Art Withdrawal (Kate Themel)

For the past 3 or 4 weeks, my house has been in turmoil while we build a sewing studio in the basement. Although I’m thrilled and looking forward to having a new spacious “playroom”, I miss having quiet time to relax and be creative.

This forced sebatical has made me realize that my mood and emotional stability is largely dependent on having art as an outlet. The closest I’ve come to working was spending the weekend painting… No, not a landscape or abstract oil on canvas. More like 2 coats of primer and 2 coats of paint on the ceiling and walls.

I’ve realized that even though my sewing machine and fabrics are still here & available for use, I just can’t concentrate with all this stuff going on. It’s “cluttered house; cluttered mind”. I really need organization and quiet in order to do my best work. Some people thrive on chaos. I’ve realized I am NOT one of those people. And by the time we’re done building, painting or running back & forth to Home Depot, I’m just too exhausted to think.

This experience has raised my level of anxiety and really made me quite irritable. I’m trying to keep things in perspective and not freak out. Of course I’ll be back to work soon; it’s not the end of the world. But emotionally, I miss my creative time like I would miss a good friend.

In desperation or maybe displaced anxiety, I have taken to making numerous detailed sketches of what my work room will look like when it’s done. I’ve started taking the graph paper, ruler and labels a little too far. As my husband noted “Do you really need to draw the box of dryer sheets on the shelf? What is that, a pegboard? Do you have to draw out every single one of your tools?” No, I don’t. But it’s something to do. I can’t concentrate enough to draw a still life, so I’m trying to go with the flow & live in the home-improvement-design-construction moment.

Have you ever been “cut off” from your creative outlet without warning? What did you learn from the experience?

See below for a few pictures of my work-in-progress…

images below: we’ve painted the ceiling and walls, and installed a wanescoating panel behind the work sink. A small area of vinyl tile covers the floor under the sink and washer/dryer (installed it myself!) Now we’re working on finishing some of the built in shelves.

This hanging lightbulb & string serve as a “placeholder”. We’ll be installing 1’x4′ florescent lights this week.the walls look good, right?  here we\'re finishing some of the built in shelves

Left: using painter’s tape, I mapped out on the floor where my sewing desk and machines might be placed. After that, we’ll install pendants for task lighting. A decorative dressing screen will hide that water pipe.

Once all the junk is off the floor, I think it will be a nice place to work!

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8 Responses to “Art Withdrawal (Kate Themel)”


  1. 1 Olga June 15, 2008 at 1:05 am

    The one time I was forced to abandon work and work thinking was when my mother-in-law was in the final weeks of her life in the annexe to our house. Then I found that I desperately needed something to distract, if not occupy my mind, but something which I could pick up, set down, unpick, whatever, and did not matter if it went completely awry.

    I found the solution in handstitching tiny out of date sample squares from a fabric provider, and making small nine-patch lavender pillows for my drawers – and for the drawers of many friends in the end. It was enormously helpful to me, and I was also able to return eventually to serious projects without them sparking unfortunate memories.

    When I see the little bags now, I thank them for the calm they provided during a time of distress.

  2. 2 Sandy June 14, 2008 at 11:55 am

    Kate, been there! A few years ago I packed up my whole studio for a move, only to find that the new place wouldn’t be ready for 6 months- I had no tools, no materials, only my toothbrush and a few tee shirts! I went out and bought some pencils and paper and rented a machine. My crit group chipped in their duplicate tools- scissors, straight edge, thimbles, etc. A friend from Paris sent me a pile of silk fabrics and I bought some threads. Away I went on the hastily rented apartment table. I have to admit I hand quilted that thing, just to draw out the time I could spend on it. I also used the time (between arguing with my lying slug of a contractor) to see galleries and museums I usually didn’t take the time for. So, my advice is to get away from the construction project as much as possible- take the time to do a few things on the to-do art related list. It will restore your soul and make you able to handle the basement work more easily. In no time you WILL be living down there!

  3. 3 arlee June 14, 2008 at 5:50 am

    I feel the frustration too!!! Right now it’s as if i’m living in a 747 hanger with industrial fans and de-humidifiers going 24/7 to dry out everything after a monstrous roof leak that affected all 3 floors…..

    Since everything is packed away or drying out, i have resorted to going through all of my books and mags library and making notes and sketches. I tend to forget they’re around and had been bought for a reason–this has been a perfect opportunity to re-visit them, brush up on old techniques and try ones that at the time they came out, thought i couldn’t do–a mini college course!!

    Travesty too shall pass :}

  4. 4 Kim Power June 12, 2008 at 12:27 am

    Wow, Kate, yes, yes, and yes. I’ve just spent the last five and a half months painting walls, sanding, varnishing, putting together furniture…you name it. For the first four I also just put my art to the side. Then I cracked and in that moment realized that I wasn’t putting art aside, I was putting me aside!

    I agree with the others, keep creating even if it is something small. For me, I began drawing in my Moleskin again. I also took a knitting class one night a week and that got me away from all the chaos and into a peaceful, stable environment, while giving me a meditative activity I could do that could be interrupted without great struggle.

    Also, it helps to see that even if you are not doing your “usual” art, you are creating, you are making a special place for your work and I’m sure imagining all the projects you will do there. That keeps the juices flowing too and when the dam is broken those ideas will give you food for fodder. At least that is what I’m telling myself! I start back to my oil painting next week for sure. I hope your trial becomes easier and is over sooner than later.

  5. 5 kate June 10, 2008 at 5:04 am

    Thanks everyone for the comments & good ideas for keeping my sanity!
    Last night I took some time and added bindings on a couple small quilts. I tend to leave them “just about done” but without the bindings, probably because that is the least interesting part of the process for me.
    AND I took your suggestion for some chocolate and wine, June. Brilliant idea! My favorite combo: extra dark (85%) chocolate and a nice Merlot. In fact, after dinner I left the kids with dear hubby and I took my glass downstairs. I sat on my little “moon chair” for a while, just to hang out in my space alone. It was very relaxing.
    Later my husband said he’s worried that once my room is done I’ll end up living down there & they’ll never see me again! Well, I can’t promise I won’t….

  6. 6 Marg in Calgary June 10, 2008 at 4:43 am

    “Have you ever been “cut off” from your creative outlet without warning? What did you learn from the experience?”

    Hmmm. No, I’ve never been cut off from it *abruptly*…rather, I think I am merely one among the gazillions of us (including, I suspect, yourself! 🙂 ) who has spent years from being interrupted while working in the studio/sewing room/art room. Now that the main sources of those interruptions are grown and gone , and I have longer stretches of uninterrupted time in which to create, I find it a challenge to justify spending that time, and have to work at beginning it each day! Once I begin, of course, time falls away and I can go on for hours quite happily.

    Up till now, though, much of my work has been, as mentioned, ‘portable’, or small, stop-and-start stuff, and more utilitarian than not…but I am learning that I am able to move out of the realm of creating-useful-items-for-others and more into the realm of creative exploration, learning and play…and I continue to try to do so, a bit each day.

  7. 7 terry grant June 9, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    Kate, I can identify–and how! We are in the midst of remodeling one house to move into and trying to sell the house we are currently living in, which has left little time for artistic endeavors for the past 6+ months, with no end in reasonable sight. What I have learned, and fortunately my long-suffering husband has the wisdom to see this, too, is that I must take the occasional break from the remodelling, and work on something creative. Every few weeks I take a two or three day break and work on a small project or experiment with a technique. I have spent the last two days carving small printing blocks and using them to make some experimental work. I have nothing sizeable to work on and haven’t for quite awhile, but small things keep me going. I keep my sketchbook handy and jot down ideas for later and at the end of each exhausting day I fall asleep planning my next piece.

  8. 8 June June 9, 2008 at 9:30 pm

    Hi Kate,

    When human creatures are faced with construction, they have to be saints not to be irritable. And add the enforced isolation from your art to that, and you are remarkably sane!!!

    I have learned a couple of responses. One is to do mindless but art-related kinds of things — sewing patches together or drawing and doodling come to mind, but even pre-drawn embroidery can work for me. Interruptions for me often come in the form of guests who stay — and stay — and stay. At some point, I get out my interruptible materials and start in. This relieves my feeling of frustration and makes visits more enjoyable. I find I’m much calmer and more relaxed as a host if I’m playing with art in one part of my brain.

    It’s important to have work that can be interrupted — set down, and picked up again. It also helps that I mindfully set out to make sure I have something like this available. Just putting together the packet of interruptibles gets ones mind off the hammering in the basement or the talk radio that the roofers insist on listening to.

    On the other hand, after painting and installing the washer/dryer and putting out the tape for the furniture and deciding on fixtures, etc., maybe you should have some chocolate and wine! And take a nap or ten. I’m exhausted just looking at your photos and thinking about the work being done.


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