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Creating Space: Personal reflections on inspiring spaces

Posted about 4 weeks ago by Natalie Draper
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I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about space. Not outer space, though sometimes that too, but the spaces we live in, and more importantly, how we interact with, and within, those spaces.  Professionally, I think constantly about how to arrange and rearrange the space that we provide to the public in the most beneficial, efficient, and appealing ways. I am always imagining how a room could be arranged better, and looking at other spaces for ideas. I probably seem restless or ill at ease with how often I move the furniture, but I feel like change is necessary for growth. Personally, and much to my partner’s chagrin, I am even worse at home. I just know that if I keep moving the furniture, eventually I will stumble upon the magical, cosmic alignment of the space, and all will be right in the world (until it’s time for change again). My advice to those who feel uninspired or stuck? Rearrange the living room furniture. If I’m ever in a creative rut, I rearrange my space and the block is instantly removed.

At any library conference, I inevitably end up in all of the sessions concerned with “transforming” spaces with the needs of the user in mind. I believe that, as Carnegie said, libraries are palaces for the people. The interior and exterior spaces should invite and inspire our visitors; they should be beautiful spaces that welcome the public to enter, browse, linger, discover, and learn. I dream of a library designed to be as imaginative as the words on the pages we keep, one out of the pages of science fiction that would adapt to the specific needs of each user. Tethered to the laws of physics as we are, the space should be as flexible as possible; as the needs of the community evolve, library spaces should be quick to adapt.

And adapt we have, folks. Abruptly, and without preparation, we have entered a brave new world of library operations and space planning. I was at a conference not 2 weeks before the indefinite closure of our library to prevent the spread of Covid-19 within our spaces, and not one session made mention of space planning with contagion in mind, or designing a virtual user experience to inspire awe. Maybe next year…

Speaking of inspiring spaces, I have been eagerly awaiting a copy of “Unnecessarily Beautiful Spaces for Young Minds on Fire”. This gorgeous love letter to the value of creating beautiful spaces to foster creativity arrived to an empty library, closed to the public. What now of these real and imagined spaces? By necessity, we’ve added a new chapter to our master plans because libraries are here for everyone, including the most vulnerable. The shared physical space of the public library is vital to a connected, healthy, informed democracy, where a community can thrive and grow, free of charge, and also poses a significant problem when it comes to public health when confronted with a life-threatening pandemic, as we are now. Believe me when I say that we are all collaboratively, though distantly, working on ways to bring the library safely back online when we are able, and in the meantime, working to create a digital space as welcoming as our physical spaces, and to find solutions for the people who lack the means necessary to be able to access the digital library because so many rely upon on the library for access. Difficult times call for creative thinking.

STORAGE: A House and Garden Book (1978)
Natalie’s Dream House

As a creative type, I am endlessly inspired in libraries and by libraries. Perhaps I have merged home and library space-planning into one long post because the library has always been a part of my creative process. I find the trends in library design over the last 150 or so years absolutely fascinating for what they say about the culture they were designed by and for (that will be a long post for another day). I spent countless Saturday afternoons as a child, sitting cross-legged on the floor in the aisles of libraries of various generations, in many states, piles stacked around me, browsing the sewing, craft, and interior design books, partial then to a 1970s modernist aesthetic that continues to charm me. I would take these books home and pore over them, filling notebooks with sketches of the different rooms I imagined myself in someday. Now I, like so many of you I’m sure, long for that 3rd space, one that is not work or home, or even just a 2nd space, as work and home have now merged. That longing has put my mind to not only reimagining what shape library design will take going forward, but has also caused me to examine my home work space more closely. Those first couple of weeks were rough.

Has your living space become even more central to your life in the past couple of months? Has this resulted in some reorganization? I wonder how many folks have rearranged their homes by necessity to accommodate this strange new domesticity. I’ve always avoided books on getting organized because, I mean, who needs that kind of negativity? However, I have now spent a good deal of my waking, non-working, hours at home engaged in moving, adjusting, refining, and yes, organizing, my work/rest environment. Editing, arranging, and nesting in my creative home workspace was necessary to be able to work from home while protecting my creative refuge from work when those functions merged. Participating in video conference calls and filming library craft tutorials in my personal hideout has been a challenge, but one that inspired a new shelving arrangement (bookshelf backdrops are de rigueur in this age of Zoom) that had the added benefit of forcing me to organize, and in the process, discover inspiration and abandoned projects hiding in dusty boxes, much like the inspiration that I have sought and found while browsing the stacks at the library.

I thought I would share a few of the creative spaces of library workers, working at home. I asked a couple of my creative colleagues to share their spaces and inspiration with our readers, and I’ve included mine as well. Jewel Murray and Robyn Webb were kind enough to take us on a virtual tour and answer a few questions about their spaces and their work.

Jewel’s Space:

ND: What does it help to surround yourself with?

JM: I have limited space at the moment, so I consider my whole apartment to be my creative workspace. I utilize my dining room table for most of my projects, but my kitchen is useful for prep work in some cases. I also use my windowsills; this allows the sun to help infuse my natural oils with the herbs. The infused oils are then used in the things I create. I find the key to my creativity is a clean space. I don’t expect it to stay clean for too long because the things I create tend to be messy. I love to be surrounded by the books that I enjoy. I have a book on any subject, and I have collected many books on herbs, essential oils, and natural healing over the years. I love to browse my library for recipes and new fresh ideas. I also am inspired by the outdoors and I love to bring the outside in with my plants. I had many more plants before this apartment, but the light will not allow for too many and I have feline friends that enjoy plant leaves for snacks and nibbles.

ND: How do you find inspiration?

JM: I find that creating for me is very therapeutic and it must be done. When I am in a creative zone all things fade away. This is important for a person that stays inside the mind like me. I can become absorbed and I find this to be healing. I have moments when I feel the constraints of my small space, but this does not keep me down. To be honest I am happy and blessed to have my space. Creativity is not dependent on the size of your studio but on the will of the creator. It shows ingenuity when you work within limits. I can think of the woman somewhere in the world creating masterpieces in one room if that. I try to remain content with what I have so that I will notice when I am blessed with more. I am inspired by those who do more with less.

ND: What do you make?

JM: I make candles and body products that celebrate Mother Earth. I am drawn to creating things that focus on healing and self-care. I recently enrolled in an herbalist course, so I hope to delve more into herbal remedies and healing for women.

Robyn’s Space:

ND: What does it help to surround yourself with?

RW: When I am at my desk, it helps to have the space cleared and ready for me to create, to look up and see the outside world, my indoor plants merging with the view of nature through the window. I like to think of a creative space almost like setting up an altar, putting thought and intention to where and what everything is, what it’s purpose is. House plants for comfort. The window for energy. The work of other artists for encouragement.

But the picture of my desk is a little deceiving. I do most of my work sitting on the floor, more art supplies than I need littered around me. Even if I start out at the desk, I’ll end up migrating into the living room so I can continue to craft while watching things with my roommates, or I might escape to sit on the ground in my room for more privacy. (None of this is good for my back. I don’t recommend it.)

ND: How do you find inspiration?

RW: Most of my inspiration comes from friends and conversations. Everyone is so talented and a lot of my new hobbies have only been possible because people have been open to teaching me and sharing supplies.

ND: What do you make?

RW: I’ve recently been carving stamps (made possible by a friend) and doing intuitive embroidery projects (intuitive because I don’t know what I’m doing and don’t have a plan). But my most consistent loves will always be: writing, ink drawings and zine making.

My space:

I am meant for hours of quiet, solitary, creative work, so I have a private dedicated room for this purpose. I do not work in a linear fashion, I work like I read: multiple books at once, multiple projects at once. I am greedy in this way. I often start a project, abandon it to start something new, then revisit that project a decade later. I also do this with books. My creative space is a reflection of this habit: mismatched flea market chaos, lots of texture, ideas on display, books and source material in piles everywhere.

What I create: I make most of my own clothes, and I like to alter clothing I buy at consignment shops. I rarely, if ever, buy new clothing. I’ll sew anything, but my favorite things to sew are clothes, quilts, and sometimes dolls. I love needlework, especially embroidery. I like to use thread like paint.

Here are a few books to inspire you in your creative spaces, all available as eBooks on Hoopla:

About the Author

Natalie is the Main Library manager, blog editor, and a compulsive reader of all genres, except romance. She has a particular fondness for the strange and unusual, and for small indie presses, so look to her reviews if you're in the mood for something a little different.

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