The Artist’s Studio. It’s a magical place. You can feel the creativity in the air as soon as you walk in. It’s full of all the art supplies you'll need to breathe life into your new creations. Brushes, canvas, paint, clay, pastels and much more. The most important thing for you to know is you need to be comfortable in your studio to create your best work. Your studio reflects you; what inspires you, how you work in it and what you create. If you work from a home studio like I do, these basic tips and considerations for setting up a well-functioning studio space will help you create your best work.
Location, location, location! I’m sure we’ve all heard this said before. It refers to real estate and that location is always the most important thing to consider. The location you choose for your studio isn’t any different. So, what’s the best spot to set up a studio? Here are some things you should consider:
· Natural light – do you have a source of natural light for the space? Whether you use natural light, artificial light or a combination of the two when you work, it’s important to think about natural light when selecting your location. It’s always best to have a bright, naturally lit studio space. The best light to work by is north light, so try to locate your studio where you have a window or skylight facing north. Why north light? It’s the most consistent light during the entire day. As the sun moves around us from east to south to west, the light in the rooms facing those directions changes during the day. How you see the piece you’re working on will change too. Rooms that have north light tend to stay illuminated the same throughout the day making them the best choice for artist’s studios.
· Space – do you have enough space? You’ll need to move around efficiently in the area you’ve chosen as your studio. If you can’t, then find another space. Cramped or cluttered spaces don’t make for good studios. You’re going to be spending a lot of time in your studio so make it a space you’re going to want to be in.
If you can only set up your studio in a space that’s being used for something else, like a guest room, living room or a basement, make sure to define your studio area somehow. You don’t need to draw a line down the middle of the room but you could section it off using a folding screen, large plants or decorative drapery. Anything to create a separate space for yourself.
· Wall colour – what colour are the walls in your studio space? Have you picked a room for your studio that has a vibrant colour on the wall? You probably picked the wall colour because it was inspirational in some way or it matched something in the room, and I know you love it, but consider a re-paint. Vibrant colours can interfere with the creation of your artwork. For a studio, mid-tone grey, dull green or earthy colours are the way to go. Why not white? Well, white is great for a gallery space but when you’re creating it can be reflective and too stark for a work environment.
· Flooring – what’s under your feet? This is something to consider when picking your studio location. If possible, your flooring should be easy to clean. Laminated flooring, tile, concrete or wood floors are all good choices. A large old area rug or old wall-to-wall carpeting is a good solution too as long as you don’t care what happens to it. You might think it would be a good idea to just put a drop cloth or plastic sheet down where you’re working, but beware. Drop cloths and plastic sheets can tangle up around your feet as you move around on them making them very dangerous. They’ve tripped me up a few times and I don’t recommend them for your studio.
· Visitors – can people visit with you in your studio? This may not be something you’ve thought about before. It’s great to have your clients, other artists, your friends and family visit your studio. People want to see where their fave artists create their awesome masterpieces and what new artwork they’re working on. It’s why studio tours were created. Where is your studio located now? Is it easy for people to come to your studio, have a visit, and see your latest work?
My studio space has been located all over our house. Years ago, I used our guest room as my workspace for crafty things and small projects. When I started painting full-time, I set up the little-used sitting room off our bedroom as my studio so I could work using natural light. That room has a large bay window area so I had mostly northern and eastern exposure. It worked well but because of where I had to set up my easel, the space just didn’t flow. I felt confined and wanted to avoid working most days because of it. I eventually moved my studio to our living room which was yet another area of the house that didn’t get much use. Even without the perfect northern exposure, I work with artificial light these days, it’s ended up being the perfect fit for me. It’s a bright room with a lot of uncluttered space to work in. The carpet is old so it doesn’t matter if I accidentally spill something. The best part is, my visitors can come in the front door and pop right into my studio to have a chat and see what I’ve been working on.
Once you’ve decided where your studio is going to be located, you need to think about the layout. You’ll need to organize your workspace so it’s efficient and you can easily get to your supplies while you’re working. It can be a hard balance especially when you’re pressed for space. You can start by drawing up a floor plan or just jump right in and move things around!
The first question to ask yourself is how much workspace do I need? Set up equipment such as your easel, table or other work surfaces first. This will give you an idea of the space you’ll have around it. Make sure to keep 30 to 36 inches around your workspace if you can. This will give you easy access to adjust lighting or set up the still life display you’ll be painting.
Will you be using natural light at all? If so, keep it in mind when placing your equipment so it’ll be the most effective for you.
Next, consider setting up your side tables and the other work surfaces you’ll need when you’re creating. Give yourself room to work. Cluttered spaces make it harder to work efficiently. Artists who use easels will likely need a table or two for their paints and brushes as well as a place to mix their paint colours. If you work on a table, make sure it’s large enough to hold all the materials you’ll need for the piece you’re working on. If not, set a side table for your extra materials. Having supplies at your fingertips will help you stay focused on your work.
Where will you keep all of your art supplies? This is one of the hardest parts of setting up your studio. You need to keep your storage in the studio but out of your workspace. That is a must. You’ll need to set up your storage so you can have easy access to the media you always use with secondary storage for other things such as extra paints, brushes, papers and the other tools you use to create your artwork. A combination of open and closed shelving along with drawers are a good solution.
You can store just about anything on open shelves. It’s a great place for your sketch books, art reference books, paper towels, props, boxes of clay and the other things you need quick access to when you’re working. I like to keep my acrylic paints in large, clear plastic containers (mayonnaise or dog treat containers are perfect for this) and store them on open shelves. They’re sorted by colour, making it really easy to find what I need when I need it. I also have a container set aside at my workstation to store the colours I’m using in my current painting. It helps keep me organized and my work surface tidy.
Brushes can also be stored on open shelves in plastic containers, old drinking glasses or glass mason jars. Pouring a pack or two of dry beans or lentils into the bottom of a container is a good way to keep your brushes standing up straight. Make sure you store your acrylic, oil and watercolour brushes in separate containers. Once you’ve used a brush for oil it should never be used for acrylics or watercolours.
Closed shelving is best used to store media you don’t use every day such as polyurethane, varnish, gesso, glue, epoxy resin, and glaze. The cabinet you choose can be large or small, it will depend on the space to have available in your studio and how much media you’ll need to store. If you’d like to hide these kinds of things from view, use a cabinet with solid doors. I’ve repurposed an old CD case to store polyurethanes, gesso and other supplies.
Drawers are perfect for storing things you need to lay flat. This is a great way to store sets of pencils, pencil crayons, charcoal, pastels, and media that you purchase in their own containers and boxes.
Separate media into different drawers if you can. It will make it easier to find what you need.
Drawers are where I store my drawing supplies, media I don’t use all the time, and all the supplies I need to wire my artwork so it’s ready to hang when it’s been purchased. I’ve also found an organized way to store small water soluble oil paint tubes in a drawer.
New, unused brushes can be stored flat in a drawer too. Doing this will help you keep track of stock and save you from not having a new brush to use when you most need it.
If you work with large sheets of paper you will need to find a place to store your stock. This can take up a lot of space but storing your drawing and watercolour papers flat is the best way to keep them from being damaged. It’s a good idea to have some kind of large multi-use storage in your studio where you can store a variety of papers, illustration boards and canvas boards. You may need to call someone in to build it for you. Decide whether you want your large media storage unit to be stationary or mobile. Wheels on a unit like this would be great idea, giving you the flexibility to easily roll it to another location in your studio when necessary.
I have a small stationary open shelving unit for storing large single sheets of paper. I store all kinds of other things in it like finished drawings, large sketch books, pads of newsprint, canvas paper and tracing paper. My cabinet gives me another work surface too. I use it to set up and light objects when I do drawing exercises or when I need to see how an object looks for one of my paintings.
These tips and considerations should give you a good idea of where you need to start when setting up a studio space. Find the best location. Make sure you layout your studio to give you the maximum workspace you can get, free of clutter, so you can work efficiently. Use open and closed shelving as well as drawers to store your media. It will keep all of your supplies organized and easy to access. A good set-up will draw you into your studio and make you want to create something every day.
Next time, the 3T Art Blog continues with ‘The Artist’s Studio - Part II’. I’ll have tips to help you set up your workspace so you can get the most out of it and we’ll look at how to bring a few more things into your studio to help keep you organized and on schedule.
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