journey.  All of them were invited back to our next Open Studio Day to chart my progress.

And what about the “anxiety” painting that I began?  Right now, it is a nascent, unfinished piece to which I will return.  Although it has already served a purpose by dispelling my initial anxiety and releasing it onto the canvas, it still has potential and deserves to be nurtured — much like my creative process.  More than just a snapshot of where I was at one moment in time, it is a seed… a compelling metaphor for where I may go next in my creative journey.

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Before & After

There is a special sort of ritual that I engage in when I acquire something previously owned and decide to make it my own.  For example, whenever I go antique hunting and find something like a wonderful old teapot or a piece of vintage silver, I find genuine pleasure in carefully washing and polishing the item.  That is how I learn the curves and subtle nuances of the piece and, at the same time, remove any negative energy that might be attached to it from a previous owner. Once finished, I like to set aside some quiet time for using the item — savoring it, actually — for the very first time.

Taking ownership of my studio has been a lot like that.  I no sooner signed the one-year lease than I was up to my elbows in cleaning liquids and paint. It was a labor of love: scrubbing the walls and floors; choosing paint colors that would create just the right ambiance; finding the perfect window covering (one that would allow light in, yet provide some measure of privacy); deciding on the proper storage cabinets, and finding the right chair in which to sit back and survey my artwork with a critical eye… or take a nap! Lastly, I incorporated some of my favorite items from our attic, like an antique Chinese painter’s table and a funky turquoise Buddha (now that’s good energy!), my trusty and dusty easel, and some sturdy old bookcases for holding a plethora of art supplies and reference books.

Below are just a few before and after photos.  Now that all the elements are finally in place… It’s time to get busy!

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Yes, a magenta door… and a lilac floor.

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My antique Chinese painter’s table. On the tall built-in table, I added a glass panel top for inspiration photos to be slipped underneath… Easier clean-up from my painting, collage, and assemblage messes, too.

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The half white/half black walls were all painted white for added brightness, and a set of wall cabinets hide at least some of the clutter.

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Anticipation & Trepidation

Anticipation & Trepidation

So, here it is… my new creative home! The long-delayed dream is finally coming true. Nestled in the heart of Georgetown is an old, former DC school building that is now filled with students of another kind — students of life, lovers of art and the art-making process. After being on a waiting list for well over a year, I have finally secured a studio of my own. Here, I will be surrounded by other artists busily at work in their own studios. The air is fragrant with the smell of oil paints, turpentine, clay, wood, and the mustiness of old age. I am filled with anticipation… and trepidation.

What if…? What if the creative juices don’t flow? What if I am not as “good” as the other artists here? What if I don’t have the necessary self-discipline to push aside all the other people and things that compete for my attention on a daily basis and give this process all the focus that it deserves and demands of me? What if this grand experiment fails? What if I fail?

A few years ago, when I was embarking on a difficult and major life transition, a friend gave me a drink coaster that reads, “Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” Someone else once said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to act in spite of it.” Come what may, I am jumping in with both feet on this creative journey. Care to join me?


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