Monday, March 10, 2008

Studio Life

I had always wanted a retail storefront. I was going to sell my handmade goods (made right there in front of people) as well as vintage finds that I thought would go well with my handmade goodies. I've wanted to run a store since I was a child. More recently I researched this idea for many years; I managed a fine crafts gallery and saw how it worked, got a job in downtown Lowell to gauge foot traffic and demographics, quizzed every small business owner I could convince to open up to me, read books. And then I abandoned that idea, reluctantly.

But adaptability is crucial to survival. OK, it didn't work out the way I envisioned it, but maybe that wasn't the only way, or even the best way! I couldn't look backwards, it was time to think differently.

Western Avenue Studios is a fledgling (founded in July of 2005) artist community in a series of old mill buildings on a canal just outside of downtown Lowell, Massachusetts. While I was working downtown I heard people talking about it, but I didn't know where it was or how to get involved or even if I wanted to. It sounded a little insular, isolated, maybe intimidating? I have an education in Fine Art, but now I am a crafter, an artisan, there has always appeared to be an awkward rift between the two. Would the strictly fine artists accept me?

I went to visit one December day in 2006 during Open Studios. A husband of one of the artists kindly showed me how to get into the building. We got into the scary freight elevator (pull the heavy doors open from the middle, 1/2 goes up, 1/2 goes down, lift the cage door) and came out on the 5th floor. The smell of paint, the light from many windows, the worn wood floors, artists smiling at me, I was smitten. And overwhelmed. I even knew some folks there including the delightful textile artists at Friends Fabric Art, and that helped.

I went home with my mind swirling about the possibilities and put my name on the waiting list for a studio.

So here I am, over a year later. I moved into A305 in the A Mill in August of 2007, I set up a little display in the front and started making things at my table right away. It's amazing to be able to leave things out overnight! I don't have to clear away my project to eat dinner like at home :) But the best part (besides selling to the community during First Saturdays Open Studios) has been the interactions with other artists. I am a very independent person and I never knew I would enjoy being part of something like this. I have learned so much from the other artists and hopefully been able to be helpful as well.

And now I can see that swirling mind in other artists who visit us, WAS is quite seductive! People are still getting on the waiting list. A studio at WAS is perfect for some artists and for some, it just doesn't take. There are three studios on my floor that were eagerly snatched up and then basically abandoned. I liken it to a gym membership, I was so glad when mine expired and I could stop feeling guilty about not going! I don't know how you find out if studio life is for you, or even if you can tell until after you've tried it. One artist left because she didn't like selling; she started to feel like she needed to paint for sales and that crushed her creativity. She went back to her previous studio, a quiet room with beautiful light nearer to her house.

I love to make things for sale, that's what I do! I can't wait to expand my line of goods to add matted prints, silk-screened items, blankets, pillows, lamps even! But first I need shelving, I want my storage to be beautiful and inspiring. It's all a process, I am in the middle of it, and I am very happy.


  1. And I love having you here so much!

    It's funny now some people say that when you start doing what you love as a job it can "not be what you love anymore" I think that it can become what you love even more, if you do it right :)

  2. Hee hee :) *blush* You rock!

    Yeah, and that's a good point, I have never been happier than when making and selling things. Now that I get to do it all the time I feel very lucky and though I work many many more hours than I did when I worked for someone else, I am very happy!

  3. This story is so very touching. I know what you went through, all the doubts, decisions, the final happy outcome.
    Beautiful writing, beautiful artist.
    Love, Mom

  4. You look so happy!! It sounds like an absolutely wonderful experience. :)

  5. Hooray for WAS! Lovely writeup, Liz. :)

    I was one of those people on the waiting list - and I'm tickled pink to have a studio! I'm just in the process of moving in on the Fourth Floor, and have met many of the lovely folks with studios near me... Everybody has been welcoming and just so *nice*. Can't wait to get the big loom moved in and get to work!

  6. Great photo-story, and I love your space! (I'm used to seeing artist studios in old crumbling warehouses.) Glad it's worked out so well for you--your art is beautiful!

  7. What a fantastic place! How fortunate! They are supposedly opening up studio space in my home town now too. Not sure I will be enlisting as time and money are not on my side, but the dreaminess is, as you say, seductive. Just the light, space and community (this also coming from an independent) sounds all so inspiring.

  8. Isn't WAS great? I'm in such good company with friendly and inspiring people like you in the building Liz! This is what WAS was made for...people who really want to be here! and I'm with you...sell, sell, sell....its way more fun to make money doing something you love!

  9. Hello fellow MA-Etsian...just wanted to drop a line. Lowell, uh? I haven't been there in ages... you show a nice side of it, for sure.

  10. I love the beautiful historical elements of Lowell, Massachusetts. You do an amazing job with your stunning photographs of Lowell and the local artists community.
    Hope to visit this summer and check out your new studio space. :)

  11. You're creating a great blog Liz! Your writing and the photos really make the site enjoyable.

    Oh, and thanks for the link :-)


  12. Candace (The Intuitive Garden)March 20, 2008 at 11:10 PM

    Oh, I loved reading this post and I love visiting your studio. It's in such a great location for you!

  13. You look very happy!

    I think the "leaving things out/not having to clear them away to eat dinner" part sounds the most seductive.

    Congrats on finding this wonderful spot!