Well, we can’t all be Monet.
I’m not talking about being able to paint water lilies, haystacks or steam engine steam (although what I’d give to be able to paint like that)—I’m talking about that barn he used to have to work in.
Right now, about the only dream I have left in life (for, as Eugenie says, life is an eternal shipwreck of our hopes) is to have a huge studio. Or well, even just an okay studio will do—just enough space to house all my junk (and the junk I make my junk with) and hopefully for me to make even more junk in.
I don’t need an entire barn (although that would be AWESOME); I'd be happy with even just a good-sized room.
Buuut like I said, we can’t all be Monet, and most of us have to make do with what we’ve got. And right now all I’ve got is more or less half a room about oh… eight feet square (a little less than two and a half metres)? My sister has the other eight feet, which I try my best not to encroach on even if she has a place of her own near where she works and is hardly ever here.
I used to have a lot more space to work in.
To my shame, I still live with my parents (at the tender age of four and forty) and the house isn’t all that big. But after my dad retired (at the ripe old age of nine and forty) and he figured out the home office he built himself was too hot for his computer, I moved in and made it my studio.
It had a small bathroom I could wash my brushes in and enough space to make the biggest canvas I ever made which was 5 x 7 feet (1.524 x 2.1336 metres). And I worked in it through most of art school and my first four shows.
But see one day I saw a—well, let’s just say I have a mortal fear of a certain amphibian—in it, which caused me to move out, pronto. Plus the roof leaked something terrible, and the ‘office’ (we still call it that, to this day) flooded (my country gets about 20 typhoons a year) which ruined a good many canvases, so the office became my ex-studio.
I worked in my room after that, because anyway at the time I had been making relatively small works on paper, but then I started making larger works on paper (3 x 4 feet / 0.9144 x 1.2192 metres).
I wanted more space, so I moved the ‘painting factory’ to the gazebo behind the house, where I braved the skeeters and the summer heat until the rain came and the roof started leaking again.
By then I knew the safest place (for the paintings, and now for the painter, as well) was in my room—or well, my half of it, anyway. And on days when I catch myself daydreaming I’m ‘someone’ in the art world, I’m all ‘phenomenal cosmic power, iiitty bitty living space’ about my ‘studio’ (more like my home—or my snail / tortoise shell).
It’s not easy, but it’ll do, and it has done.
See, life in a tiny studio is possible as long as you are super organised and you know exactly where everything is (and you don’t drop anything in hard to reach places, lol). So without much further ado here are seven suggestions for making the most out of every square inch (or centimetre) of studio space you have, when you don’t have that much space to begin with.
1. Stack the stackables.
To be super honest, the eight feet square I have is strictly speaking not the only space left to me now. I do occasionally invade my sister’s half of the room when she’s not here (or even when she is—like now, with the lockdown on, lol) for priming, parking my easel or stretching multiple sheets of paper.
I also have my bathroom, where I keep my brushes, knives and the plastic cups and containers I use for water and such. And my parents had this sort of rack made out of steel girder-type things to park my canvases on which is in the ‘office’. And I do have some things hanging on our dining room walls and ceiling.
But all my works on paper are in the room with me, and a lot of them are on the large side and framed under glass, and as the years and shows roll by they’ve kind of, um, accumulated. ^o^;
So what’s a girl to do when she’s only got half a room? She stacks. ^_^
Admittedly I have lived with the fear of it all crashing down on me in my sleep, but gravity’s been pretty good to me so far. And if I may offer a tiny word of advice, keep things directly off the floor (cos weevils be evils (I now know they’re weevils, not termites).
2. Crates are great.
Investing in storage solutions is a good idea if you don’t have a lot of space. The nice thing about crates is that you can stack those too, and park things on them. They’re not very stylish, I admit, but they get the job done.
And someday when I finally get a proper studio I can live in (because I really don’t see myself living and painting in separate places), they’ll make it easier for me to move out. //wink
3. Plan before you paint.
In my post about planning for an exhibit, I talked a bit about figuring out how I made this 22-foot (6.7056-metre) monstrosity at my 46-inch (116.84-centimetre) desk. For me, it involves planning.
I had to figure out the absolute minimum space I needed to work on sections of it at a time—and still have space for sleeping and working my work-from-home day job. So I figured it out and arranged my belongings accordingly.
4. Clean as you go.
This may not be a burger joint but it sure feels as though I’ve had to turn things out just as quickly (hence my current post-crash-and-burn state). So what you don’t want to happen when you don’t have a whole lot of space is for litter and such to accumulate. There’s just not enough room for you, your work, and trash.
Although, I’d be lying if I said my painting factory was spic n’ span (in fact, one of the first things I’m going to do when the lockdown is over is buy a tiny vacuum cleaner).
But as I said in another post about getting along with artists, maintaining order is a must for the more obsessive compulsive of us, and when that order becomes disordered, it can get on one’s nerves fairly quickly. That’s another thing you don’t want to happen when you’re trying to ‘stay zen’ for ‘art-ing’.
5. Make more space.
As ‘sci-fi’ as it might sound, it makes sense to simply make more space when you don’t have enough of it. This means either making the most of the space there is, or finding space in unlikely places. Just like how I’ve stuffed three flat crates, several smaller framed works (and I’m pretty sure a bucket of primer and the furry booties my brother gave me) under my bed.
6. Fold the foldables.
Not that I’m ungrateful, but I’d always dreamed of having an easel like the one I have now, only when I'd realised that other dream I have of having a larger studio all my own.
But Dad gave me Eugene (yes, I named my easel—as in Delacroix) for my birthday last year (and I was over the moon when he did, honest).
Eugene doesn’t fold like my ‘poor-people easel’, which I was happy enough with because he (didn’t name this one, sorry) folded away when he wasn’t in use and left me a little floor space for following Zumba on YouTube. (Yes, it’s true. My shameful secret is out.)
So now that Eugene is with me, I do Darebees instead, and sometimes I hang my pyjamas and underwear on him when I’m not actually using him to paint. ^o^ Point being, using foldable gear is a huge help in a tiny studio.
7. Don’t hoard.
Haven’t we been hearing a lot of this, these days? Of course, they were talking about food, toilet paper and other supermarket stuff—me, I’m talking about stuff like ‘empty’ tubes, jars, bottles and cup noodles cups. I confess, I have yet to practise what I preach here.
I can’t help myself. I always think that one day when I’m positively destitute and have zero money for paint, I’m going to be grateful for all these ‘empty’ tubes, which I plan on cutting open and scraping until there’s not a drop left. Also I have this guilt complex about it ending up in a landfill and the environment and all that.
But really—what are the odds I’m actually going to use these? Meanwhile, I have all this unopened paint and brushes and stuff I haven’t even used, yet. And all this stuff, old and new together is taking up valuable space. So if I really wanted to save space in here, there’s a lot of stuff I could throw out, right?
But I won’t. Because you never know. Classic pack rat behaviour, right there, tsk.
In any case, I’ve written this post partly because someone on Instagram told me recently about how they couldn’t paint because they didn’t have a whole lot of space. I hope this post shows people that while a small studio space is a difficult obstacle to art-making, it can be overcome. After all, if there’s a will, there’s a way! (And a ‘won’t’, too, haha.)
This post also came about partly because we have this thing at the online art classes I’m taking now where we visit the classmates’ studios. I’ve been to one studio visit session so far and I’m hoping to be able to watch the ones I’ve missed, but so far I’ve just been wowed out (and a more than a little green with envy). ^^;
I actually don’t know what blew me away more at these studio visits: the studios or the artists who owned them.
I guess it would have to be the latter because it’s the art that counts in the end, and not so much where it was made. A lot of people leave a restaurant with happy tummies and happy memories of the lovely dinner they had without ever having seen the kitchen, amirite?
Still, though. I wonder if I’ll ever have a studio worth showing at a studio visit or even to a curator or collector. I’m not sure, but I understood one of the points of the studio visits was to practise for when a curator or collector wanted to go to yours. Well, who knows. Maybe someday. Who knows what the future might bring. ^^
In the meantime, if you’ve got your own suggestions for making the most of a small studio space, I’d be much obliged if you’d share them with me. Thank you so much in advance for helping to make life in my tiny studio a little (no pun intended, promise) better. ^^