In Defense of Black Holes & Dirty Work Spaces

Studio Suitable for Framing

Our inner alarms went off a few years ago when we were asked to photograph our studio and workshop for a slide show comparing artisans’ work spaces for the IGMA annual Guild School gathering in Castine, ME. To say we work in the state of disarray required by creative types is to equivocate. In order not to look too bad to our customers and colleagues, we tidied up as best we could and sent off photos of somewhat orderly workspaces.

We’ve visited and seen photos of other people’s work spaces, and been stunned by the tidiness and organization—each tool hung in its allotted space, clutter-free work tables, shining table saws equipped with outdoor-venting fans. How wonderful it must feel to have a place to set one’s coffee cup in the morning! Our MO was to get up, beach walk the dog, eat, workworkwork, nap, workworkwork, eat, work, go to bed. We left the studio at night under piles of tools, stripwood, sawdust, messy glue bottles and paint. Mornings we searched the various black holes to find what we needed to get going again. Coffee cups and catalogs were often lost for months in the jumble.  Sometimes forever.

Constructing Faces of the Moon

Curiously, I took pains to keep our living spaces  fairly tidy, even though we mostly only walked through them. And that may be why we sometimes moved into the kitchen table to work when the studio was beyond the pale.

In order to keep the work moving, I tried to maintain a good supply of our most-used-and-valued tool, the Exacto #1 hobby knife, along with a gross of replacement blades. However, we could usually only find two at a time. If one of us left our trusty knife in the studio while going to move the laundry into the dryer, stoke the wood stove, or water the dog, the other (I won’t say who was the most regular culprit) was bound to absentmindedly pick it up (after searching for the one he/she just had in hand) and go to work with it. At one point I taped “Mine” labels to the handles of my knives, which only partially solved the problem…

Dog Time in the Studio

We worked this way for as long as it took to build a house, which was sometimes years, as our work time on houses was punctuated by designing, building and preparing teaching projects. Once we were done with a project, and a house was delivered, we went to work on the chaos—clearing the work tables, scraping them down and repainting everything white. We even stripped the walls, which had become bulletin boards of drawings, photos and letters relating to the current project. What a pleasure it was to start again in clean, clear surroundings, but my resolutions to keep it that way never lasted. We were destined to be messy, and from the mess to produce our aged and dirty houses.

About smallhousepress

In 1974, my husband Noel and I began building aged miniature houses for collectors and museums. We were 70's dropouts. We quit our careers in advertising--art director and writer, respectively--and escaped Los Angeles in a VW camper and a Bug for a simpler life on the coast of Washington State. From a tiny studio in our home, we built 64 houses and buildings. Our specialty was aging--making a structure that reflected the scars and wrinkles of time, the elements, and human habitation. In the 80s we began teaching our techniques in workshops around the country, and I began to write our how-to's in Nutshell News and Miniature Collector. In 2000 we migrated across the Columbia to Astoria, OR, where , in 2011, we retired from miniatures. We are Fellows of the International Guild of Miniature Artisans and taught at their annual school in Castine, ME. By avocation I am a writer and poet. The blog is my way of working back into a writing routine, as well as recording what we did, and what we learned along the way.
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2 Responses to In Defense of Black Holes & Dirty Work Spaces

  1. Karin says:

    It makes me feel right at home. I must have absorbed the chaos along with all the creativity from the Creative Notebook articles.

  2. For some reason, I only remember how tidy your house was. Any glimpses into your studio always focussed on whatever house was in progress; it always dominated the landscape, so to speak. But your comments did make me reflect on my own work space vs. the ‘public rooms’ of the house. Same scenario. My office is a disaster area, especially mid-project, but the rest of the house stays relatively uncluttered and presentable. Interesting how that works…

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