fiddle leaf photography
Mar 15, 2018
As I’ve grown my business I’ve come to know so many dynamo women business owners in Edmonton who are the most beautiful mix of grit and grace. Do they have it all figured out? NO. Do any of us? They are working their way through, one day at a time, trying to make life what they want it to be. And on top of it all, they are raising their own kids, who are watching them forge a path that isn’t always easy but is full of reward. I’m fascinated by these women and want to learn more, which is why I asked if they’d sit down and chat with me. This is the fifth entry in the Grit + Grace series. You can catch past Grit + Grace entries here.
It’s basically impossible not to be inspired the moment you walk into Creation Space. Nestled in a beautifully bright studio in the Roots building, just above Blush Organics and Under The High Wheel, Alie Service has created a space that is eclectic, fun and oh, so very her. It has an atmosphere that is instantly welcoming and it’s clear that creativity is not just allowed, but it is celebrated with abundance.
I first visited Creation Space late last year with my girls after seeing quite a few people post about it on Instagram. My girls are 3 and 6 and have very different interests when it comes to arts and crafts, so I was unsure of how the morning would go, but my concerns were totally unnecessary. The girls had such a fun 2 hours playing in the water table, tossing water balloons covered in paint, making clay boats and painting plastic babies (in fact, they still regularly talk about the painted babies and beg for me to let them do it at home – maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to let them have another go).
I knew I wanted to talk to Alie as part of this Grit + Grace series as she’s really onto something special and was curious how her vision came to be. We sat down to talk in her studio on a Tuesday afternoon, while the sun shone in and acoustic music played in the background. Alie is as welcoming as her space is and it only takes about 2 seconds to see that creativity is her passion.
How long have you been in business with Creation Space.
Our doors officially opened May 10, 2017. The website was up before that an open for registrations, but officially we opened last May.
Tell me a bit about your journey and how you came to open this amazing studio.
It was a long journey! I guess you could go way back to when I was a kid. My parents weren’t overly creative, but they were really open to us being creative. Materials were always available and we could use them however we wanted. I remember using the adult scissors when I was a little kid and just loving cutting things. I’d cut strips of fabric on my lap and before I’d know I’d have cut my nightgowns, but I just loved it. So, I think that was really the beginning of the joy of open ended creativity for me.
I grew up in a small town and I was quite into athletics, but I also had a really, really great high school art teacher. I took my BFA, and as soon as I graduated I got a job at the Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA) doing school programs. I then took over the Art Express program, which is a program for adults with developmental disabilities and started teaching a class for adults with Cerebral Palsy. All in all, I taught there for 11 years. I went through a few different education managers while I was there and I had one who I learned a tonne from, and so I was really able to develop my teaching and classroom management skills while working a the AGA. Then I also started teaching private lessons, at daycares, and at community leagues.
Then I had my first daughter, Audrey, and did go back to work part-time at the AGA. I found that having my own daughter allowed me to start seeing new ways to work with really little kids. I was teaching a class at the AGA at the time that starts at age 3, but I had started doing art with my own kids even much younger than 3 and was seeing the potential in it. There’s really no art programs in our city, and in most places actually, for kids under 3.
After I had Amelia I decided not to go back to work. Audrey and I were doing a lot of creative art together and she really enjoyed it. We’d do it often while Amelia was napping, but then we got to the point that we couldn’t do it while Amelia was napping as she so wanted to a part of it, and so we would work together as a family exploring art. The way I approached working with kids really did evolve once I had kids. So, I do feel like I’m in a bit of a unique position where having kids really improved me within my career and helped me grow.
I’m also a practicing artist, and after I had Audrey I found that I had time to actually focus on my own art. I had my first major show, which was 303 sculptures, each one a bird species that can be found in Edmonton, all made from recycled materials. In order to get ready for the show on time I had to do a bird every day. Sometimes Audrey would be awake and so we’d work together on them or she’d be beside me working on her own. Then one day I decided we should go to the library and do a different activity for her and there she was digging in their garbage cans looking for things to make birds. That was amazing to see her involved in making art that wasn’t typical drawing or watercolour and for her to use her imagination. (Check out photos of the exhibit here – it’s truly amazing!)
I guess I always had a dream of opening a studio, but it really was just a dream. I wasn’t sure if it would ever come to fruition. I didn’t attack that dream and firmly decide that I was going to happen, but what did happen is that the lady who owns this building (the building Alie’s studio is in) approached me and asked if I’d be interested in doing something with this space. And so I thought about it and I decided I really wanted to, and my husband was super supportive. So in a 6 month period I decided to make that happen. I took a leap and really hoped people would come.
How old are you girls now?
Audrey is 5 and Amelia is 3 in May.
What would you say your favourite part of having your own studio is?
I get to do the parts that I’m most excited about and I can take things in my own direction. I really, really loved working at the AGA, but there we couldn’t create the same sort of mess as we can in this type of gallery setting. There’s often a focus in programs on a product and having something to take home, and with Creation Space there is often things to take home, but the focus is more on the creation of the art and the freedom to explore. I love being able to watch kids explore. It’s also really amazing to be able to involve my own kids in my studio.
Being a mom, and now having a studio, what the hardest part of those 2 roles merging for you?
Boundaries are really tough for me. I find if I bring the kids to the studio, that’s a mixing of roles that can be really challenging too. For example, my kids were here this morning and then after my first class we took a break and I had lunch with my kids. And that’s amazing, but I’m also working at the same time. So if I get a phone call then I do answer it because I’m at work, but the kids are also here….so it’s a blending of roles that can sometimes get tricky. I also do a lot of work in the evening, and drawing those lines can be tough. I’m really hoping that once both my kids are in school I can keep more of the work at the studio and less at home.
If you were to have a crystal ball, where do you see your business in 5 years?
That’s challenging! I really feel like it’s just going to grow and change organically. Hopefully I’ll have someone to help me clean a little bit though! Having a studio assistant would be really great.
Is there anything about being in business that you didn’t expect?
I spend a lot more time answering emails and on social media than I expected I would. I do enjoy those things, but it’s definitely more time consuming than I thought it would be.
I also didn’t know how great and supportive this city would be. The creative community in Edmonton is amazing and I’ve met some really lovely people. I didn’t really plan to pay for advertising and I didn’t work that into my budget, but the community has embraced this studio and so advertising has happened organically for me and that has been really great.
Have you ever been given any business advice that has stuck in your brain?
Not really. Lately a lot of people have referred to me as an entrepreneur, but really, I don’t think of myself in that way. I think of myself as being creative, teaching art classes, and making this space happen. So a lot of the business things people bring up just don’t feel like me as I don’t feel like a business person.
Interesting, because obviously you’re a good business person as you’re making this work.
I guess, but I don’t really feel that it’s successful because I’m a good business person. Really, my strength is creativity and working with kids and being open minded, and I think that has made this successful.
Have you ever been given any parenting advice that has stuck with you?
I have a friend who is really great at giving and accepting help. She’s extremely giving and also has no problem calling and asking for help watching her kids or even cleaning her house. Asking for help is something in my life that always seemed impossible. I don’t even really ask my husband for help, and he constantly has to remind me that I can ask him for help. Then one time, this friend mentioned that she’d helped another friend out and that other friend hadn’t asked her for help in return. And she actually felt insulted that her friend didn’t ask her for help. It made me realize that there’s a give and take in a friendship that allows you to be a better parent. I’m always worried about inconveniencing people, but sometimes allowing people to help can actually make them feel good too. That has helped me even on the business side of things too – asking for help when I need it and being ok with it.
If you were a new addition to the crayon box, what colour crayon would you be and why?
I’d be white, because it has a lot of possibilities. White you can mix with any colour and it’ll change so much.
Favourite kid product?
My Chariot. I don’t drive so I cycle with my kids until it snows and then use the stroller.
Do you think it’s easier or harder to be a mom now than it was to be a mom when you were growing up?
It’s different. It has evolved. I think that now we have more of a support network than there was when we were growing up. We are more aware of things like postpartum depression and some of the stigma has gone away. I had a really involved father, but I think in general, fathers are more involved today than they were a generation ago. But I also think it’s more difficult because of the internet – there’s more pressure and we set higher expectations on ourselves. Those things that are a great resource, can also be a source of pressure that we don’t need.
Do you feel like you have this whole Mom thing figured out?
No! You never can. I think I’m a good mom, but I do make mistakes. I don’t think you can ever have the mom thing figured out as it’s always changing and every kid is different.