As an angsty artist teen growing up in Boulder, Colorado, I impatiently waited for the city's Open Studios tour each year. The event kicked off with an exhibition at the library and the distribution of dreamlike catalogs filled with local art. My family planned our explorations and would head on a grand art adventure, touring studio after studio. While I can't remember a single artist's name, images of their works and their workspaces are perfectly preserved in my brain. I think about them often. They inspired little, impressionable teen-Emily.
Much to little, impressionable teen-Emily's delight, my house was part of the Arvada Art Studio Tour last weekend. This free, public event invites the community to check out 18 different art studios across Arvada, ranging from guest bedrooms to separate, dedicated spaces like mine. I cleaned up the studio and rearranged it into a mini-gallery, hanging up a collection of my most recent works to show off. This was a relatively terrifying idea--strangers, neighbors, friends, anyone would walk into my studio and say things to me about my art while I was standing right there. I tried to keep in mind teen-Emily and hoped that I could offer some inspiration to the general public who meandered through my space.
Because I also run Art Drop Arvada, I invited local artists to join me at my place and hang out for the weekend. It was really fun! The artist duo Camiah brought a mobile mural that they colorfully completed throughout the two-day event, illustrators Jess Romanowitz and Tara Jane charmed us all with their adorable creatures, and Michael Morten brought hand-screenprinted railroad posters. These are all artists with "day jobs" or other full-time responsibilities, pursing their love for art in such unique ways. I can get really in my head about the right way to be an artist (be prolific, have work in galleries, suffer, sell art, challenge everything, write essays and manifestos, wear black, be very serious all the time), and here right in my backyard were five other artists each doing very different work in very different ways. I am learning to see this more and more as I interact with artists and their works in other venues, too. My head knows that art is anything and everything that an artist wants it to be; that there is no right way. But in thoughts of insecurity about my own processes and works, I default to comparing myself to that damaged, chaotic, ideal, conceptual, broody, intellectual artist image I grew up adoring.
As a freelance artist and designer, I am so often working alone in my studio without company or collaborators. It was good for me to have this creative community around me all weekend long and to soak in the presence of other artists, all working in styles very different than my own, seeing their processes and hearing about their lives. Destiny even joined in the fun and spent many hours at the table with us, drawing characters and adding them to our communal art wall.
It was fascinating to listen to strangers talk to me about my own work. I don't fully understand this recent direction in my work, but I also love it. The work asks questions of me that I don't have the answers to. It seemed that my art was asking questions to others as well--but these strangers had their answers, and they wanted to make sure I knew that. I stood in my studio while one woman told me that her mother was in Hell, and that she could tell from my art that I would understand that (no I do not). Another woman detailed elaborate dreams in which she was visited by her spirit animals, and she was confident from my art that I had been visited in my dreams by spirit animals (no I have not, but I have had dreams where I cast a glorious patronus).
The most rewarding conversations for me were with people hoping to build their own backyard studios. So many visitors told me about common dreams: that they were creating art in a back bedroom or a converted closet and longed to build a dedicated space for their work. This goal often seems out of reach for people; in their minds, they lack the resources and skills to create something that won't fall down on top of their heads. I spent years working out of spare apartment bedrooms and at kitchen tables and in odd nooks before building my first studio, and then my second. My studios have been transformative, sacred spaces for me, and I love helping other people make that for themselves. It is what I am most proud of with this blog--many of you amazing readers across the country have emailed me about your own studio builds, asking for advice and sending pictures of your progress, and I treasure that. You saw me, a woman without special skills, professional training, or remarkable resources, build a space for herself, and you believed that you could, too. And then you did it! The internet is amazing. You are amazing.
It was cool to have this conversation with other dreamers in my immediate community during the Studio Tour. I hope I have inspired some more back-bedroom artists to take the leap and invest in themselves with a dedicated studio space of their own. Maybe I'll be able to go visit them on next year's Arvada Art Studio Tour!
After the two-day event was over, Camiah finished their mobile mural, titled "Myths," and they generously asked if I would like to keep it! I hung the colorful mural on the side of my house, where it serves as a drive-by smile factory for my quiet street and a daily reminder that I am part of a growing, meandering, wild community of artists in my own town.