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Sabrina Ward Harrison

Published:

 

 

 

Studios are forts. 

… And I’ve been making “fort studios” since I was 4 or 5 years old. My first was constructed in the backyard of my home in Montreal. All the backyards on our block were divided by short wooden fences. My yard had a 6-foot “yellow brick road” made from house bricks that my dad painted deep yellow. There were grapes on a trellis above and, at the far end, a little blue chair. It felt magical to enter into that space — a secret space where I could think rambling thoughts and fire up my imagination. 

As a child, one of my favorite places was a fort my uncle Chas built at our family’s summer cottage at Lake Simcoe in Ontario. It was made out of weathered boards and logs we found and roped or nailed together. One of its finer features was a cool little trapdoor that opened to reveal the water below, so we could dip down into our canoe and take off at a moment’s notice.

The studio I’ve created in my current home beside Lake Monona in Madison, Wisconsin, reminds me of the Lake Simcoe fort. From my early cottage days in Canada, I’ve always dreamed of living on a lake as an adult. I imagined a dock and Adirondack chairs. 

In 2019, that dream came true. 

From a young age, I was influenced by the idea of a handmade, jerry-rigged “use what you find” kind of life that my parents were living and the environment they created in the 1970s. Their modest but imaginative way of being had a huge impact on me, and I have carried their vision forward into the spaces I have created. 

 

 

I prefer to work on the floor where I can step all the way around a piece and attack it from different directions. I want the work to be physically touched and moved, which is why I also like to be able to walk on the piece and/or easily pick it up and place it on another open surface (sometimes to avoid dogs trampling it). 

I especially love to work in nature, partially because I like it when nature touches a piece and changes it. When leaves fall on it, or it gets rained on, or someone spills something on it. I find that interesting.

I feel most comfortable to create when I’m outside. I’d rather be in gloves I’ve cut the fingertips off of and thick socks, with music playing in my ears. It energizes me, and the fresh air keeps me going for hours. Don’t get me wrong, I love a beautiful studio space, but when I feel like I can’t spill something on the floor, it trips me up creatively. Even now, having a carpet in my studio that I can mess up, I feel like I just can’t really let it rip. I’ve created all of my best work outside or in backyards and garages. 

Two intensely creative times in my life happened when I lived in New York in 2001 and in Italy in 2005. Moving to New York when I was 25 was a wildly impulsive and deliciously spontaneous decision. NYC was where I got my missing wheel — by that, I mean it was where I began to see a bigger picture and know I was more capable than I gave myself credit for. 

 

 

Even though I’m sensitive, I’m also resilient and resourceful, and living in New York proved that. I embraced it full on and loved it! The subways, the sweaty humidity, the sounds — all that incredible creative energy that infuses the city!  I had really great friendships and adventures and began a serious relationship. There was lots of dancing on the roof, music in the park and Frisbee. I took it all in and later, the details of my time in New York became my book Messy Thrilling Life: The Art of Figuring Out How to Live. 

As I grew into my 20s, I tried to hold it all together (as one does when one moves into her 20s). Suddenly, I was making art books and going on book tours I’d neither planned on nor expected. But I was also wrestling with the expectations of that stage of my life. I thought that’s when I was supposed to be a good girlfriend, live with my boyfriend and get married. But I wasn’t ready for that phase of my life to begin. I felt like I had to have some deep adventures in my life, on my own. 

 

Just before I turned 30 in 2005, I went to Italy while my dad was filming a movie in Rome. After the film wrapped, I stayed with several new Italian friends, who deeply inspired me. They guided me toward specific colors, smells, music, the Italian customs and language. They weren’t working at corporate jobs. Their lives weren’t racing there. They didn’t look stressed. They were living a rich and fulfilling life. 

By this point in my journey, I’d published three books, but Rome awoke my desire to make bigger, bolder art. I wanted to live the life of the artists I felt boiling within me. 

That opened the emotional space for me to generate paintings I’d always wanted to make. I also thought about my photography in much bigger ways (like wall-sized on rooftops, projections and film). It inspired my vision that we need to live and reflect our lives in a truer, fuller way. 

 

 

Eventually, I returned to my life feeling fully transformed. I had the urge to live in the wild and followed that creative pull by relocating to Bonny Doon, California, a small unincorporated town on the central coast of California, near Santa Cruz. It is nestled among the Redwoods, high above the ocean. 

One of my favorite details of my wild handmade life during that time was a bathtub I found in the weeds outside my cabin. I ran a hose from my bathroom, filled up the tub and bathed in the fresh air. During this period is when I really got passionate about creating on a deeper level. I allowed myself to get lost in my creative process and, in a way, finding myself. I didn’t have cell phone reception, so I wasn’t distracted by things that were happening, notifications or text messages. I’d play the poets David Whyte and John O’Donohue and feverishly work on the back deck. 

When I think about creative wellness, where I’m headed as a creative leader, and my work in the world, it’s all about having moments in our lives that bring us alive. My north star is finding ways to evoke and invite those moments to happen for others. One of the ways I do that is by creating offerings for people to step into an experience of creative liberation — sharing boldly and authentically. I believe we are here to live boldly and authentically and to help others learn how to do that brings me my greatest joy. 

These days, I’m enjoying this new chapter of life I’m in. I’m a newlywed and, 20 years later, I’m finally ready for that phase of my life where I’m sharing creativity, adventure, space and life with someone else. I look forward to seeing how my creativity and work are inspired by my marriage to Sean. I dream of continuing to help people find their voice in their work and create from their heart and soul. To inspire them to go on adventures, make mistakes, do things outside the lines and not clean up after themselves right away. To mix the colors and let there be muck! 

When I picture the future, I picture a space full of windows and beautiful light — a big, open, airy space that invites spilling!

 

 

 

Studios are forts. 

… And I’ve been making “fort studios” since I was 4 or 5 years old. My first was constructed in the backyard of my home in Montreal. All the backyards on our block were divided by short wooden fences. My yard had a 6-foot “yellow brick road” made from house bricks that my dad painted deep yellow. There were grapes on a trellis above and, at the far end, a little blue chair. It felt magical to enter into that space — a secret space where I could think rambling thoughts and fire up my imagination. 

As a child, one of my favorite places was a fort my uncle Chas built at our family’s summer cottage at Lake Simcoe in Ontario. It was made out of weathered boards and logs we found and roped or nailed together. One of its finer features was a cool little trapdoor that opened to reveal the water below, so we could dip down into our canoe and take off at a moment’s notice.

The studio I’ve created in my current home beside Lake Monona in Madison, Wisconsin, reminds me of the Lake Simcoe fort. From my early cottage days in Canada, I’ve always dreamed of living on a lake as an adult. I imagined a dock and Adirondack chairs. 

In 2019, that dream came true. 

From a young age, I was influenced by the idea of a handmade, jerry-rigged “use what you find” kind of life that my parents were living and the environment they created in the 1970s. Their modest but imaginative way of being had a huge impact on me, and I have carried their vision forward into the spaces I have created. 

 

 

I prefer to work on the floor where I can step all the way around a piece and attack it from different directions. I want the work to be physically touched and moved, which is why I also like to be able to walk on the piece and/or easily pick it up and place it on another open surface (sometimes to avoid dogs trampling it). 

I especially love to work in nature, partially because I like it when nature touches a piece and changes it. When leaves fall on it, or it gets rained on, or someone spills something on it. I find that interesting.

I feel most comfortable to create when I’m outside. I’d rather be in gloves I’ve cut the fingertips off of and thick socks, with music playing in my ears. It energizes me, and the fresh air keeps me going for hours. Don’t get me wrong, I love a beautiful studio space, but when I feel like I can’t spill something on the floor, it trips me up creatively. Even now, having a carpet in my studio that I can mess up, I feel like I just can’t really let it rip. I’ve created all of my best work outside or in backyards and garages. 

Two intensely creative times in my life happened when I lived in New York in 2001 and in Italy in 2005. Moving to New York when I was 25 was a wildly impulsive and deliciously spontaneous decision. NYC was where I got my missing wheel — by that, I mean it was where I began to see a bigger picture and know I was more capable than I gave myself credit for. 

 

 

Even though I’m sensitive, I’m also resilient and resourceful, and living in New York proved that. I embraced it full on and loved it! The subways, the sweaty humidity, the sounds — all that incredible creative energy that infuses the city!  I had really great friendships and adventures and began a serious relationship. There was lots of dancing on the roof, music in the park and Frisbee. I took it all in and later, the details of my time in New York became my book Messy Thrilling Life: The Art of Figuring Out How to Live. 

As I grew into my 20s, I tried to hold it all together (as one does when one moves into her 20s). Suddenly, I was making art books and going on book tours I’d neither planned on nor expected. But I was also wrestling with the expectations of that stage of my life. I thought that’s when I was supposed to be a good girlfriend, live with my boyfriend and get married. But I wasn’t ready for that phase of my life to begin. I felt like I had to have some deep adventures in my life, on my own. 

 

Just before I turned 30 in 2005, I went to Italy while my dad was filming a movie in Rome. After the film wrapped, I stayed with several new Italian friends, who deeply inspired me. They guided me toward specific colors, smells, music, the Italian customs and language. They weren’t working at corporate jobs. Their lives weren’t racing there. They didn’t look stressed. They were living a rich and fulfilling life. 

By this point in my journey, I’d published three books, but Rome awoke my desire to make bigger, bolder art. I wanted to live the life of the artists I felt boiling within me. 

That opened the emotional space for me to generate paintings I’d always wanted to make. I also thought about my photography in much bigger ways (like wall-sized on rooftops, projections and film). It inspired my vision that we need to live and reflect our lives in a truer, fuller way. 

 

 

Eventually, I returned to my life feeling fully transformed. I had the urge to live in the wild and followed that creative pull by relocating to Bonny Doon, California, a small unincorporated town on the central coast of California, near Santa Cruz. It is nestled among the Redwoods, high above the ocean. 

One of my favorite details of my wild handmade life during that time was a bathtub I found in the weeds outside my cabin. I ran a hose from my bathroom, filled up the tub and bathed in the fresh air. During this period is when I really got passionate about creating on a deeper level. I allowed myself to get lost in my creative process and, in a way, finding myself. I didn’t have cell phone reception, so I wasn’t distracted by things that were happening, notifications or text messages. I’d play the poets David Whyte and John O’Donohue and feverishly work on the back deck. 

When I think about creative wellness, where I’m headed as a creative leader, and my work in the world, it’s all about having moments in our lives that bring us alive. My north star is finding ways to evoke and invite those moments to happen for others. One of the ways I do that is by creating offerings for people to step into an experience of creative liberation — sharing boldly and authentically. I believe we are here to live boldly and authentically and to help others learn how to do that brings me my greatest joy. 

These days, I’m enjoying this new chapter of life I’m in. I’m a newlywed and, 20 years later, I’m finally ready for that phase of my life where I’m sharing creativity, adventure, space and life with someone else. I look forward to seeing how my creativity and work are inspired by my marriage to Sean. I dream of continuing to help people find their voice in their work and create from their heart and soul. To inspire them to go on adventures, make mistakes, do things outside the lines and not clean up after themselves right away. To mix the colors and let there be muck! 

When I picture the future, I picture a space full of windows and beautiful light — a big, open, airy space that invites spilling!

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