As I shared on my blog last week, I took several days to continue the organizing efforts and focused them on my studio. I had honestly been avoiding my studio the entire month of February. I knew it would be tedious work and I knew I would have to dramatically rethink the way I purchased art supplies. This wasn’t going to be about organizing things in neat piles, bins, and drawers with labels. I already had that. This was going to be about touching everything and considering the necessity of keeping it vs. selling or donating it. This was about taking a good hard look at how I create and deciding which supplies are an asset and which ones were just clutter in my studio.
I have to admit that I got off to a slow start, but once I started to feel the liberation that comes with letting go, it got easier and I even revisited drawers to get rid of more. I started to see a studio that was much more efficient and conducive to creative endeavors. It would feel more inviting and less overwhelming. And it looks really good! Initially, Jeff said he couldn’t see a difference after I’d been working in there for two days, but once I was done, he acknowledged that it looked neater, more organized, and squeaky clean.
So, here is what it looked like when I was in the middle of it…
I worked through the two large storage pieces drawer-by-drawer and worked through all three rolling carts, hoping to downsize to just using one. Along the way, I vacuumed, dusted, and even used Hemp Oil to polish up wooden brush handles and boxes.
My main goals were to clean out the supplies, downsize to one cart, declutter the surfaces, consolidate like-supplies, and (with a few exceptions) only have the things I use regularly out on work surfaces. And, I’m happy to say that I accomplished all of those goals.
Let’s start with the art desk/table. I brought this table up from the basement in November when I realized I could use more flat worksurfaces. I was doing more paintings on paper and it didn’t work to do that at my easel or drafting table. This table is about the same size as my vintage teacher’s desk, so it worked well putting them together, making a sort-of partner’s desk.
But, this tabletop was a clutter magnet! Not only did I set things on there regularly, but even when the table was cleaned off, it was still loaded with a buffet of supplies. On top of that, I had a little white rolling cart parked next to it full of more brushes, paints, papers, and mediums. I just didn’t need all of that sitting out all of the time!
So, I simplified greatly. I sorted the supplies, put some in the sell/donate piles, and neatly stored the rest in labeled drawers. I kept out the pens, pencils, (short watercolor & acrylic) brushes, and tools that I use most.
When this is pared down and simplified, you know there was a big problem!
I’ve set up my Victorian watercolor box with the watercolors I use most, a small palette, and a few other supplies…
The bottom drawer holds some watercolor crayons and pigment sticks.
An ironstone dish holds papers and tape…
And I have the ceramic palettes I use most along with a few other supplies sitting out, but it’s pretty condensed. I feel like it’s a nice balance of having things at-the-ready, but not too much.
The thing that I’m most excited about is the vintage rolling cart. I was able to get rid of the two smaller carts and make this one more functional. It just took scooting the antique dress form to the right of the easel, filling the awkward space at the end of the hardware cabinet. When the green rolling cart was parked in that corner, it was much harder to use.
I moved the green art cabinet to the left just enough to make room for the rolling cart. I then took the hardware tote from the cabinet and used it to store all of my long-handled artist brushes in one place. This freed up space in the cabinet for my expanding art library. More importantly, the brushes are sorted by type and I can really see what I have. You can read the post with more detail about sorting the brushes HERE.
My paper towels are closest to the easel for easy access. A small plastic bin holds some measuring tools, baby wipes, and some small painting surfaces like vintage index cards and clear-primed linen.
I organized all of my reference photos in binders by subject. This was a tedious project, but it’s so nice to have everything neatly organized. All of the photos are in page protectors, so it’s easy to flip through each binder. Before, my reference photos were stored in folders and I had duplicates and photos I probably would never use, etc. It was a bit of a mess and I think this system will be much better. I even created a binder for my color charts, so I can make paint them on paper, punch holes in the side, and store the charts, wheels, and color studies in this binder.
It’ll take up a lot less space than the charts I made on 9 x 12 canvas panels I made a couple of years ago. And I’m looking forward to making them again now that I’ve refined my color palette and have learned more about the process of making color charts.
On the bottom shelf of the cart, I have ziplock bags (for used paper towels), solvents and oils, and my vintage paint boxes. I’ll admit that those are more for display. Since this cart can be seen from the kitchen, I want it to be functional, but look pretty, too.
The change is subtle, but I spent most of my time on the large hardware cabinet and getting it organized. By removing crocks and totes of brushes, I made room for more books. Eventually, all of these shelves will be filled with books. Until then, I have a few books stacked sideways that are topped with art or artist mannequins. They’re accessories that are easy to shuffle when I need more space for books.
All of the brushes, pens, and pencils that used to flank the shelf found a home with their counterparts where they will be used. One ironstone pitcher with a few antique brushes, a few artist mannequins, and a jar of glass glitter have taken their place.
Each drawer was purged, sorted, and labeled.
I learned that, no matter how much I am drawn to them, I don’t need to buy any more ceramic palettes! (Well, I will give allowance to one that is antique or very, very special.) It’s funny, but these were the hardest thing for me to pare down and I ended up only getting rid of two. Most of the ones I’ve purchased are handmade, antique, or I bought as a special souvenir. I bought one in an art supply shop in Beijing and another was purchased in Paris.
I was able to free up a drawer for papers to use in mixed media projects. The funny thing is that I’m not sure if I can cut up and decoupage 100+-year-old letters! Some of them are from the late 1800s and they are beautiful. I wish I could borrow a fluent French-speaker for an afternoon to translate them for me. (Maybe I could just type them into Google Translate…?) The fact that I don’t know what the letters say does make it a little easier to use them in my own sketchbooks. (As a side note, it seems that French letters are the “in thing” on Etsy. I have had a tough time finding any antique letters written in English.)
I have also been able to organize the drawers so that I can store my oil palettes in them when not in use. One drawer in the green cabinet houses my glass palettes and one in the hardware cabinet has my wood, ceramic, and paper palettes. In both cases, the palette I’m currently using can sit on top with wet paint on it, so it can be protected from my cats. They have a knack for stepping straight into a pile of paint.
All of the drawers have been dramatically decluttered, so it’s very easy to find everything.
While the transformation isn’t dramatic to the casual observer, it feels so different and so much better to me. I’m always excited to be in here, creating, but decluttering and organizing has made it even more inviting to me.
I am loving my studio and want to make sure I keep it this way. Not “keep it this way” in that it never changes, but retain this inviting, organized, and efficient feeling.
Here are some new self-imposed rules I’ve instituted based on the things I learned from the experience…
- No more buying sets. I usually end up only using a small handful of colors, so it’s much better for me to buy open stock and get just what I want.
- No more buying all of the supplies for a class unless I honestly don’t have something that will work. For me, shopping the supply list is a part of the fun of taking a class! It’s like back-to-school as an adult and I always loved opening all my new supplies and outfitting my Trapper Keeper. As an adult, I get to buy and test out a wide array of new supplies and colors, getting them all organized as I ready myself to watch through the course. The problem is that I tend to go back to my old standbys when the class is over and the new supplies go into a drawer. I can buy specific colors or products that I need if I don’t already have a reasonable substitute. And, I have to be honest about whether or not I think I’ll continue to use the product/color after the class.
- No more buying without looking at what I have first. I discovered multiples of my favorites that I bought over and over again during this process, simply because they were buried undersupplies I don’t use. That’s not efficient or smart. Now, I can take a quick visual inventory. It’ll save me money and space.
- Drastically limit the number of supplies and colors I purchase to test. I have to admit that I really, really love art supplies and I love testing out new mediums, brushes, pencils, pens, paints, etc. But, I don’t need to make it my mission to test out everything in the Blick catalog! And I certainly don’t need to continue to test out products that I know aren’t really my thing. For example, I don’t tend to like things I can’t mix…colored pencils, crayons, markers, etc. I like liquid/semi-liquid or water-soluble paints and mediums that I can mix. Customizing my colors and creating my own palette is one of the things I enjoy most about art and I get frustrated when I can’t do it.
I’m hoping these rules will help me think twice before I buy anything, which will help me keep the supplies in my studio under control.
I am happy to report that since my no-spend February, I’ve been very good about following these rules and always checking my inventory or thinking a day or two before I buy anything. And, instead of feeling constrained by it, I feel liberated and inspired. I can just focus on all of the wonderful things I have instead of always hunting for the next awesome thing…