#12: Studio Habits: Clearing Physical Space to Make way for Mental Creative Space.
The curious, deceptively simple ritual of several longtime professional cartoonists.
October 9th, 2022
This weekend I was wandering around the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum in Columbus with fellow cartoonist Maria Scrivan. We were fresh off the behind-the-scenes tour, shamelessly drooling over the original artwork on display by Charles Schulz. The wide-ranging exhibition celebrated what would have been “Sparky”’s 100th birthday.
Whenever I’m working on something, I bury myself in my studio, turn off my phone, and get submerged in whatever the job requires. I don’t come up for sunlight until it’s done. But, when it is, I clean everything up again, ready for the next job. (Otherwise, my brain is a bag of cats.)
Immediately after I emailed the Cartoon Editor with the finished artwork, I packed up my studio and it once again looked like this:
As I hunched over and gawked at Sparky’s studio in awe, Maria said,
“My studio is a total mess while I’m working: It looks like a bomb hit it. But whenever I finish a project, I must pack everything away as a sort of ritual to exorcise it from my brain.”
It stopped me in my tracks:
This is the third time in a month I had independently heard the exact same thing from other professional cartoonists.
Tom Richmond, the brilliant illustrator and caricaturist behind many of the movie parodies in MAD, had just told me the exact same thing when we were at this year’s National Cartoonists Society Reuben Awards in Kansas City.
It was almost identical: He sits down to work on a project, he allows himself to kind of explode pens, brushes, ink, paper, and scraps of reference images all over his space, and it looks like a disaster zone after a hurricane.
This is a man for whom I have an all-consuming case of studio envy. He is the most organized cartoonist I know, so it surprised me to learn that he allowed himself to create a mess to bury himself in the zone.
Then, when he sends off the final art to the editor/art director he takes his time in a personal ritual he’s had for years, where he goes around the studio and packs everything away, puts trash in the bin, stores his pens, ink, brushes — whatever he used in the process of creation — in their places. Then — and ONLY then — can he move on to the next thing in his day.
This is one of the great things about hanging out with other people who do the same thing you do: you talk shop, you share thoughts, experiences, and ideas, and more often than not you learn things about my favourite part of the profession:
Every professional artist works out their process as they go. They sometimes change it, experimenting with new tools and technology, but other times they get so married to it that they work the exact same way for decades at a time.
He had shared a photo of his studio, post-clean-up. I said I was so envious of his pristine setup because my studio at the time looked like Louisiana, circa 2005.
“I’ve long had this odd, celebratory habit — right after I make a deadline, I pick up my studio, ready it for the next one.”
There is definitely something to the process of cleaning away your physical space to make way for the mental space needed for the next creative project. If you’re a creative worker, leave your process in the comments. I will never stop geeking out about this stuff.