The Lost Discipline of Self-Removal
Words & Photographs by Ashleigh Peak
In the spring of 2015, I walked away from the highest profile project I had been contracted for to date. The project seemed guaranteed to not only provide a great financial boost to my photography business, but it would also provide national exposure. Within weeks, I realized the cost was too great. My creative process was unvalued, mocked and withering. I was spending too much time and energy defending the value of my abilities, and none of my time creating. After making the decision to walk away, I needed to remember why and how I do what I do. I felt so free but lost at the same time. Having nothing to lose and everything to gain, I had the wild idea to reach out to one of my favorite (and highly successful) artists, clothing designer Lisa Hackwith. Even though I had never met her, I took the leap and after a few correspondences, I booked a flight from Memphis to Minneapolis. It was here that I realized an important part of my creative process that this high-profile distraction had replaced: the discipline of self-removal.
I arrived in Minneapolis and immediately felt a sense of reprieve; the weather was cool, the landscape was beautiful, and the people were kind. When I pulled up to Lisa’s studio, which was in an old, renovated warehouse, I was in awe. Her space is a beautiful expanse of light and white. The painted brick walls, white ceilings, and white desktops were striking as they were illuminated by warm sunlight streaming through the giant windows. The only bits of color were the clothing and beautiful bolts of fabric. Glimpses of earbud-clad seamstresses, along with sounds of scissors trimming and sewing machines stitching, filled the room. I didn’t notice Lisa right away. I think I was expecting a queen-on-her-throne type of situation, but no, she was one of the seamstresses, trimming fabric. In her sweet, soft-spoken voice and kind demeanor, she welcomed me in and introduced me to everyone, and then we sat down to chat.
I came to Minneapolis to interview and photograph Lisa and her space. I wanted to hear her story, and potentially make that story known. We talked for about twenty minutes, and about halfway through the interview, I knew what story I was going to tell and essentially, learn. Her process of creating involves something so important that I had completely forgotten.
“I have never fit into the mold of only doing a Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter line. I create new pieces every month that are launched weekly,” she explained. “To me, they are not unlike limited-edition works of art. When they’re gone they’re gone, so I’m constantly designing new pieces.”
Floored by this concept, I immediately asked her how she stays inspired. She must be burdened by having to weekly create and execute new concepts, right? But as she went on, I realized it was the opposite: creating was her oxygen.
“Are you always studying fashion or going to fashion shows? How do you do it?” I asked. Her response amazed me. It was so simple.
“My mind gets so full, I will just have to get alone. I’ll go to my room. I’ll go on a long walk. I’ll get out in nature. I need some space to think.”
When she said this, I realized what an oft-forgotten luxury that is in this oversharing, internet age. What discipline it is to remove ourselves from our phones, from our situations, from our tv shows and podcasts, from our entire environment. When our minds are free to not be so distracted, we allow for the negative space in our mind – the space that breeds creativity – to function. We are then able to control and notice our ideas.
“After I get alone, I will just have to sketch new designs,” Lisa explained.
She essentially removes every unnecessary element from her view and her mind, in order to be inspired. This discipline is how she is able to launch a new design every week. It is how she clearly developed her company’s pillars, one of which is to always be thinking forward and to dream. It is how she has a team who loves and respects her, who are working with smiles on their faces and proudly inspecting their finished work. It is how she is able to stand with integrity and vow to always be a U.S.-based clothing maker.
Being inspired is everything to Lisa, and her answer to that call has brought her much success.
As we closed our interview, I got alone to process and form the story, and she went back to work. I walked through her space again but with a new understanding. I began taking it all in, and it all made sense. Aha. The white walls, the white ceilings, the clean and minimalist aesthetic, the removal of all non-necessities. It was not just a pretty space, it was negative space, ready for the creation of more aha moments, more dreams, and more beautiful things. Her space is her soul personified and a breeding ground for creativity.
I left Minneapolis with a clear head and a plan. I left invigorated and inspired, but with a sense of control. I left ready to take on the next season of my creative journey, all because of the mysterious beauty of someone else’s creative process intersecting with mine and the invaluable concept to remove myself.