Making Space

Recently, I moved out of my small Halifax apartment to a roomy house in a new town about a thirty-minute drive from my old neighbourhood. The (slightly painful) process of dismantling my art corner had me reflecting on how making a creative space became the cornerstone for starting a daily creative practice, which eventually led me to starting my own business.

I’m gonna back peddle a bit. Let’s go on a quick journey of my creative past, because I want to emphasize that creative spaces can be quite modest and still be extremely valuable.

When I was finishing art school way back in 2008, a master’s student that I admired said something like “…the next thing you have to do is find yourself a job that pays the rent, get yourself a dedicated work space, and make a lot of art”. 

Find a space. That stuck with me.

At the time I didn’t quite realize how important it is to have a bit of space to work in. And when I say “bit of space” I literally mean the space can be as modest as the corner of a bedroom or a kitchen. Basically cramming a second hand lamp and desk into a one-bedroom will do the trick if that’s what is available. It’s about working with what you’ve got, especially when you’re at the very beginning of your creative journey.

After graduation, I worked many different retail and service gigs and lived in a lot of different apartments. During the near decade of hustle that spanned much of my 20s, I was consistently able to prioritize setting up a creative space for myself. The first one was in the corner of my bedroom, and then we moved and I took over the kitchen by setting up a huge desk that I found on the curb. I moved once again and had a whole room to work in! It was glorious.

All that is to say, in almost each one of those apartments, I made time to make bad art in small spaces. On my time off, I’d sit at the desk and make stuff, research illustrators and painters, and write about all of it on a blog I kept. I was in this long phase of collecting ideas and working things out on paper.

However, in my last apartment, I went almost four years without a creative space, which led to me hardly ever picking up a pencil or paintbrush.

There were two reasons for this: I had it in my head that my apartment was too tiny to fit another desk and I was very busy learning the ropes of being a professional graphic designer in an agency. I no longer prioritized being creative for myself. Eventually I missed painting and drawing so much that I decided to make a plan to build a creative practice into my daily life, and all of that started with making the space. The lack of a creative space made me realize how important it is. 

About two years ago, after a few months of planning and saving for my setup, I made space in the corner of my living room dedicated to making art. The only goal was that I would practice daily in that space, and I did. Every day, an hour before beginning my work day, I’d doodle, make a comic, or draw from observation. It felt like being reunited with an old friend. It was so exciting. It was like I had been holding my breath for a very long time and finally I was breathing again! With daily practice, my personal creative work was going well and I began to wonder if I could illustrate professionally. So I kept going and eventually I was offered an amazing opportunity to illustrate and design a map for a local historical farm. It was one of those sweet moments where I felt like I was at the beginning of something big and exciting. That’s when I knew it was time to shift into a career as a freelance illustrator and designer.

I have a soft spot in my heart for all of the creative spaces of my past. Those spaces and the time spent in them forged a path that led me to the type of creative work I do now, personally and professionally. I’m excited to see how the path unfolds as I continue showing up to my space ready to work, draw, design, and dream.


Practice Makes a Practice

There’s an old saying “practice makes perfect”, but when it comes to the creative process, I reject perfectionism and instead embrace the notion that practice makes a practice.

A while back I was gifted a fantastic book called Daily Rituals: How Aritsts Work by Mason Currey. The book describes the daily rituals of creative folks of all kinds, like Alexander Graham Bell, Georgia O’Keefe, even Sigmund Freud. Learning that creative minds (and there are tons of different folks written about in this book) all shared this thing in common, a dedication to a number of daily rituals/practices that helped them be their most creative selves was a fascinating discovery. To know that something as simple as a daily walk, or working during a specific time in a specific place was key to their creative success had me thinking about how I nurture my own creativity. Was I dedicatedly practicing? Stretching my creative muscles beyond the demands of my job as a graphic designer?

Nope! Not really.

For a good five years, I let the artist side of myself get pretty dusty. I wasn’t spending time practicing creating for my own enjoyment. I kept myself very busy and focused on my career as a graphic designer. The pace and demands of my first design gig had me come to the realization that it was essential that I built in daily practices to take care of my body and my mind. Not gonna lie that there were some dark times, and some physical ailments that were a result of ignoring my own needs for too long. I had to build in daily practices for my own mental and physical health.

Step one in being a successful creative (or human): Take care of yourself. Burnout is very real my friends.

I had already been getting back into painting and drawing for fun before the Pandemic hit, but a month into lockdown I decided it was time to start taking my creative self more seriously and even invest in it. I put some money into creating a tiny corner in my apartment living room which would become a space that I would spend the first hour of every day drawing for nobody else but me. The intention was twofold. I wanted to become a better illustrator and I knew I needed to practice. I also wanted to get back in touch with the artist part of my brain. Design and art definitely overlap, but I think it’s the intention that sets them apart. Art is usually expression whereas design is problem solving. A post for another time. It’s a tangly subject.

A single hour of drawing every day before my workday yielded so much joy and discovery. There were no deadlines or creative briefs. I could let go of expectations and explore my thoughts through drawing. I was reacquainted with myself. And it was so far from being about any expectations of creating something good let alone perfect. It was about creating space to sit for an hour and nurture a part of me that I had neglected for so long. It was honestly like being reunited with an old friend. It felt so nice.

So to close things off, practice has become so important to my wellbeing and I believe has made me a stronger creative human. Weather it be the daily practice of stretching in the morning and meditating, daily walks, and a cup of green tea on my desk as I settle in, to setting that first hour aside in a jammed packed day to just draw for fun, it all adds up to showing up for myself. The fruits of the practice follow. For me it was finding my voice as an illustrator, feeling more at ease generally, and knowing that I was honouring my true self. The catch is that you have to show up for practice forever. Practice makes a practice, and it cultivates a really rich creative existence.