A Season of Stuff: messy work surfaces

A Season of Stuff is a writing challenge that I will be doing for the length of Spring 2016.  The plan – to pick some object from within my personal possessions each day and write about it – its history, its significance, etc.  Come on in – check out my stuff.


the basement woodworking/project area


the upstairs screenprinting/project area

We spent a little time tonight checking out some of the open studio events that were part of the FULLTIMEPGH festival of local creative types.  We only got to check out two studios – Garbella and Sapling Press.  It’s always inspiring to get into other people’s spaces, see how they set up there studios and get a closer look at the work they do.

I’ve been friends with Amy of Garbella for awhile now and I’ve missed out on checking out her studio/storefront space multiple times now.  Her band Reign Check is playing the show that i’ve been silkscreening flyers for, so it doubled as a good excuse to get down there and give her a short stack of flyers.  Took a little time to talk process with her and she showed me the exposure unit she uses to burn her screens (very similar to the one I talked about the other day) and admitted to many years of burning screens with a single lightbulb as well.


Final 3-layer version of the flyer

After leaving Garbella we shot across Lawrenceville to Sapling Press, which is primarily a letterpress studio.  Really lovely old machines.  Ellery (who we are babysitting for the weekend) got to roll out a print on one of the machines with some help from Emma.  Pretty cool.  Upstairs from the studio is the offices of Bootstrap design where they were hosting the Pittsburgh Poster Show portion of the event.  Some fun poster designs in the show but the clear winner for me was this Strawberry Luna “City of Bridges” diptych.

The thing that struck me about all of these spaces was how clean and organized they were.  Of course they might just have been tidied up for this specific affair, but the general evidence seemed to indicate that these are workshops that are regularly well organized.  It’s hard at times like this not to feel a bit embarrassed about the state of my work areas.  In order to do my recent prints of these flyers, I had to remove stacks of materials from the work surface and  push things to the side.  The downstairs woodworking area looks like an avalanche.  I struggle with this; what does it mean about my commitment to my work?  What does it say about my work ethic?  I know some people say a messy work area indicates a creative mind, but maybe its just laziness.

I think this relates to a couple of my other struggles.  First is the life of a generalist.  I can do a lot of things ok – construction, woodworking, metalworking, silkscreening, drawing, drumming, etc, but I’ve never committed enough time to any one creative pursuit in order to really conquer it.  In some ways I feel this shows a lack of focus on my part, but in another way it shows a curious mind.  At nearly 42 years of age i’m not sure how likely I am to change these patterns, but at revolving intervals I try.  I get a little more serious about things – I build a proper silkscreening exposure unit, for example – and learn new skills, but then something new catches my eye and i’m off to a different thing.

Another struggle that’s been on my mind as I work on my piece for the Sidewall Project is with this feeling that i’m not a “real artist”, whatever that means.  My art leans heavily towards the “folk art” end of the spectrum.  It is not “fine art” (lots of quotes getting thrown around here).  Sometimes it just feels corny and weird and what’s the point, right? Who likes this stuff?  Who wants this stuff?  But apparently some people do get enjoyment out of it and probably more important than anything, I enjoy the process of creating and making, so of course there is some value in it.  But sometimes I just wish I was a “better” artist and I know that probably if I put the ol’ nose to the grindstone I could get better and be a more impressive artist, but once again, that’s not my nature.  I have a way.  I have a style and maybe I should just embrace that, right?

But mostly this is all to say: Keep making.  Keep doing.  Go check out other peoples’ creative spaces when you get a chance.  Get inspired.  Learn a new thing or two.  Learn how to do an old thing a little bit better.  Think about what you do.  Dwell on it occasionally, but not for too long.  Make some more stuff.  Share with friends.


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