When I was a child, there was a special feeling I got from being in a den, especially one I had constructed myself from found materials. It was a cosy, warm, snuggly, safe and secure feeling that was so comforting, it almost made you tingle with excitement. An electric frisson would travel down my spine. I used to get the same feeling in front of a warm, open fire, drinking a warm cup of Milo made for me by my mum, on a cold night or when my father read me a story before bedtime. It was the feeling of bliss.
I think it was the closest feeling to falling in love, yet it was subtly different. It was inclusive, like a huge hug, yet at the same time the threshold to pure possibility and unlimited horizons. My grandmother, who is no longer with us, sadly, used to crochet woollen blankets for her many children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Those blankets are a daily reminder of her nurturing, her generosity and her desire to protect and cherish us all. I think of her every time I wrap myself in one of those handmade blankets. Those blankets mean love. It’s a wonderful feeling.
When I grew older, that feeling I used to get in my den or when being comforted by my parents was something I used to feel in my workspace; a big, sprawling shed, with very bright fluorescent lights and a huge wooden workbench in it. We had an old battered valve radio and in the dark of night, I could drift away on my imagination, listening to the crackly radio, while totally immersed in building a guitar, or some piece of electronics or any of the many other construction projects that took place there. I also had a very compact bedroom, with wood panelled walls and a deep, soft carpet, at the very back of the house. I had a desk which enveloped you when you sat at it and it had books above and below it, on custom made shelves. My dad made it for me.
All of my big dreams, my grand, impossible plans, my musical compositions, my electronic circuit designs, my technical drawings, my love letters, my essays, lyrics and poems came from that desk. It had a desk lamp that shone a warm, yellowish light onto the page, which was gorgeous when the main room light was out and it was dark. My music was always on and I had my guitar within easy reach, so I could play guitar while reading or studying. I revised for my exams with my guitar in hands, allowing me to burn off my nerves and mental energy, while taking in all the information I would need the next day. It was my private space and I could think, dream and create, uninterrupted, at will, for hours.
My father, a talented and prolific furniture maker, it has to be said, used to cover the floor with fresh sawdust and wood shavings from his hand plane, when he was building some new piece of furniture or other. That smell and that feeling of stomping around in something soft and yielding was also part of that familiar, homely, warm feeling, especially when the wood was Douglas Fir or Western Red Cedar. That workspace had good associations. It’s where I was taught woodworking, where I airbrushed my guitar, where my high school band sometimes rehearsed and where I worked on my first car, with my father showing me how. It was a lovely place, full of tools, strange leftover odds and ends, the smell of timber stock and a view out over the vegetable garden and the blazing, blue Australian sky, overhead, or the dark Southern sky stars at night.
I long for that feeling, in all of my workspaces. I have occasionally recreated it (like in the garage of the first house I ever bought, or my upstairs study and the loft recording studio I set up in the huge house we rented for a time on the edge of Bramshott Chase). I think I do my best art and create my best works, when I have that feeling. It’s important to get the vibe of your workspace right. Emotions are powerful ingredients in any art and feeling “bedded in” and completely safe and sound matters a great deal. It permits you to voyage on your ideas and imaginings without feeling at risk.
How many of our office environments and even our living spaces, our studies or our public libraries set out to give the feeling of a childhood cubby house? Not many. And yet, that’s how to create the feelings that fuel the innovation, invention and creativity. It’s the chrysalis from which emerges the beautiful butterfly of your creation. Indeed, it’s where you transform from being an unremarkable grub into a glorious creative being yourself.
My current creative space is a laptop with a desk lamp, again with guitars nearby, a digital recording interface, headphones, my favourite music playing and delicious, incredible, gorgeous books. I hope to create my best works here some day, or at the big studio easel in the art room. I crave that feeling of blissful immersion and of being lost in my imagination. I think as humans, we all need to feel those feelings.
What’s your creative place like?