How to Make the Most of a Small Studio

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I’ve made a lot of subtle layout changes and adjustments to my studio space over the 3.5 years I’ve been there. It occurred to me one day while working there that it took a lot of trial and error to figure out how to make the very most out of my little spot. It’s roughly 10′ by 12′, so there really isn’t a whole lot of room for junk to lay around! If you’re an artist that lives in an urban environment, chances are that you’ve had to deal with the very same problem allocating a limited amount of space to art.

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Incredibly, I still have some pictures from when I first moved in to my studio space. This layout was completely wrong; it was a poor use of the space and there was no way to reach the storage cabinet in back.

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The key with this current layout is that everything is built to accommodate my right handedness. I extended my palette into my workspace by attaching a piece of wood to the table that acts as a countertop. I use an old MacBook for reference display purposes, and it’s at perfect eye level perched on top of a milk crate. I used to keep my turpentine jar on the counter, but noticed that it was inconvenient to have to keep backing up and pivoting in order to rinse a brush. The solution was to drill a hole into my easel and attach an reused yogurt container with some baling wire that acts as a holster for the turp jar. Also, I never have to worry about it spilling and causing a mess (the surest way to get you out of the zone!).

I’m especially proud of my tool wall. Another lesson in conserving space: use your walls as much as possible! Horizontal space gets filled up super fast, and I realized that I tend to toss my brushes and paper towels all over the counter when I’m working. If it’s already crowded with extraneous materials, it just makes more mess to lose the important tools in. I try to reserve that area for my paint box (actually a refurbished fishing tackle box), and a lamp for illuminating my palette. I keep all my extra brushes in coffee cans up top, accompanied by the coffee maker (key for those late nights), some mediums, gesso, and a couple handy art reference books like James Gurney’s “Color and Light.” That single book is one of the best $15 I’ve ever spent, hands down. If you’re wondering what that silver tube extending down from the ceiling is, it’s a custom turpentine exhaust system I built. I usually keep the door open to let fumes waft out so I’m not using it currently, but during the winter months it’s a godsend.

On another desk that extends off the tool counter sits an old french easel behind my reference laptop. I stole this trick from a blog post by the artist Dan Dos Santos. I use the palette from the french easel while I’m working, and at the end of the workday I slide the palette back inside the french easel to keep the oil paints from being exposed to the open air. It seems to extend their life by 1-2 extra days, which is super helpful when I’m painting multiple days in a row and need to conserve materials. I also keep my rice cooker back here for cooking up studio grub.

Lastly, I use rear wall behind my studio space as a place to put sketches and any extra reference materials. I found an old piece of corkboard and nailed it into the wall to make push pinning sketches easier, and the wall molding makes for a handy spot to hang T-squares. The room to the right of the rear wall is the workspace of another talented artist I share the room with, Lauren Szabo. She’s a truly inspiring studio mate!

And that’s the studio tour, all 120 square feet of it. It’s a small space, but it works- and that’s the most important thing!

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