I snapped this photo on Wednesday night. It was 8:24 pm. I’d just finished wiping down the kitchen counters and sweeping the floor. Josephine was tucked into bed. Simon was in her pajamas and Roxanne had just headed upstairs to take a shower. I had put down my laptop and my many legal pads and was about to settle in for the last hour and a half of my work day.
I put the photo up on Instagram with this caption, “This is where I am six nights a week after the kids are in bed. #kitchentableoffice”
My Instagram photos are pushed out to my Facebook page automatically. Before going to bed I opened Facebook to see what was new and found this comment on my photo: “Where is your inspiration? Besides your family.”
This question really struck me. I started to wonder what people might be imagining it looks like here at my house when I’m writing or sewing or podcasting or working on my business. Do they think it looks somehow different than this? Sexier than my kitchen table? And if they do, why?
What makes us want to imagine artists in beautiful light-filled loft studios surrounded by a rainbow of paint tubes where even the drop cloth is color-filled and brilliant? Or writers sitting in bustling coffee shops sipping espresso and effortlessly dashing off inspired tomes?
I think when we imagine these scenes, and then we look at where we’re sitting and notice that our environment doesn’t quite match up, we let ourselves off the hook. “She’s creating all of those paintings because she has an incredible space to paint,” or “She’s writing prolifically because she lives in New York and can hang out at hip coffee shops.” And then, “Since I don’t have that space, and I don’t live there, I can’t do those things.” So we don’t.
Last night our local artists group, the Wellesley Women Artisans, met. We were gathered at Julia Blake’s house.
Julia is a painter with a thriving art business. I’m always incredibly impressed with how busy she is, and how many shows she’s in. She also has six kids. Here’s her “studio:”
It’s a cupboard in her kitchen. She told me that when her kids go to school she stands in her kitchen where the light is good and paints. Later, in conversation about planning an upcoming event, she explained that her time might be limited. “I already have a full-time job,” she said in reference to her art business.
I saw another local painter last night as well. Carolyn Mackin paints abstracts and has built a strong local following for her work.
Over the past year Carolyn and her husband have been building an addition on their house which meant that the spare bedroom she’d been using as a studio was totally unavailable. So here’s what she did:
She’s working on 11 paintings here. “Working on the floor makes my back ache, and I miss having good lighting,” she said, “but I still got in there and did the work.”
If believe you need inspiration, or a beautiful space, or just the right environment in order to make creative work, you’ll never begin.
You can do an awful lot at your kitchen table.
Laura Nelkin says
Amen to that! I’ve stopped apologizing for the state that my studio is in, and have given up on making it look “AH-MAZING”… I work in there constantly and the fact that work is happening makes it impossible to keep impeccable too!
I try to take photos of the tiny corners that look nice for a few minutes 🙂 Otherwise, let’s make a mess!
This is so true! I knew sewing/quilting was my passion when it didn’t matter where we lived or how little space we had – I always managed to carve out somewhere to set my machine up, no matter what. I have a sewing room now, but it looks like a workroom, not a stylized magazine worthy sewing room, because I actually work there. 😀
Your post reminded me of this poem.
Wow. That is one very good poem. Thank you for sharing it with me.
I do have a dedicated office where I can do my sewing (and leave my machine out). However, we have no kids yet. My inspiration doesn’t come from having “a room of one’s own” but from sitting down every morning and writing 750 words. Very little of what I write is useable on my blog, it’s really just a way to get out any worries, nightmares (I have very vivid ones), or just junk that’s taking up too much brain space. Usually, I’ll come up with a great blog topic or a marketing tactic or even an organ design/redesign.
I grew up in a one bedroom railroad apartment with my parents. I’ve never had space to create before now. That never stopped me, my mom or my dad from creating and making. It just meant we all cleaned up after ourselves.
Thanks for sharing both of these stories, Vanessa. Both are very true.
Kristan Kremer says
Well said! I have a dedicated work space that I’ve worked hard to make pretty, but I still do a lot (probably more than half) of my work at the kitchen table or on the couch with my laptop and my guys playing Skylanders next to me.
At this stage in life this set-up works for me and for my family and everyone is happy. If it works, it works!
I ALMOST enjoy my work space===but I sure do turn out a lot of work in an “un-perfect” work space. I’m glad to read all the encouraging words given to artists of all kinds, because, who knows, this just might be all a person needs to get a kick start..
Michelle Mach says
Thanks for writing this! It’s such a good, important message. I think some people expect that everyone works in a Pinterest-type environment. I do quite a bit of my jewelry work in an unfinished basement. I actually love it down there because having an ugly space means that I can do no wrong–I can spill paint, drop my hammer, or leave a resin pendant on a table for 3 days to dry without worrying about it. I wonder if I would feel as free in a more conventional, prettier studio space.
Such a great point! One of the advantages of a humble space is that you don’t feel badly about messing it up.
Sometimes I think having a lovely studio is a hobby all of it’s own. There are so many beautiful spaces for creating in online and in magazines, that I think we are all meant to feel we need them and inadequate if we don’t have them. Also admiring and envious. It’s just good fortune if you have a nice specialised space but most of us truly don’t. I am actually tired of being shown around people’s amazing studio’s. Conversely online the other day, I saw someone talking excitedly about their new sewing space, where they could have their sewing machine and over locker in one space, set up and ready all the time. It turned out to be their bedroom. It also turned out to be a lovely cosy, individual but essentially normal bedroom that we could all have and equate to. It was really nice., homely and achievable. No glossy white paint, no cutting table, no special fabric shelves. I found those images so much more relevant to me than those studio ones which makes me feel that it’s no wonder I never get anything done, and it’s not my fault it’s because I just don’t have what I need. This is a pretty serious sewing blogger who gets stuff done. They manage with what they have. I need to learn that lesson really.
For years I’ve done no dressmaking, put off by my truly tiny flat and lack of space and amenities. I don’t have a table anywhere other than a small coffee one. My machine has to go on the ironing board which wobbles and is the wrong height. But inspired by The Great British Sewing Bee, I got my pattern out last week and made a skirt. I had to grovel about on the floor to cut it out but I did it. Finally those excuses fell away, because I just wanted to do it more than I wanted to do my usual moaning.
A lot of serious artists seem to just make do and manage, and actually it is so nice to know that and see that. Really I should be able to do so too. Mind you, if I had a room of my own I wouldn’t say no. My pet hate is craft mags that show us around studios instead of showing us what the artists/crafters make.
Maria Clark says
Abby, this was a great article. The kitchen table is not sexy but it is often the heart of all things family and creativity. I’ve been guilty of thinking the “perfect” studio was required for optimum creativity and making. It is not. See what others create on their kitchen table, or closet, or coffee table is inspiring and serves as a great reminder that creativity is in the mind first and can be made anywhere.
Carolyn Mackin says
Thank you so much for sharing a bit of my story here Abby. While I love beautiful spaces so much, I sometime find them to precious to actually make a mess in. As our home addition project continued, my temporary ‘studio’ had to keep moving as well. I painted in my bathroom at one point during construction. The source of my inspiration is internal, and therefore truly ‘me’. It is not a reflection of a beautiful workspace nor an interpretation of images from an inspiration board. Friends like you and Julia continue to inspire me everyday.
Rebecca Grace says
…and meanwhile, I am coveting your kitchen table because it appears to have a nice, slick surface that would not be marred by safety pins, a width that is a reasonable arm’s reach, and a surface thickness that is just about right for using office supply binder clips to hold backing in place for quilt basting… You know, when I was redoing my studio I scoured the Internet and Pinterest in particular for ideas. I saw so many “creative spaces” that looked lovely, but fake to me — they were beautiful and “inspiring,” but just didn’t look FUNCTIONAL for one reason or another. I for one prefer to work in a blank space so that my focus is on the fabrics, colors, and designs of whatever my project is, rather than the decorations on the walls of the studio. So, do you remember where you got that kitchen table???
Ha! This is a butcher block table that my husband bought in Cambridge when he was single. In our first apartment it was our dining table and it has a big scratch down the center where I ran the rotary cutter off the cutting mat when we were sewing our wedding huppah. It’s now our kitchen table but it’s too small for a family of five. We eat breakfast and lunch here and I don’t have my own seat!
Oh, Abby, this is so true.
I am so glad to own one of this great big spacious kitchen tables where I can do my creative projects at. It is our most important piece of furniture in the house. And since every member of our family has a room of his own – besides me – I declare the kitchen to be my very own territory : )
Have a nice weekend! Angela
Nice job Abby. So very true. Sometimes my favorite studio space is the notebook I keep in my bag. Julia’s “studio” is quite the revelation!
I create in a 2×4′ corner of our entryway (http://www.keepsmesmiling.com/2015/01/crafting-at-home.html). I gave up hoping for a “space of my own” and quite enjoy my corner. It used to belong to the hamster! The benefits of keeping life simple, and living in a manageable home, works to keep me tidy and engaged with the family on a daily basis.
Thanks for all of the informative and thoughtful posts on your blog. I look forward to your upcoming sessions at #craftcation15.
I can definitely only take photos pointing one direction in my workspace 😉 the rest is filled with boxes and boxes and packing supplies, not a beautiful pinterest ready space. I do have a problem where I can’t work in a mess, but that’s unrelated to anything besides an unfortunate personality tic. I’ve also stopped saying “I’m going to the studio” when I go to work and now instead say “I’m going to work,” because people have two totally different set of expectations of what I’m doing, and what it should look like, for the words studio and work.
I love that, Jen. I have started to phrase many things to include the word “work” including “I pin for work” and “I’m posting this Instagram photo for work.” If I was some big company with a social media manager they would be doing these things for me as their job, but since I’m a tiny company I do them myself as part of my job!
Karen @ Pieces of Contentment says
Great post, a good reminder Abby. I tend to imagine you creating and working from your studio bedroom but I guess it’s more for the hands on sewing. One can definitely be creative anywhere for the ideas and motivation come from the head and heart. There were years when I would sew on the floor, using my knee on the foot pedal. Where there’s a will you can usually make a way.
I do all my sewing upstairs in my bedroom, Karen, so you’re imagining correctly! But I do almost all of my computer work down here. I think it’s a relic from the 10 years before I had a laptop when my whole family shared our desktop computer. Several months ago I got a MacBook Air so now I can work anywhere, which is amazing, but I still end up working downstairs.
Thanks for posting this. I too have a dedicated spot in my bedroom where I do my arts and crafts and I can’t tell you how awkward it is to use a sewing machine with my computer right beside it. That doesn’t stop me from creating.
Caroline B says
Excellent article – I’m always asked where I paint & people are surprised to find it’s at a small desk jammed in the corner of the sitting room. A very untidy desk because I have everything I use at arm’s reach and if I tidy it, I can’t find what I need when I am in the flow of painting. I knit on the sofa, and used to sew at the kitchen table which also doubles as a framing table when exhibitions are due. I always tell people you can create anywhere if you are determined , you don’t need the fancy studio, you don’t even need great stacks of supplies – my favourite set of watercolours is a tiny travelling kit because I can hold it easily & take it anywhere. There is a bit of snobbery about studios, it’s lovely to have one but not a necessity to the creative process.
Although after saying all that, when my son left home last Christmas, I turned his small bedroom into a workroom and it is very, very,nice to have somewhere to spread out & also leave everything out overnight instead of having to tidy away before a meal! But it’s the first time in my life I have ever had a workroom…and I still paint at my sitting room desk.
Oh yes, as a wildlife artist, I also get asked if I have been on safari to get my reference photos & sketches…I wish! I just go to the zoo!
This article is lovely and I enjoy reading the comments from everyone about their “less than magazine worthy” spaces. Many years ago I began a handmade handbag business off of a large table I put in our oversized ugly 70’s inspired bathroom. I also sewed on the dining room and kitchen tables! That business was profitable and always booming! When it got too busy for the tables we built a room for it…never really felt “right”…eventually I stopped making accessories and went back to teaching & painting.
Fast forward years and I have an art studio in my kids playroom (in a corner). I begin to teach classes in there, so I kick the girls out. They get larger so I take over the renovated basement…really big! I fill it with all my things, but can’t seem to get any work done of my own…just teaching. So I recently moved back upstairs to my first studio in the kids playroom kicking them out once again…I love it. It’s cozy and warm and feels right. I’m “home”.
I am always mystified by those beautiful spaces in magazines. I’d love one (of course!) but it has to feel good to work for you!
Such a great post. I think this is also a by product of our ability to crop out tiny pieces to share on Instagram and social media. My kitchen table which at any given point I have to push kid’s markers and coloring sheets our of my sewing machine area, which all have to be moved when we want to say…eat…at the table looks a whole lot more magical zoomed way in 🙂
Sharon | the teacup incident says
I love the honesty here. My studio is a small bedroom where I have a cluttered desk with a computer, sewing machine, ironing board and craft closet. I draw and cut out my patterns and fabrics on the dining room table because its the largest free surface in the house. I also use the dining table when I paint. With a drop cloth on the floor and a huge plastic tablecloth on the table, I’m free to make a mess and not worry about how Pinterest worthy it looks. When guests come over I pick up the cloths, put my paints in a shopping bag, hide them all out on the back porch and the room is back in order. Although I love looking at photos of pretty studios, I’d rather devote time to creating than to decorating.
Pamela Boatright says
Some of my best work has been done at my dining room table! Great article, and the comments are wonderful as well – I agree that creating the “perfect” space is a hobby in itself! I have often been asked how can I be so prolific at quilting. The answer is that I don’t wait for the perfect time or space – I just do it whenever and wherever I can.
What I find even more interesting than the perception of a “Pinterest worthy studio” is the idea that a creative person must at all times be surrounded by amazing images to be inspired. I guess we have been trained to believe this is true by the existence of inspiration boards. I have nothing against inspiration boards, but why think someone can’t find inspiration at the kitchen table? To me, inspiration comes from within – it is a product of our lives and emotions. It is not always pretty – it can be gritty or sad or dark. The kitchen table is usually the center of family life within a home. It is the one place where everyone (usually!) gathers at the same place at the same time each day. What better place to find inspiration?
Karen @ littlebirdiequilting says
Abby, I love reading your blog posts- lots of reality and common sense. I just also wanted to say thank you for the great newsletter you email out- it’s one of the very few I actually read all the way through to the end, and go off to all the links etc.! Please keep doing what you are doing 🙂
Thank you for taking the time to leave this nice comment, Karen! I really appreciate it and I’m so glad you like my newsletter.
Ugh, there are interesting assumptions in that question. My inspiration doesn’t come from conveniently placed images. It comes from the 42 years of my life, looking and listening and experiencing. Depending on what I’m working on, I work in my kitchen, on my couch, and in my office, where the computer and the loom live. Because I’m working, I’m not spending time styling my rooms to be photo ready. Maybe it’s because I didn’t go to art school, but I’ve never made a mood board. Inspiration comes from within, from all the things I’ve assimilated and smushed together, and for me, the more crap I have to look at while I’m working, the more distracted I am. So yeah, I like my house, I like where I create my work, but it sure isn’t my inspiration.
Eileen McKenna says
I wish you could have seen my kitchen table today! I set up my watercolors on one end – I like to add to my paintings as the day passes and the layers dry. On the other end was my work notebook, a social media book I’m reading and my kindle. I spent the day shifting from one side of the table to the other. I was either working or painting. It was a mess, but I was busy and happy. I have an office/studio in the basement, but I love the light in the kitchen and the coffee is nearby. 🙂
That sounds perfectly lovely, Eileen!
Bonnie C says
I love this! I saw that pic go by on my IG feed and grinned. My only thought, really, was, “Ha! That looks familiar!” Also in this hyper “pin worthy” environment, my favorite images are turning out to be of the “keeping it real” variety. It’s becoming more important for me to remember that not everything has to be print ready in order to get things done, only the finished product. 🙂
Abby, this post and Betsy Greer’s post (http://craftivism.com/blog/on-accentuating-the-positive-and-embracing-failure) came hot on the heels of my panicked response to being asked to submit a photo of me working in my studio for a show application. (My studio is in the spidery basement of my 100+ year old house.) So many good questions about what people’s expectations are for how and where we create, what motivates us to dive in even though conditions aren’t perfect and our own willingness to pull back the curtain a bit and get real with our community. As always, thank you for your insights!
I love Betsy’s post, too!
Susan the farm quilter says
The only thing that stops us from creating our art, no matter what kind, is us! We can choose to create anywhere, we just have to make that CHOICE! My sewing studio is just the largest bedroom in my house, filled with fabric, thread,embroidery machine, sewing machine, longarm, ironing board and bookcases filled with books…always a mess, but it’s my creative mess. I’m lucky to have my cutting table on an attached porch or it would be even more crowded! I can choose to be lazy and sit in my recliner surfing the web or I can get myself upstairs to my studio and get busy. My choice! I think that’s why so many of us work well under the pressure of a deadline…helps to remove that bit of choice from us – maybe that’s why it is so much easier to quilt my customer’s quilts then it is to finish my quilts without a specific reason to get them quilted!!
Such a great reminder…I often get so hung up on setting the stage to create, that I never get started. However, I do think there is something to be said for having a space with everything you need to crate handy. Before I had a sewing/craft room, I would set up my sewing machine on the kitchen table. It was hard to get started on big projects because I knew that the stuff needed to be cleaned up and put away each night. Not having to get everything out of a closet and put everything away each time I want to sew has made the process much easier. But I do a lot of work while sitting on my couch after the little one has gone to bed!
Agreed. Having a dedicated space, even if it’s just a table in the hall, makes a huge difference.
I have more room now, but when we sold everything and took to the road, I brought my sewing things with me. There’s a photo of me sewing in our 18-foot trailer here: http://sewobsessed.me/2014/05/19/i-did-it-sewing-on-the-road/
I love that picture!
Terri Ann says
Much like how I’ve on more than one occasion needed to move a beer or glass of wine out of a shot for the blog I think it’s important to remember that it’s much like the saying “the best camera is the one you have on you” your drive can overcome any environmental challenge. I actually find it easier to do some tasks in an ugly and uninspiring space cause I don’t feel the need to play and be creative but instead I just get things done.
I agree that sometimes a humble space is best. When you don’t have expectations of making something great, you have the freedom to play and experiment and just be yourself.
Oh Abby, I’m so pleased you wrote this post, I have moved from the dining room table and taken over the study, and it is always a mess! I have boxes of christmas decorations under the desk, all sorts of IT equipment on the desk, along with my sewing supplies and laptop, my art supplies are piled up and there are boxes of all kinds of other stuff behind me as we have no other storage area in the house. I am constantly worried about what this would look like to others and even when I do tidy and make things seem less chaotic, it just goes back again after a while anyway but I am still unstoppable! and every time I read one of your blog posts, I am more inspired! 🙂
That’s wonderful to hear, Gail. Cheers to a messy “studio.”
Spot On! Location of creativity is secondary to the spark inside that drives the colors and patterns in your art!
My kitchen table, and island, are my “dedicated work spaces”, as well. My inspiration doesn’t bloom there. My inspiration comes from catalogs and cards that come in the mail, from the children’s books and coloring books, from a walk in the hobby and quilt shops, from a look out my window at the chickens and goats, from all the creative folks sharing on the internet, from words on a page and my own imagination bursting with ideas(and not enough time in my lifetime to act on them). No, my table and counter spaces are my work spaces. But my inspiration is EVERYWHERE around me. Do I wish I had a big beautiful studio? You betcha! But for right now…… And truly, we are all different thinkers. My mother has the same tools around her that I do but claims she is not creative and can’t think of anything. Her eyes and brain see and think differently. That’s what makes the world go round.
Hi Abby, great post.
I think Hollywood and television have had a big influence on what we expend life to look like in many areas.
For my it’s always ‘stuff ‘. I have to often remind myself that it’s not all the latest fancy gadgets and programs that get the job done, many people are out there making and creating and getting the job done everyday with less.
It’s people that create – not gadgets or programs or even beautiful spaces 🙂
Robyn Sweeney says
A very thoughtful article. I am fortunate to have a studio, called so because I DO create. I have the whole room to myself. We have a separate spare room, and half of that has my spare craft stuff! I get ideas and have to run with them until I’m done then may not make another quilt that way again. I like Pinterest because there is so much to share. Lovely to read something that has a dose of truth tea and is authentic .
My kids are grown, and I have a whole ex-bedroom for a studio. But my grandsons, age 2 and 4, are awestruck by the wealth of materials at “their” disposal in that room, fledgling artists that they are. They love to paint and make their own Playdoh. And my beads have been scattered to the 4 winds in their efforts to make the most gorgeous necklaces for their mom on pipecleaners that have no bottoms….
Jane LaFazio says
Oh yeah! Lesley Riley is the poster child for this. Working on her bed, in her bedroom, 6 kids, amazingly succesful career. Her kids are grown and out of the house now, and she’s reveling in having an actual devoted studio space.
So true Abby ! I’m currently housesitting and I have my cutting board on the kitchen counter and my sewing machine on the kitchen table ! If I waited until I had the perfect space I wouldn’t sew and that would kill me 😂😂
Jan Haptonstall says
Where’s my inspiration? It’s in my mind, always “on”, always thinking about a creative view on life & circumstances. It’s not about my environment which changes throughout the day. . . It’s the dialogue in my head that keeps me inspired to think about things in a different light that only my mind can supply.
Excelent post as always Abby. I know it’s old, but you shared it this week in your newsletter 🙂 I completely agree with you and feel the same way. I’m a blogger and writer, and my office is a desk in my parent’s house, next to my sisters desk where she does her homework. I don’t have vision boards, or pinterest worthy inspirational posters hanging in the wall. It’s just a plain white wall, and the only decorations are my father’s diplomas from college. My desk doesnpt have stacks of old books, instead, more often than not, it has stacks of receipts or other admin stuff. But that’s where I write. Everyday. I loved reading this post because I often wonder if my office should be more “inspirational”. Social media fills our head with “shoulds”, sometimes. Thanks Abby 🙂 Greetings from Puebla in México.