Before you rent an art studio

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Every morning I wake up with the sun beaming in from over the mountains, peeking through between laundry that I forgot to take in the night before.

As I resist the urge to use my phone first thing when I wake up, I walk over to my kitchen to warm up some hot water.

These morning habits are becoming more and more important to me; I’m attempting to solidify my art practice and get to painting early before I head off into the city for the day.

After my insides are warmed up, I make way to the tatami room to start putting marks on paper and accidental ones on the floor. My process has gone through a number of different changes throughout the years, but was never a solid one and would fluctuate constantly.

One particular hindrance earlier this year was deciding to invest in a studio space. While it was beautiful and near perfect, it proved to be a liability more than anything.

I have a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as I think back to my reasoning for investing so quickly; but it was a good lesson and am glad I learned in the way I did. I found that being an artist means more than just making pretty things. Protecting your practice is essential and you have to be strong enough to make good decisions.

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When you leave the infatuation behind this becomes obvious, but renting a space when you aren’t ready or don’t have a clear vision is not a good idea. An atelier should not be a room to show off or used to just take clients to. It’s your space to be creative. Now that I'm back in my tatami room, I appreciate I can create that much more and fall in love with the little elements of the room over and over again:

The lighting and the way it drapes over my mess, the dirt walls and remnants of me trying to scrape it off, the splattered paint on every surface. It all is so effortless and never fails to remind me that time will always be the ultimate artist.

Beyond the aesthetic, the best thing about coming back to my tatami room to work is the freedom to make marks again. I don’t have to worry about “dirtying” up a new refurbished space. Working in an atmosphere that has personality and grunge is just more interesting than a white room I can’t get excited about.

Don’t be in a space you don’t love if you can help it.

Another good thing is that I actually have time to build a practice now. When I was in that massive space, all the attention I was hoping to give to painting was directed towards upkeep. If you are nowhere near ready to take on the responsibility, I would say to not go for it. Be an assistant in someone else’s studio first to understand the effort that goes into keeping it afloat. Your space should encourage your practice and give you a nest where you can leave a trail, not for stroking your feathers. It’s a waste to replace creativity with ego so choose wisely.


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I love the tatami room, but this also isn’t the space I will choose to permanently settle in. There’s a big wide world out there and I’m finally starting to discover what environments I feel comfortable in.

For the longest time I couldn’t envision having my own space at all. Being brought up and raised in Japan of all places, moving multiple times and being from a family of seven, I didn’t have much claim to space. Compromise was the only thing I was used to. Because I'm around friends that continue to inspire me with their individuality and spirit, I’m slowly growing a backbone to figure out my own taste. It’s a lot of fun, but It takes a long time to re-learn how to be yourself.

It's now a dream to build a nest and create a treasure cove of all the things I love, occasionally taking the time to fly away to make stories, but return home to jot them down into a painting.

I finish up my glass of oyu along with reminiscing about the beginning of this year. I regret not knowing how good I had it in my little tatami room all along, but learn and let live. Having the studio for half a year did make a difference in how I think, and now I can give the advice I would give to my self six months ago to others.

And that one piece of wisdom is to always ask yourself one simple question:

“Do I really need this?”

Johnna Slaby