Happy 2020 to all of you MilspoFAN artists! I hope you had a chance to step back and relax a little over the holidays (as I had to make the conscious decision to do). Now that it’s back to the mid-January grind, it’s also that time to reflect on the past year and plans for the year to come. Personally, I found myself thinking a lot about one of the major decisions I made at almost exactly this same time last year: my decision to rent an art studio outside of the home. For anyone thinking of taking a similar leap this year, I hope these musings on the pros, cons, and expectations versus realities might give you a little added perspective in your own decision-making process.
1. It’s personal
I’ll be explaining my own studio situation and how it came to be, but I’ll also get the disclaimer out of the way here and acknowledge that there’s really no one-size-fits-all studio environment. Every space, and every artist’s needs are going to be different, and my experiences are by no means indicative of how things might work out wherever you are. Still, you might find it helpful or interesting to compare your situation with mine while you’re thinking about getting your own space.
2. Think about sharing
In my case, I actually share my studio with a fiber artist friend I met a few years ago through a knitting group. This is a great option, as it cuts down on rent considerably. Occasionally, I do find myself getting distracted from important tasks because there’s someone else in the immediate space to socialize with, but the benefit of having someone to bounce ideas off of and go on the occasional field trip with outweighs the lonely task of always working from home in isolation.
I will add that luck played a heavy role in finding a studio mate I have a lot in common with, who I was already good friends with, and who needed a studio mate at the same time I did. As military spouses, we don’t often get the benefit of having longtime friends in the area. So, if you’re thinking of sharing, and already have someone in mind, great. If you can be patient and wait to find the right person, great. If not, go for it anyway (within reason, of course…clashing personalities or habits are still a risk here)! I’ve met so many people through my studio mate and her more deeply rooted connection to the local art community, and that’s often just the thing you need when your moving as often as we are.
I currently live in Hawai’i on the island of Oahu, and the location of my studio is both one of the best and one of the worst things about it. Because I live in a suburb and my studio is in the city (and rush hour traffic here puts us on the same top 10 lists as LA and NYC), it means I’m stuck with a 30-45 min morning commute before I can get to work. It also means I have to stop working earlier than I might want in order to get back and pick up my kids from school. Maybe that’s normal for a lot of people, but going from zero commute, it feels a bit excessive. It can also be pretty frustrating if I bring a project home to work on, only to realize I forgot something I needed for it back at my far away studio.
However, the space is located in a fantastic part of town, close to the art events and opportunities that I’m interested in. It has art supply stores, cool cafes, museums, and even a beach close by, if I need to get out of the studio altogether. The area is well known for its street art because of the annual Pow! Wow! mural festival that brings in some of the most well known names on the scene (like Shepard Fairey, who I got to see painting a mural right around the corner last year). Also, just getting away from the house can mean I’m more productive and focused, even if I have less time, because I don’t get sidetracked by household chores or being tempted to lounge a little too long in my pajamas. If I’m in a good mood, I can even enjoy the commute as a time to catch up on an audio book or podcast.
This is a big one, and very personal to both your situation and the place you live. For me, having a studio is definitely a privilege more than a necessity, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t struggle with justifying it. Yes, it allows for somewhat larger projects and limits the risk to the floors in our house, but ultimately it’s not an absolute necessity for me, and so I keep it as cheap as I can while I work up to having it more consistently pay for itself.
Who knows, you might live in a place where sunlit and charmingly paint-splattered lofts are abundant and affordable. Maybe you’re at a different level in your practice where your art easily covers rent. But if you’re like me, trying to keep it justifiable, you can also focus more on function and not get too caught up in the romantic idea of a studio. My shared space is a small room in a small warehouse. There’s no AC and no windows that let in daylight. It is not glamorous, but the other tenants are great, it connects me to the art community, it works for my current needs, and that’s all I can ask for!
5. Better or worse?
Recently, circumstances had me seriously considering giving up the studio to once again work from home. Now that I’ve had
the space for over a year and some of the novelty has worn off, I find myself missing the days when I only had to walk upstairs to begin working. On top of that, I didn’t feel as guilty about skipping days or months in the studio over school breaks or my spouse’s deployments, when I needed to prioritize other things. If you have the space and can forget about the dishes and the laundry for a while, nothing beats the convenience of a home studio. On the other hand, if you can afford it, there are definitely benefits to getting outside of the house and around other people in your creative community, and those benefits are why I decided to keep renting for now. For the time being, I still find that the benefits outweigh any downsides, including giving my practice a certain level of legitimacy and importance that I didn’t feel as strongly from it before.
In the end, even if I give up this space at some point, the experience of having a studio outside of my home has been a valuable one, and it’s an experience I hope every artist can have at least once. You may find it’s not for you, or maybe you’ll need to try a few different places before one provides the right fit. For me, the experience has turned out to be less ideal than I hoped in some ways, but also opened up opportunities I hadn’t imagined at the beginning. In turn, you’ll have your own completely different set of challenges and considerations, but if you know your own needs and can remain realistic in the functional purpose of the space, it’s sure to benefit you in some way.
I’d love to hear about your own studio experiences as a military spouse wherever you happen to be in the world! If you’d like to get in touch or see the occasional shot of what I’m working on at my little studio, please follow me on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/lostbirdsart/) or visit my website at https://allisonlavalley.com