I figured it out. Whilst reading The Way of Zen, the phrase which summarises my thoughts about the set up of my creative space revealed itself:
Positive work in negative space.
Negative space is the silence in a conversation. It’s the part of the canvas the artist left untouched. It’s the white that makes the black letters of a book readable. Without negative space, we wouldn’t see a thing.
When I see pictures of other people’s workplaces, studios and creative laboratories, I’m always struck by what they contain. Posters, quotes, paintings, trinkets, artifacts, colourful designs. They’re packed with inspiration, comforting material and cognitive cues. I see all of this, and then I look around my own space, the study. There’s almost no ornamentation. The bookcases, desk and cabinet are white and from Ikea. Aside from my books, some toys to fiddle with, a gorilla called Geoff, and two square canvases—one completely black, one completely white—my study is sparse.
Now I know why. Positive work in negative space.
Molly gets annoyed at me when we watch TV or listen to the radio. If we watch TV, I mute the adverts. If we listen to the radio, I turn it off when the news comes on. I don’t want anyone or anything to manipulate or provoke me into feeling a certain way. It’s the same in the study. I don’t want inspiring quotes all over the place. I don’t want portraits of great men and women. I don’t want art that provokes me into thinking about certain things. I want as much negative space, as much emptiness as possible.
That’s because I want to impose myself upon the room, not the reverse. I want the space to support whatever it is I’m feeling at whatever time—be it energetic, curious, joyful, sad, angry or confused. I want my creative space to form itself around me. To be a blank canvas on which my mood can exist and expand.
If I want to write something sad, I don’t want to be surrounded by happy memories. I want to inhabit the feeling of sadness in all it’s intensity. If I feel like procrastinating or exploring, I want to do those things with all my energy. If I feel like working my ass off, I don’t want cues that tells me to relax and chill.
What does the blank canvas, the empty page, represent? More than anything it represents possibility. And that’s what a creative space should symbolise, should function as. A place where you can do whatever you want to do. That’s why I want my creative space to be empty; so I can paint whatever I feel compelled to.