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For the month of October, Leap Little Frog is croaking about creative space. From spacious art studios to messy recording consoles, we’ll consider what it means for artists to carve out room to work.

After years of sharing space with other artists and family, California-based visual artist Erika Adkins has a glorious art studio of her own. Here, she shares her take on creative space and the freedom it offers: work, leave, and return without set up time. And she bravely talks of her previous hesitance to take too much space (i.e. fully spread her creative wings). Erika writes:

I had my first real art space junior year of college. A corner in a basement studio, with high casement windows. We were upper classmen and so had designated spaces, each of us quickly claiming with canvases and taborets an area of our own. Everything had years of use, with layers of paint from previous inhabitants on the floor, the stools, the easels.

studio_eadkins_2That is when I first tasted having my own space. Here, I could work, and then leave; I didn’t have to pack up everything and lug it back home, I could paint to the very end of class and not have to worry about allocating time for clean-up. We had keys (the old kind) and thus had 24 hour access. Friday nights you could find me there, painting, listening to the other undergraduates drunkenly stumble by. It was as lonely as it was productive.

The need to have this space traveled with me. My first apartment out of college was a third floor (nearly) garret. The front room had lead-paned North-facing windows and I claimed that room for my studio. Then it was California, and a corner of my sleeping loft. Next, the breakfast nook in a shared beach cottage. Once, I hit gold and landed an apartment where I had two tiny rooms. The bigger of the two housed my easel, my paints.

We do this, you know, we sleep small so we can paint big.

The least amount of room I had was while I was in a relationship with another visual artist. My little corner squeaked, versus the howl of the rest of the room. It mirrored us. Me–self-effacing, playing to type, “I’m not as talented, so you should have more room;” always accommodating, always being nice. The work was small, the resentment, enormous.

A life shift and I was a step-parent with a dog and a mortgage and a garage. Children were now in the environment, so I abandoned oil paints (highly toxic, bad fumes, and disposal always an issue) and moved to acrylics. I carved out my spot, again a corner in a room. While I enjoyed being able to create and be with my pack, my ability to focus, to be absorbed, was compromised. Everything still had to be “put away.”

After a year, I took half the garage. I fashioned walls from IKEA shelving, then draped them with fabric for privacy and demarcation. I had a space to stand, to stretch, to ponder, to create. Yes, the temperatures were extreme; the light less than ideal, but it was mine. And I could leave a mess without little hands getting into anything that was in process. When we have a household to run, swim meets to attend, kid homework to supervise, reclaiming 30 minutes of set up/breakdown time is gift.

studio_eadkins_3Two years ago, we moved to a house with fabulous light, enormous windows, high ceilings, and an abundance of wall space. The final treat was the garage; casement windows facing north, finished walls, and 14-foot ceilings. I re-created my IKEA set up, but it didn’t take advantage of all that air and light.

This summer, Joe suggested we “do the garage. “ I thrilled at the idea of a sink to wash brushes that didn’t also have to wash vegetables, a surface that could handle a torch, drawers to hold paint and wax.

The work took a month, with plenty of weeding and sifting to empty the space and then fill it again. Digging through boxes marked “Art Supplies” and finding old sketchbooks, half-finished paintings, drawings and lists of ideas.

I am inspired and excited, and yes, a little scared.

3 artists who give Erika inspiration and courage: Frida KahloRichard DiebenkornAlison Saar

Born in Pittsburgh, and now based on the West Coast, Erika Adkins holds a degree in Fine Art from Yale University and an MBA from the Leavey School of Business. She has spent the last 20 years working in Tech, while keeping her “Batman” art life alive and well. Comfortable with her duality, she enjoys helping teams achieve balance by combining initiative and discipline with creativity and flexibility.

Erika is a third generation artist, and grew up assuming everything had aesthetic merit. Her recent work explores conflict –  between humans and the environment, between dogs, between history and individuals. Her current artistic focus is on the presence, flight, and symbolism of crows.

Leap, Little Frog

a musician's musings on nesting, being creative, traveling, and parenting