The Perfect Mess

[Laura Tarrish] “No, no, don’t apologize…it just means you’re creative.” How many times have I heard that phrase when the rare visitor is allowed into my studio?  Every. Single. Time. Whereas the main level of my home is an exercise in tasteful restraint. My collections are curated and contained, the walls and surfaces free from too much clutter. Artwork from talented friends. Good lighting and fresh flowers {always fresh flowers}.

But venture upstairs and you find my studio: the dirty little secret. Don’t get me wrong. I aspire to have one of those studios pictured in shelter magazines showing ingenious ways of organizing, with cool inspiration boards and flat files that actually open. {How do they keep their old maps, scraps of vintage wallpaper, gift wrap – which is only to be collected, not used – and paper samples from jamming the over-stuffed drawers?}

I dream of vintage metal office furniture all powder-coated to the same lovely color instead of the mismatched pieces from IKEA next to the custom-built cabinets from my former studio in San Francisco. I want hidden cords and perfect lighting. X-acto knives I can find. Floors I can see. In counter-balance to this desire to be neater in my studio…I wish my illustrations were messier!  Wonder what this duality says about me?

Like many of you reading this, I collect. Old train, bus, subway tickets; postal ephemera; letterforms {2D and 3D}; printed pieces relating to travel: maps, receipts, labels, vintage postcards and travel guides, iconic imagery by city; ribbons {never enough of the expensive stuff to use, just enough to collect in jars and drawers to admire when I remember to dust them off and look at them}; old flash cards and language games; postmarks, fortunes, diagrams, printed boxes, shopping bags, English ephemera, miniature chairs.

My amassed loot is now so overwhelming I no longer even LOOK for pieces to use in my collage work. I can barely get to my computer let alone get up from it to rummage through the chaos in my office. How many times have I gone online to find an image of an artifact… an artifact I might actually have in one of my once carefully sorted and labeled boxes? But if these boxes aren’t found within arm’s length or on my visual radar, I tend to forget they exist. Thus the desk, perpetually piled high with bits of this and that – that never cease to inspire me.

But frankly, I don’t subscribe to that “it just means you’re creative” axiom. Every year I stay with a dear friend in London. Betsy is a successful and talented illustrator with the most organized, neat, yet charming home and studio. Her closet doors close smoothly, her drawers and cabinets would make Martha Stewart swoon. Her light-filled studio is peppered with quirky objects tastefully presented. None of them is on her desk. I come home every year with a renewed sense of purpose: toss half of what is in my studio and organize the rest. Reclaim the path to my desk!

I start the cleansing and inevitably find something cool that inspires me. Tossing the piles back on the floor, I sit down to make something and chaos ensues.  But, hey it must mean I’m creative, right?

Laura Tarrish is a collage illustrator whose clients include United Airlines, US Department of Energy, The Wall Street Journal, and Chronicle Books. She also designs paper products, some of which you can see here. Laura, who lives in Portland, Oregon, is a new seller on Felt & Wire Shop.

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Comments (10)

  1. Posted by Pam on 11.5.09 at 9:49 am

    Laura, I looooooooove this article. Thank you for making me laugh!

  2. Posted by Sonia Tarrish on 11.5.09 at 12:03 pm

    Wow, I would love to see your studio. Keep collecting!

  3. Posted by Julia on 11.6.09 at 11:24 am

    LT. this is sooooo you. love it.

  4. Posted by Lori on 11.6.09 at 12:12 pm

    Laura, Loved the article. Your collections are a treasure. Please don’t even think of eliminating them. By the way, need anything from Mumbai. I’ll be there tomorrow. Maps perhaps???

  5. Posted by Joanne on 11.6.09 at 12:35 pm

    Wonderful article! Beautiful house and creatively chaotic studio = perfect environment.

  6. Posted by Nancy Leson on 11.6.09 at 2:00 pm

    Laura! You just described my home office, more or less. Only I just moved back into it after a remodel. It’s gloriously neat and I expect it to remain that way for, oh, at least a week — until it looks as cluttered and unworkable as it did before.

  7. Posted by Juliette on 11.7.09 at 10:57 am

    Laura, I love your honesty, wit, and your touch of chaos! : )

  8. Posted by patsy on 11.7.09 at 2:33 pm

    I was smiling as I read this. Look at it this way at least you have an office of your own.

  9. Posted by Elva on 11.9.09 at 6:40 pm

    I’m glad I’m not the only one! I love it! ha ha

  10. Posted by Joel on 11.18.09 at 2:24 pm

    Great article..I wish I could use the “I’m messy b/c I’m creative” excuse with my wife;)

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