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A Cube with a View

Having arrived in Colorado my wife and I with our son in tow were looking around the house and property trying to decide where I would set up a studio.  The vision of taking the stable and converting it into a studio was pretty strong.    It’s just twenty feet from the creek which wanders on the northern border of our property.  I imagined windows cut out and being able to see the creek while I worked.

The stable is a little further from the house, maybe forty or fifty feet.   Far enough away that when I’m working late I wouldn’t disturb anyone.    So  I called an engineer to come and check it out.  We knew it had to get cleared by him before we could do anything.   After measuring and looking it over he told me that to set up a studio inside I’d have to raise the whole stable two feet to get it above the flood plain.   The stable is sixty three feet in length and roughly 18 feet wide so this started to feel like a bad start to such a lovely vision.    What did he think it would cost to raise the stable?   He told me that it could probably be done for $60,000 dollars.   That there may be other things I could do if I wanted to get around the flood plain rules but in the end just finishing the stable would cost a lot as well.

So I decided to do what I often do in a situation like this.  I back burner it.   It doesn’t mean I give up on the vision of having my studio in the stable, it would be too much money for a fledgling business.   Instead I went to our big two car garage, plan B.

Garagio

We call it Garagio.  It’s not quite the studio I imagined, but in some ways it’s more than I imagined.  Somewhere between a garage and studio, it doesn’t have quite the same ring to say “I’ll be in the garagio”.   Yet on summer days I have a sixteen foot wall that lifts up to connect me to the land. I’ve screened in the door so that I can keep it open all day as I work.   The views of the front street are beautiful here.  Houses are spread out, and the streets are lined with trees, the houses set back.  If not for the asphalt road I might be looking out the door onto the land as it was a hundred years ago or more, often horses do trot past during the day.    When the door comes down it doubles as my viewing screen for VFX work.  I’ve stretched canvas across the entire door which gives it the appearance of being a big blank canvas, when the door is open it drapes down in a soft roll of fabric.

The unplanned part of choosing the garage to do my work in, is the access my family has to me.  The view in essence isn’t so much the environment, the beautiful Colorado landscape that I can see out the back towards the creek and Long’s Peak, but my family.   I see my beautiful wife in the back yard crouched down in the garden working the soil with my son Everest who is muddy again.    In the front I see them playing in the yard and I am a heartbeat away.  When he is really mischievous he’ll simply peg my back door with a water balloon to get my attention, and is a grinning mass of boyhood when I open the door to investigate.

When my son comes into my studio to be with me he has choices.  He has his own art table to work at, or he can carve wax on one of mine, as he learns some things about making jewelry. His five year old hands explore with real carving tools and green wax that litters the floor when he is done.  There is Mars Base which we have created out of foam and lit below with a river of flowing lava.  He plays for hours here making legos and telling stories that he has roped me into.  We share stories of an entire universe called Aurora Borealis.

Last week Everest came into my studio and sat on my lap to watch me work, he didn’t care that I was simply programming that day.  He was interested and always asks me questions.  He wants to know what I do in my job and he is involved, he offers his advice and even critiques my work.  He also knows how to use some sophisticated software like Maya, and the Wacom tablet because he is interested and has always been.   I learn from his curiosity all the time.

Then there is nap time.  I’m not saying that I give naps to my son Asher all the time, but I try to as much as I can.   To do this I get him asleep with some music and then swing the sling onto my back where he naps for sometimes as long as two hours while I work.  He is not quite one year old, and doesn’t do well napping by himself, which from a Darwinian perspective makes perfect sense.

It isn’t always easy, but I imagine this is more the way things were supposed to be for humans and I sometimes think of myself as having more in common with our foraging hunter ancestors.   Work when you need to work, rest when you need to rest, attend to family and sometimes hunt or forage with them on your back.  The truth is that we as Americans are so disconnected from our families, is it any surprise that the divorce rate is between fifty and sixty percent?  That children feel lost and act out?

We are living in an imperfect system cut off from ourselves and our families.  They are sidelined for the sake of a commute, or coffee breaks with a cohort or drinks with the team on Friday.  These things I have been assured in my quest to work from home, are important to the inner workings of a company.  The “face time” gives a connection they argue.   In my experience however these moments getting coffee were a fraction of my day.  I would return to my dark cubicle for twelve more hours to emerge when the sun is long down to face the commute home to my family who is already asleep.  I did this for seventeen years, because middle management feels it’s important to be able to step into your cube for five minutes a day and tell you what to do, or see your face, exhausted over your umpteenth cup of coffee.   Reading in between the lines I can hear, “We need to be able to drop in on you for five minutes of each 8-16 hour work day, to be sure you aren’t slacking”.

So maybe I don’t have the ideal studio, and getting work in Colorado has been a hard sell to be sure.   Still, the sacrifices I feel I need to make in order to be close to my family are important to me, and to them.   I could take a short cut and make things easy on myself by taking a job in San Francisco or Los Angeles or many other places.   But how do you ignore the feeling that this is the place where I’m supposed to be and trade the freedom of working from home, interacting with family, for the promise of benefits and two weeks off?

For now I  prefer my imperfect cube with a view, a heartbeat away from my family.

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Daev Finn is an artist, illustrator, writer, visual effects artist, and video game developer, whose work can best be seen as Aslan in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Visual Effects.  http://www.daevfinnstudio.com

1 comment to A Cube with a View

  • Dave, this defines perfectly the life i am trying to build. It is insperational to see you doing it. Blending a passion for your work and a greater passion for your loved ones into a life of integrated harmony. I hope i get the opportunity to see it in action someday.
    Matt Campbell

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