Why Do I Need an Art Studio?

By Sabrina Hill – President of the Pastel Society of the West Coast & Editor of the PSWC Magazine

Attention Artists! Do you have a regular job? If you answered, “Yes.” then do you GO someplace to do your job? Is there an address that you journey to so you can do your work? Chances are that like most of us, you leave home to do a job and come home at the end of the day.

As an artist, do you have a studio? If not, where do you make your art? Chances are that you are making art in a makeshift place in your house that may also be used for cooking, dining, bike repair, or storage of rowing machines and old equipment…sound familiar?

If you are an artist—even if you think it’s a hobby—I am here to tell you two things.

  1. It’s NOT a hobby. It’s a part of your soul, and you must listen to your inner voice, and
  2. You need a studio. Period. Because art is work and EVERYBODY needs a place to go for their work.

Benefits of a studio:

  • You don’t have to bring out boxes of supplies to start a project.
  • You can find everything most of the time (nothing is perfect).
  • You don’t have to pack everything up and put it away every night.
  • You can see your work in progress in changing light and multiple times a day, often making corrections on the fly throughout the day.
  • You confirm out loud to the world that you are an ARTIST.

Now, some artists live in areas where studio space is plentiful and affordable, and it’s lovely to have a place to go to make art for hours at a time, but for many of us, renting studio space is not a viable option. If you have a house with an extra room that is ideal for a studio, ‘Yay’ for you. Some of us live with more limited space. That’s why we turn to the dining room. You remember the dining room–that space where you hardly ever eat and last year’s tax returns, two weeks of mail, dry cleaning, and all those Amazon returns sit, waiting to be sorted, sent back or put away.  Most homes have a designated space for a dining room, and it is often the least used room in the house…assigned to holiday dinners and tax season—and used maybe 10 times a year. Yet, we are giving up use of this space the other 355 days of the year. Tap into this space for your studio! Imagine if you could switch this and make art 355 days, and clean it up for a couple of dinners.

I can already hear your arguments:

It’s my grandmother’s dining table!

I use it during the holidays.

Where will I put my wedding china?

Everybody can see it (then why is it a such mess, huh?)

OK, let’s go through these excuses one-by-one:

GRANDMA’S TABLE. Yes, your grandmother’s table is a lovely piece. So, protect it by covering it or wrap it up with professional packing supplies (blankets, plastic) and store it in the garage. Use the matching credenza for art supply storage—imagine your brushes and paint tubes stored in glass jars in the glass cupboard. So fancy! So pretty! So Practical!

HOLIDAY NEEDS. 10 Holiday events vs. 355 days empty. Let your sister host the events and bring her a nice painting for her efforts. Or dine alfresco in the backyard. Or have art supply carts on wheels that can be moved out for the few times you need the room.

WEDDING CHINA. When was the last time you used your wedding china? If you use it often, make some room in your kitchen cupboards—move that electric pizza oven you thought you would need and any other misfit appliances that sit silent. You can even use the china cupboard for art supply storage!

EXPOSED VIEW. If your dining room is in full view, you may have to clean it up periodically. Or maybe you can install barndoors on sliders that can be closed for “company” occasions. If you truly entertain more than once a month and this is a critical part of your life and well-being, then celebrate your parties and forget about the studio. But if you are a frustrated artist with no place to work, the dining room is calling….

The most important thing about creating your own studio is believing, KNOWING that you deserve to have it. I often hear artists say that they don’t want the house to look messy, or they don’t want their small children to get into the mess.

I hear you.

I raised three children (3 kids in 3 years, I get it!) while being an artist. They knew my studio was MY space. They knew that they needed to be INVITED to touch things. They knew that there were consequences for using materials without permission. And they knew that if they showed an interest in anything I was doing; I would happily find time to show them how to do it—or find another time if I was busy working on a commission or in the middle of a piece. Best of all, they saw a fulfilled mother/artist who was not shy about indulging in her passion for art and not afraid to share her joy for art and life.

My studio drafting table–show ready. (It’s almost NEVER this neat!)

Things to Plan for When Creating your Own Studio

I converted our open-concept dining room into my studio, and I am thrilled about it. Here’s what I took into consideration when setting things up:

  • Storage- What kind of storage will you need? I use Husky toolboxes on wheels. They are under $250 at Home Depot. They can be delivered directly to your home and only required the attachment of the wheels. They have a lock if you have a little person who could get into your supplies. There are shallow and deep drawers that can accommodate spray bottles, cans of paint and even paper. I even bought one with a wooden top for working on projects. The best thing about these storage chests is that you can wheel them out of the room in the event you need a different configuration. You also may need open, vertical shelving for frames or canvases. 
I bought on of these Husky workbenches to store my pastels supplies.
  • Workspace- I have a drafting table in my studio that I use for calligraphy projects and as a surface to hold pastels when I am at the easel. I also have a fold-away typing table and a small open cart if additional surfaces are needed.
  • Easel- I splurged on a Sorge 8 ft studio easel. It’s a great investment (about $1000) and I use it almost every day.
  • Table- As I mentioned, I have a large drafting table that I keep it in the flat position. I use it every day. It was also a great investment (about $300)
  • Chair- I use an office chair that can be raised and lowered depending on whether I am at the taller drafting table or the lower easel. It has wheels so it’s easy to move. Also, easy to tuck away. If room permits, have a comfortable chair for visitors, which you will want to have periodically. 
  • Bookshelves- I have 1000’s of books in my studio. Make sure you have room for yours and a good system for finding them.
  • Wall Space- I put a series of bulletin boards up so I can display samples, cards, ideas, magazine clippings, quotes and an occasional grocery list. 
  • Lighting- I have good natural light, a good overhead light, and lots of additional lights. I try to use natural lights since I often work at night in the space.
  • Floor covers- I have hardwood floors in my house, and since I am not doing super chemically things in my studio, I have a cheap (but cute!) area rug under my table and easel. If I am using drippy, messy materials, I put down a tarp (cotton or plastic) for the duration of the project.
  • Water Source- If you are painting, you may need a water source. I am next to the kitchen, so that’s my main water source. If you are cleaning brushes or using any for of turpentine or mineral spirits, don’t use your kitchen sink, use a bucket or utility sink and know your local laws about disposal of hazardous chemicals.
  • Dangerous Materials Storage- Although I don’t use a lot of chemicals in my work, I do use Denatured Alcohol and mineral spirits occasionally. I keep anything like this in my garage, transferring what I need to a smaller container for “as needed” use in the studio. 
  • Trash- I have a small trashcan in my studio, but because of potentially flammable material, I am in the habit of moving everything out to the garage trash every day. Most days there is no issue.
  • Dust- Pastels=Dust. I use a paper towel the length of my painting folded under the work on the easel which catches most of the extra pastel dust. I also have a shop-vac and a hand-held vacuum to get everything up after I have finished a piece. 

There is a new magazine called In Her Studio that has tons of fashionable and practical ideas for studio space.

Setting Studio Rules 

It would be helpful for you to establish a few rules for your studio space. If you taught your kids to wash their hands before dinner or how to use a hairbrush, they (and spouses or significant others) can be taught the rules of the studio. 

  • DO ask to touch art in the studio. DON’T touch work on the easel or on the bench. 
  • DO come sit in the studio to chat and ask questions. DON’T be hurt if a deadline requires some quiet time.
  • DO think about ideas you may have to create your own masterpiece. DON’T use materials until you have cleared it with the artist.
  • DO tell others about Mom’s/Dad’s/Spouse’s amazing artistic talent! DON’T tell others Mom/Dad/Spouse will create art for them without asking first.
  • DO admire the work—finished and in process. DON’T offer criticism unless SPECIFICALLY ASKED to do so. (We can be fragile in the process!)

I will leave you with one last bit of commentary. Art studios can be messy places a lot of the time. And sometimes, we want to impress the neighbors or family or friends, so we try to put our My-house-is-so-fancy-and-clean-and-so-am-I studio face on. But people love art studios. They love the creative energy of an art environment. There’s a freedom in seeing someone else’s creative mess. I do a show almost every year in my studio, and I do tidy it a little bit, but people come in and LOOK PAST THE MESS to the art. They love seeing art in process, they love looking at art materials in use. They love imagining that they could make art with crayons and brushes and ink, and chalk. Indulge them. 

Now create your own studio!

View as you enter my house. My studio is on the immediate left and these are some of my books. This was in preparation for a show.