If you’re a photographer, your most important environment might be the great outdoors. If you’re a writer, you might prefer coffee shops or libraries for weaving your stories. If you’re an artist, you might have an entire garage dedicated to painting or sculpting.
Or maybe you don’t have a hub but several spaces where your creativity blossoms.
Your environment is a precious resource — among many — for cultivating creativity. What you surround yourself with and consume can ignite your imagination (or stifle it).
We asked several writers and artists who regularly nurture their creativity to share what environments inspire them and others.
A Dedicated Studio Space
“I believe having a studio space is crucial for pushing the [creative] process forward, for bridging the gap between thinking and making…” said Nikki Grattan, co-founder and writer at In The Make, a beautiful website that features studio visits with artists.
Many of these artists get inspired “off-site,” while riding public transportation, walking in the woods, sitting quietly or even washing the dishes, she said. But it’s in their studios that the work occurs.
A studio offers tangible space and uninterrupted time to focus on exploring and experimenting, she said. Of course, studios and workspaces look very different depending on preference and availability. Grattan has seen everything from “a tiny corner desk in someone’s room [to] a cold converted garage [to a] massive well-lit warehouse…”
Collections of Inspiration
During their visits, Grattan typically sees studios and workspaces filled with inspiring materials. They house references that inform the artist’s work. “It seems key that whatever concepts or process or medium an artist is curious about and grappling with, that they be surrounded by material that in some way speaks to what they are working on.” And they house images, objects and phrases, which are often pinned to the walls, she said.
Comfort & Convenience
When you’re creating for long hours at a time, comfort and convenience are key. For instance, Maya Stein, a poet and writing facilitator, typically prefers the comfort of a couch over sitting at a desk.
The artists Grattan interviews also keep practical tools in their spaces, like “heat, snacks, light, the right configuration of furniture – whether it’s aesthetic or utilitarian or both – because their studio needs to be a place where long, unbroken hours can be spent, where momentum can build, and where work is brought to culmination. So they must be able to comfortably occupy their space for long periods without leaving.”
Creating Moments of Curiosity & Surprise
“Creating an environment that ignites imagination has a lot to do with creating small moments of surprise and curiosity,” said Christine Mason Miller, a mixed-media artist and author of Desire to Inspire: Using Creative Passion to Transform the World.
She likes to create unexpected arrangements around her home using a variety of objects, colors and patterns. For instance, she has “a Japanese porcelain figure above the sink, a trio of vintage cameras above the fireplace, a bird’s nest, a small tray of feathers [and] a white ceramic bird.”
“I especially love older objects and ephemera – things with histories and stories that have already been on many journeys before I — and our house guests — happened to stumble upon them.” For her mystery also is a muse.
A Sacred, Clutter-Free Space
When she’s creating, Catherine Just, an award-winning photographer, coach and e-course creator, needs to have a space that feels sacred. “That means, uncluttered, open, organized so I can find what I need easily, candles, incense, the right music, a door I can close and permission to spread out and make a mess and leave it if I need to come back to it later.”
She doesn’t always have access to these ideal conditions. But she does make it a point to clear her space. “I don’t know if that is my way of ‘circling the airport’ before I land and take action, but it does feel good for me to have my space clear of clutter or signs of other types of work before I begin.”
“I don’t have hard-and-fast rules about the ‘where’ of it, because I never like to place restrictions on the places or circumstances or environments where creativity can happen,” said Stein, who’s also published four collections of essays and poetry, including How We Are Not Alone.
She simply keeps a paper and pen handy, so she’s always ready to write. “Even if I’m someplace busy, I find a spot and carve out some time there.”
In reality your space may be secondary, according to Grattan. Just carving out a place for your creativity to thrive may be most critical. “Ultimately, I think it’s less about what the studio space looks like or what objects or books might live in it. It’s more about the fact that someone has made it a priority to create a space for themselves – literally and metaphorically – to actually make work in, and I think the act of making is what ends up being the biggest source of inspiration.”
Be sure to check out In The Make for sneak peeks at artists’ studios and creative processes.