Saturday, May 28, 2016

Twenty–Five Tips For Preserving Your Joy In The Studio


Equine realism is a tough taskmaster, isn't it? It sets imposing bars to jump, and we're obliged to leap over them. It's fraught with mistakes, frustration, trepidation, and perhaps even disillusionment as we run our fastest to clear those hurdles. That said, however, it's also full of excitement, satisfaction, anticipation, gumption, and triumph! And it can be filled with joy. A lot of it.

So how do we minimize the negative and amplify the positive, especially when it seems we have so much stacked against us? This discussion will explore twenty–five ways to do just that, tactics that preserve our happiness and push the bad stuff into the background. We want to protect and cultivate such things because they encourage us to reach farther with confidence and moxy, taking our work to new heights of accomplishment.

Brass Tacks Of Feeling Better About It All

Everyone approaches their art differently just as everyone interprets enjoyment differently, too. A crazy challenge may be a thrill for one artist while it's an unpleasant obstacle for another. We each have our own thresholds, and that's fine. Yet these ideas can apply to near everyone, in every situation, because they're so basic. And because they're so fundamental, they have the potential to change our way of thinking about our art altogether.

So let's go!

Make each piece an exploration rather than a means to an end. When we turn our work into that of discovery, we can surprise ourselves in what we can do. Seek to glean new insights from research and reference photos, strive to learn new techniques and ideas, think about turning each piece into a safari of new interpretations of anatomy and pigment. Turning each new project into a learning experience rather than "this has to be perfect or I'm a failure" serves to foster our ability to achieve more far better. So try it. As a friend wisely said, "Each piece is practice for the next."  

Stop beating yourself over the head with what you think you can't do and start focusing on what you can. Identify and amplify the positive points of your work. Think about why they're your strong points, and how they got that way. Valuable insights into your growth lie within your positives, so learn from them. We also start to adopt a more positive, proactive attitude of our work in response because we aren't so focused on the negatives. Sure—it's important to amend our problem areas, but don't allow them to overwhelm you. Remember you have talent!

Adopt a proactive attitude. When we don't take up the reins of our own development, we feel helpless, frustrated, and lost. We're at the whim of what we don't know rather than what we do. Yet when we take charge—when we dive into research, experimentation, and dedication—we become empowered. We find that anatomy and biomechanics aren't so hard. We learn that color genetics is learnable and we can apply them effectively in pigment. We discover the points that make for quality workmanship are attainable. We just have to change our perspective, change the way we approach such topics. When we have a "can do" attitude, everything is within our grasp. And when we learn the facts for ourselves, we absorb them much better and can apply them to our work far more effectively. 

Accept that you'll make mistakes. Truth be told, our brains are wired to learn from mistakes. That's how we improve and grow. If we got everything right from the get–go, sure, that would be nice, but we wouldn't have learned anything. We wouldn't have earned anything. Things would become boring rather quickly, wouldn't they? Mistakes really are our partner in really learning to grasp the issues at play when we sculpt or paint a realistic equine piece. They lead to deeper understandings being our doorway to true mastery of the subject, so embrace them. Learn to not make them again, and expect to make new mistakes. Our learning stacks and stacks, and this is exactly how we improve.

Stop comparing your work to the work of other artists. It's easy to fall into this trap, and it's usually one that heaps on the discouragement. Instead, become competitive with yourself. Only you know how you process information best, and only you know how to best track your development, especially when you get proactive about it. The thing is, the world out there is full of misinformation and misinterpretations that can sidetrack you. And many people who seem like they know their stuff really don't. Don't let the noise distract you. Get on with the business of minding your own work and developing ways to pinpoint your progress. When we stop trying to be like someone else we learn to become more like ourselves, and that lends originality and our true "voice" to our work. In turn, that promotes the diversity and depth of our arts, and that's always a good thing! Besides, you'll feel much better about your progress when you set your own goals and achieve them in your own time. 

Adopt a cheerful, positive attitude. When we project a persona of happiness, optimism, and excitement, we attract likeminded folks into our fold. This creates a positive feedback loop that feeds our thrill even more. Such people are often proactive themselves and full of useful information they're all too happy to share, too, and that definitely has its perks! Likewise when we share our own information, we're compelled to research and hone our ideas even more, and all that comes back to inform our work. "Birds of a feather flock together" is absolutely true. Become part of the crowds that move us all forward with a chipper smile and a effervescent twinkle in their eye. If you join enthusiastic people, you become more enthusiastic yourself, and that definitely has too many positives to list!

Learn how to objectively evaluate your work. Learn detachment. When we can pull our emotions out of our own self–critiques, we gain a measure of composure that helps us to pick apart our work with greater clarity and precision. We also dampen the negative reflex feelings we get when we find fault in our work and thus help to thwart discouragement. The truth is that learning how to sculpt or paint more realistically is really about identifying and amending our blindspots, and the thing is: this is a fun process! It's about discovery and surprise! When our brain pings on something it didn't see before, it's exciting! Our brain can become addicted to these pings, and that's a wonderful thing! It also gives us greater anticipation of our next piece, and proves to ourselves that we're capable.

Keep busy. Don't let projects languish. When we let ideas sit and wither, that only works to pile on the sense of being overwhelmed and intimidated. We can get stuck in a cycle that keeps us afraid of even completing the piece at all. And it's okay to have several projects going at once, just think about finishing what you start. Finishing a piece helps to put a period at the end of that chapter and we learn and grow as a result. If we never finish the piece, but keep fiddling with it, all we've ever done and learned from is that one piece, right? What about all the other positions, breeds, and narratives? Each piece has something new to teach us, so tap into that by completing it and then moving on. Determining when we're finished with a piece is also a critical skill to master—it's something that we learn and hone over the years. And unless we finish what we start, we never develop that necessary ability, do we? Stretching towards the finish line is important—yes—but being able to say "I'm done" is equally so.

Learn to discern between consecutive criticism and hate speech. The world is full of opinions, and not all of them are created equal. In fact, a goodly chunk is outright nonsense. And not everyone is out for our best interests. We need to pinpoint who's wrong and who's right, or rather who has a kernel of truth to their comments and who's just blowing hot air. This is where proactive research and detachment come in handy because we can't allow a knee–jerk reaction impede the absorption of a potentially helpful insight. Learning to see our work through different eyes can really help our work become better, but only if we're willing to listen and pick through the morass.

Find new ways to express the equine. The model horse market can become fixated on representational depictions of the equine as it strives to capture archetypes and examples of ideal horses. But the horseworld is full of far more than that, and the equine experience is far richer and more diverse. Always trying to embody "the best" can be challenging—yes—but it can also be boring. But when we embrace the whole spectrum of possibilities, our potential has just exploded exponentially! We start to look for character of structure and oddities of color as we begin to value each individual on his or her own terms rather than our own. We accept that each horse is different—just like us—and that makes our body of work far more honest and interesting. It also keeps us passionate about our art since we've begun to appreciate this animal on much deeper levels. It's exciting to gain a new window through which to perceive this noble animal because it inspires us to welcome whole new interpretations that spice up our repertoire. 

Learn how to defend your work. There will come times when we have to bolster the validity of our work, and being able to do so professionally and cooly is far more important than simply proving ourselves right. We avoid the hot emotions that lead to shrillness and a loss of composure, and that allows us to not have any regrets from a damaged public image, or disappointment in ourselves. We also lend credit to our own work since we can rest on biological facts rather than fervent emotion or mere opinion to prove our point. When we can back our claim with solid evidence rather than some sentiment, we've not only fostered an atmosphere of professionalism, but we've gained greater authority, and that's always a positive thing.

Start a blog or journal your development. Blogging about your practices, accomplishments, and struggles in your studio is a great way to reaffirm your endeavors. When we take the time to write about what we're doing, we learn to accept our challenges and bear hug our achievements in a positive way—one that shares and teaches. This adds depth and new meaning to our journey because it's no longer just about our experience. We also lend value to our creations when people can see all the work that goes into our artistry, and all the hiccups we had to overcome creating it. When we share ourselves with the world, we also humanize ourselves and that's a positive thing when we're up against the intimidation factor of "The Artist."

Likewise, starting a journal about our journey has a similar effect. It lends perspective when we record our undertakings, and when we can go back and read earlier entries to see that we're indeed making progress. Remembering that we're making baby–steps teaches us that while our progress may seem invisible in the short run, we're making huge leaps when we view it in the long run. It also makes for a lovely record of our growth for posterity, something that may be of interest to our children or a collector later in life.

Share what you know. Becoming a teacher is far more beneficial for you than it is for those learning from you! In order to teach, you really have to know your nuts, and that compels you to dive into research, application, and study even more, which comes back to improve your own portfolio. It helps to solidify your own convictions and ideas, and that begins to show in your work, too. Plus, by bringing others into our knowledge base, we create enthusiastic positive energy, and that spurs us to stretch further while it inspires others to share what they know, creating another positive feedback loop. So write books, articles, blog posts, tape videos, and do demos, host workshops and classes, and encourage and support beginners. Be that beacon, that depository of information that helps others achieve their potential. You'll be better for it, as will the rest of us!

Go on regular field trips. Working in the studio is a solitary experience, and it's easy to become separated from our subject as a result. So when we can reintroduce ourselves to the animal that can't help but to reinvigorate our creative juices! So get out there and be with horses! Remember their quirkiness, their beauty, their aroma, their sounds, and their slick, smooth coats and velvety muzzles. The horse is truly the biggest positive influence in our lives, with his big heart and gracious nature, so nuzzle your face into his neck. Truly, there's no more healing thing for us than a horse, so let him comfort you, and lead you to new ideas for your work.

Find your muse. Sure—we sculpt realistic horses so obviously the animal is our muse. But he may not be the only one! Perhaps we're also inspired by books, movies, music, museums, nature, or what have you. The well of our creativity is a mysterious thing, so find those things that keep it spilling over and indulge them. Inspiration comes in many forms, from many sources, so don't narrow your source to just one. Keep your inspirational well brimming with all its potentiality, and you'll find yourself at no shortage of ideas. 

Exercise. Creating our art is typically a stationary endeavor. We have to sit or stand for long periods to do what we do. But our brain is rejuvenated by getting our blood pumping and getting oxygenated. So go out for a walk. Go for a bike ride. Maybe even jog a couple of miles. Go riding. Stretch. Do some yoga. Get some time in the sun. Get your breath puffing and your muscles warmed up. This kind of stimulation only works to help us buckle down as well as inspire good time management skills and healthy habits.

Eat right and stay hydrated. Our art depends on our health; otherwise we get sick and studio work can grind to a halt. Or if we slog through it despite feeling unwell, we won't be very happy doing it, will we? And much of our health has to do what we shovel into our mouths as bad eating habits can drag us down, and not drinking enough pure water can make us feel sluggish and sick. So attend to your health! We want you to be as creative as you can, for as long as you can so fuel your creativity with a healthy diet.

Get plenty of sleep. Likewise, science is proving that getting enough quality sleep is an underpinning of our wellbeing. So get it! No amount of coffee is going to compensate for a lack of quality sleep. And much of our mastery depends on quality sleep as our memory processes information while we slumber. This is why we often gain better insights and understandings after a good rest. Indeed, the adage, "sleep on it" is truer than we might think! And when we sleep well, our minds stay sharp, our energy levels stay up, and our enthusiasm stays charged, things that definitely contribute to a happier experience in the studio.

Open up the studio for some fresh air. Letting in the sounds, smells, and sensations of nature just outside our walls can go far in making our studio time more enjoyable. Perhaps a nice breeze wafts through to caress our cheek, bringing in the aroma of flowers or pine trees to tantalize our senses. Indeed, our studios can become stuffy or full of chemical fumes, and fresh air renews our senses as well as our attention and emotional responses. It also causes us to pause and "smell the roses." And it's just darned pleasant to boot. Creating art is a tactile, sensory experience, so don't overlook what an open window and a nice day can do! 

Automate tedious tasks. Running our own art business is loaded with paperwork and busy work, and for an artist who'd rather be creating, such things can cause eye rolls and procrastination. So find ways to take the tedium out of it such as automating or delegating work where you can. Many bookkeeping programs can be run on your computer, and even do the shuttling of bills into your different itemized categories as well as the math automatically (such as with Quickbooks Online®). Hire out tax form completion and bookkeeping to professionals, and hire an agent to take care of advertising and making inroads into new connections and opportunities for your work. Rethink payment options to remove excess record keeping and policing of customers, like terminating time payments or deposits. Adopt the philosophy, "If it's not ready to ship, it's not ready to sell." Anywhere you can KISS, do it. All it means is more time for your creativity!

Explore different interpretations of the equine. Equine realism is a tight focus to work in, especially for the creative mind full of ideas and the desire to express in more forms. So don't limit it! Explore your creativity outside of equine realism with full gusto! Perhaps abstract, impressionistic, or highly stylized work also entices you, so dive in! You can apply what you already know to it, and, interestingly, these excursions come back to inform your realistic work, too. Venturing into other interpretations makes your portfolio fresh and varied as well, and keeps your collectors interested and curious to boot. It's fun, too. And being able to express other interpretations demonstrates true mastery of the equine form, and that can validate your talents.

Visit art museums and go on studio tours. Similarly, it's easy to develop a myopic view of art, sequestered away in our studios, diligently creating equine realism time and again. But there's lots more to art than that! Getting ourselves into art museums refreshes our senses by reminding us of different art out there. Perhaps a museum is hosting a special focus on an artist, time period, or type of work. Maybe they're showcasing a specific subject or method. Whatever it is, visiting art museums keeps our minds expanded and reaffirms our own dedication to our chosen art form.

On that note, if your area offers a studio tour circuit, go! It's a blast to visit the studios of other artists, learning from their setups and processes, and enjoying their work. Meeting them, chatting and learning commonalities, reaffirms your own dedication to your craft. And it's a lot of fun!

Work in more than one form or media. Typically our ability to sculpt realistic equines has more applications than simply full–body work. Bust, bas–relief, mosaic, plaques, medallion work, tiles, and various giftware items can be an effective additional expression of our talents. This offers more options for our collectors, and often at more affordable prices, and it piques our interest with all the diversity they promise. They also offer new challenges with fresh design ideas, narratives, and motifs, and that definitely adds fun and novelty into our creative cookings.

On that note, explore different media, too. Not everything has to be in resin or ceramic. We can switch between the two, or do both with many of our works. There's also bronze and glasswork at our fingertips, so think about those as well. And if we understand the hierarchy of media, we may be opening our work to conventional art shows, adding a whole new layer of potential with our work. Venturing into venues other than equine collectibles is exciting and completely within your means to explore. 

Welcome chaos. Creativity is messy and often unpredictable, going in all manner of pathways. So don't try to fight itembrace it! Chaos is your friend. If a particular piece is giving you trouble then, switch to another one rather than getting into a creative fight and disrupting your creative groove. In fact, it's typical for the creative mind to have many projects going on at once so feed that energy!

Our learning curve isn't a straight line either, but full of stops and starts, loops, and even careening sideways. There's no neat progression. So don't be too married to your project objectives, but keep them fluid and flexible. While you might not have learned exactly what you wanted to on a certain piece, you probably learned something else valuable so appreciate that without getting hung up on "but I didn't…"

This also means don't be married to a certain way your piece was "supposed" to turn out. Haven't we all experienced the piece telling us what it wanted, rather than what we wanted? And it turns out the better for it, doesn't it? Creativity has its own prerogatives, so accept them with a happy heart and simply immerse yourself in being creative.

Remember why you do what you do. Above all, keeping that flame burning hot in your belly is the best way to keep you enthused and exploring. You love horses, and that inspiration runs deep in your gut. It gets you into the studio, creative, and anxious to get to work. It compels you to research and study. It inspires you to reach for more and stretch beyond what you think capable. He connects you to other artists and to collectors with a shared devotion. And he reminds you that you're in this because it's fun and satisfying. Creating art is a joyful experience, and being able to express this majestic animal is an honor, an adventure, and a pleasure! Remember all our work really is about revering him, and that alone can keep us happy and eager.


When we first start with our art, everything is fresh and new. We have such big ideas and big dreams! Then as we work over the years, perhaps some of that fizzles as we become jaded and maybe a little cynical. Indulge this enough and our sense of wonder can erode as we give in to more negative or ambivalent emotions. This is a dangerous place to be for an artist working in equine realism. We can't forget that we work in a tightly–focused art form with fixed boundaries and high demands. There isn't a whole lot of room for creative excursions so we have to generate our own curiosity and zeal. If we don't, we can sink even lower into disenchantment and perhaps even boredom. And unless we bolster the energy needed to meet its high standards, our work will begin to slide as we lose our ability to care enough.

We want to avoid that. We want to maintain our enthusiasm and sense of awe and exploration to keep us in that constant "learner" mindset, that frame of mind where everything is unique, unfamiliar, and worthy of our zeal. We want to have the spirit to stretch and stretch and stretch until we think our talents will burst, and then we unexpectedly surprise ourselves with what we've accomplished. We need that sense of astonishment in ourselves to prompt us ever forward with fervor and dedication. We crave that lightbulb moment when clarity bursts into our process and we realize we've made a big leap forwards, renewing our devotion to this art form all over again. Most of all, we do best with that sense of elation in our efforts as each stroke of the tool or paintbrush fulfills a heartfelt need to create and express.  

Joy shouldn't be drained out of our creativity. Indeed, it's where our creativity derives! Joy spawns it, fuels it, and carries us over the rough spots to new heights of success. Take joy out of the equation, and everything else collapses, doesn't it? Therefore we should act in ways that preserve and amplify our joy if we wish to maintain a satisfying studio experience. Doing so isn't hard, in fact, it's a lot of fun! Indeed, all these ideas lead to discovery, intensifying of interest, and a reminder of what's really important in our art shenanigans. We become more engaged in everything we do, and that amplifies the sense of a "job well done" at the end of the day as we lay our head on our pillow at night, anticipating all the good stuff all over again tomorrow. This is true contentment in our creative appetites, one that will feed our passions indefinitely and keep us hungry for more.  

But it can take work at times. Sometimes feeding our joy is something we have to consciously do because we all experience its ebbs and flows. It comes to us in different degrees and in different ways with each piece, and learning how to keep it roaring and blazing despite this is as much of our process as technique. On one hand, feeding our joy is partially about working, staying productive, something essential for a working artist. It's also about staying engaged, keeping our passion attuned to our piece, and our interest level up. 

But distilled down, joy is really about love—the love of what we do, how we do it, and why. In a sense, we need to fall in love with each piece we work on to soak in that heady brew of abandon and release. We need to go to bed at night dreaming about the piece then waking up the next morning anxious to get back at it again. Then time spent immersed in our art is a kind of euphoria, a sweet addiction fulfilled. When we've hit this sweet spot, we're doing it right, we have our joy meter topping out and burying the needle!

Learn to do this naturally and unconsciously and it's a sure bet our time in our studio will be full of elation. Our dedication will be renewed each morning and reaffirmed each night. Our art will flow from us, as natural as breathing, and the hiccups we experience will simply be learning experiences rather than insurmountable disasters. Each accomplishment will be like fireworks, and each discovery will be more magical than even the best conjurer can muster. As it should be. This is where we need to be when we work. And even if we aren't there right now, or feel ourselves sliding, we can still work to attain it again. Sometimes our joy needs a little help to usher forth because—hey—we all have bad days. Even bad months. So embrace and protect your sense of joy in your studio how ever you can. It's as much a part of you and your work as your ability to hold a sculpting tool or paintbrush. 

Joy to an artist is like a heartbeat—steady, nourishing, life–giving, and pumping strong. Give it the room and means it needs to flow steady through you and into your art, and in return it'll give a sense of spiritual completion as you work, a feeling that spills out into the rest of your life. Learn to maintain this flow, and we live our lives in a state of perpetual delight, creating yet another positive feedback loop for our art work. So do yourself a favor: attend to your joy in your studio. Don't regard it as a passive component to your work, but an integral and basic one, one that lies at the very foundation of all your efforts. Give it its due attention and it'll reward you with magic, enthusiasm, serenity, satisfaction, and an eagerness for more more more! And for an artist, what's more joyful than that?   

So until next time…jumpstart your joy!

"There is no greater joy than that of feeling oneself a creator. The triumph of life is expressed by creation."
~ Henri Bergson


Friday, May 27, 2016

Equine Collectibles: The Magazine For Our New Era

Every once and awhile something happens in the equine figurine market that's a "black swan" event. What's a "black swan" event? Well, it's something that happens spontaneously that changes everything to follow forever. It changes the nature of things, moving us forwards. So what's this new phenomenon?

Lovingly edited and published by Lesli Kathman, this mag is a must–have for anyone involved in the model horse collectibles industry. Professionally printed in full–bleed, it not only looks gorgeous, but it's chockfull of amazing articles that inform, inspire, and initiate thought on interesting issues. If ever there was a source that defined a new way of thinking, this is it!

This genre has experienced so many changes these past thirty years. Quality has skyrocketed, shows have become far more competitive, divisions have diversified, and the stakes have gotten much higher. We have a National show now that amplifies all this, too. 

However, what didn't develop in kind was our sense of community, of camaraderie as a whole. Indeed, it's waned over the years, especially as the DIYer has become ever more disenfranchised by the increasingly stiffer competition and intense motivations. The "spreading of the wealth" of our arts has atrophied as a result, and people tend to focus on negatives rather than positives it seems. There's more concern than ever about who gets a ribbon and how rather than what this is all about—pure fun! Really, many seem to have forgotten that all this is about enjoying ourselves, and each other, the horse, and all the beautiful pieces we so love.  

Issue is sold out.

We also lost a shared depot of information, a single source for our "voice." We had so many publications in the past, and they've all disappeared over the years. Perhaps because of the disinterest in print. Maybe because there was a period when quality print was just too expensive. And it could be a reflection of our fractured community.

Then comes along this magazine. It has a totally different point of view. It's upbeat, positive, encouraging, and highly informative. It seeks to elevate us and what we do, it inspires us to not only remember why we love horses and this genre so much, but tempts us to imagine more, and reimagine differently. It reminds us of what we've almost lost, and strives to cultivate it to bloom again. And it's full of quality images that make you drool and oogle—and learn!

If you love horses and equine figurines, and want a mag that celebrates that joyfully and cheerfully, this is the one for you! Subscribe and be part of the phenomenon—join the fun and remember why you're involved in all this craziness! It's a blast! Thank you Lesli for trailblazing for us, and taking us along on your journey through the genre! We're all the better for it!

And hey—here's the electronic version of the last issue. Great mag, eh? And you can subscribe here. And here's the Equine Collectibles Facebook page.

We shall not cease from exploration / And in the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time.
~ T. S. Eliot


Thursday, May 26, 2016

Studio Tips: Your Personal Workspace


Being an artist means we probably have our own personal workspace, our own special area that house our materials, equipment, and works in progress. Each of us will have a highly personalized space, customized to our own needs and predilections, but they can always use some reconsideration to increase our efficiency and safety. We want to spend more time working our magic, not fighting our own workspace! So to that end this post will discuss some matters that could bear rethinking or new thought to make your time more productive and pleasant, helping you to stay focused on your artwork with a positive attitude.

Work Time
Your work time is valuable so try to avoid distractions or interruptions that can short circuit your creative impulses. That means have "that discussion" with friends and family to help protect your time. Perhaps block off 9–to–5 as "your time," leaving the rest for them. Indeed, often a simple phone call can side–track us for rest of the day!

It’s also a good idea to identify your work habits and preschedule your day accordingly to maximize your efforts. Absolutely, don’t fight your nature, but rather, work with it for best results. For example, perhaps you prefer to paint in the morning and sculpt in the afternoon, or maybe you like to spend Thursday prepping and premiering. 

Take breaks, just ten minutes can do a lot to refocus your mind. Plus, your brain needs time to rest, rethink, and refresh, so give it room to do so. Sometimes if you're stuck on a piece, simply coming back to it later can provide that coveted "fresh eye" that's so helpful.

It's also important to schedule timeoff. Really, “down time” can do much to keep you fresh, centered, and enthused in your artwork. Go for a walk, spend some time with friends and family, go see a movie. Even better, do some field study! The point is, get out of the studio every so often and experience the rest of your life. Curiously, it'll increase your inspiration and come back to inform your work.

Monthly Schedule
Establishing realistic monthly goals can be handy to keep productivity on track and moving forwards. It’s also a great motivator because it sure feels good to cross off finished projects. It may also be a smart move to establish annual goals, which you can plot on a monthly schedule.

For that, a dry erase board is helpful to schedule your deadlines and outline your progress. You can put the months in permanent marker and leave the details for the dry erase pens.

Assembly Line
You may want to consider distilling repetitive jobs down to one day, making them an assembly line to improve output. For instance, do all your prepping on one day, all your basecoating on one day, all your packing and mailing on one day, paint markings on one day, answer email on one day, make phone calls on one day, or schedule studio maintenance on one day (like upgrading a reference library, do a thorough cleanup, take inventory, etc). Assembly line methods can really be a boon because the less time spent gathering all the necessary materials needed to do a single job, the more time you have for studio work.

Air Quality 
The air quality in your studio is a big issue, not only for your health, but for your enjoyment too. Fumes, dust, and bad air can certainly affect one’s health and creative comfort. Get a portable air filter for your studio and research proper ventilation strategies as well. Open windows regularly to air the space out and regularly change the filters in the furnace. Consider scented candles to add ambiance.

Consider installing a vented spray booth with a fan to suck up overspray, especially if you work in ceramics. You don't want to be inhaling particles of paint or glaze, which can have a cumulative effect over time.

Also, when you clean your studio, use methods that actually remove debris rather than just move it around. For instance, don’t use feather dusters, but damp rags or good hand vacuums. Keeping our workspace clean is great incentive to mess it up again with new work!

Make the best use of natural light if you can, but if in scarce supply, consider track lighting and drafting lamps (which you can bolt to a work surface). Sometimes lamp stands can help you place light exactly where you need it.

Whatever light you use, use the natural light spectrum bulbs rather than fluorescent or incandescent bulbs, which cast a blue or yellow tone on all your work. Natural light bulbs make a big difference when it comes to finishwork, especially when natural light isn’t available. Consider an Ott light, too, since it produces light in a spectrum that's natural and doesn't exhaust the eye.

Consider sectioning your creative processes into stations, or specific areas of the studio dedicated to specific jobs such as painting, sculpting, packing, prepping, drilling, and photography. It keeps those necessary materials organized and in easy reach while keeping those areas clean from crosscontamination, which can be a special concern with ceramics and glazes. It's also wonderful not having to clean up a workspace in order to start work on a different phase of a project. You just have to scoot over to another station! This also allows you to work on several projects at once. (Tip: Buy a couple of cheap desks at a thrift store or second–hand furniture store, one for sculpting and one for painting. Not only do these provide dedicated work surfaces, but also dedicated drawers for storage.)

Caddies on wheels and small portable tables can be helpful, too, to build the work surface around you. Another handy trick is to rinse out old paint jars or bottles and use them for your premixed concoctions (be sure to label them properly).

Also, plastic organizers (such as for the office or kitchen, such as utensil organizers) are useful for keeping tools and materials. You can usually find them in dollar stores, thrift stores, or dime stores for good prices. Use them for shelves, inside cabinets, desks drawers, or on workspaces.

Here's a ton of organizational ideas on Pinterest!

But RememberChaos Is Your Friend
Creativity tends to flourish in a chaotic environment. It's just the nature of the beast. So stick with the flow of creativity and don't worry so much about cleaning up as you go. Stay in the groove. Just give yourself enough room to work, and you'll be just fine. Leave the clean up for later.

Artists accumulate stuff. A lot of stuff! This makes storage a keen point to consider. So consider installing shelving, drawers, and cabinets while little wheeled caddies can be helpful, too. Think about Rubbermaid® tubs that can stack, those that you can see–through for easy pinpointing of materials. Also consider wire shelving that hangs from the back of a door such as we'd find in the bathroom section of a store. Or use a hanging shoe organizer! It's pockets offer a plethora of storage possibilities.

When your operation gets really going, you may need to install a storage barn in the backyard to house your inventory, boxes, and sundry other materials. 

Use Your Wall!
Paint a wall in chalkboard paint and notation away! You can do sketches to serve as inspiration, outline your monthly production schedule, or make note of anything useful. You can also use chalkboard paint on the sides of book shelves or cabinets to turn that side into a helpful board. 

Thrift Stores
Exploiting thrift stores is a smart move for purchasing studio furniture such as bookshelves, cabinets, trolleys, and work desks. You can usually find a serviceable piece at a fraction of the cost. And really, not having to worry about mucking up a spendy piece of furniture is a nice freedom. But know what to look for! Inspect for solid joints and  construction, sturdy drawers, and seams such as dovetail joints (for wood) or rivet and welding (for metal). Artists are often rough on their workspaces, so finding the best quality you can afford is a smart bet.

You can also buy cheap tshirts and towels for paint rags at thrift stores as well, or any sort of organizer trays or baskets. "Art clothes” can also be found in thrift stores, too. And at $5 for a pair of jeans, who cares if you get glue and paint all over them? And check out any dollarstores in your area, too, because you’ll never know what you’ll find! For example, cheap spatulas and bowls for mixing rubber or plaster, cheap towels for paint rags and wash–up, cheap containers for organization, etc.

Bulletin boards
Large bulletin boards are useful to tack up materials for easy reference. Put them over your desk, on a nearby wall, or behind a door (for pending orders). You can also pin a color wheel or color chart on there for handy referral.

You can buy rolls of flat cork from hobby stores, too, which you can hot glue onto other surfaces such as cabinets, bookcases, etc., to maximize every inch of your studio space. Also, affixing them to these strategic places can keep valuable workspace open rather than cluttered with reference materials.

You can also expand the idea for a whole wall. Glue the cork sheets onto a wood frame then staple some clear vinyl to it to form a "window" of plastic. Nail the frame to the wall in front of your painting station, then glue cork board sheets onto the plastic with a hot glue gun. Now you have a giant bulletin board you can refer to while you paint that also protects your wall from paint splatter. 

Lucite Sheets
These keep your work surface clean and protected. They come in different sizes and thicknesses from your local hardware store (such as Home Depot®), and can be placed on top of your desk and taped to it on one side (usually the backside, facing the wall). Then when they become too encrusted with "arting," simply replace with a fresh sheet.  

They’re also tough so you don’t have to worry about blades, saws, or other sharp edges destroying the desk's surface either. They’re portable, too, which makes them handy to move projects with them to different areas, as needed. 

They’re better than wood or metal surfaces as well because they’re not prone to warping or rusting, either. Plus, they’re cheap, so replacing them isn’t a drain on your finances. And the great part is, you can place pertinent reference material right under them for easy peeking because they're clear!

Florist Foam 
A block of green florist form can be a handy tool or paintbrush caddy (jam the paintbrush handles into the foam, not the bristle end!). Then plunk the bock onto your work surface and now all your doohickeys are at your fingertips. Florist foam is cheap, too, so when it becomes a mess, simply replace with a fresh block. And—hey—you can use the old block inside of a sculpture to bulk up the armature's torso and belly area!

Magnetic strips on the wall in strategic areas around your sculpting work area will keep metal sculpting tools or other metal necessities in easy reach without cluttering your work surface or allowing them to roll onto the floor. You can also glue magnet buttons to a strip of wood and nail that  onto your wall or desk for the same purpose.

Page Holders
When you want to have a reference held up in front of you there are many little gizmos you can buy to do this directly on your work surface; check out office supply stores to find many of them. 

A good one to use is a Page Up®. They come in bright colors and fun varieties and really hold that reference material up, sturdy and straight.

Music Stands
Along those lines, interestingly enough, music stands make great caddies for books or references! And since they're on a stand and adjustable, you can place them anywhere at your optimal height for work. They can also keep beautiful, valuable books off the mayhem of your work surface.

Velcro® Strips
Get the self–sticking strips of Velcro, which you can often get at a hobby or fabric store. Glue on one side of the Velcro strip (either prickly side or fuzzy side) to a long strip of wood (which you can get at a hardware store) then nail the wood to the wall in front of your work station at eye level (when you're sitting). Then laminate often–used references such as anatomy references (I've laminated the Ellenberger references, for example), pattern charts, or color charts, etc. Then cut a 2" strip of the complementary side of the Velcro and affix it to those laminated references (the Ellenberger pages will have a strip on either side since they're two–sided pages). Voila! Your favorite references with easy access! You can flip the pages over to see the other side, or move them around on the wood strip as you need to see them more closely. This also organizes them and keeps them off your workspace. And if you need to see them closer, simply rip off and pop them in a Page Up holder.

You can also affix these Velcro strips to a book case, cabinet, or similar upright surface to maximize your easy–reach space for references.

Clear Pages
Also consider Xeroxing these references onto sheets of clear plastic, which can be done at many copier outlets. This way, they're reversible; simply turn them over for the same view of the reversed side. This is definitely handy for those of us who have a hard time "reversing" a diagram in our minds. Along those lines...

A good tablet such as an iPad® is indispensable in the studio! Not only can it store thousands of reference photos is crisp resolution and true color, but import a simple photo–editing program to reverse those images on your tablet. Now you have crisp anatomical charts or pattern references for either side of your piece! This is also great for reference photos when you need to reverse a photo to get that perfect view.

With a simple swipe of your fingers, too, you can scale up or scale down references to match the scale of the piece you're working on such as Traditional® (1:9 scale) or Stablemate® (1:32 scale). This is invaluable for sculpting or painting scale features like musculature, eyes, ears, dappling, cat–tracking, or ticking.

Spread Out
If you have the space, give yourself room to spread out. We all know that as we work, our stuff has a tendency to creep outward. It seems to grow all by itself! So try and design a workspace that accommodates that with large table tops, or extra shelf space. This is also where modular tabletops, like wheeled butcher's blocks, can come in handy, too.

Paint Carousel
To organize your paints or small bottles of glazes consider a spinning paint carousel. Granted, they may not all fit on there, but at least you can have your most–used colors organized in easy reach. This works best for bottles and small jars, but for those tubes, there's also a spice rack. Nail it to the wall or cabinet next to your painting area for easy access. You can even use rain gutters nailed to the wall as useful little shelves for paint bottles and tubes, allowing you to make long racks of them along a wall to store lots of paint.

Artists accumulate all sorts of bottles of things, particularly if an airbrush is involved. But when you're done with them, don't throw them away! Clean them to store your favorite mixes and re–label the bottle!

Also think about buying squeeze bottles with the long conical nozzles with little caps to store Windex® or water to clean your airbrush, squirting it directly into your airbrush cleaning jar, or bottle of mixed paint to thin it down with accuracy. You can also use it to squirt water with high precision onto your palette. You can buy these bottles from beauty supply stores. A cleanedout clear ketchup bottle works well for Windex and water, too. Just don't store solvents in these plastic bottles because they'll dissolve.

One can never have enough electrical outlets, especially when we have so many devices at our fingertips. So get more installed. It's easily done and not as expensive as you might think. Having that extra outlet for an additional light, your tablet, a space heater, or new compressor is a boon.

Emery Boards
You can buy these in all sorts of grits and in wet/dry varieties from a beauty store. They're great for sanding hooves!

Butcher's Gloves
We often work with knives and X–act® blades, so protect your hands! (I have a lovely scar on my left thumb, all the way down from second digit to the middle of my palm, thanks to a deep gash made by a box knife.) Your hands are one of your most important assets so get butcher's gloves to protect them when using sharp tools. They're made specifically to protect your hands from knives, and they can mean the difference between getting a job done or a trip to the emergency room.

Drop Rugs
Since creativity usually entails a mess of some sort, consider purchasing some drop rugs if a job is particularly likely to leave a permanent mark on your floor or carpet. You can find heavyduty, rubberbacked drop rugs at a hardware store rather easily to make them waterproof to protect your floor completely. 

Background Noise
Consider having the means to listen to music in your studio. It’s not only enjoyable to have around, but it can also become part of your piece, too. For instance, you could play Spanish guitar when sculpting an Iberian, or Celtic music when sculpting a Connemara or Clydesdale. Music can also mask out unpleasant sounds like road construction, helping to create a nicer studio experience. Another option is to have a radio to also listen to talk radio and news.

Some artists even have a TV/DVD player in their studio for similar reasons, which allows the viewing of reference videos right there inside the workspace, too. 

Reference Materials
It’s inevitable that you’ll accumulate piles of reference photos and materials. As we all know, a multitude of images can be taken with your camera, but other sources are magazines, calendars, books, posters, newspapers, brochures, and registry materials. There's also movies, videos, CDs, DVDs, and BluRays that are great sources. But all this is useless unless it’s organized. So creating and maintaining your own reference library is an important aspect of your studio.

Books, videos, and CDs can be organized on shelves, and reference posters of charts, diagrams, or illustrations can be posted on the wall. Newsletters, specific articles, and workshop notes and materials could be organized into files or binders for easy access, too.

As for the avalanche of images, a binder format is terrific. Think about this system, as follows:
  • Decide how you want to organize the images, and the more specific and sub–divided they’re organized, the better because this improves accessibility. You really don’t want to fish around in piles of binders trying to find a specific type of view, motion, or pattern! So don’t be afraid to be ultra–specific such as “Unridden trot, right view," “Unridden trot, left view," “Unridden trot, front view," etc. Create sections for inspirational images or ideas as well, plus one or two for those images that don't fit neatly into previous categorizations.
  • Purchase some binders. Be mindful of the size you get because it’s better to get them too big rather than too small because you'll be adding more over the years. The ones with inner pockets can be especially handy for storing related materials like registry pamphlets or charts. Label the spine of each binder with the type of references it'll hold.
  • Get archival clear plastic sheet protectors, tabbed section separators, computer paper, Gluestick® or scrap–booking double–sided tape tabs for gluing your references onto the computer paper. You can buy all this from an office supply store.
  • As for cutting, I don’t recommend scissors since using them will hurt after a time, but rather use a scrap–booking roller–blade cutter, or swivel–headed X–acto blade (carefully!) and cutting board.
  • Go through your images and cut out what you want then group them how you want. Then glue them onto each side of a sheet of computer paper like a collage, pop into a sheet protector then pop into the appropriate section of the binder. Continue until all the images are formatted and organized…and voila! Now you have them at your fingertips. But be sure to maintain this library since your new acquisitions will pile up quickly otherwise. (Tip: Put all left–facing views and right–facing views grouped together rather than intermingled. This provides a group of similar images to refer to when the time comes, which helps expand the possibilities for your sculpture or painting as well as trains the eye faster to the similarities and differences between them.)
Packing and Photography Station
If you can, create a packing station in the garage. Get a long fold–out table from an office supply store and gather all your shipping supplies around it (self–standing shelves are a great choice to organize them). You can pop a toilet–paper dispenser on the wall for toilet paper wrapping, and you can even put your label tape dispenser on the wall, too. Organize and stack boxes along the wall, using the table edge to keep them from falling over. Then packing peanuts, foam, and bubble wrap can be stored underneath the table.

You can quickly turn this table into your photography station, too. Get a roller rack to hold your photography paper and place it behind the table. A roll caddy is also a useful gizmo to have on hand to store your paper. Plus, keep your photography lights near for easy access. Use a multi–plug extension cord coming from the wall to plug your lights in. However, keep your cameras in your house. Any temperature fluctuations may harm camera electronics, especially if you live in a humid area.

Personal Touches
Does your studio reflect your personality? Try to encrust it with mementos and fun memories, too. So much of your creativity also stems from your life experiences, so try to include personal and whimsical items into your own personal space like photos, trinkets, memorabilia, etc. They'll add a wonderful touch of comfort and smiles. Also hanging some artwork on the walls is a nice, inspiring idea. Really, the creative space should be a special place for you, and not just a place of work. Make it as fun and unique as you are! Make it a home within a home. 

Keep it Clean and Maintained
Try keeping your workspace clean and organized though that's easier said than done! Above all, take care of your equipment and make sure it’s in working, clean, safe order. To that end, think about establishing a regular schedule for equipment maintenance, evaluation, and a good, thorough cleaning. It’s also smart to have doubles of necessary items on hand just in case you need them at a moment’s notice such as airbrush needles, favorite brushes and sculpting tools, scissors, etc.

Old clothes, bed sheets, and towels are handy paint rags and washrags so don’t throw them away! So yes…there are good uses for those socks with holes, the bleachruined shirt, and the worn–out bed sheets.

Other Improvements
Consider adding a utility sink in your studio. Not having to muck up a nice bathroom sink is a simple blessing. Artists often need more workspace too, so think about adding more tables, countertops, shelves, or booths. If lighting is an issue, perhaps skylights or more windows would be in order? Is the temperature in your studio comfortable? Or is a fan or space heater a good idea? Can heating and air–conditioning get into your studio properly? Also, many of our materials are temperature–sensitive for safe storage. 

And think of ergonomics, too, because you don’t want to be uncomfortable in your studio. This can involve your chair, tables, benches, and even the way you sit or stand. Take a break to do stretches and some yoga, too. Take care of your bodyit's what you use to create your art!

Don't forget about pets. Do they have a place to chill while you're working? Can they get into some of your materials or are they safety tucked away. We don't want your fuzzy friend to get sick!

Think about accessibility. Are your materials organized in a way that puts your mostused tools and materials in easy reach? Doing so increases efficiency and preserves the flow of the creative process.

Keep your tools clean. Having to fight tools covered in creative debris only adds a layer of frustration to your efforts so think about cleaning them after each session. And don't forget the floor! Crunching down on a sharp bit of epoxy, or slipping on a dollop of paint is never pleasant, or safe.

Preserve your floorspace. In the midst of our creativity we often have to get up to snatch something from the other side of our studio, and tripping over materials or items isn't only unsafe, it's a bother. So make sure to preserve clear paths to common areas for this reason. 

Understand that the smaller your studio, the more important organization and storage becomes. Learn to maximize them for a small studio, and you'll find that your work flow increases happily and steadily.

About once a year, have a "keep it or chuck it" studio clean. We need to keep our materials rotated out so we aren't using up valuable space to dried up paint bottles or icky old, useless epoxy. Making sure that our stuff is fresh and useable, and that we're only keeping what we use rather than what languishes year after year, maximizes our studio's efficiency. This is also a good time to take inventory to keep it stocked well.

Organize the overall layout of your studio. Keep sculpting paraphernalia near the sculpting areas, the painting materials near your painting areas, and the photography equipment near your photography area. Keeping needed materials clumped close to their area isn't only efficient, but keeps your creativity flowing better.

Other Thoughts
You probably spend a great deal of time in your studio, so it should be a place that’s safe, practical, convenient, clean, well–stocked, pleasant, and comfortable. So anything that fulfills those requirements fits the bill! Above, design your studio according to your needs and tastes, because in many ways, a studio is an extension of yourself. It's' your own special space, something completely your own. It's your own unique sanctuary where you let loose with your creativity, and a well from which you recharge it. Take care of it, and it'll offer you a welcoming space to explore your talents.


Whether in your house or in a fancy studio outside your own, our workspaces all share some commonalities: (1) they're utilitarian, (2) they're our special spaces, and (3) they're an integral part of our creativity. In many ways, we can think of our studio as our best tool, one of the most important aspects of our efforts. Without our studio space, we couldn't work very well, could we? Perhaps not at all. Here's a peek into lots of different studio spaces for more ideas!

So much about our process is where we work, too. How it's set up, how it's stocked, and how it works are just as important as perfecting any technique or idea. When our studio works with us, it slides into the background and our endeavors flow, and we simply stop thinking about it in the midst of our creative energy. This is what we want. A studio so well appointed and laid out that we just stop thinking about it. It becomes our partner, of sorts, a silent assistant that helps us to get the job done, quickly, and happily. Because the moment we come up against a snag is the moment when our creativity is jarred out of its groove, and that's something easily avoided with just a bit of prior preparation.

So give your studio some thought. Where can it be improved? Do things need to be moved around? Do they need to be cleaned? Would better organization be the key? Thinking of our studio in utilitarian terms rather than "just where I work" allows us to tailor a workspace that helps us along rather than gets in our way. You owe it to yourself and your creativity to make the very best out of your work space so that you can keep creating your beautiful work with ease and comfort!

Until next time...stay groovy!

"The only thing I know is that if I get to my studio, that means I'm alive today."
~ Robert Farber

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