Everyone should have a creative space. It could be a nook under the stairs. A corner of a quiet, unused room or the basement. A covered porch. A quiet kitchen table when your people are away or asleep. Even a corner in a closet will do.
I would know. I’ve carved out my creative space in many places over the years, in dorms, apartments, houses, even hotels when I travel for work. I’ve made do with what I had and worked around running a mid-size business from home with two kids, two dogs, play dates, neighborhood kids descending on the yard, our union employees, babysitters, everyone coming and going at any given time. It was chaotic, but creativity thrives in chaos. You just need a space to process, harness and translate it.
Wherever this space may be, it should be sacred.
Your people should not be traipsing around in there, looking over your shoulder, asking what you are doing, poking around in your creative business. When you close the door or the drape or disappear into your space, you should feel safe to create. Think. Write. Paint. Dream. Read. With no interruption. Without fear of criticism. With no instruction or redirection. Just – you. For 5 minutes, if that’s what you can spare. Longer when you can. Even 5 minutes a day is enough to satisfy the soul. More is better, but some days you just have to make do with what you can.
As I have always told my kids, especially after the divorce, home is wherever your people and your dogs are. (And lizards and snakes in our case – no offense to cats, we’re allergic.) But your creative space – the place where you go to recharge, refresh, do creative work and thinking – this requires a different approach.
This is my space today:
I’m lucky now. I have a dedicated room with a door for my office/creative space. I work from home when not traveling, so it’s essential if I have any hope of actually getting things done and conducting 4 million Zoom calls in a week. While my office stays here, my creative space moves around the house, depending on my mood, what’s going on in my life, and the season. My kids are used to it, they are on the cusp of moving out and have never known any different than a mother who moves artwork, furniture, and work/fun spaces on a regular basis to keep things fresh. They think it’s normal. They do the same. Yay?
My ex-husband used to joke/complain that he would come home late at night and trip over a couch that was in a different place than it was when he left that morning. Amuses me even more now. 🙂
Where to start: Define your creative goals.
Listen, if you want to carve out your own creative space, first you have to understand your own process and what you’re trying to do. You have to know what environment works best for you. Some people like to work in libraries or coffee shops or bars. They need noise, people, activity. Hey, go for it! (Unless it’s COVID-19 times and things are shut down, like now as I’m writing this.) But if you’re like me, someone who needs quiet, private space at home, here are five ideas to help you get started. Disclaimer, I am a writer – not a photographer, an interior designer, or any kind of artsy person other than with words, so, it is what it is, from my heart to yours.
Lighting. I have horrible vision. I had one of the very first corrective eye surgeries back in the 90’s and while I had perfect vision for 20 years, ever since I turned 40, it all turned sideways. (Lesson learned, don’t be the “first” to get anything and for God’s sake don’t let anyone mess with your eyes!) It’s complicated but all you need to know is – good lighting is super essential forever, for everything. Evaluate your space and how you’ll be using it. Will you be reading? Painting? Playing music? Writing? Where? Where are the windows? What is the quality of light? At what time of day?
Try out different lighting to see what works best, at different times of day, given the light in the room at any given time. I rely on Target for task lighting because it’s inexpensive and 5 minutes from my house (I’m lazy and hate to drive and certain things I can’t shop for online, I have to see it in person and touch it). All the task lighting in my office – two near my computer and two on my writing desk, plus one on my glass table near my writing chair, have three-way LED lighting, so I can go super bright on dark Chicago winter mornings or nights when I’m reading or writing.
The Tiffany-style lamp on my office desk is a treasure found at TJ Maxx, one of my favorite places EVER. It’s like a garage sale on steroids!! When I was my most broke, garage sales and places like Once Upon a Child were my saving grace. While my kids are grown now, TJ Maxx will always hold a special place in my heart. I love this lamp for the gorgeous colors, the lovely design, and the fact that I paid less for it than I would have anywhere else. I turn it on after I’m done working, a symbol that it’s time to switch from “work” to “home” mode.
2. Seating. Right now, I have two desks in my office. One is my work desk (the first pic above). It’s all about function: task lighting, post-it’s for jotting down quick notes, a good camera for Zoom meetings, speakers, all the “functional” stuff. You know, fuel for what feeds the family.
My other desk is that which feeds my soul. It’s where I journal at 5AM or write early story drafts by hand (earlier if insomnia strikes – I’ve come to look at as “found time,” a term I saw referenced in an article that I can’t find now. I bet it was Tiny Buddha!) All I know for sure is that it resonated and I’ve made it my own.
I have a chair from Pier One next to my desk that is small enough to work in a tiny house and perfect for reading on cold mornings. Add a throw pillow and blanket – priceless and comfy! My favorite is when my kids, over 18 and almost ready to fly but still in the nest, come sit and tell me about their day, ask questions, or just hang out with me. <insert big heart here> I positioned it that way intentionally and bonus – I can look up from reading and see the windows, the light, the trees, and whatever weather Chicago is throwing at us that day.
3. Objects. Objects have special meaning in stories and in real life. They should in your life, too. Sprinkle them into your sacred space where you can. Move them around from time to time. We tend to stop “seeing” things when they are in the same place 365 days a year. Here are a few of mine to get you going:
4. Scents. One word: candles. It goes without saying that your creative space should not smell like a dirty sock that was buried in the backyard with the dog’s bone and leftover fish dinner from 20 years ago. Make it smell yummy, like you want to lick the air and actually want to be in there, doing important creative work. And make no mistake: any work that you do in there is important. It doesn’t matter whether it’s published or shown, sold, shared – it can be just for you, to make you happy. I prefer Yankee Candle. I’m not getting paid to say that, I have allergies and their candles are the only ones that don’t trigger asthma attacks that take me down for days.
5. Privacy. Shortly after I moved in, my elderly, retired next-door neighbor, who is very bored with a front door that faces my office (it’s unincorporated where I live, so some pretty goofy house setups and property divides around here), told me he saw me sitting at my desk typing, and added some exaggerated typing motions to reinforce his story. Apparently I type like Patrick from Spongebob SquarePants on crack?
So I invested in Wallpaper for Windows. You can see it in my first photo. I found it at Lowe’s and Home Depot. There are a lot of different patterns and types, all very pretty, and it’s easy for people like me with no mechanical ability to apply.
As mentioned early on, a door, a drape, boundaries (“When the door is closed, stay the hell out!!”), incense, whatever you can add to your space to keep it quiet and private, is essential. Unless you like to be interrupted nineteen times with questions like, “Is there milk in the fridge? Where are my pants? How do I set up my retirement fund?” or worse, big stuff like, “The (100-pound dog) is puking everywhere in the house again!”
Establish a rule: when the door or drape is closed, when you are in your creative space, unless there is blood or bones protruding from skin – it can wait. Even (gasp!) for the dog.
Get your creative space together now or refresh the one you have
Whether you’ve been eyeing up your living space to find a dedicated spot for your creativity and solitude or just need a creative reboot for the space you do have, it’s so worth it to commit the time and thought to building a spot that work for you, your process and your creative work. Have fun with it and kick your creative mojo into high gear!
So there are five things you can use to build your creative space – so get on it! 🙂