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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