Reality Mom: Drawing Room
When I moved to Ballard sixteen years ago friends said, “Ballard? Only old people and fisherman live there. Nothing happens in Ballard, why would you want to live there?” I laughed at their misperception back then, and have marveled how Ballard has continued to be the place to be over the years. A bit too much for my taste at times, but hey, I’m a sucker for quiet.
Ballard Ave was part of what drew me to Ballard all those yeas ago. More than the quaint brick buildings, bell tower and historic feel, I marveled at the simplicity of some of the merchants. “There’s an entire store for bookshelves!” I told friends. “Nothing else, just bookshelves. And next door is a guitar shop! No pianos, flutes or even ukuleles, just guitars!” I don’t necessarily get excited about stores and am constantly purging my house of “things,” but these items were deemed worthy, if not vital, because they are related to the arts. Even better, they stood complacently as in, “Sure, I’m here if you want me, but I’m certainly not going to call out for you,” adding to their appeal.
Coming across the Drawing Room reminded me that once I look past the cranes and excavators, I can still find some subtle gems on Ballard Ave. Places that create and inspire. Places for and by artists. No billboard flashed “Drawing Room,” at me nor did an advertisement for it clutter my mailbox, and soon after recycling bin. I heard about The Drawing Room the only way I pay attention to new things, through a friend. Well-resourced Peggy Sturdivant sent an email saying, “Hey, have you seen this? More writing in Ballard.” I clicked on the link and a mere minute later was emailing Kim, the founder. “I want to know you!”
Yes, I can be an on-line stalker, but it usually ends up in my favor. I stalked Jennifer Munro and now have the glorious pleasure of drinking Manhattans with her on a frequent basis. Kim proved to be as brave as Jennifer and emailed me back, “Can you meet later this week?” I said yes, of course, and then couldn’t contain my enthusiasm (or stalking, depending on how you look at it) so showed up a day early.
Near Clover Toys and tucked directly to the south of the eclectic boutique Trouvaille is an Alice in Wonderland type staircase. Once I was at the top, Kim greeted me and brought me into the Drawing Room. Imagine your living room if you lived in a cool, historic studio apartment and that’s the Drawing Room. Hard wood floors, brick interior walls, and old creaky windows that open up to Ballard Avenue lend itself to just the kind of atmosphere in which I like to create.
Although I love teaching at the Hugo House and it too is an old building, it is a hub, not a living room. Not only because it’s on Capitol Hill, but also because it offers over forty classes and has hundreds of people entering it every day. I don’t want hundreds of people coming into my living room every day. Or ever for that matter, especially not when I’m writing. Kim and the Drawing Room intuit this about many artists, therefore the space is intimate. It’s designed for private lessons or very small classes, usually capped at five people. And it is the only place I know of that combines visual arts with writing, a perfect marriage in my opinion.
I asked Kim how she conceived of such a brilliant combination and she said she had been combining creative writing with painting for years. “The material from my journals often appears in my paintings. I am currently working on a series of paintings loosely based on memories of relatives, stories passed down from elders involving my rather eccentric ancestors, and the often bizarre, and sometime alienating aspects of southern culture in general. I also know writers who depend upon visual art/phenomena for inspiration, always carrying sketch books around, keeping a sort of visual record of their ideas and inspirations for their writing. The two forms of self-expression compliment each other well, it seemed natural to combine them.”
A place such as the Drawing Room has been Kim’s dream for years while teaching art in overcrowded classrooms. “It created a frustrating environment which often prevented meaningful lessons in art and adequate attention to individual students who were genuinely craving full attention and close guidance. Over time I began to oversee smaller groups of students, formed spontaneously by those who would wander into the art room during recess or after school. I began to watch more meaningful and effective instruction and learning unfold organically, in addition to sincere, open dialogue occurring between me and my students, providing an atmosphere of total trust and heightened personal expression and skill development.”
About six months ago she began looking for a place in which this focused attention could take place. “I was attracted to the creative energy of Ballard and liked that it has a thriving arts community that still has an openness to it for new ventures and artists.” Kim put a call out for other visual artists, writers and teachers and currently has four members teaching at the Drawing Room (including myself). Classes are for children and adults and range from drawing, poetry, painting, clay work, mixed media, making zines, to a writing support group. Private lessons and coaching are also available as well as studio time. Check out http://www.thedrawingroom-art.com/ for a list of all of the options available.
Besides the intimate size and combination of arts, the Drawing Room in unique in its unpretentiousness. My students repeatedly tell me how scared they are to attend one of my classes at a writing conference and I understand, being terrified to take a class at Pratt. The Drawing Room is the antithesis of scary, not only due to it’s setting, but due to Kim’s vision for it. “Children and adults become aware of the rich and expansive environment or art and realize that making art is not something special created by special people. They learn that everyone can express their ideas, responses, and emotions, with honesty, sensitivity and perceptiveness within the framework of basic compositional and design principles. Everyone can make art. It can be an every day component of creating meaning out of ones daily life and lead to building a sense of identity and self-esteem. I have studied art therapy as part of my graduate studies in art education, and I maintain a strong conviction in the therapeutic benefits of making art, in whatever form.”
She spoke the words, albeit more eloquently, that I have been feeling and thinking for years. Viewing, reading and most of all creating art (and I include writing as art) makes us feel better. Art is for everyone. Creating art builds our self esteem. Creating art is cathartic. Creating art makes us better human beings. By creating a space for all of this richness to occur, Kim also debunks the notion that artists are introverts at best, aloof snobs at worst. She knows first hand how guiding others in their creative process ignites unexpected inspiration in her own work. She hopes the Drawing Room will expand into a thriving community of artists, teachers and students who can mutually inspire and support one another. She is currently reaching out to the homeshooling community and students whose arts programs have been limited due to budget cuts, but is also expanding her private lessons with adults. No matter your age or creative outlet of choice, you can find motivation, encouragement and knowledge at the Drawing Room.
Corbin Lewars is the author of Creating a Life: The memoir of a writer and mom in the making, which was nominated for the 2011 PNBA and Washington State book awards and is now available via ebook. Her essays have been featured in over twenty-five publications including Mothering and Hip Mama. She coaches other writers on-line, via the phone and in person in Ballard.