What Do We Need to Create?

I have always been fascinated by artists and their studios. Recently, I saw classic photos of an almost belligerent Pablo Picasso standing in a power pose in his studio and Henri Matisse reclining in a chair with his artwork all around him. I even researched "artists and their studios” in google and found an article 100 Artists and Their Studios. I guess I am not the only one interested in this topic. As I looked at them I thought the people who have the most minimalist abstract art also have the most minimalist studios. Perhaps uncluttered spaces allow for uncluttered ideas to come forth in your art. I know this is a oversimplification but it is an interesting correlation. I love this picture of Helen Frankenthaler with just the tools she needs: canvas, paint, and brushes. But my all-time favorite artist in the studio photo is of Helen Frankenthaler sitting surrounded by her colorful canvases in her bright uplifting color palette. This brilliant photo is at the end of this article.

So I started down this rabbit hole of looking for images of artists in their studios since I am on a simplification mission in my own studio. I started by asking myself, what do I really need in my studio? It became very simple. I need a sewing machine, fabric for my current project, a rotary cutter, cutting mat, scissors, an iron and ironing board. Just like Frankenthaler’s canvas, paint and brushes. Then I looked at all the other stuff I had around me. I had supplies I only used a few times a year like sewing machine oil, print fabric which I no longer use except for my quilt backings, dozens of spools of thread. All these things can go in storage until I need them.

I thought this physical clutter is affecting my mental clutter. 


Helen Frankenthaler in her studio, 1964. Source: http://www.frankenthalerfoundation.org/

I considered how I want to feel when I walk in the studio. I want to feel excited and open to the possibilities and ready to play with the fabric to make these visions I have in my mind come through in my art. I want to just have the tools that I need every day. I want to be surrounded by things that inspire me like books or that remind me of beauty, like my rock collection.

So I've been steadily clearing out the studio, section by section and it has been mentally liberating. This is probably the logical next step after my daily ritual that I've been using for two years. I clean up the studio after each session so when I walk in it is clean for the next day. This is part of my trick to want to walk in the studio. If you look in the studio and you just see a bunch of jobs you have to do, it's enough of a deterrent that you might just want to procrastinate.

I used to think if things in a home are too minimalist, it looks like you just didn't know how to decorate. I've since changed my thinking and realize when you just have a few key items in a room it allows you to focus on those key important elements.  I have used this principle to reorganize the furniture in our home and I love the new look. 

I share this insight to help others consider how their environments where they create affects what and how often they create. A cluttered kitchen could be a mental block to creating new recipes. Haphazard knitting or embroidery supplies may keep you from being able to grab a small project to work on during your commute or travels. These small things make a difference. Even with the few small changes I have made in the studio, my focus has skyrocketed.

It is worth taking some time to ask yourself these questions.

What do I really need to create?

What do I use infrequently?

Where else can I put the infrequently used material so it does not clutter the studio?

Does everything have a purpose? A tool or an inspiration source. 

How do I want to feel walking into my studio?

If you take on this challenge, please send me before and after photos. I would love to cheer you on.  

Helen Frankenthaler in her studio, 1956. Photo for Life magazine. Source: https://zoowithoutanimals.com/2015/08/31/inside-the-artists-studio-helen-frankenthaler/