Category Creative

A Space Called Home: Joe Rosshirt



Artist in his studio
Joe Rosshirt, owner of FortHouse Studios. © Brian Fitzgerald

“Kids from an early age all think they’re artists. They’ll raise their hands if you ask them in kindergarten class, says Joe Rosshirt. “Every year that goes by, less and less hands will come up, to a point where you’re self-conscious to put your hand up.”

Joe Rosshirt is an illustrator, animator and artist who operates FortHouse Studios out of his home studio in South Portland, Maine. Over the past 15 years, the Maine College of Art (MECA) graduate has worked with all types of clients incuding national and regional marketing agencies and sells his own creations at art festivals and other venues.

© Brian Fitzgerald

It’s a long way from his childhood, when he remembers doubting his dream of being an artist. “I thought, I shouldn’t be an artist because all artists are poor,” Rosshirt says. “You think that ‘starving artists’ is the one rule for artists. It’s a limiting belief.”

Rosshirt has operated out of other spaces, but this studio—he’s been here for about a year—is the first he’s owned. “I love the security. I don’t have to think where I’ll be next year. My rent’s not going up and I’m not getting pushed out. That was always a back-of-the-mind issue with all my other spaces,” he says.

Rosshirt’s previous studio was larger and ‘gorgeous’ but he says he realized after a few years that it wasn’t the space that made him an artist. “The space affects your creativity, turning into a creativity vacuum chamber. If you make the space your own, your ideas can live there. It feels like I can just access those ideas by being here.”

Rosshirt doesn’t have a set schedule, usually getting into the studio by 10 but often working odd hours. “I transition into work mode easily. Even in the middle of the night, I act on it,” he explains. “Nine-to-five never got me into a flow state. Lightning strikes of creativity can’t be predicted.” He adds: “The Stephen King style isn’t for me: ‘Show up, do work, get out.’ Not my approach.” 

One of the things Rosshirt loves most about his work is going to art shows, where he sells directly to the public.  “I have this tagline, ‘Make Happy Happen'”, he says.   “I just want to spread smiles.  That’s enough.  I don’t need to make the sale.”

© Brian Fitzgerald


Creating Spaces is a project that explores the connection between Maine artists and craftsmen and their physical workspaces-—places that are often hallowed grounds of creativity and solitude, far from the public eye or the gallery.


Gael McKeon: Inspired and Unbound


Bass Luthier
Bass Luthier Gael McKeon, Portland, Maine. © Brian Fitzgerald

“As a young (bass) luthier, I thought I was going to make all of these innovative changes. You see people doing it all the time: they change (instruments) sporadically. It doesn’t work. If you’re going to make it different, (the instrument) still has to work,” says Gael McKeon.

© Brian Fitzgerald

McKeon, originally from New York City, has been a double bass luthier since 1998. He’s since worked and studied in New York, North Carolina, San Francisco, and Toulouse, France, before moving to Maine. In his workshop on the third floor of the State Theater building on Congress Street, McKeon repairs and restores traditional instruments while designing his own.

“Humidity and temperature control is essential. I’m ruined without that,” says McKeon of his tidy but cramped space, one wall dominated by views of Congress Street below. McKeon describes his shop as the ‘second best’ space he’s ever had. “I’m here mostly because of the windows,” he says. “It’s just big enough so that I can manage the amount of repairs that I can handle. If I had less space, I would have to tell people to hold on to their instruments while I finished other things. Here, I can juggle a little bit, and I can have adequate machinery.”

McKeon also builds his own instruments. He describes his approach as conventional, using traditional proportions, but with his own departures of design inspired by classic and modern forms. One bass on display in his shop sat broken for 12 years before he restored it with a paper fingerboard and a custom scroll that he first sketched in 1998. “I’ve added some innovations,” says McKeon, “but there are technical reasons for its aesthetics.”


Creating Spaces is a project that explores the connection between Maine artists and craftsmen and their physical workspaces-—places that are often hallowed grounds of creativity and solitude, far from the public eye or the gallery.

© Brian Fitzgerald


© Brian Fitzgerald


© Brian Fitzgerald


Cut it Out: When Less is More


Maine Cops
Pete Herring, District Game Warden with the Maine Dept. of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, © Brian Fitzgerald


My default mode seems set to Acquire: Get more gear, more software, more skills, new stuff. But more isn’t better. It’s often a trap. Over time, the act of acquiring can become the goal itself.

That’s why the skill of subtraction is so important.

Subtractive lighting is critical in portrait photography. Blanket a subject with light, and then step by step, remove or block light to reveal shadow, shape and negative space. Stop when things get interesting. Light makes images possible, but shadow is what gives images definition, mood and impact.

The same concept applies elsewhere in life. Pruning makes plants stronger. Editing is critical for impactful writing. Decluttering homes make it easier to live in them. Cutting away the old and extraneous gives space for other things to grow.

Adding new things to life is fun and essential, but so is regular culling. I try to carve out time regularly, ideally at least twice a year, to evaluate and to subtract things that no longer work for me or are preventing progress on meaningful work. Embrace the process of subtraction by regularly and systematically clearing out the overgrowth in your life. You might be surprised by the things you learn and discover along the way.



Bridging the Gap

© Brian Fitzgerald

In the classic “South Park” episode featuring the Underpants Gnomes, a straightforward but fundamentally flawed business plan is unveiled: Phase 1, collect underpants.  Phase 3, reap the profits. This presentation humorously omits a crucial element — Phase 2.

Aspiring artists watching YouTube might hear similar-sounding plans: “Step one, buy this camera; watch this course. Step 3, get clients,  fame, and financial freedom.”   So simple, anyone can do it.  

So why don’t they?

As with the gnomes’ plan, several vital steps are missing.  True success as a creative requires identifying and filling these gaps.

For creatives, learning doesn’t follow a neat linear path — mastering one skill thoroughly before progressing to the next. It’s a more chaotic, but rewarding, journey: gain a foundational understanding, move forward, stumble, recognize a gap in knowledge or skill, then return to deepen your understanding. It is an ongoing cycle of growth where mistakes aren’t setbacks but signals, guiding you toward the gaps begging for attention.

The goal isn’t to avoid errors; it’s to engage actively and learn from them. It’s about embracing a dynamic learning process where missteps aren’t failures but opportunities to go deeper.

If you think you’ve addressed the gap but issues persist, you’ve dealt with a surface-level gap but not the true, core gap at the root of your problems. In other words, maybe the issue isn’t that the gnomes don’t know how to make stolen underpants profitable. Maybe the real gap is their decision to venture into the underpants business in the first place.

Gaps are the elusive Phase 2 on the path to genuine, sustainable success as a creative. Look for the gaps and let them lead you in the right direction.