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Carla Giesbrecht-Wat

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A round nine years ago, my husband and I just had our second child and life was busy with all the things that a young family of four entails: outings to the park, cooking dinner, planning playdates — the list could go on. Along with this stage came a large mental load, one that could weigh me down during moments when my mind would race and I couldn’t catch my breath.

At many points, I thought I would just “feel better” or “move on” to the next stage, but felt stuck in what you might call a block. I’ve always been a creative person, from singing in choirs and bands in my adolescence, to acting in college, painting and writing music. I’ve always felt a deep connection to spirituality and artistry, finding comfort and fulfillment in creation.

So, it only made sense that, while motherhood was a huge job in and of itself, keeping the parts of me alive that made me feel whole was just as important to my well-being. This led to a realisation that I needed to set aside time each week to do something alone, in the basement, for myself. Along with the encouragement of my husband, Jeremy, and my community, The InkPAD Shop was born. The initial plan was to do this endeavour together with Jeremy, but I quickly realised time away from the kids also meant time for him to spend with the kids and I went out on a branch of my own. Also, to be honest, as he is a creative himself, working as a video producer and printmaker, we quickly grew to realise our design styles differed and I needed to figure out exactly how that looked for me.

We began by repurposing my dad’s old wooden workbench in the basement and I carved out time dreaming of what to create. Jeremy and I had a conversation in the middle of the night where he reminded me that he had an unopened beginner silk screen printing kit that he had purchased at one time. With materials available, we decided it would be fun to create some clothes for the kids. At the start, I had no clue what I was doing and felt as if every bit of progress led to another realm of the unknown.

YouTube became my lifeline as I am a visual learner, and I would spend a lot of the kids’ nap time researching how to burn a screen and the hacks to make it possible to do this art form at home. Traditionally, in a larger shop, you’d have a proper automated multicolour press, a large washout booth, a light exposure unit and other industry-standard equipment to make things run smoothly. However, I was determined to make it work for me at home.

One of the first things I did was screen print a design onto a onesie for our son. A little while later, I posted a picture on social media of our kids wearing a matching set that I made. I wasn’t planning on selling, but received positive feedback and was encouraged to create more. This is how I went from finding a creative outlet to designing and screen printing onto kids’ apparel.

Eventually, I outgrew my home workspace with online orders and decided to move to a studio where I could store my screen printing supplies and have a larger space to grow my business. My wonderful friend and fellow artist, Shelley, had turned a beautiful second floor of a building into a shared artist space, where you could rent by the square foot. I brought my sweet workbench from home, some tables and began working away filling wholesale orders, preparing for artisan markets and creating new designs. I would go in the evenings when my husband was home and work away, listening to music and dreaming of what this could all become.

Fast-forward to when my shared studio space was no more and I had to pivot. I moved into a basement studio space with a friend, and this turned out to be one of the more lonely places I worked. After a year lease, I decided it was best for me to return to working from home.

Moving back home was great for work-life balance but not so much for physical space, as we live in a small 1,100-square-foot wartime home. I was determined to make it work and while it did, for the most part, a small voice in my head kept telling me I needed more space to truly breathe. I have this photo in my workspace of Andy Warhol working in a really cool loft, on a gigantic silk screen making one of his prints, and I dreamed of having a space like that for myself.

A little while later, an opportunity came up when I was approached to join another shared studio space. This time it was in our historic Exchange District of Winnipeg, which is filled with old industrial lofts, cute boutiques and trendy restaurants. I was very excited to say “yes,” to be able to have my own retail space and finally enough room for a 4-colour printing press. Having this press was a big deal at the time because printing multiple colours was always something that I longed to master, and the studio gave me the space and dedicated time to do it. This was in the middle of the pandemic, and felt like a pretty big risk at the time, but I had the support of my family and friends.

After about a year and a half, the studio disbanded and we went our separate ways. I learned so much being there: how to manage stock in a retail and online space, what advertising works, how to interact with customers on a regular basis, and more. I also learned things that were hard: being in an old building that was frigidly cold in winter and super hot in summer, fixing things that were broken, and not having certain things that were specific to what I needed. The decrease in foot traffic during the pandemic made it especially difficult to cover rent, a common struggle for artists.

After a lot of thought and prayer, I realised what I really wanted was just to be at home, on a small scale but with my own space perfect for me. At first, I felt guilty even thinking this for the first while, knowing I’d be spending money away from the needs of our family and investing it in myself. But in doing this, I also realised I would be investing in our family, creating a space that is curated for my needs but also suitable for the whole family to use. We try to foster free play and creativity a lot with our kids and being able to express ourselves through art. My hope is that one day they will see our hard work and know that joy comes from within and art can be an outward expression of love and encouragement to those around you.

As this dream space began to take flight, we found a contractor who was willing to work within our parameters and budget. I had until the end of June 2023 to be out of my leased space and knew it probably wouldn’t be enough time. We filled our garage with my “studio” and I took the summer to bring all the little things to life.

I wanted to include special items and heirlooms from my family so I could see them every time I worked and be inspired. My grandfather’s radio is on the shelf, reminding me of the way he worked with his hands as a farmer and fixer. My grandmother’s glass dogs and enamel bowls remind me of the hard work she did growing her garden, sewing clothes and dolls, and cooking for her loved ones. And there are photos of loved ones that inspire me to keep going and provide for them.

There were also practical things that I needed to fit into this small space, such as a washout sink. I found the biggest drop-in kitchen sink I could and it’s amazing how much easier things become when working with the proper tools. We also did a lot of the work ourselves, to cut down on costs, such as spray painting the ceiling, tearing out shelves and moving around supplies. My goal with the space was to have a bright, airy space where I could see colours properly, take photos easily, work efficiently and be surrounded by curious vintage treasures.

Much of my work is driven by a desire to encourage others, so creating a space for that truly helped propel me forward to making this happen. From here, I hope to keep creating, teaching, connecting and loving through art and continue learning from those who have walked ahead of me. There is so much wisdom and truth around us from all walks of life. My hope through the work I do is that we can see each other as equals and encourage each other along this path of life with grace.

A round nine years ago, my husband and I just had our second child and life was busy with all the things that a young family of four entails: outings to the park, cooking dinner, planning playdates — the list could go on. Along with this stage came a large mental load, one that could weigh me down during moments when my mind would race and I couldn’t catch my breath.

At many points, I thought I would just “feel better” or “move on” to the next stage, but felt stuck in what you might call a block. I’ve always been a creative person, from singing in choirs and bands in my adolescence, to acting in college, painting and writing music. I’ve always felt a deep connection to spirituality and artistry, finding comfort and fulfillment in creation.

So, it only made sense that, while motherhood was a huge job in and of itself, keeping the parts of me alive that made me feel whole was just as important to my well-being. This led to a realisation that I needed to set aside time each week to do something alone, in the basement, for myself. Along with the encouragement of my husband, Jeremy, and my community, The InkPAD Shop was born. The initial plan was to do this endeavour together with Jeremy, but I quickly realised time away from the kids also meant time for him to spend with the kids and I went out on a branch of my own. Also, to be honest, as he is a creative himself, working as a video producer and printmaker, we quickly grew to realise our design styles differed and I needed to figure out exactly how that looked for me.

We began by repurposing my dad’s old wooden workbench in the basement and I carved out time dreaming of what to create. Jeremy and I had a conversation in the middle of the night where he reminded me that he had an unopened beginner silk screen printing kit that he had purchased at one time. With materials available, we decided it would be fun to create some clothes for the kids. At the start, I had no clue what I was doing and felt as if every bit of progress led to another realm of the unknown.

YouTube became my lifeline as I am a visual learner, and I would spend a lot of the kids’ nap time researching how to burn a screen and the hacks to make it possible to do this art form at home. Traditionally, in a larger shop, you’d have a proper automated multicolour press, a large washout booth, a light exposure unit and other industry-standard equipment to make things run smoothly. However, I was determined to make it work for me at home.

One of the first things I did was screen print a design onto a onesie for our son. A little while later, I posted a picture on social media of our kids wearing a matching set that I made. I wasn’t planning on selling, but received positive feedback and was encouraged to create more. This is how I went from finding a creative outlet to designing and screen printing onto kids’ apparel.

Eventually, I outgrew my home workspace with online orders and decided to move to a studio where I could store my screen printing supplies and have a larger space to grow my business. My wonderful friend and fellow artist, Shelley, had turned a beautiful second floor of a building into a shared artist space, where you could rent by the square foot. I brought my sweet workbench from home, some tables and began working away filling wholesale orders, preparing for artisan markets and creating new designs. I would go in the evenings when my husband was home and work away, listening to music and dreaming of what this could all become.

Fast-forward to when my shared studio space was no more and I had to pivot. I moved into a basement studio space with a friend, and this turned out to be one of the more lonely places I worked. After a year lease, I decided it was best for me to return to working from home.

Moving back home was great for work-life balance but not so much for physical space, as we live in a small 1,100-square-foot wartime home. I was determined to make it work and while it did, for the most part, a small voice in my head kept telling me I needed more space to truly breathe. I have this photo in my workspace of Andy Warhol working in a really cool loft, on a gigantic silk screen making one of his prints, and I dreamed of having a space like that for myself.

A little while later, an opportunity came up when I was approached to join another shared studio space. This time it was in our historic Exchange District of Winnipeg, which is filled with old industrial lofts, cute boutiques and trendy restaurants. I was very excited to say “yes,” to be able to have my own retail space and finally enough room for a 4-colour printing press. Having this press was a big deal at the time because printing multiple colours was always something that I longed to master, and the studio gave me the space and dedicated time to do it. This was in the middle of the pandemic, and felt like a pretty big risk at the time, but I had the support of my family and friends.

After about a year and a half, the studio disbanded and we went our separate ways. I learned so much being there: how to manage stock in a retail and online space, what advertising works, how to interact with customers on a regular basis, and more. I also learned things that were hard: being in an old building that was frigidly cold in winter and super hot in summer, fixing things that were broken, and not having certain things that were specific to what I needed. The decrease in foot traffic during the pandemic made it especially difficult to cover rent, a common struggle for artists.

After a lot of thought and prayer, I realised what I really wanted was just to be at home, on a small scale but with my own space perfect for me. At first, I felt guilty even thinking this for the first while, knowing I’d be spending money away from the needs of our family and investing it in myself. But in doing this, I also realised I would be investing in our family, creating a space that is curated for my needs but also suitable for the whole family to use. We try to foster free play and creativity a lot with our kids and being able to express ourselves through art. My hope is that one day they will see our hard work and know that joy comes from within and art can be an outward expression of love and encouragement to those around you.

As this dream space began to take flight, we found a contractor who was willing to work within our parameters and budget. I had until the end of June 2023 to be out of my leased space and knew it probably wouldn’t be enough time. We filled our garage with my “studio” and I took the summer to bring all the little things to life.

I wanted to include special items and heirlooms from my family so I could see them every time I worked and be inspired. My grandfather’s radio is on the shelf, reminding me of the way he worked with his hands as a farmer and fixer. My grandmother’s glass dogs and enamel bowls remind me of the hard work she did growing her garden, sewing clothes and dolls, and cooking for her loved ones. And there are photos of loved ones that inspire me to keep going and provide for them.

There were also practical things that I needed to fit into this small space, such as a washout sink. I found the biggest drop-in kitchen sink I could and it’s amazing how much easier things become when working with the proper tools. We also did a lot of the work ourselves, to cut down on costs, such as spray painting the ceiling, tearing out shelves and moving around supplies. My goal with the space was to have a bright, airy space where I could see colours properly, take photos easily, work efficiently and be surrounded by curious vintage treasures.

Much of my work is driven by a desire to encourage others, so creating a space for that truly helped propel me forward to making this happen. From here, I hope to keep creating, teaching, connecting and loving through art and continue learning from those who have walked ahead of me. There is so much wisdom and truth around us from all walks of life. My hope through the work I do is that we can see each other as equals and encourage each other along this path of life with grace.

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