Monday, February 8, 2010

The Studio: A Sanctuary to Quiet Your Mind in These Busy Times

Guest Blogger:
Sarah Laing
Associate director of the
Open Studio Project, Inc.
Even though I’ve worked in our storefront studio for 10 years, every time I walk in the door, I am reminded about how much happens in our small, humble, and very special space.   Sure, I’ve felt that experience before when visiting other studios and places of production or had those “wow” moments of artistic inspiration.  But our studio is different.  We’ve set it up to be a welcoming space to make art, an emotionally safe place to create.  We never critique or comment on another’s work.  We are supportive simply by allowing each individual to work without interference.  At our studio, art is a p-r-o-c-e-s-s – not a product.  And in these stressful times, our studio/process provides a creative outlet to help reduce stress. It’s the place I go to stop, listen, and create. 

You can feel the energy in our studio.  It is very much alive.  The walls have something to do with it.  They reflect the outlines of paintings and pieces by many artists who have shared that space, inviting others to give it a try.  It provides a visual framework for going beyond, for coloring outside the lines. We set out materials such as oil pastels, tempera paints, and plaster with a purpose in mind – in order to help artists to play, explore and experiment.  In addition, to promote sustainability, our artists also use many natural, found objects, and recycled materials.

As an artist/facilitator, I help others honor and embrace the creative space. We model how to use and respect materials and how we, as artists, take our own creative risks.   But there is no judging.  No evaluating. We set up the studio space in a way that individuals have a sense of openness, encouraging them to find within themselves that element that asks to be expressed visually. We talk about drawing, for example, as making marks on paper, which is easier to do when the studio space is designed to encourage it.  And we talk about following your creative impulse – and how the studio space can nurture and support that spirit of spontaneity. 

We teach about boundaries by arranging a space appropriate for groups. In listening and creating without commenting on each other, we learn to respect and value each other exactly where we are in the creative process, and in our lives.  We learn that it is possible to explore at whatever level we feel comfortable, what we think and feel in a social setting, without trying to anticipate the thoughts and reactions of others.  In short, we learn to let everyone be, but be together.  And after a while of practice, we learn how to trust ourselves and each other in a way we can generalize to our lives.  

Along with making art, the Open Studio process offers a writing component that gives each individual the opportunity to clarify their own intentions for creating.  After making art, participants/artists/individuals “witness” their work -- as a way to reflect and make a deeper connection with what they created that day.   

The following questions were directed to three Panelists who are Artist/Facilitators at Open Studio Project.  This panel was held in conjunction with the Facilitators Exhibition opening on Friday, February 5th.  

1. How does the studio no commenting/critique emphasis effect your work?
      I wouldn’t be an artist if it weren’t for open studio.  I can make whatever I want and it means a lot to have this rule in place. No one tells me what to do and what not to do.
     Janet Beals Orejudos

      I was a glass artist focused on technical work. When I came to the studio I thought there was more for me in the art making process.  The no comment rule allowed me to be with my thoughts and myself in relation to art making.  My process came from inside rather than outside sources.  
     Cal Calvird

      I feel a profound sense of support from the groups in the studio.  I don’t have to verbally or conceptually express that. It’s about connecting with myself and the universe.  There’s a quiet support from everyone.  It’s revolutionary.  I’m amazed for having been able to do this for so long.
      Ted Harris

2. How does the studio’s community element make this art making setting different from other art classes?
      This community and its sense of intimacy create a deep connection to people who you don’t know very well but are sharing an experience with them.
      Janet Beals Orejudos

      I really think about the connective process when thinking of community.  It’s so empowering.  All I have to do is show up and see how it unfolds.  There’s no consensus in the room but there is equal support.  It all unfolds in a great way.
      Cal Calvird

      Referencing creates a nonverbal intimacy that you can look at others work and do what they’re doing and it doesn’t matter.  We don’t often sell our work made here, so our relationship with the art world is complicated in regards to that.  Making a living as an artist is kind of off the table when I’m here.  This is completely different. It’s better.
       Ted Harris  

3. How does this studio environment impact your choice of materials?
      I don’t make art outside the studio. I use the materials here.  So it depends on what is here.  I love the materials, I use them, but I don’t bring anything from outside.
      Janet Beals Orejudos

      They’re inexpensive.  There are a lot of found objects.  As adults, we don’t want to waste the materials, but here we have to use it, there’s constant encouragement to use and then reuse the materials.  It’s very freeing and very liberating.  
       Cal Calvird

      Every single time I come to make art, what I need seems to be here.  There isn’t so much effort.  Whatever is here is going to work for me.  I also observe what other people use and I find myself gathering those found objects.
       Ted Harris 

Sarah Laing is the Associate Director of the Open Studio Project, Inc. She has a Masters in Art Therapy from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a Bachelors in Studio Art.  She has directed numerous programs and exhibitions for a range of populations which celebrate the affirmative impact of the creative process to make social change.  She is a strong advocate of community youth, the arts, and mental health awareness.  

Image credit and captions top to bottom:
Store front of Open Studio Project. Photo by Jill Brazel Photography 
A sample of a wall at Open Studio Project
Found object art work by Open Studio Project Artist/Facilitator Karla Rindal
A drawing workshop at Open Studio Project
A sampling of materials arranged on shelves at Open Studio Project
Storefront. Photo by Jill Brazel Photography


  1. During the panel an audience member asked to have a conversation about the connection between mental health, creativity and its place at Open Studio.
    Here were the responses:
    Janet- I wouldn't be a sane person without open studio. I have used it for many life desicions. Its made all the difference to me in keeping my sanity. I have made crucial decisions and have been figuring out life's passages.
    Ted- Many people with different kinds of life challenges show up together here and it makes no difference. The concept of mental illness doesn't affect the process. We're all on the same level. There's no sense of a heirarchy. The reason for the success of the studio is because the intention was pure. It came out of people's hearts that created this place. It's given me lots of inspiration.
    Anya- The no commenting rule became so healing for me because I feel like its so much of what we're not taught to do in the world, it's such a rush for quick judgements. I think that witnessing people in their creative process is so sacred. I think this is such an extraordinary place. I feel like its the antidote for destruction...its creativity.

  2. Hello Sarah - what an interesting place. I also desire a 'safe haven.' It wasn't stated specifically in the entry, but what is your personal philosophy behind 'no commenting/critiquing?' --since many in the creative field depend on it to grow and get points of view from fresh eyes. I think ideal for many - in terms of a safe haven - is critiques between people who really trust and respect one another -- to know their intentions are always for good. Is that applied in a different way at Open Studios? I'm very curious. Thank you.

  3. Thank you Natalie- At Open Studio we don't have formal critiques. Everyone writes their personal intention when they arrive and have the opportunity to share without comment at the end. I have experienced supportive critiques in the past but that is not the emphasis of the art experience at OSP. I have found that individuals can really be their own best experts when they are given a safe space to open up and connect with their art (without anyone else projecting onto their work). People really are able to go far deeper and find their truth through this approach. It develops a lot of empathy and support. Its extremely refreshing to have an environment where there are no judgments.