BALLARD: Reclaiming a creative sanctuary

June 8, 2014 

I knew I had to do something. Since my health issues with blood clots last June, I had not spent much time in my studio. The exceptions were the times I occasionally opened the door and shoved in anything that didn’t have another place to go.

I have quite a few commissioned paintings to do so I knew I had to get my studio cleaned out, dusted off and tidied up so that I could once again be in my special space set aside for me to create.

A few years ago, we purchased the duplex behind our home to use for storage and my studio. Since the top floor is full of windows allowing natural light to flow in, I chose it for the place I would paint. Like I’m in a tree house nestled amongst stately pecan trees,

I always love to paint there. I think it’s because it reminds me of the backyard studio of my private art teacher, Houser Smith.

I studied art with Houser starting at 8 years old and continued through my teens. Houser always taught me the importance of having a special place set aside to paint.

In some ways, it is like a sacred place with no one else there and no other distractions. When I enter that space, it’s just me, the canvases and a slew of paints and brushes. I look at it as my own private, creative haven.

The first indication that my studio had been shut down for business met me at the bottom of the black metal steps leading up to it. Since there had been no traffic on them other than the occasional squirrel as indicated by the various stages of cracked pecan shells strewn on just about every other step, surrounding vegetation had attempted to take them over.

Lush, green ivy crawled across the bottom stoop and up the first few steps like a snake winding its way around the banister and back across each step. In fact, I was afraid I was going to actually see a real snake somewhere.

It became very clear. Before I could even get to my studio, I just about needed a machete. Like it or not, I had to reclaim my creative sanctuary.

An hour or so later, I won the battle with the green vines and started up the steps to the door of my studio. I turned the key to open the door and was almost afraid to look inside. I paused at the threshold to survey the situation.

I felt like I was in a movie where the people return to a summer house that has been vacant all winter. Spider webs and dust were there. The only things missing were the white sheets covering everything. I smiled. The difference between my studio and a vacation home was I hadn’t intended to close it up.

It was worse than I had imagined. I didn’t know where to start. But like with any of my projects, I just had to begin. I started by organizing all the things that had found their way to the middle of the main room’s floor. I put everything back in its place and then decided to take inventory of what I needed to replenish and replace.

I have trouble discarding things but, for many of my paints and brushes, the time had both come and gone. I filled boxes and multiple trash bags with dried up paint and other worn out supplies.

Little by little, I chiseled my way through my studio until it was almost back to normal. My studio and I both breathed a sigh of relief. All that was left to do was clean and vacuum.

Needing a little break, I plopped down on the sofa in the main room. I slowly looked around to see everything that remained. There were some awards I’d received over the years on one wall. Stacked in another corner were some shadow boxes I had made filled with treasures from some of our trips.

I paused at the wall behind my desk. On either side of the window were very special paintings from my past. They both had belonged to my parents. One was an oil painting I had done when I was 13. It was large and had hung in Mother and Daddy’s dining room from the time the paint dried until they both passed away.

The other one was a pastel floral Mother had requested I do many years ago to hang over her bed. Both of them evoked great memories and I stared at them envisioning the house where I grew up. I was shocked back into present day when I noticed I had left a pile of trash on the floor.

I felt like I had been on a long journey back through my entire life -- at least the creative part of it. I visited with photos of paintings I didn’t even remember painting. I leafed through magazine after magazine from various times in my life showcasing this or demonstrating that. I was exhausted from not just the physical work but also the emotional energy needed to fuel a trip back in time.

I propped various sizes of crisp white canvases near my easel and opened some of the new tubes of paint and fresh bristled brushes. I took in a deep breath and slowly let it out. Everything felt perfect to me. I was in my private studio once again ready to transform blank white canvases into various landscape, portrait and still-life paintings. When you’re an artist, there is simply nothing like the creative process. It truly is magical!

As I walked out of the door, I turned around to take one last look. I was just like that 8-year-old boy on his first day of art school. I simply couldn’t wait to get started. Within these walls, I had created many paintings during the years; but the exciting part was all the paintings still inside me just waiting to get out.

But they would have to wait for another day. Exhausted, I locked the door behind me and began to walk down the steps. With each step, I gave thanks for all the blessings I’ve been given.

More with Mark

• Check out Mark’s website at www.markballard.com, for current projects, recipes and lots of other fun stuff and Mark’s tees, prints, cards and his collectible porcelain plates!

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Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; e-mail markballard@cox.net; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.

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