The Creative Process and Your Physical Space
A guest post from Ashley Walton, graphic designer at The Journey Group, Charlottesville local, and the best kind of baker. If she had her way, the only thing she would add to her office surroundings would be a furry, meowing, desktop cat.
As an architecture student in undergrad, the idea of ‘physical space’ was an all-encompassing one. It not only meant the physical constructs to which you defined the space, but it took on a whole other set of principles. Principles such as light, air, social interaction, visual transparency, site specificity, culture, history, the list could go on for about three quarters of a mile. Amidst these many layers of thought contained in each project, there was one question, one moment my last semester of school which was so simple, but contained all the same complexity: What would you define for yourself as the perfect room?
During the next few days, we took two tours. We took physical tours — going through spaces on the Lawn, various libraries, rooms in the architecture school, restaurants downtown, and gardens. We also took pretty significant mental tours — sifting through all the spaces we had ever occupied and had felt the presence of beauty, peace, productivity, familiarity, comfort, etc. Through drawing those spaces in our minds and on paper, we began to realize how unique physical space can be for someone. We realized how each individual has specific requirements, both physical and unseen, when they create their little world. It is that same little world/room which also has the capacity to be a significant catalyst for our creative process and productivity.
For me, this little room is one little desk. I once saw a short film that portrayed how the simple space of a person’s desk can be such a reflection of the person that sits on the chair right beside it. Is it cluttered? Does it have a million stickies? Is it spotless and organized? Does it have ripped out pieces of inspirational images? Is there a picture of their family? These are the little pieces which make up the full puzzle of one’s physical creative space, and thus, process. The desk ends up being one of the more defining features of someone’s little creative world.
Presently, as a production/print designer with Journey Group, my little, creative world consists of one desk in a space called ‘the ski lodge’. Upon entering this space, a quick scan of the the 7 desks which reside in the room reveals 7 specific, individual stories. One co-worker, right next to me, illustrates the staggering difference between all of our creative worlds, and probably, our creative process/productivity. His desk is spotless and fastidiously organized: a small stack of ‘to-do’ papers neatly layered to the right, computer dead center, and a picture of his family to the left. This is his neat, uncluttered world in which he is able to create beautiful work at his best. He is free of distraction and filled with plenty of space to roam around in his mind. Mine, on the other hand, is rather different.
My little world seems scattered to the untrained eye. For me, however, it contains all the necessities that fuel my creative process and assist my productivity. Sitting straight ahead, dangling from my monitor, is the most important piece — a fluorescent purple post-it note. This note is not just another ‘to-do’, but is a record of my mother, saying “I am so proud of you!” with a small smiley face in the bottom right hand corner, squiggles around the head, representing the craziness that is my hair. Below that, gently tilting next to my screen, is a picture of my little niece, and namesake, Norah Rose, smiling at me everyday with simple joy. Just to the right of my monitor is a stack of sketches, papers, and notes underneath the notebook that is my ‘to-do’ list everyday. To my left, is a whiskey jar holding 4 bunches of dried hydrangea, a typography flash-card game (nerd alert), and a box of exquisite letterpress cards, in hopes that one day I will be able to design something that beautiful.
All of this critical desk description is to say that not one creative works in the same way. We all are in the business of creating our little worlds within the bigger world where we live. It is the small note which brings about feelings of gratefulness and fuels my perseverance. It is the picture of my sweet niece which grants me delight. It is the pieces of design inspiration that are a catalyst to reaching something more significant in my design journey throughout each project. It is the notebook that contains sketches, notes, and aggressive crossing-off which organizes the daily grind. Each piece is indicative of the many layers in my creative process, and thus, productivity. Unlike my co-worker next door, I don’t need total cleanliness to fuel my process; I need reminders.
It is not only the city in which we live, the people that surround us, or the home where we reside, that has the ability to affect our creative process. Maybe it is not just a desk — maybe it is a studio space, a tree, the dark stacks in a library, or the local coffee house table that sits next to the people-watching window– but, we all compose our perfect room. What is yours?