Monday, February 20, 2017

In the Studio

I think I am beginning to get a little glimpse of what retirement is (or could be) like. In this, Rob has been a model and an inspiration for me.

Up until now, I have been preoccupied with planning for retirement, and taking the actual practical steps to make it happen. In my case, the practical steps have included making sure that my financial situation is secure, deciding on the date, negotiating exit conditions, telling people, and beginning to prepare to put our house on the market and then to move.

I also have been caught up in the emotional work of determining whether and accepting that I am ready to leave the paid workforce. I have enjoyed my career, and I have a satisfying and well-paying job. For so many years I have been striving upwards on the career ladder, and so deciding to retire has meant coming to terms with the idea that this is as far as I am going in this career. It has meant, to a certain extent, grieving what I will lose by stepping away from my job and career, and knowing that I will have to address the big chasm of empty time in front of me once I no longer have the excuse of a busy schedule to distract me from the question of who I am apart from work.

I have been letting it be, letting that question gradually form, and making empty time for the gestation of the self that I will become in retirement. It goes beyond the question of how I will fill my time. Sometimes I get a fleeting sense of a possible future. For a great read, look at Karen Hume's post on this topic.

Last Friday morning, I puttered about doing little tasks around home. I said to Rob, "I am thinking of doing either X or Y this afternoon," with X being a tedious and time-consuming household task and Y being a trip to the art studio.

"Oh, go to the studio!" he said. And after diddling around a little longer (my typical creativity avoidance procrastination*), I did.

I signed myself into the 2D studio of the amazing community arts building that recently opened in our city. I was the only artist in the studio space that afternoon. I set up an easel and laid out my oil paints on a table with the big north-facing windows behind me. Then I went to the storage area and retrieved my current painting. I had not worked on it for a month.

I started the way I always start -- by setting it up on the easel and contemplating it for ten or fifteen minutes. And then I set to work.

It was a wonderful couple of hours. I was totally focused on the work at hand. The studio was quiet. From time to time, I would wander over to the windows and look out over the cityscape, and then turn back to my painting. At the end of my painting session, I felt a sense of deep peace.

Throughout most of my life, I have had to struggle to make time for painting or any other creative work. These last four years, I have participated in a Thursday night painting class. To get there, I had to leave work by 5:30, much earlier than usual, race home, gobble down supper, change, grab my gear, then drive downtown. I was typically half an hour late, stressed, and exhausted from the week at work. Often I was unable to attend because of evening work events or work-related travel.

How different Friday's painting session was! I wandered in at a time of my own choosing and had full access to the beautiful space. I stayed as long as I wanted. I felt like a kid in a candy shop!

I am working on a composition that involves figures. This is a departure for me; I usually paint landscapes. For me, the human body presents a great challenge.

This is my painting in progress. On Friday, I laid in the background.

I also have challenged myself creatively in another way. I recently started taking an art class in something new to me. I am taking a line and wash class. It involves working with watercolour and ink. It is something that I have come to with great trepidation. You see, one of the other consequences of having little personal time for creative pursuits throughout my adult life is that I have devoted the tiny bits of art time that I have to a genre and medium that I already feel fairly comfortable with -- landscapes and oil paints. So this has been another aspect of the shutting down of my creative life; I have not had the courage or the energy to explore and branch out.

After frowning my way through my first line and wash class ("Why is she spending so much time talking about basics like the colour wheel? Why are we just making marks instead of producing something?"), I have settled into the class and am greatly enjoying it. It turns out that it is tremendously liberating to just explore the new materials and techniques without the expectation that I should instantly be able to produce a credible painting. It's fun!

So, back to Rob. What kind of amazing person encourages his wife to go to the studio instead of doing the tedious overdue household task? Well, a creative person who is comfortable with himself and retirement.

Rob's creativity manifests itself in a completely different realm than mine. He is an audiophile who designs and builds audio speakers. He currently is working on building a tall narrow set out of bamboo plywood.

Here he is working in his shop, sanding.

In his previous project before this one, he designed and built a pair of speakers that he calls "The Octopi." They currently are in our living room and they produce beautiful sound.

An Octopus

So you can see why Rob is an inspiration to me. Seeing him full of enthusiasm about a new project and working down in his shop putting in many hours to realize his vision reminds me that retirement is going to be okay. And also, by the way, it is time for me to get down to the studio, or to sit down at my computer and write.
*If you have ever struggled with procrastination (and most artists and writers do), I highly recommend reading Tim Urban's Wait But Why blog. His posts on procrastination are funny, insightful, and actually kind of painful. But don't read it right now if you are doing so to procrastinate from your creative project; just bookmark it for later.


  1. Jude, I loved this piece. Not because of the shoutout to me - thanks so much - but because it's just such a beautiful example of what life in retirement can look like when we make the tiny decisions and take the little risks that feed our souls. I love the sense of quiet comfort and satisfaction that you describe as you work in the empty art studio. I love how you've contrasted that comfort with the mild discomfort and uncertainty of trying something new in the line and wash class. And how both situations are examples of things you didn't have time or energy for when you were involved in your big career.
    I've been reading lately about the concept of a DIY MFA. The idea of it is to do lots of reading, lots of writing, and to connect yourself with a community of mentors and fellow artists. You are indeed so fortunate to have some of that community right in your home. You and Rob are both so talented and creative. Thank you for writing the post and giving us a little window into a time in the life of two artists.

  2. So happy for you Jude as you find your way in retirement. The journey is so very different for everyone. And, the best part is that we have the luxury of changing it up as we go.

    Absolutely fascinating to read about your art work. I don't have an artistic bone in my body. I love and appreciate many forms of art, and sometimes wish I could express myself that way.

  3. Gorgeous painting, Jude! Somehow I don't see you ever struggling with a "big chasm of empty time in front of you". Good on Rob for encouraging you to go to the studio.

  4. Karen, I am glad you enjoyed this post. Growing always involves some degree of risk, but somehow I have to keep learning that lesson over and over again. A DIY MFA! I would like to learn more about that. Doing an MFA, either in art or creative writing (or both?), has always been one of the possibilities that I have imagined pursuing once I finally had time. The Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity has some great programs, but other than looking at their offerings once or twice over the years, I haven't researched MFA programs that might be possible.


  5. Carole, I feel so grateful to have choices at this point in my journey. I realize that I am very fortunate.

    I do think that in childhood, everyone has the potential to be creative. It might not manifest itself in the more traditional visual arts like drawing and painting, but rather in cooking, or quilting, or writing, or creative problem-solving, or dancing. Or, like in Rob's case in speaker designing and fly-tying. Unfortunately, I think for many people, our creativity gets squashed by a society and educational system that does not nurture it, favouring instead conformity. I think that you are a wonderfully capable writer.


  6. Thanks Donna! I know that I have been busy, busy, busy all my life, but I do fear that yawning chasm. It's not that I won't be able to fill the time. But will I fill it with something meaningful?


  7. Your painting is beautiful! And Rob does amazing work too! I am not a creative person, so I would have a lot of anxiety over trying art classes. I should probably do something like that to push myself in retirement though. (I guess I would have a lot of room to grow in that area!)

  8. Thank-you Vicki! Rob is kind of a Renaissance man, with talents and areas of knowledge across many fields. His earliest speakers were all about the quality of the sound output, whereas in recent years he has come to enjoy making them look beautiful as well.

    I don't think there is such a thing as a non-creative person, just people who have not had the chance to allow their creativity to flourish. For me, creativity is one of the pillars of a good life.


  9. I have been retired for a few years now and, although I love it and feel busy most of the time, I would like to devote more of my time to an artistic endeavor. Photography now, maybe painting later. It's nice that your partner is also an artist, I would imagine that you encourage each other. I hope you post a picture of your painting when it's done!

  10. Janis, I have always noticed the beautiful photographs that you post on your blog. You definitely have an artisitc eye. I started oil painting as a teenager, taking community workshops and evening art classes (although there have been several gaps of five or ten years in my involvement in art). However, most people in my classes over the years have been women in their middle and senior years. Many of them have been new to painting. I have have found community art groups to be a welcoming and supportive community.

  11. I think the hardest thing will be to let go of all the pressure you feel and have felt for a long time to be productive and to achieve a whole bunch of goals at work, or in the household. There are always "better" and "more important" things to do than to create art. This is what I (we) think all the time. (Hence a lot of writing procrastination happens for me) Retirement is the perfect time to let loose the creative spirit and focus on more fun endeavors, even though there will still be plenty to do in the household and other chores. The fact that you have a choice now is blissful! :-)

  12. Liesbet, you are absolutely correct. Throughout my life, I have felt a tremendous self-imposed pressure to be productive. Sometimes my whole life feels like a "to do" list! The boss in my head is the worst boss of all because it drives me to produce and doesn't want to let me do anything fun or creative at all.

    And yes, procrastination is a factor. The creative activities like writing and painting always seem to get put in the background. Procrastination rears its ugly head, and everything else somehow seems more urgent at that moment, and then the day slips away. I find it so hard to get started, but if I can just get myself to sit down in front of the computer with my novel file open, the words pour out. Or, if I can just get myself to drive down to the studio, I have so much fun painting.

    Does your procrastination happen at the point of trying to get started too?