This week’s writing happened in my makeshift art studio. The space is a piece of our laundry room into which I’ve wheeled a stainless steel table with painting supplies on the bottom shelf and where I’ve commandeered a wide windowsill for holding drying racks and a mason jar full of paint brushes. There are two windows in this room – one facing north and one facing east – for some pretty nice natural light. There’s a massively bright shop light that I’ve screwed into the light fixture; it has three paddle-shaped LED lights that tilt to make them as efficient as possible for whatever task is at hand. I learned right after I installed it late last year that if one of the paddles is tilted so it shines out the window, anyone looking in risks getting blinded. The laundry sink is perfect for washing out silicon paint cups and stirrers and palette knives.
I’m trying to stop calling this studio a makeshift space. It’s the space that was available, the space where I could both make a mess and clean stuff up. It beats being in the garage, where I started out two years ago. I can daydream by looking out the window, which consumed a bit of my time as I wrote this piece. I have a shop stool that is comfortable in the way a bar stool is comfortable – plop down, put my feet on the foot rail, belly up to the table.
But it isn’t just the appropriation of laundry room space that nudges me to qualify how I refer to this art-making space. It’s the matter of getting used to saying out loud that I make art sometimes even though I’m not formally trained as a visual artist. It’s a matter of me not wanting to sound like I’m more than I am, yet still honoring the part of me that loves to spill paint onto surfaces and manipulate it until it delights me and maybe someone else.
I have artists in my family. I’m keenly aware of the huge amount of hours they spent learning their skills, understanding color and light and assorted materials. It’s very similar to the amount of time writers spend honing their skills. My son is an artist. Watching him move from skateboarding teenager who doodled on any available surface to a respected co-founder of a Minneapolis art collective and high school art teacher has inspired me in all kinds of creative endeavors. We’ve had the best discussions about how creative process is alike across disciplines – writing, painting, other forms of art – which helped me decide to move beyond creative writing and into paint pouring. Yes, I picked a form of painting that would let me in without knowing how to draw. There’s that.
But there’s more to it. I’m feeling an endless urge to do something creative coupled with a growing fatigue with putting down words on a page. Maybe that’s partly due to all the angry words flung around every second that don’t make the world a better place, words that add to the drumbeat of war or the chasm between haves and have-nots. It feels like nothing I can say will make anything better right now. And I sure as hell am not one to offer a useless gesture of thoughts and prayers. Those are just more words to get us off the hook.
Pouring paint is active. Movement. Light. It doesn’t always require an explanation, a meter, word substitution. It does offer space to think about other actions while offering some beauty on a primal sort of level.
While I wish it hadn’t taken me quite this long to come to making visual art, I am clear that there is no such thing as too late. I’m learning new skills, thinking about light, looking for metaphors that I can carry out into the world. This is what art offers us. This is part of what makes it sacred.
Okay, I do have to stop saying this is a makeshift studio space. It’s become much more than that over the past two years.
Welcome to my studio.
What kind of wordless beauty would you like to offer the world? Where would you like to create your offerings? Chime in with a comment.
One of my paintings will be featured on the cover of the spring 2022 issue of Gyroscope Review, due out in April.
Featured images by KCMickelson 2022.