idiom (in (one’s) wheelhouse) In the area of one’s greatest striking power.
idiom (in (one’s) wheelhouse) In line with one’s interests or abilities.
A few years ago I wrote a blog post entitled “Lifestyle of Risk”. Here’s an abridged portion:
“ ‘Workmanship of risk’ is a well-known concept advanced by David Pye, Professor of Furniture Design at the Royal College of Art from 1964 – ’74, and perhaps the most popular craft theorist of the twentieth century.
It regards the risk involved in work that’s done where the quality of the finished product depends on the judgment, dexterity, and care of the maker – where the quality of the result is continually at risk during the work’s creation – as opposed to work of a more, shall I say, automated, or predetermined, kind, a.k.a. ‘workmanship of certainty’.
[Allow me to postulate] a similar idea involved in living the life of the self-employed craftsman or artist, where day to day decisions effect the resulting quality, and perhaps also the continuing possibility, of one’s “crafted” lifestyle.
There’s an inclination within many creative people, and for sure within me, that desires such a ‘lifestyle of risk’. A predisposition toward living the type of life where one’s existence, health, continuance, and advancement hinges directly and primarily on one’s own personal talents, abilities, craftsmanship, and decision making, both in the macro and micro sense, day in and day out.”
It goes without saying that the primary kind of risk that most creatives must contend with has to do with the realm of finances.
I’m no exception. That’s why, two days ago, we listed the first of two new studio apartment units we’ve been building (on two properties we own on the block on which we live in the Near North End of Colorado Springs). What a long and at times strange trip it’s been. We began thinking of converting our then 2-car detached garage-turned-workshop/studio, which it was for nearly thirty years, into an “accessory dwelling unit”, or ADU, early in 2019. The primary impetus for the project was my need for a larger art studio with more capacities than mine had – something made glaringly obvious to me after having supervised an amazing sculpture shop at the Colorado College for ten years, from the fall of 2005 – the spring of 2016. During that time, my home studio became a catch-all, but even once I resigned from the school to be a full time artist and cleaned and organized the space, I knew my work would suffer without a more adequate workspace.
What to do with my old studio? It made sense to my wife and me to convert it into a rental unit, as well as build another unit in an adjacent property we own.
Later that year, construction of my new art studio began at the same time we began renovating my old one into an ADU, but due to a number of factors, work on both ADU’s was put on hold early in 2020, and only resumed in the late summer of 2022.
We’ve dubbed this long delayed, first ADU “The Wheelhouse”. In part, that’s because this particular 20’ x 20’ patch of ground was where I earned my bread and butter for years, doing the kind of work that felt most in line with my talents, interests, and developing skills. It’s where I literally put in 10,000+ hours of work, learning much, as a self-employed custom props builder, set builder, cabinetmaker, etc., that has informed my artistic practice today. Not everything, but much.
My cozy [read: extremely tight] workshop/studio allowed us to keep food on the table during the years when we were raising our five kids. Hence, while today it looks nothing like it did back when it was my workshop and art studio, it will always remain a special place for me. And now, as the Wheelhouse, it can continue its service!
Because, getting back to the idea of crafting a “lifestyle of risk”, the idea isn’t to blindly “follow one’s bliss” while disregarding one’s financial needs. As I once heard Colorado College visiting artist Colgate Searle say, in general, the reason artists desire money is because it allows them the ability to make more art. Without an adequate financial game plan, often augmented by additional sources of income, that ability dries up rather quickly. Leaping into a lifestyle of risk without looking long and hard at the rocks below, especially if one has a responsibility to take care of others, and especially especially if one is the sole income earner, as I was for many years, is foolhardy.
And yet, yeah, that’s pretty much exactly what happened in our case – more than once – as it has in the case of a number of other creatives I know. It’s amazing the things one can do when their back is against the wall.
It’s wise, though, to develop multiple sources of income to help cushion the force of hitting said wall. Hence, my wife and I own a few rental properties, and while none of them are fully paid off yet, meaning a large percentage of our renters’ payments pass directly and rather unceremoniously from our hands to those of the mortgage company, even now the income they generate provides a bit of a financial buffer during the lean periods when, say, I am preparing for an exhibition (often meaning months with no income from my art).
My wife has her own wheelhouse of a private practice that dovetails with her skills, abilities, and interests as a reading specialist/dyslexia tutor. Working out of our home, her income alone these days provides a comfortable living. But for decades, while she homeschooled our kids, we relied primarily on my income and that of our rental properties – along with Nan’s almost superhuman ability to wring every last ounce of savings out of each and every dollar.
l thought I’d wrap this post up with a few photos of the Wheelhouse that our daughter-in-law, Hannah, recently took for us. Also, I wanted to give a shout out to Kathy Wortley, who, along with my wife, Nan, helped to outfit the space so smartly, and John Hockman, @prospectbuilders, for so ably designing the conversion (and starting the construction prior to Covid).
Come visit Colorado for a month or longer! Only, not today. It’s blizzarding out!