Say Yes to the Space: The Inspiring Studio of Michelle Kaskovich

Holy Smoke!–Look At That

When her garage door opened, my heart did a double-jump. I could not believe what Michelle Kaskovich had created. I know she is a gifted visual artist. But the scene in front of me wasn’t about the nuance or quality of her work. It was about her strength of character, her determination, and a very specific and enviable brilliance of creating space.

Her kids are smart, creative, artistic, athletic and charming, so I know she’s put in a lot of time and attention, nurturing and perception, rolling up her sleeves, and taking good care. Michelle is smart and well-educated. But aren’t we all. Really.

But we don’t all have garages like Michelle’s–or their equivalent. We haven’t all followed a call with such determination. We haven’t all insisted on keeping our selves, even as we choose to follow someone else’s career or care for other human beings.

At work in her studio desk

At work at her studio desk

I think of the many well-intentioned projects I’ve started, but never finished. I think of all the chores I put in front of my dreams. I think of the ways I care for my kids, sometimes going overboard, neglecting whatever in me that really needs to have its own birth and development.

I don’t live in regret. Not at all. But I’m allowed to be impressed: I see this garage, this artist’s studio, and I see a gal who has set her priorities, and lives true. Not above her kids. Not above her husband. No one is dying on the alter of her art or her ego. And she’s not a martyr, either. She thrives in that space–and so does everybody else.

Cozy reading nook in studio

In fact, her studio doubles as a play room and creative space for the family. All are welcome. It’s a retreat. It’s not the hustle of schedules or the grind of homework. It’s where everyone can drift to play, create, and be. It opens to the backyard, where kids frolic and a dog roams.

The mask that keeps giggling

When her children go there, you bet they find their mamma sketching, journaling, melting wax, mixing color. She’s torching it, and making it run. She’s setting her intention, and following it with wonder and delight. She accepts the outcome.

She finds an audience in galleries and shows. She enjoys occasional commissions. She’s not waiting for anyone to give her permission or approval. She’s making. Right now. Good stuff.

There’s a big metaphor in that garage for all of us: whatever we are truly called to do, if we carve it out, and thrive in it, others will, too.

i love this conglomeration

I’m not saying there aren’t sacrifices. Michelle has made many sacrifices. I’m sure she would like to make more art, show in more galleries, sell more pieces.

Every maker writer musician photographer exercise coach massage therapist etcetera is expected to be her own marketing powerhouse these days, and it takes more time to “make it big” than most of us have. But that’s not the point.

She goes out to her studio and she makes. She sets this space aside, both physically and metaphysically. In her home, Michelle’s art counts. Michelle counts. You can see it.

dream catchers made by tiny handsIt’s Mobile

I was bowled over and in awe of the way she charts her path while moving frequently (following her husband’s career), and also caring for her three amazing kiddos. So I went back later to photograph her in her studio, and chat.

She sounded a little unsure if she was setting the best example, feeling a little minus for whatever imaginary accolade or standard would make her “great.” I think she was wondering (like we all do) if she’s really done “enough.”

one of Michelle's wax piecesBut look at this! Her studio! Her kids out there with her, witnessing her in action. She’s in it. She’s making her art. She doesn’t talk about someday maybe. She’s doing her thing. Her kids are free to join. And they do. What better example is there?

Michelle at work in her space

I see evidence and imagine when her kids are moving tiny dolls, creating imaginative scenes with toys, reading an engrossing book, vigorously drawing, ardently weaving a dream catcher, feeling dark thrills as they put the final flourishes on a mask they made, then harassing anyone they meet with an accompanying growly voice, the primal scare.

And all the while, there’s Michelle at her desk. There’s Michelle at her saw. There’s Michelle melting wax and torching color.

Yes, kids, we can.

one commission, and several ready for a show

Like her life, Michelle’s work is textured and full of movement. It’s been through fire. It requires a bit of care. Her wax paintings could get a little soft, maybe even melt, if placed in direct sunlight on a hot day.

We’re all specific canvasses, made for niche purposes, glorious if we allow ourselves room. I love that Michelle doesn’t ask for permission. She made room.

Michelle marveling with a student--magic happens every timeIt took years to build the studio as it is now. It started out as just a closet in a long-ago house. She’s moved all this stuff around six or eight times, adding at each place. She’s collected materials, gathered inspiration, and flexed with life’s changes, competing objectives, and constant responsibilities. She starts over. She adjusts. She rebuilds. She refuses to drown.

From where I’m standing, it’s an amazing conglomeration, a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment, looking into her world, standing in her space. I want to be more like Michelle Kaskovich.

I’m contemplating all the micro-choices that go into creating an artist’s studio like this, and how that would translate for me. As a writer and photographer, I’m glad I have my desk, hard drives, camera gear, and computer. I have a little office space mixed into the circular layout of our home. Maybe having this desk and this spot is the reason I work at all.

Michelle in front of her current studio

The Meta Space

Nurturing spaces aren’t always physical. Creating space is putting whatever necessary element into the life, into the schedule, and into the budget that gives us the next step. It doesn’t have to promise a big payoff. It’s just the next right thing.

So maybe creating space is doing the yoga workshop three states away. Maybe creating space is saying yes to a work trip. Maybe it’s doing a kayaking excursion or a coast to coast bike adventure. Maybe it’s doing a writer’s workshop, or taking a cooking class. Maybe it’s doing a spa day.

her deskI took a solo road trip recently, doing a photography tour I’ve always wanted to do in Antelope Canyon. I love to travel, but no one in my family really wanted to do a photography tour in the desert. So I went alone. I found exploring on my own was uniquely expansive, a counterpoint to family travel. I wrote in a journal more. I followed my own agenda, curiosity, and impulses. It felt really good. And productive. My life made sense. I think there are many ways to create space.

I’m looking at Michelle’s garage especially, because it says deliberately who she is and what she values. It’s impossible to ignore.

If we make a space that honors what’s important to us, then we make a more interesting home, a more abundant life. We will find it hard to lose ourselves, actually. Cause we’ll always have this place that reminds us, that brings us back, and that helps us to thrive.

ready materialsLooking at Michelle’s studio and all the ways it sings to me, I wonder, how can I stay true to my own voice, create my own space. I think the first step is this: don’t apologize. Too often I feel apologetic for having an agenda that doesn’t serve someone else–a client or a family member. Why not do it, pursue it, go for it, just because?

a sample of new work

Michelle’s studio stands as a holy temple, just as lovely, worthy, and unapologetic as a human may be. It simply is. It doesn’t have to serve anyone else. But ask her students, her children, or anyone who is lucky enough to have her work on their walls–it’s great for them that she’s made that space.

no apologies. struggles and celebrations only.

no apologies. struggles and celebrations only.

What about you? What are you yearning to do? Yearning to make? Yearning to explore? Take a minute to write it down. Say it out loud. Have a bunch of doors close recently? Feel like both hands are tied behind your back? Your life is full of responsibility and obligations–even people and work you love–but something’s missing?

Please don’t escape. Keep searching. One foot in front of the other. The next right thing. The Universe loves you, and wants you to win.

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Sometimes it starts with carving out a space–setting up a card table in a corner, making a project in the basement, taking over the dining table, taking a week on the calendar, booking the tickets, making an appointment with an expert, saying yes to whatever “place.” It may be a physical place, a section of time, permission in your heart, even a significant chunk of family resources.

Say yes to the space.

at homeContact Michelle

For art shows, commissions, and Backyard Art (classes and camps), message Michelle Kaskovich at or follow her Facebook page, The Backyard Art Studio.

This is not a sponsored post. Michelle didn’t ask to be on my blog. These opinions are mine.


I must add a disclaimer since this post was published. Michelle contacted me afterwards and asked if I would make a movie of her to show at her new gallery, in exchange for a piece of art. I jumped at the chance to own my very own piece of Michelle Kaskovich art! I had also been wanting to make a film like this for a long time, and let her know this would be a first effort from me, so it might not be great. She agreed anyway, and I definitely got the long end of the stick!

Here’s my first-ever commercial film, for Michelle Kaskovich on social media:

Michelle and I in her new gallery, where she gave me a gorgeous, gorgeous encaustic piece.

Mandy and Michelle

Michelle’s art on my wall. It’s beautiful colors, swirls, and textures remind me of beloved ocean swims. It has the added bonus of being made by someone who I dearly love and admire. Plus! Plus! The frame is unfinished alder wood, so its warm beautiful scent fills my room–the best way to wake up.

Michelle's art on my wall

Michelle at her gallery:

Michelle Kaskovich

Hey, look! You can see the square piece from the film in the background!

© 2016, Experience Connect Relish – ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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