I didn’t realise how important a quiet space was for me until I lost it! (Jacquie finds this comment funny!) Those of you who live in the South East may have heard of Burrswood which was a hospital with a Christian ethos, a place of respite and a retreat house. It contained within it a pretty, Italianate chapel, a bookshop and a café all set in beautiful grounds. There was no charge so I could just turn up to this wonderful place a few miles from my home and simply ‘be’.
It is now closed and my ‘breathing space’ is no more. I have quickly set about making my own space in our garden: a shed, a studio (call it what you will), somewhere cosy, without a phone signal, no internet, no wifi, somewhere I can claim as a ‘room of my own’. It has only taken me 3 years to complete it! As my approach to photography is fairly ‘mindful’, the final piece of the jigsaw to encourage this mindfulness is a comfortable chair in my new space out of the house. And this seems to be key; I leave my busy head behind in the house. The studio is my safe, creative place.
I question whether we understand the value of solitary but not lonely places. Going to a place of worship is a different, more corporate experience. My wife finds the act of walking conducive to reflection and prayer and consistently walks a thousand miles a year, usually in the morning just before she starts work. It is a time for her when she is acutely aware of the natural world. It is a creative time.
Other friends do things differently; for one it is the wide open spaces of Keswick in the Lake District that feels like a spiritual home and a place of refreshment. One friend, upon moving house, realised she was going to miss her quirky, ramshackle cabin where she completed her textile projects more than her kitchen, living room and bedroom combined.
Some artists, however, thrive on being part of a team: the Pre-Raphaelites painted together, Turner had his apprentices to mix his paints, Barbara Hepworth had her practical assistants, Andy Warhol had his ‘factory’ of workers bringing in different personalities to aid inspiration. Many art groups meet solely for the pleasure of painting in each other's company without any sort of demonstration or instruction. The popularity of ‘knit and natter’ groups speaks volumes about people being social creatures as well as creative ones. It can feel selfish to seek a separate space, especially being aware of the ‘me,me,me’ element of society but I have, in later life, become aware that, for my mental health, this space is not an indulgence but a resource that makes my life and particularly my creative life flourish.
A place free from all distractions is a joy. Whether you have a darkroom, a chair for craft projects in the corner of a quiet room, a cabin in your garden or woodland to walk through nearby, I wish you similar joy in your creative spaces. So, if you can find a contemplative and creative space or create one in 2024, enjoy.