Many of us live with the nagging, half-recognized suspicion that we would be more creative if we could only follow our ideas without interruption. But even if we manage to carve out a little time, the question arises: How do you find a place?let alone a mindset?that allows you to maximize your creative endeavors?
Cincinnati entrepreneur Natalie Hale presents one answer. Like most of us, Hale leads a very busy life, juggling the needs of two teenage children and other home-oriented responsibilities, all the while working to build her new publishing companySpecial Reads For Special Needsfor which she’s developing and writing a series of reading books aimed at children with learning disabilities. As the mother of a son with Down syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiant disorder, Hale speaks to parents’ groups on the challenges of teaching learning disabled children to read. And in her spare time, she squeezes in some freelance illustration work. She’s also contributed to two books aimed at helping heal the psychological scars of abused children, illustrating Harriet Tremholm’s How the Princess Returned Color to Her Kingdom (Inner Children at Play), and writing and illustrating The Little Star’s Journey (originally published by Behavioral Science Center Inc., and now marketed by her company). If that’s not enough, from 1996 to 1999, she worked with the children’s book division of the Los Angeles-based Self-Realization Fellowship. There, she did the art direction and writing for Two Frogs in Trouble, a book about having the courage to go forward.
A Place for Everything: Hale’s studio is divided into three major zones: a writing area (right), a drawing/painting table (left, just beyond the opened dictionary) and a business area (left foreground). There’s also a secondary meditation area set up with candles and incense under the dark picture in the background.
Such a schedule could easily result in some very badly frayed nerves. But Hale maintains her balance by looking to the spiritual roots of creativity and creative living. “Everything that I do, whether it’s written or illustrated, all comes from one source,” she says. “There are many words for that sourceyou can call it God, the Source, the Great Spirit. But whatever you choose to call it, it’s endless. And you can come up with an infinite variety of creative ideas if you connect with that internal source.”
Meditation has been Hale’s primary means of tapping into that internal source since 1972, when she discovered Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi—she engages in the daily practice of yoga and other meditation techniques. So when she set out to build a new workspace in the basement of her home five years ago, Hale wanted something more than just a studioshe wanted a total creative environment; a sanctuary where she could center herself, achieve a quiet mind, and let her creative impulses come out unimpeded. To make this work as she envisioned it, Hale built a room for meditation adjacent to her actual studio space. The12x12-foot studio portion of Hale’s creative work area could serve as a model for the efficient use of space. It features built-in cabinets, a drawing table, flat files and lots of flat work areasincluding a large space built over the flat files. And it connects via a side door to the 10×13-foot meditation room, which is set up very simply. “As you enter, on the left there’s a low table with pictures of various spiritual figures,” Hale says. “I also have a meditation seatI don’t sit cross-legged because my legs fall asleep after about a half hour. There’s carpeting in the room, and I have a little area where I keep what looks like a natural history museum, with crystals and seashells and beautiful things. But the only essentials for the room were quiet, dim lighting and a window for fresh air.”
It’s in this latter room that Hale typically begins each day. “I meditate two hours in the morning and maybe 20 minutes in the afternoon,” she says.
Hale finds that the moments immediately following meditation are often the most creative. “After I finish my meditation and I’m very centered, I sit for another 10 minutes or so,” she says. “That’s when the ideas for books come. They’ll just flow. Virtually every book I’ve ever written came that way.
“An interesting side benefit of meditation is that I’ve practiced visualization for 28 years,” she continues. “I’ve developed it to such an extent that a book is already completed before I even bring pencil or brush to the board. Sometimes I get myself in a position where I think, ?Oh, this is just so much trouble to now materialize it in the physical world. It’ll take so much time. It’s already created. Why do I have to do this?’ Because it’s completed; I can see everything.”
Maintaining the Flow of Energy
Once her morning meditation is complete, Hale eats breakfast, then goes straight to work. To complete this part of her creative environment, she relies on music, lighting and artwork. “If I sit for a project, I have to sustain my energy,” she says. “I may have to be in a particular creative mode for hours, and I use music to keep me there and to make it effortlessI don’t have to work nearly as hard. I choose a compact disc for its energy, depending on the project I’m working on. For example, maybe I need a very mellow, soothing background, or I might use something joyous and upbeat. I program the compact disc and then press repeat. And I’ll listen to that while I work for three hours, without interruption. It does not disturb me. It’s like a sound mantra that just carries you.” Hale notes that instrumental music works best in this situationvocal music tends to demand too much attention.
“I also think the lighting is important,” she says. “What you’re doing is setting up an environment, and it’s got to be one that’s so in tune with you that you don’t have to fight the environment in any way. I have a combination of incandescent, halogen and fluorescent bulbs, although I took the normal fluorescent bulbs and replaced them all with full-spectrum lightingit made a big difference. So I can combine those three lighting sources or I can play around with them if I want. And I think that’s really nice to be able to use. There’s a slightly different spectrum to each one.”
Hale decorated the studio walls with photographs instead of posters or original art. “The photographs are inspiring and enhance the environment without being distracting,” she says.
All Things Practical: Several of Hale’s book projects surround her writing station (at left). At right are a few of the broad range of compact discs she listens to to underscore particular energy levels for working on various projects.
Tapping the Source
After five years of working in her creative sanctuary, Hale says the investment was well worth it on a number of levels (see “Managing Time” on page 31). “Those two rooms are the most important rooms in the entire house to me,” she says. “They’re so intertwined because the power source is the same for both and one feeds the otherthe meditation area feeds the art and writing area, and even the business area. I’ve had to split the studio three ways because you have to do the business end of the deal as well. To keep that part in line or in check also takes the same source. You just have to apply it a little differently, but you have to be just as creative in that area as well.
“Having this kind of space brought me from a very ?sometimes artist’ to a very determined one,” she continues. “It’s my business now. It’s made a huge difference in moving me into the professional arena. When you have a space like that, it’s a real clear signal to the people you live with that ?this is my work. When I go in here, there better be an earthquake going on for you to disturb me.’ It just signals an enormous difference in intent. It took effort and it took moneyalthough not a whole lotto build that. But it’s truly a giant step. You’re really internally committing yourself, and that will show.”
Gary Lord, the author of Marvelous Murals You Can Paint (North Light Books), runs Prismatic Painting Studio www.prismaticpainting.com in Cincinnati, Ohio.