Why I Closed My Studio

By Carolyn  Edlund

 

 

I’ve been reminded lately of why I closed my studio – and painfully so. The joint in the thumb of my right hand is so sore that grasping even small things is uncomfortable, and turning a doorknob is agony. The arthritis in the base of my thumb is the latest remnant of a life spent in repetitive motion, during long hours in the studio using my hands as tools. Three years ago, the joint in my left thumb was replaced. After a few cortisone shots, the right one will probably be under the knife in the next year or so.

I closed my studio more than ten years ago. Besides general burnout from traveling all over the country flying to trade shows and driving to retail shows, my body had begun to give out. Twenty years of studio work. Leaning forward to paint and do close-up work, and hauling 50 lb. boxes of clay, tents and exhibit equipment had caused a lot of back and neck pain and sciatica. I knew my chiropractor on a first-name basis. And even though I’d hired studio assistants, the damage was done.

During my college years, a book came out that got a lot of students talking. It was called “Artist Beware.” Our chain-smoking ceramics instructor, who already had emphysema at the time, referred to it and called our attention to the dangers of silicosis and breathing dangerous fumes. We all had respirators; thank God I started out in my own studio with some safety gear. But I still wonder.

These days I see other artists are concerned about breathing toxic fumes, and the side-effects of solvents, which can be career-changing. I don’t blame them.

And so, after a couple of decades in the business, I decided to pack it in. In late summer of 2001, I started applying for jobs, thinking that it would take several months to get one. To my surprise, I was hired very quickly as a rep for an art publishing company. I had planned to go out of business at the end of that year, so I rounded up my studio helpers and parceled out the rest of our wholesale orders for them to complete while I started my new career.

On September 13, 2001, two days after the towers fell, I walked through an eerily silent airport and boarded a nearly empty, heavily-guarded airplane to San Francisco for job training during a watershed moment for my country and for myself.

It wasn’t a tough decision, at the end. I knew I was finished in the studio. We’d talked it over endlessly, and I have never regretted it.  I had met not only my goals, but some great friends as well. I still see some of them and fondly remember others. But things had changed, and I needed to move on to the next chapter in my life. It was time to close the studio.

Comments

  1. Thank you very much with the warning. I think its the best art advice I have ever got and ever will. Health comes first. Great to hear about you getting work and in the same vein.

    Thanks,

    Mendo

  2. It took a lot of courage to close up shop, I am sure. Even if the shop closed, though, the creativity did not stop. Your creativity and support to other creative people seems endless. Thanks for sharing your story, and for all that you do to help us creative folk grounded in the realities of art and life!

  3. Carolyn, we met at Judith’s salon last month. Your story almost made me cry as I have the same problem with my thumbs and while it has not yet led to surgery, I am afraid it is heading that way. The thought of not being able to either sew or paint scares me. What do you do to satisfy your creativity urge?

    Thanks for sharing that raw truth.

    • Lesley, the good news is that no matter how bad your hands are, the surgery works the same. I had a small tendon from my forearm surgically removed and it replaces the joint in the thumb. My left hand, which was operated on several years ago, is about 80% of its original strength. Plus you have other options – cortisone, therapy, etc. Just see a good hand specialist, and I think you will feel better about it.

  4. You were blessed to find a new career so quickly, it must have been in the cards for you to make that shift. I know I’ve mentioned I’ve got my own version of occupational injury from nearly 20 years of transcription, and as much as I want to be where you WERE, with a busy jewelry studio and many wholesale accounts, this makes me concerned about trading one kind of unhealthy job for another, since jewelry work also requires a lot of sitting and repetitive tasks. Hopefully I can find ways to work that are less stressful on the body and more balanced, and hire help for some of those tasks soon as it’s feasible.

    • Diane, I just spoke to a jeweler (about my same age) the other day who works with silver, and she has no injury whatsoever. I do think it’s partly your genes. But be careful, get help where you need to, and pay attention to your body. I know that you already do that!

      • good to know, Carolyn. You’re right, it’s different for everyone. I’m still working on the disc issue and have had minor improvements, but it’s been a very slow process. I have many regrets about not paying more attention to good spinal hygiene sooner, but I can’t do it over, so I am trying to figure out a way to work without so much sitting. I think I may have more options with the jewelry than the transcription for that, at least. I’m hoping to connect with you soon for a consult. 🙂

        • Looking forward to it, Diane. I challenge you to consider your physical limitations, and how that may provide opportunities for you to think outside the box and develop your product line – perhaps in different directions. Sometimes challenges can be opportunities. It may be a blessing in disguise which causes you to consider other materials, methods, even products. Perhaps one day you will also look back with no regrets!

  5. Your post really caught my attention! I’m taking “time off” from studio work to give my body a break from the rigors of carving and am stepping into writing, And finding that I can still be creative and not burn out my body by having to produce a large inventory to keep financially afloat.

    Thank for sharing. Sometimes the body tells us it’s time to move on….

    – SerenaK

    • My experience is the same as yours, Serena, in that the work I stepped into allowed my creativity to take another form, which was very satisfying. I wish you the best!

  6. Carolyn, I have just read your very moving account in which you show a great adaptability to move forward channelling your creative energies in a new way. I was drawn to the title “Why I closed my studio”. Before reading the article I was at a loss to think why anyone would close their studio, but after reading your
    experience I felt very grateful to have a studio. Your article is a great lesson to appreciate all that we have in life, including the ability to make art, because we do not know when it will stop. Thanks for that! Sean.

    • Thanks Sean for your kind remarks. I must say that by the time I closed the studio, I felt that I had accomplished what I wanted to in my business. The physical ailments were one cause, but I was ready to move on emotionally also. Loving the creative community as much as I do, it felt like a natural progression to rep art publishers and other lines featuring art. When I started this blog in 2009, I had no idea what would develop, but it has become the most satisfying career, spending my days working with artists who want to build their own businesses

  7. Thank you for sharing your story with us, Carolyn. You’re still an artist, only this time words are the medium instead of clay…..and you’re weaving those words into amazing articles and stories that help artists like myself. Congratulations on making the bold career move — I am very grateful that you did!

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