list #22: on making a createspace

A couple of weeks ago, someone asked me if I would do a visual tour of my workspace.  I'm happy to do this, because (a) my workspace is actually my favourite place in my house, and (b) after spending a lot of time really tweaking this space, I've come up with some pretty hard and fast rules for this space and any similar spots in any future homes we might live.  So while I don't know that these methods would work for everyone, here's what works for me:

1.  I think everyone should have a personal workspace in their homeEveryone.  I think it should be this way whether or not you actually use this space for your job or to earn your living.  It should be a place whose sole purpose is to serve as your place (as opposed to your family's) to make -- make photographs, make art, make reports, make tax returns, whatever turns you on.  In fact, I think it should be called a "createspace."  (See what I did there? I just made that up!)  A space designated for you to create.

When we were in the process of looking for this house, I was working for a large corporation from home, so we were looking with the idea that I'd have an entire room for myself in mind.  I realize that this is quite a luxury.  That said, if we ever move somewhere and I don't have the luxury of a whole room, I would make sure to at the very least have a corner of a room to call my very own (or even a closet as my friend Kelly Rae did in her house).  But I think it's important to have even a small spot that is entirely devoted to one's own creativity.

2.  To that end, when establishing your createspace, I think furniture (including any associated electronics) should be dictated by what it is you plan on creating -- rather than simply resorting to the time-honoured configuration of a desk-chair-worklamp.  For example, because I spend my days creating both paragraphs and photographs, I've found need to have a work surface (but not necessarily a huge one), a good office chair, and a large computer screen for processing photos.  However, for someone whose creative product is, say, intricate needlework, then perhaps their ideal createspace would be a huge, comfortable easy chair, a large floorlight that illuminates over their shoulder, and some sort of storage next to the chair for yarns, needles, fabrics, and so on.  For my friend Ali, who does complex layouts, it's important for her to have large work surfaces, so she can spread out.   For Marcus, who loves to build bikes from scratch, his createspace furniture is a large workbench in (his half of) the garage.  The key (as always) is to do some introspection to determine how you like to create, and tailor your furniture layout accordingly.

3.  I think it's important to have things around your workspace that inspire creativity.  For my createspace, I'm not so concerned with my space looking like it came out of a home decor magazine; rather, I'd prefer it simply be a place that makes me want to Create More Stuff.  For me, that means light and colour and inspiration boards -- for others, it might mean just a sea of white openness.  Again, it's all very personal.

And with that, here's what's in my createspace:


This is my desk -- it's actually just a long narrow tabletop from Ikea.  Ideally, it would have my just my iMac, my ancient Wacom tablet, a phone, and my little glowy lamp (because I hate overhead lighting), but eventually piles start accumulating to my left that I have to go through and get rid of. 

Above my screen I have a series of prints that I love -- some of them are from friends who are artists, others are prints with sayings that I love, like my "Live What You Love" letterpress poster, and another one that was a giveaway at a conference that says "Images and Text Made With Love."  They're all framed in identical inexpensive frames from Michaels, so that I can easily switch them out if I feel so inclined.


When I'm sitting at my desk, to my right is a small bookcase, that contains a few books and all of my journals.  On top of the bookcase is my collection of Buddhas and my camera collection.  The cameras on the left of the Buddhas are actually cameras that I use; the cameras to the right are antiques, some of which work, some that don't, some which were gifts, others I bought myself.  I love this collection.

The large print above this bookcase is the first piece of art I ever bought myself (you can't see very well because of the glare, sorry about that -- but you can see the top of it on the very left of this photograph, it's of 3 women dancing).  It's actually from Pier 1 Imports.  I found it about 17 years ago, already framed, and fell in love of it -- but at the time, I couldn't afford it.  Then about a year later, I went back, and it was still there.  I took it as a sign that I was meant to have it, and even though I still really couldn't afford it, I scraped together the $98 to buy it.  I love it and will never part with it.  (This was, incidentally, the beginning of a somewhat obsessive desire to collect art.  It got so bad at one point, Marcus pled with me to take up cocaine instead, because "it would be cheaper."  Needless to say, a child and a foregone law career later, and I have been cold-turkey-cured of this addiction.)

Around that large print are vision boards from various years gone by -- they're sort of like journaling canvases, and they help me focus on my priorities for the year.  I tend to make them during fall (how I make them can be found here), but I'm feeling the urge to make a new one coming over me lately, so I may accelerate my schedule to make one this year.


This is the corner to the right of the previous wall; the print on the very left of this image is a brand new one that I bought from Steve McCurry, the stunning photographer responsible for the famous photograph of the Afghan Girl (and as much as I love that image, I love the one in my createspace even more).

The other images, from the top left, going clockwise:

  • the first original painting I ever bought, about 15 years ago, from a local artist named David Kosmo;
  • an original painting I made under the watchful tutelage of Kelly Rae, featuring my word of 2010, "beauty" (I'd just begun writing The Beauty of Different);
  • a tiny painting Marcus made of our dream retirement home;
  • a print from Sabrina Ward Harrison
  • my Valentine's Day gift from Marcus this year: he bought an old, nonworking Nikon, took it completely apart, and glued it on a canvas, framing it with a shadowbox he made;
  • another original painting by Marcus, another Valentine's Day gift from a previous year.



This is the main furniture behind my desk -- it's actually the furniture I bought right before I moved to London in 2001.  It sort of symbolizes "independence" for me, and I don't think I could ever part with it.


This is the bookcase to the right of my sofa.  Yes, the books are organized by colour.  It's because I'm incredibly anal about my books, and these bookshelves contain all of our books, and my family never seems to be able to return the books to their rightful places (by subject matter and author name, obv).  So I rearranged them by colour, so that they would be more motivated to put them back where they belong. Hmph.

The painting to the left is a painting of our family that Marcus did when we lived in Trinidad.  Love this.

The pink-and-black painting at the top of the bookshelf is by Modern Bird Studios using one of my photographs (you can read more about it here).

Around the window, I have my photo garland (which you can make yourself here), and twinkle lights.  Because everything's better with twinkle lights.


And finally, the last bookshelf, in the corner between the window and my desk.  A couple of things to note:

  • the scary kid paintings are actually originals by Timothy Cummings.  I have three of them (one is in the other bookcase), and people have such strong reactions to them (either they love them or they're completely creeped out by them) that I keep them in the bookcases in my space.  Needless to say, I love them; and
  • a photograph of my grandmother (my mother's mother), taken by my father about 48 hours before she died. I feel like she's my guardian angel, so this snapshot is very important to me.

So that's it!  Again, there is no real design or rhyme or reason to why these things are in here, other than they make me happy -- and I think, ultimately, that's what you should want in a createspace.  And with that, I'm going to leave you with a quote from the very talented fabric designer Heather Bailey:

"Love & nurture your family, be true & honest with your friends and make good stuff -- three necessary ingredients for a happy & beautiful life."

I couldn't agree more.


SongI'm into something good, as performed by The Bird & The Bee.  Thanks to Lindsay for the recommendation.