The Eye of the Hurricane

A few years ago I watched a documentary about storm chasers. To collect data, scientists flew a plane through a hurricane and dropped GPS beacons into the wind as they moved toward the centre. I was afraid for the lives of the people on the plane as it rattled and shook. I was relieved as the plane finally punched through the wall of cloud into the eye of the storm. The sudden beauty and quiet on screen had an emotional impact on me, and I was immediately struck by the parallel between those storm chasers and my own artistic journey. The Artlife often feels chaotic, but at the centre of every artist’s day is a desire to get to that quiet core. If you peel back the layers, everything an artist does is in defence of this sacred, solitary space.

You don’t have to be an artist to experience the calm at the centre of the storm. We all know what it’s like when the world fades away and all that’s left is the task in front of you, being in the zone. Flow. When I get into the zone I don’t think about eating, or Facebook, or the bills that need paying. In the zone, I have a singular focus that allows me to live in my art for hours at a time.

As artists, we live for our work. We go to sleep thinking about it and wake up thinking about it. How to carve out time. Getting to our zone can often feel like braving a hurricane: we have to push through the debris of life flying past us trying to distract us from our goal of reaching the calm centre of our daily storm. Getting the kids off to school, phones ringing and buzzing, house chores piling up, inboxes clogging—the flotsam of our lives in constant motion.

American poet Donald Hall, in his book Life Work, describes being in the zone when he says, “I know none of these things while I’m writing at the desk. I am utterly happy. I am utterly unself-conscious.”

With persistence, we can escape into our sacred place, and there we can do our best work. It is important for artists to create their ideal working space, if for no other reason than it gives us a motivation to get there and get creating. If it’s too hard or there are too many obstacles, we will constantly turn toward other things.

Over the years I’ve figured out a few things that help get to that place. Maybe they’ll be helpful on getting you to the eye of your own hurricane:

  1. Make It Yours. A creative space doesn’t have to be large, but it has to be yours. Let your family know that it’s your space and your permission is required for anyone to enter it or to use it.
  2. Tell People You’re Working. Using the word “work” to talk about your art making will help you and others take it seriously. Make sure friends and family know when you’re working so they can keep interruptions to a minimum.
  3. Get Out of Your House. Sometimes a den or spare room can be a good space, but it can be easy to be drawn back into the daily routine if it’s just the other side of a door. I created a room in my free-standing garage as a painting studio. The commute across the yard is short but effective. My space is outside of family life.
  4. Make it Permanent. If you have to set up and tear down every time you want to be creative you will never get to work. For years I painted at the kitchen table (the downside of small-home living) and I found myself less inclined to start something because I’d just have to clean it up before the next meal. Your creative space has to be set up and ready to go when you get there.
  5. Turn Off Your Phone. This is probably the hardest thing for us all to do. Our devices are like crack for our brains, but every bing and ring will pull you out of your zone. Studies show it can take up to 15 minutes to get back into the flow after every interruption. If you use your phone for music listening, at least put it on airplane mode so you won’t get drawn out until you’re ready.
  6. Make it Sacred.Allow yourself this time and place regularly, because it’s about your personal survival. You need it to create a balance in your being that will allow you to be present for the other important parts of your life.

Armed with these ideas, go make your space. Punch through the chaos and get to your zone. While the rest of the world whirls, you can sit blissfully in the calm eye of life’s storm and create the thing that is in you to create.