Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Metalsmithing Changed My Life

I feel like most of the posts I'm inspired to write these days revolve around either how metalsmithing changed my life, or how a devotion to exercise changed my life. Ha!

For my first three semesters at CCA I did nearly all my work from the studio at school. We are lucky to have an incredibly nice, well-equipped, organized, functional studio, plus working there alongside my peers was motivating and fun. The only problem was that thanks to our brutal workload, I was spending an awful lot of time away from home. Also, any time I wanted to be in studio I had to go to school, which means dealing with the terrible traffic on I-80. It also meant that it was hard to capitalize on those in-the-moment bursts of inspiration where I would give anything to get my hands on a jeweler's saw and a blowtorch. Without a proper studio space at home, those moments would come and go, hopefully registered with a sketch for follow-up at some future date.

At the beginning of 2011, I decided to start setting up a home studio. I bought a jeweler's bench and began investing in tools so that I'd have the essentials to be able to work from Casa Cali. Rico and I went to Ohmega Salvage and improvised a soldering station: a pine table meant for the kitchen (it has a wine rack at the base) that we topped with a giant slab of black marble. The only catch was that I'd have to solder outside, as there is no way to get proper ventilation in the room I use as a workspace without tearing up a wall and spending a couple thousand dollars on a proper vent system. So the soldering station lives on our covered porch, and as long as it's daylight and the weather's warm it's fine. Otherwise I just have to bundle up and move a lamp from our living room outside so that I have a bit of light. I use an acetylene-air torch and it works like a dream.

The ability to do studio work from home, especially being able to solder, really improved my quality of life. I was able to spend more time with Rico and at home in general, avoided a lot of traffic, and better managed the problem of having to drive home from school at 3am after having done an exhausting 12-hour work session in order to finish a project.

If needed, I could keep working with my current home-office-studio arrangement until I was out of school. It's manageable, and a better option than before for sure, but I've already outgrown it. I simply need more space. What I call "my room" in our house serves at least three purposes. It's where I have all my clothes and shoes and accessories, where I get ready in the morning and transition into relax time in the evening. It's the room where I have all the random things I've carried around for the past 20 years, the precious collection of stuff that's made it through Albuquerque, Maringá, Rio de Janeiro, Austin, Chimoio and Maputo, not to mention a series of storage units.

I feel like in general I am waging a war against clutter. I'm constantly revising what I own, pushing things that I no longer use, or want, or have room for, find new homes where they will be better appreciated and used. I am always striving toward minimalism, because that's when I believe I'm at my most creative (and happy?). But there are definitely things I don't want to part with, at least not yet, and those things - the extensive rock collection I started as a child, bagfuls of Anasazi pot shards collected from New Mexico over two decades, my really big and cool stamp collection (started when I was in elementary school), my seashell collection, all of my journals (which take up an entire shelf), my bag of antique scarves, a handful of good costume ingredients, textiles collected while traveling - those random things are what inhabit "my room" together with my clothes. And a huge office desk for my computer, design work and to store office supplies. And of course this is the space where I make my jewelry and do my art. My childhood double-door armoire now holds tools - a dapping punch set, a circle cutter, a tumbler, assorted gloves and respirators, sandpaper, paints, shipping supplies. Not to mention the jeweler's bench, with a flexshaft, which is a bit of a footprint for sure.

In all honesty, "my room" is just about perfect. I could live in here for the rest of my life and be happy. But the space needs to have a priority defined. Is it primarily a studio, with appropriate measures for work to be made (e.g. ventilation system, fire-resistant flooring, a blowtorch inside the house)? Or is it a living space with some limited studio potential incorporated therewith? Trying to make it both has been a good experience, but I'm aware that the room takes away from my focus and potential on a regular basis because of the insane propensity toward clutter. I try to be as organized as possible (this is likely why I am OBSESSED with organizing - you have to be really good when you are dealing with a small-ish space that needs to have multiple functions) but still there is stuff all over the place all the time. It drives me crazy.

I work so much better in a sparse space. Not that the room can't have furniture and all that other wonderful stuff, but that I need a workspace, that is the actual desk at which I'm doing my work, that is as clean and minimal as possible. There is something about having an uncluttered work desk or jeweler's bench that is magic. It's like my mind finally rests and can then be open to intense focus and inspiration.

I am in the process of moving to a new, better studio space. It is in the ground floor of my mom's new house, a few minutes away from Casa Cali. It used to be a carpenter's studio so it "feels" like a workspace, and there is a nice sunny deck outside. It is big and industrial-ish, although inside a lovely house. I can make it a real work space, incorporating a small seating area with displays where I can receive people and meet with clients and friends. But primarily it will be a studio and work-making space. I am investing in shelving that is more appropriate to my needs (what a beautiful moment when you understand what storage and organization solutions will create efficiency in your life). There will be rubber coin grip flooring and a soldering area indoors, with ventilation, and space for anvils or tree stumps or whatever else I need but don't want to put in "my room" in Casa Cali.

School starts today and I am firmly in limbo between my current space, the new studio (it still needs to be painted, have flooring installed, etc.) and the studio at CCA. A lot of my stuff is in boxes. Organized, labeled ones for sure, but not in the most convenient arrangement for me to actually use them. I still need to box up a lot of things and empty out my desks, but I think I can get everything totally packed in a matter of 3 or 4 hours. Then I will need to make the studio useable at my mom's house. That will take a while, at least a week or three I think, under the best circumstances.

Basically I am doing a mind-shift and focusing on using the studio at school right now. I will keep the soldering station set up so that in a pinch I can do most things from home. But I like having my focus on one main physical work area, it really helps me be productive. And I definitely don't like being split over several different workspaces. It is inefficient and tiring, but feasible if necessary. I just want to get everything organized, now, right away in the new studio. But school starts today, so clearly that won't happen, at least I won't plan for it.

If metalsmithing has taught me anything, it's that things take at least four times longer than you estimate in order to really do them properly, and it's always worth doing them properly the first time. Taking the time to get it right at the beginning sets you on a much better path forward. I used to live a life that relied heavily on shortcuts. I knew that what I could pull together at the last minute was usually good enough, and certainly much better than average. I could get the good grades, turn in the stellar project, give an impressive presentation without *that* much preparation and effort.

But I was also always aware, in this seemingly consequence-less land of procrastination, that I only rarely got a glimpse of my full potential. Every once in a while I'd really invest in a project or a piece of writing. Through multiple drafts, revisions, adjustments, reworks, edits...through time, really. Only then would I realize there was a different level I could be on. Not just good enough to impress the rest of the world, but good enough to impress myself.

With metalsmithing I'm not saying that I'm producing the most amazing work ever, or that I'm a superior maker. In fact I'm squarely an apprentice, aware how much there is still to learn and refine in terms of skill and design. However thanks to my new views on putting in the time and getting it right the first time, the work I have been producing is all heavily laden with my time and effort and often tears. I cry a lot about school and my work. I think a lot of the people in the program do. I wonder if this ever goes away as you become more seasoned.

Anyhow, there is an incredible amount of emotional and physical energy in each piece, even the ones that are just little one-week projects. I've never worked so hard on so many things for such an extended period. No wonder I'm always having a mini-crisis! But honestly, I can see how my work is now an a different level, even though I'm still a learner. I continually impress myself with what I'm able to create, how much work I can bear and still be happy. I would never have pushed myself this hard if it weren't for school. I wonder now if that momentum will continue to carry me through my work once I graduate and am no longer in that amazing bubble where your work is everything and everything is your work.

I would imagine that someone more experienced would say that it's a shift in perspective that will allow you to continue to push yourself beyond what you think is possible on a regular basis. That you understand at some point it wasn't the school structure or critiques or social environment or even the grades or the accountability that made you work so hard. It was something inside you, that you can always access, that pushed you to be your best. That you must arrange your life so that it fosters this inside space.

And thus all the thoughts about organization. It all comes full circle, of course. I know that clutter is one of the main ways for me to dampen the magic, so that is why I am on a never-ending quest to be as organized, efficient and systematic as possible. I often feel very old and uncool harping on about the glorious potential of organization and discipline and fitness to change your life. But really, that's what I have to share about the last few years. The conclusion is clear to me, so I will keep talking and hopefully the fact that this all comes from a very honest and humble place will keep me from being too annoying. :)


The Blind Observer said...

Not just organisation, but also a clear view of where you want to go and how you intend to achieve your goals. Nice overview, thank you. :-)

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