Never Marry an Artist

Painting by Carolyn Elkins

Do you like having at least a speck of uncovered top space in your house? Then don’t say “I do” standing next to an artist. My wife, Carolyn, has her own entire studio under our house, with a huge table, which artists call a bench. They call their table a bench because artists don’t hold with rules about what words actually mean. This table is gargantuan, about the size of an SUV, but all of it is covered except for a 12-inch by 18-inch area where she does the actual work. In addition to this officially designated workshop, the truth is, our whole house is also Carolyn’s studio. Of the 5 tables inside our home, all of them have been completely covered with art project materials at one time or another, and lately she’s been doing a lot of her work on the last remaining clear surface in our whole housethe top of the dryer. Recently, while we watched a January 6th hearing on TV, she crafted art on a lap desk. In our house even the couch is an ad hoc studio.

Carolyn does sometimes sell her art, which you’d think would reduce her vast holdings, but then she usually spends the money on new materials and tools. She loves tools with a passion. Her son gave her a contraption so monstrously big and heavy it had to be delivered by a semi truck. It’s a combination rolling mill, metal shear, pan break, box break, and hernia maker.

She also has at least 30 different hammers, including all of the following: ball-peen, claw, rubber, sledge, rawhide, teflon, dead blow, cobbler’s, cross, 3 different textured hammers, 2 riveting hammers, and 2 planishing hammersin case she ever wants to planish anything. Whenever we’re in Lowe’s, Carolyn starts looking at new tools and says, “It’s hammer time,” and I say, “You can’t touch this.”

If you do find yourself accidentally married to an artist, you should take to heart one lesson about the Artist’s Way: never accept an invitation to accompany your crafty spouse to a Michael’s store or a Hobby Lobby. Carolyn can happily spend a couple of hours just browsing in these stores. Who knew there were thousands of different types of beads? Hundreds of different sizes? Glass beads, wooden beads, precious beads, plastic? There are even all different kinds of clasps for jewelry. She never gets bored, but non-artists do. Not just me. Carolyn’s son absolutely refuses to go to these stores with his mother anymore. In fact, once when she visited him and asked to go to a craft store, he, despite his usually impeccable honesty, told her, “Minneapolis doesn’t have any.” She didn’t find out the deception till much later. Apparently, as he drove her around, he carefully avoided any route by which she would have seen a Hobby Lobby.

During Pandemic Lockdown, Carolyn began a new artistic activitythe making of something aptly named “junk” journals. This art form led to her saving used envelopes, cancelled stamps, ticket stubs, map fragments and used paper of all kinds—you know, what non-artists call “trash.”

I will admit that on the plus side, having an artist as a wife has made it easier for me to please her with gifts that many women would not regard as gifts at all. Carolyn’s eyes have lit up when I’ve presented her with dead butterflies, pieces of woody grape vine, tiny pine cones, cicada wings, hornets’ nests, curiously shaped fallen tree branches, colorful or smooth rocks, and even run-over pieces of jewelry I’ve found in parking lots.

And my favorite gifts I’ve ever received, Carolyn created them for mepersonal, unique, and wonderfully beautiful. Each one a work of artliterally. And I’ve saved them, all of them, and they’ve begun piling up, taking up a significant amount of room.

Who needs top space anyway?


My thanks to Wildacres Retreat, where this essay was written.

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