The Importance of — S P A C E — for Optimum Creativity

The art hustle is rough, man. When I moved in March from St. Louis to Napa, I was so afraid of not having art work that I hit the ground running harder and faster than I have ever done in my life. Granted, the results were worth it, as I scored gigs in Australia and six U.S. cities! However, my relationship (the one I moved to California to save) was suffering. My health was suffering. My cats were perpetually pissed at me every time I came home. And coming up with ideas on deadline was increasingly TOUGH. My ideas, which are normally as fluid as seaweed on the ocean floor, were now swimming like salmon upriver, and the damn bears kept swallowing them whole mid-flight. It took 7 months of around-the-clock work and 3 days of total bed hibernation to realize that what I needed more than anything was space.

Ah — SPACE — What comes to mind for you when you hear the word? For me I think of quiet, vast landscapes, and I envision my body in total surrender to the elements as I gaze upwards. Ah— SPACE — Where ideas flow and emotions grow and winds blow. There I was, traveling nonstop yet suffering to come up with creative ideas, because the usual — SPACE — of traveling was replaced with texts in different timezones, invoicing on layovers, and email catch-up in my ubers. I craved — SPACE — in my brain. My brain was. So. Freaking. Full.

If Albert Einstein says that “Creativity is intelligence having fun”, then no wonder I was suffering! My brain was not having fun anymore. Don’t get me wrong, the act of creation in chalk and paint is the best job anyone could ask for, but it’s harder to enjoy when you take its incompleteness to your hotel room as homework. In my perfect world, I would have a recreational computer and a work computer, so that I may Netflix and *actually* chill, instead of Netflix and *fake* chill while I scan at likes on Facebook and my growing inbox. But, I’m not in the market for having five separate computers for five different sets of tasks, because that’s silly. So, how do I find mental space, when as a self-employed creative professional, my work is literally my life?

I found the answer in Bali. I know, how very Eat Pray fuckin’ Love of me, right? But really, after painting for 18 consecutive 12–16 hour days in southwestern Australia, I called my best Aussie girlfriend and we embarked on a last-minute YOLO trip to a Balinese jungle bungalow, because we both needed a vacation and we needed one fast. Taryn is a full-time actress and part-time odd job Queen, who was also suffering from brain-full-itis. So there we were. Bali. Monkeys, rice paddies, coffee fields, infinite color and wonderment all around us. We set intentions of what we wanted to let go of and what we wanted to strengthen within ourselves. But still, I couldn’t turn my brain off, and instead of unpacking the suitcases, my luggage just kept getting heavier. The answer I found was that Bali, while beautiful, was not what I needed. I needed to sleep in my bed for multiple days, completely disconnected from e-everything and i-products, not in Bali, but at home. That supposed home in which I supposedly lived in sunny Napa, California.

Once I got home from a month of being abroad, I navigated jetlag for three days and off I went to St. Louis for two more weeks. But it was there that I settled into my friend Ellie’s house and finally allowed myself — SPACE — I was not yet home in Napa, but since I couldn’t hibernate quite yet, I gradually committed to total (albeit temporary) disconnection from work. I set work hours! You know, like normal people do at normal jobs. After dinner each day, I did nothing but stare at TV, doodle in my sketchbook, or hang out with friends. It was glorious! And like the magic that creativity is, ideas began to slowly manifest inside of my brain. Finally. My artist Self was back.

When I finally returned to Napa with no travel inside of the next month, I let those ideas sit in my brain. Instead of scribbling them down on napkins and fleshing them out in corners of my day planner, I just tucked them in at night and kissed their foreheads like the good idea parent I now am. And there they sat, patiently waiting. So here I am now, today, finally relishing in — SPACE — Some ideas don’t go anywhere, but that’s the point: to throw out the bad ones so that the space they took up in my brain is now an open door for new ideas to get comfy. I’m having real days in my studio, with two adorable cats sleeping on my newsprint pads. You know what I did this morning? I gossipped over coffee with some friends. Then I ate toaster waffles while watching a suspense thriller. Then I answered emails and phone calls. I am learning how to make space every day, bit by bit, and in turn, I am becoming a better artist. Periods of business come in intense waves, and I know life will get crazy again next summer. The art hustle is hard, man. But it is easier when we insist on carving out space to do absolutely nothing.

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Chelsea Ritter-Soronen

Chalk Riot // Muralist // Public Arts Organizer // Certified Wine Nerd // proudly wasting money on plane tickets and art supplies since 2004