Finding Sanctuary in a New Work Space
Recently I’ve been thinking... if maybe we all need a sanctuary. No, not that kind. Not where we run and hide for safety. Not an escape from something, or even from everything. I’m thinking more of a spiritual kind of place, set apart from our daily chaos, where we can go and be restored, yet when we leave, it guides us to where we need to be, both morally and physically, where we dive deeper into that place where we can engage others and maybe, just maybe, be an encouragement to them.
I probably shouldn’t assume we all need that, but it seems like a good idea that each of us could have an actual, physical place, a space, that could be there whenever we need it for one or more purposes. I don’t necessarily mean purpose in the sense of a task (although that could be a part of it) but purpose in the sense that “being there” IS the purpose for you and I to flourish. Perhaps it’s a garden, a porch, a beach, a mountain, a field, a tractor in that field. But maybe more important is a place you can get to daily or several times a week. I don’t think it matters as long as it’s that sort of place for that sort of thing...where you go and then leave a different person.
Pretty much all my adult life I’ve had a studio which was either a separate, rental space or a set apart room in my home. I don’t think it really ever was my sanctuary. So why did I wait this late in life to design and build a studio? My dream has always been to have one in the backyard, amongst giant trees, small birds and all sizes of critters. I knew I’d need lots of screen doors and windows to usher in their early morning sounds along with the cool of the day. And I knew I specifically wished to find an old, white, screen door like my grandparents had. It took some time but I scored on that find.
Obviously, I needed a place to paint. But I wanted much more than that. I can work pretty much anywhere, and I have. Because I’ve moved around the country a bit I’ve always had to find new spaces. I’ve rented glorious studios of around 1000 square feet all the way down to a humbling 81 square feet, which is 13 square feet larger than the average prison cell. But you take what you can get. The weird thing is I created some of my best work in there. What I did need for this new space was great light. Duh! Artist always say that. They always talk about North light. It does sound cool but I wanted N, S, E, and W light. I wanted to see the world while I painted. So windows, strategic windows, were imperative. Check. I wanted a large space. Check. I wanted the entire studio to mix old with new. Again, check and check. Now that it’s been completed for just under a year, I can honestly say, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Now back to the sanctuary idea. Until now, my studios have always only been places to paint, to work. And that I did. Lots. They’ve all been places for me to shut the world out and focus on the tasks ahead, the tasks of creating imagery and trying to do it well. But big change often comes after big loss or tragedy. After my wife, Nilla, passed away (December 25, 2014) I realized I craved a different sort of space for a studio. I wanted, I needed, to combine my painting space, my creative area, with an area I considered to be a sanctuary, a sacred space. I didn’t want this to be a place where I exclusively go to work, as I have for most of my life. I felt this new studio, this new space, should and would be a place of multiple purposes. What I’m saying is it’s not really so much about just a workspace as it is about a space to work on those things in my life that need work, that need change. For me, that sacred space is a place that is special, spiritual, set apart, yet at the same time it’s totally integrated into the rest of my life. For me it’s sort of like church. I consider the brick and mortar church (the building, not the people) to be a special, set apart, sacred space for worship, healing, community, support, teaching and much more. Although I’m not comparing this new studio to the church building, I do hope it offers a handful of similar restoring elements. And so far it has lived up to that, mostly because of the people who have spent some time with me there.
So this new studio idea began to formulate when I married Joan in 2016. We made her home, on Oaklawn Avenue, our home. It had an old, separate, brick garage in back. It all seemed to be falling apart. It looked sad. Not the home, just the garage. Perfect! I felt part of my life had fallen apart, so I definitely could relate to that old garage. Joan and I both had the idea of me transforming it into a studio, a really beautiful one. Beauty was essential...not unlike when you are in the dessert Southwest and see the raw, rustic, dry, thorny, beauty in the landscape. It’s beautiful but at the same time it seems a bit...aged. I wanted that. And that would fit me better at this time in my life than shiny, new car smell.
And then there was the yard. What I knew about yard work was I think you’re supposed to mow occasionally and do that sprinkler thingy in July if it hasn’t rained for a month. That yard around the garage also needed a lot of attention, but it had all the ingredients needed for the dream. And my dream had all the ingredients for this vision to materialize. I knew this was it. This was the place to bring back to life. This might be that sanctuary/studio. No, this IS that place. No question. Let’s build.
Fast forward. The studio was completed last October. It is...that place...I always wanted. Really, it’s unbelievable. One of the first things everyone seems to notice is the 200 year old, wood floors. Most planks are 15” wide. They came from a cabin in Bland, VA. You will notice the stains of history on every board.
The studio does have a name. Spinning Stone Studio. I will share the story with you some day. In short, it relates to King David, who as a young man, through faith, honor and courage, gathered 5 smooth stones, put one in his sling, and...well, we all know what happened. That day did change his life and eventually, countless others’.
In the short time since the completion of the studio there have been lots of people come through the doors for plenty of reasons. And so far it seems no one wants to leave it once they are there. It IS that kind of place. It is a place of peace and comfort. It is a place of challenges and growth. It’s not a place to shut out the rest of the world although it is a place of solitude when needed. It is that place to quietly focus on creating paintings. It is that place to engage others and to share our lives. It’s already been all those and more. I’m sure this is just the beginning.
This studio represents new starts, everyday new starts, not just “wait for something huge to happen” new starts or “wait for tragedy to strike” new starts. New starts can happen each morning and I get to try to be a better man than the day before. How amazing is that!
Oswald Chambers once wrote, “We are not here to develop a spiritual life of our own, or to enjoy a quiet spiritual retreat.” What I take from that is not to make that the goal. As I said, most of my life I would enter the studio and shut the world out...well that has flipped on it’s head. I want to make myself available to others as much as possible now. I think I’m doing that better. I hope I’m doing that better.
I try to think of this place as “the” studio, not “my” studio. I realize that might sound like a small, odd thing, and it may be, but it helps me remember how much I’ve lost and how much I’ve found. I feel like I’m a steward of this place, this special place. And in the end, this old, dark, brick and mortar garage has been transformed into a new, restored, sun-filled, creative, living sanctuary, a place to stir up love, growing with purpose. And I can certainly relate to that.