don't call it a she shed

When my youngest kid came along, almost 4 years ago, her "nursery" eventually took over the extra room in our house that I'd slowly but surely claimed as my office/studio. Since then I've distributed the contents of my studio across my bedroom closet, the hallway closet, and one wall of the garage. Not ideal. But then I got a full-time day-job and haven't had much time to work in a proper studio, anyway. And not that you need a proper studio to be an artist and make stuff, either. But having a dedicated space of some sort helps, especially when you share most of your 1000 square feet of living space with a spouse who mostly works at home, two kids, and pets. For example, I'm typing this on my laptop in a little writing nook I created by clearing out half of my bedroom closet, the other half partially filled with portfolios and boxes and bins of older work and materials for ongoing projects - indeed, my wardrobe takes up very little space in my closet! Our drawers are under our bed. Ah, urban living!

I briefly considered renting a studio when I got this day job. A couple of years ago, you could rent a small studio in a shared building in Oakland for as low as $250 per month. I weighed the pros and cons of being in a shared artists' space with the convenience of having a space in or very near my home.

Given my homebody tendencies and the little bit of time I have to spend on making work, having little to no commute to and from my studio seemed like a must-have. The challenge then became: how do we carve out some dedicated studio space in a smallish house with a smallish outdoor space we didn't want to sacrifice. Our two options seemed to be: hire a general contractor for a one-room extension (hello, sticker shock ... also, good luck finding a GC in the Bay Area right now) or build a 10 x 12 detached studio (no design permits required!), either option assuming the removal of a 10 x 13 rusty garden shed we were mostly using for storage. In the end, building a studio shed in place of our old garden shed would be the most cost-efficient way to add space without losing any of our back yard.

That said, we'd already maxed out home improvement projects we could handle with cash and we weren't about to charge any of this (paying down our debt as we were according to the debt snowball payment method). So we looked into home equity line of credit and cash-out refinance options. We bought our house over six years ago, possibly the best time to buy a house in the Bay Area in recent history. Talk about lucky. Our decision to move back to Oakland in the midst of the great recession, only one of us employed at the time at a 50% pay-cut, to boot, not to mention a one-year-old in tow, had paid off. When the start-up company that Neal worked for at that time was acquired by a larger company, they cashed out his stock options. No more stock options was a bummer, but we were finally faced with the possibility of having enough savings to put something, maybe not 20%, but something down on a house in the Bay Area! Indeed, we were able to scrape together the minimum 10.01% for a conventional loan, but because it was less than the standard 20%, we've been paying mortgage insurance as well. Given the increase in home values in our area, the cash out refi worked out to be a better deal for us. Our mortgage now, with the mortgage insurance out of the equation at long last, and a few other tweaks, is only about $100 more per month than we were paying before, and we got a decent little chunk of change back to fund the studio shed, relandscaping, exterior house painting, and a couple of additional interior projects as well (if we have anything leftover after the outside projects are complete!).

After day 2 of installation. A little more work, wiring, and paint and it'll be done!

We started design work in the spring and began getting quotes on the actual landscaping work, but by the time we settled on Modern Shed for the studio, and given their 9-10 week timeframe on delivery/installation, we had some downtime and waiting. Landscaping demolition began in early October, followed by a couple of weeks when progress was very slow, mostly rain-related. But suddenly, this past week or so, seems everything is coming together rather quickly. It's a surreal experience but I ain't gonna lie - it's pretty great. I can't wait to get in there and start making work again. After the last few weeks, difficult on many levels for many reasons, I may just never leave!


art for a future

What can I say about this week so far that hasn't already been said by far more intelligent folks with a much more clever way with words? If you'd like a sampling of the reaction and sentiments that I share, just take a peek at my Twitter feed. There's not much to add here. Except to launch, at last, a project I've been sitting on for just about 8 years, since the last Republican was in our country's highest elected office.

Art for a future is yet another call for participation. I created these 6 x 8 inch offset lithography postcards as a sort of art prompt, pairing Durer's famous 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' with an art historical quote about how that work functioned as a prism through which the events of the time period were viewed, but also offering the brilliant David Hockney's comment, as, perhaps, a counter to this function of the images we produce: “If we are to change our world view, our images have to change.” Right now, I really feel our actions and words need to change, but I'm equally interested in the kinds of images that will come out of this next chapter of humanity. I'm cautiously optimistic and, as always, I look to art and culture for comfort.

So hope on over to the tumblr and submit your response. Email me (becky [at] rebeccabirdgrigsby [dot] com) for postcards - request one for yourself and/or a stack for a group, especially if you're a teacher working with younger folks (although middle school and up is probably best for this project).


America right now is Westworld's Teddy Flood

In the final days of this election, my mind keeps going to Westworld (so, yeah, spoiler alert), specifically to the character of Teddy Flood, played by James Marsden. In one scene, we discover that Teddy, a robotic "host", was given a vaguely tragic backstory that was never fully developed. In another scene, faced again with the possibility of a future with fellow, increasingly sentient host Dolores (played by Evan Rachel Wood), Teddy alludes to some "reckoning" he needs to do first.

Running with this television show metaphor, it seems to me most Americans right now fall somewhere along the Teddy spectrum as his storyline progresses, with a collective backstory that is at least in part “a formless guilt you will never atone for,” and with a whole lot of reckoning yet to do. On one end, Teddy, vaguely optimistic, looks toward the future but never manages to break free from his story's loop. On the other end, Teddy's path, now with a fatalistic backstory, seems destined to lead to a violent end.

Choose your next adventure wisely, fellow Americans. Because this election ain't fiction.