Dedicated creative space is an aspiration of every artist. This year, my dream of a room of my own came true: I was given a Creative Space studio to use for four months. Lucky, lucky me!
Thanks to the Sunshine Coast Council and its forward-thinking Creative Spaces initiative, I’ve enjoyed a creative residency with my writer buddy Kellie Byrnes. As artists-in-residence, we worked together, solo, and with special guests. A lot of the work of writing happens in isolation, so it’s a wonderful treat to brainstorm together and invite other creatives to join us.
What the Residency Has Meant to Me
Being granted access to this fabulous space where I can write and create in peace has been a highlight of my ten-year writing career. The residency has given me a sense of validation of my role and worth as a creator in an industry where rewards can be few and far between. It’s as if the world has scooted over to make space for me on the crowded creators’ bench.
A Day at the Nest
The Crows Nest studio is located on Chambers Island in the Maroochy River on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. Every time I cross the footbridge to the tiny sand island, pelicans, cockatoos, bobbing cormorants, and shoals of tiny silver fish greet me. One morning, beneath the bridge I spotted a young stingray fanning the sandy bottom with his winged fins. I always pause at the bridge’s half-way point to savour the light dancing on the water and the sound of kids playing on the island’s shore. Gratitude floods through me. This place is good for the soul.
That long walk across the bridge never gets old. It’s a liminal space, a transition from the mundane and urgent to the creative and restorative.
I come laden with books, a laptop, snacks, and several litres of water. The daily load soon affects my neck, so I had to throw style and dignity to the wind and invest in a ‘jeep,’ one of those wheeled shopping baskets used by white-haired nanas who don’t drive.
The things we do for our craft…
Up to the Loft
I lug my stuff up the back stairs of the sailing club, through the clanking metal door, up another flight past the abandoned spinner for chook raffles and meat trays, onward to the third floor veranda where two faded camper chairs sit. They’re rarely used, but when they are, they reward the sitter with a rude squelching noise. Gazing out from this high deck, the vista is so beautiful my heart aches.
I unlock the door to my little space. The room is bright and cheery, feminised with home comforts and pops of colour Kellie and I added: Frida cushions, pot plants, fresh flowers, and a dear friend’s artwork for inspiration. I cross the room to throw open the windows. It’s good to be back. My fingers itch for the keyboard or the paintbrush.
But first, I water the fiddle leaf and the spathiphyllum, both of which have flourished in the studio’s bright light and warmth. I fill the electric kettle to boil water for my tea, and the creative juices begin to percolate.
Some days I draw and paint. I’ve long harboured an ember of hope that I might illustrate one of my stories, so I decided I’d use my creative residency to rekindle my art practice. I wondered if sketching would free up some spontaneity in my fiction writing, but sadly that freedom remains elusive in my artwork. It’s another of those things that comes from years of ceaseless doing. Still, I’m grateful for the space to experiment. At home, I’m too inhibited to draw. Here in the studio, I have a go, make a mess, and learn.
Some days I journal and write. In October I began a writing mentorship with Australian children’s author Dee White. We’re working on strengthening the voice in my middle grade novel Saving Arcadia. A Regional Arts Development (RADF) grant from the Sunshine Coast Council partially funded this invaluable work with Dee, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity.
Getting to work on the mentorship without distractions has been tricky, though. The timing of the creative residency coincided with a crazy-busy period in the Queensland kidlit calendar. I planned and organised a big literary event, the first ever State Conference of SCBWI – QLD (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators – Queensland). StoryCraft was a fantastic learning experience and a resounding success. I consider it the biggest and most tangible achievement of my creative residency.
One of my favourite parts of the residency has been inviting other creatives to share the space. Several artists have come to paint. Kellie and I hobnobbed with an aspiring writer/entrepreneur. Editors, a teacher-librarian, a playwright, illustrators, and several authors have popped in to experience the serenity of the space. Well, the visitors who came on Wednesday mornings got to enjoy the thumping music and pulsing vibrations from the ‘mums and bubs’ dance class in the community hall below the studio. I don’t mind. The space’s quirky noises — rattles, whistles and clangs — add to its charm.
Strangely, not much disturbs my deep focus once I settle in to work, not even the drone of planes regularly descending towards the nearby airport or the bustle of small sailboats launching from the beach below my lofty studio. Ambiance — that’s something the Crows Nest exudes.
I especially love the sunsets here. The river glows orange under a fiery late afternoon sky. The mangroves on the far shore across the Maroochy deepen in colour to a spellbinding inky purple hue. When the shadows in the Crows Nest lengthen and the island’s beach goers and anglers pack up and head home, so must I.
A few times in my four-month stay, I’ve spent the entire day here, savouring the early morning stroll across the footbridge, and then, in the evening when the screeching lorikeets descend to roost in the grevilleas that line Bradman Avenue, I retrace my steps across the bridge back to my car and the familiar squeeze of the mundane.
Professional shots by Madison Hadland, @madisonandcoau.