May 16th, 2005
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portable creativity kit

I spent Sunday purging my studio. It was long overdue. Possibly years overdue. I went through all of the hidden things that you don’t see anymore, those things you have been carrying around for years and suddenly look at them and say, “why have I been keeping this?” (some examples, lego, crackle varnish, six different rulers, eight copies of tearsheets from a job done eight years ago (one that you can’t stand to look at), a sewing kit full of art supplies that has sentimental value but never gets opened.) One thing I have learned for myself is that if i don’t see it, I don’t use it. And I don’t believe in having anything in my life that I don’t use. At one point I found myself overwhelmed, surrounded by piles and piles of ‘stuff’, with that feeling of “what do I do next?”
I pulled out an old oil paint box from when I was in art school. One of those plywood cases that still had that wonderful slightly acidic smell of turpentine. I opened it up and proceeded to throw out six tubes of paint that had become mummified. I looked at the box and put it in the “garage sale” pile. I started thinking about my daily walk through Chinatown to art school, arms weighed down with my tool box of art supplies, drawing board, and paper in a large black leather portfolio. Portable. I could create anywhere. I loved opening my box and looking at all of my supplies, my favourite pencil with the soft lead, kneadable eraser that I shaped into animals, new brushes, scissors, the tools of creation. How did this simple box morph into an entire room filled with containers of things that I don’t even use? I suppose I know the answer to that, the irony here is that when you are in art school you long for a studio that is all your own, one that you can fill with blank paper, canvas, and endless tubes of paint. You long for a space that will be covered in colourful splotches, never having to clean up fully because you are an artist! Which is great, but I felt it was missing something. Simplicity maybe. Part of me wonders if the studio thing has been more about me wanting to feel like an artist. I love my space and need to be alone to create, but lately feel weighed down by the hoarding. (Not surprising as I’m thinking about travelling soon.)
I pulled the box out of the “garage sale” pile. And then I did something crazy. I filled it with all of the tools that I use mindfully when working. I filled it and glued little quotes to the sides, I put in pictures of things that inspire me, I wrote my name on the front of the box. After an hour I was completely obsessed with this paring down, what do I really need?
As an artist I find I do much better when I only have a few things to choose from as opposed to hundreds. This goes against what we are told in our culture, that more is better. Many times when I have limitations there is less of a tendency to get overwhelmed and take on the “whole” of the project.
“Limitation is what differentiates a flood from a lake. In the making of things, limitations allow you to choose from something rather than everything.” ~Corita Kent
The box gives me a simplified structure, a framework. There are five pencils, not twenty five.
And then I got rid of almost everything else, all of the tubs of paint that I don’t use, all of the old brushes, all of the mediums and irridescent paints. And it felt amazing. I love everything in the box. And I know there may be a time when I want to paint large again, and then I will get a new set of paints for the job.
But right now I feel so much lighter.

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