Today, we go International! I knew it was coming soon and have been talking with various artist but our first international In the Studio with Ruth De Vos who lives in Perth, Western Australia. In Ruth’s own words she says “On any given day there are a million ideas floating in my mind, so that the challenge is not so much to find inspiration, but rather, to decide which idea to run with next.” I’ve been following her inspirational work for about a year now and she’s got some wonderful organizing tips for you today!
HKPS::What age did you suspect or know you were an artist?
RDV::I’ve always enjoyed creative activity, thanks to my mum. I’ve only really thought of myself as an artist in the past 8 or 9 years, after I began seriously pursuing quilts as an artform.
HKPS::What mediums do you work with and are there specific tools or materials you find challenging to keep organized or locate when you need to use them?
RDV::I work in fabric, using fairly standard quilt making techniques, as well as some screen-printing and hand-dyeing. I dye my own range of colours onto homespun cotton, but also use some commercial cottons. I have a good supply of fabric dyes and textile paints which I keep in my (large) pantry – much closer to where I actually use them, as there is no wet area in my studio.
I actually have no wishes to reorganize anything in my studio. It is so very functional. For the number of quilts that get ‘churned out’ each year, my stash of fabric is actually reasonable small, and easy to access and sort through. It’s all located in the black crates which we use all through our house. They are large, sturdy, and stack on top of each other if we need to.
I always have a large roll of iron-on interfacing and a large roll of quilt batting on hand, as well as a large selection of thread colours. Thermofaxes and used screen-print stencils, as well as large drawings are stored in the large white drawers.
HKPS:: Where do you make your art, how big is your studio and how long have you been in this space?
RDV::My studio is my home base for my art making, but there’s always some art making happening in the living room/at the dining table too. My studio is fairly large. It is located above our kitchen, and is open to the downstairs living and dining room. This means that I can be busy in the studio, and still have an ear out to what the kids are up to downstairs. It is also large enough to accommodate the kids doing various activities right alongside me. We built it as part of our new house, completed about three years ago.
HKPS::How many projects are you usually working on at once? Is this due to space constraints, creative process, organizing systems or other influences?
RDV::Hmmm, varies, depending on whether I am working towards an exhibition or not. My ideal is to have one art quilt in the design/drawing phase, one ready for cutting out, one ready for piecing, and one ready for quilting. This helps me to avoid the ‘dip’ that happens after completing a new piece, especially a larger one (kind of like the ‘dip’ from finishing a good book). It also means that I always have something to work on, whether I am upstairs in the studio, or downstairs at the dining table, and whether I have lot’s of energy, or just feel like relaxing in a comfy chair with some hand-stitching.
HKPS::When you began working in this space did you plan any systems for the overall set up or did you let things evolve organically? How did past studio spaces or systems influence this space?
RDV::I had some firm requirements for the studio. My previous studio had no design wall and was a bit smaller. I really wanted enough room for a large table in the middle of the room. And we wanted to upgrade our dining table when we moved, so it made sense to plan the room around the large square ex-dining table. Having said that, the shape of the studio was mostly dictated by having to fit over the ground floor rooms, and under the sloped ceilings. Desks and storage around the perimeter of the room, under the sloping ceilings made complete sense. We toyed with the idea of a wet area, but cost and practicality and flexibility ruled that out. There is plenty of opportunity for that messy work at the dining table, in the laundry and outside.
HKPS:: Do you consider yourself to be an organized person? How or where have you learn your organizing habits and systems? Have you ever worked with another artist or gallery that you learned any organization from?
RDV::Yes, I consider myself to be organized. My mum taught me to ‘declutter’. I don’t like keeping unnecessary things around me (currently contemplating a studio ‘sale’ to move on some of the supplies I don’t really need!). But most of my organizing habits have developed over time. I think that’s partly because of need to work more efficiently as the family has grown. I’ve read a couple of great books that have helped : Alyson B. Stanfield (artbizblog.com), and Getting Things Done.
HKPS:: What tips can you offer regarding your use of schedules, systems, tools or processes that help you maintain organization in your studio? Do you purge, clean or de-clutter your supply stash and space on a regular basis?
RDV::I thrive on systems, and am always reviewing the systems I have in place, to help me work more effectively. I keep a calendar on my iPad, and also love my Remember the Milk app. I always have several projects scheduled in there, broken down into manageable tasks. For example, for the coming week I already have at least one artmaking task assigned to each day. Then there are also scheduled tasks relating to the business side of being an artist, like updating the blog, updating my finance spreadsheet, and sorting through my emails. Every evening I review the Remember the Milk app, so I know what’s in store for the next day. I like to order the tasks as best as I can too, according to the one’s I’d like to tackle first.
I like to tidy up my studio regularly, especially on completing a new artwork. I definitely don’t enjoy starting something new while it’s messy. While I’m good at decluttering the rest of my house, the studio is more difficult, as I always think that I might use something again one day. Having said that, I actually enjoy the challenge of working with a limited range of techniques and materials, and am planning to pass on much of what doesn’t fit within that range at a studio sale some time soon. (Working with a limited range of materials and techniques has also prevented me from accumulating too much – new supplies or new tools – in the first place.)
HKPS:: Please describe how creative cycles of organization or dis-organization affect your creative process? Are there certain phases of projects that are more or less organized?
RDV::I love seeing images of other artists’ messy studios – I find that inspiring. But I hate it when my own studio is messy. It always gets a little bit chaotic while cutting out a new quilt, because that involves having a large range of fabrics out in view. That’s why I never dawdle during this phase. It’ s always a relief to tidy the fabrics up again. For the rest, the process I use to create my artworks allows me to work reasonably tidily, in a very systematic way. I keep all the quilt pieces in order and in place on a stack of IKEA serving trays. This makes them easy to move around and tidy up as required.
HKPS:: How much thought do you give to your artistic body of work in terms of historic value and the overall legacy you will leave behind? How do you store/archive your work or records?
RDV::I don’t think so much in terms of leaving a legacy behind, but I do think in terms of keeping a record for my own future reference. There are a couple of very early artworks that I would love to ‘declutter’ e.g. bin, but have hesitated, as they are all part of my creative journey. I maintain sketchbooks of my drawings and design processes. These are really valuable to me. I refer back to them often, and in case of fire, I would grab them before grabbing any artworks.
My art quilts are stored rolled onto cardboard tubes, in a custom-built cupboard made by my husband. A long wooden rod is run through the centre of each tube and hooked onto ledges inside the cupboard. I can fit many quilts (with several on each tube) and none of them are squishing those around them.
My greatest wish is that through seeing how other artist work we can learn from one another. There is no ONE correct system or way of organizing. There are as many creative systems as their creative makers! My aim is to highlight these unique makers in each interview. Thank you Ruth for inviting us into your inspiring and thoughtfully planned studio. She’s shared some wonderful tips and storage ideas, such as the custom built quilt storage, modified dining room table, simple crates and technology apps. I loved learning how organizing affects her creative process and especially how she beats “the dip”! Please visit her website where you will undoubtedly find inspiration in all of her beautiful creations!
* Inside the Studio was my brainchild in 2011. There are a lot of popular studio features on the web and in magazines but I’m specifically interested in showing how organizational process influences the artists studio work. These photo’s are not styled and are typical of how the artists working studio looks. I request that each artist leave their space as it would be on a daily basis (just like I ask my clients). This series is meant to highlight how artist REALLY work rather than showing STYLED shots (popular in home and organizing magazines and blogs). I’m sure just like me, you are fascinated by the “behind the scenes” sneak peek into these artists working lives!