Organizing & Purging the Studio | Paints & Papers

by | Mar 8, 2021 | art supplies, Artistic Endeavors, Organizing | 10 comments

Well, I’ve spent the better part of the last three days going through my studio with a fine-tooth comb.  I’ve organized the studio before and have cleaned out a few things, but nothing compares to the thoroughness of this most recent endeavor.  As I’ve been working in my studio over the past few months, I’ve realized that the quantity of supplies, instead of being inspiring, has been overwhelming.  It doesn’t look out-of-control because everything is in neatly labeled drawers, but it’s a lot of stuff and I realized the full extent once I started pulling it all out!

Having all of this choice might seem like an artist’s dream, but I found it to be more of a hindrance.  It reminded me of when my boys were younger and, after a successful dentist visit, they were able to pick a prize out of the treasure chest.  The experience was always paralyzing for them and I found myself wishing they would just hand the kid a prize and be done with it.  Instead, we would stand there for five minutes, watching a toddler agonize over the bouncy ball vs. the goofy glasses vs the racecar.  That’s how I have felt when approaching creating in my studio…  There were just too many great choices.

And, it was of my own making!  I love shopping for art supplies and testing out new-to-me mediums and tools.  It’s so fun to push my own boundaries and grow as an artist.  But, I wasn’t being disciplined about trying out new mediums/tools/supplies on a small scale and then getting rid of them if I didn’t enjoy them.  I was keeping everything in case I might want to “use it later.”  Oh, those words are the enemy of a clean, organized, tidy, and efficient studio.

The watercolor/gouache drawer is a good example…

studio organizing | paintings and papers | miss mustard seed

It would take a person (me) 20-30 minutes to find what they are looking for in there.  When I typically use 4-8 colors, why do I need so many??  Most of these tubes are leftover from when I first started painting with watercolor and I was experimenting to see what colors I wanted in my palette.  Some are colors I bought for specific classes and never used again.  Now that I’ve been painting for several years, I know what I like to work with.  I can keep a few extra colors, but I don’t need to keep all of them.

studio organizing | paintings and papers | miss mustard seed

So, I sorted through every single color, thinking through how and when I would use it.  I had to justify each tube I kept and I ended up putting about 75% of the tubes into a pile of supplies to sell.

It’s better to let them go to someone who will use them instead of letting them potentially spoil in a drawer.  I did this with every paint medium and then made color decks for the tubes I kept.

To make the color decks, I bought THESE white square cards and THIS pack of binder rings.  The cards were heavy enough to handle a light watercolor wash, acrylic, and gouache.  I’m going to use Arches Oil Paper and cut my own tags when I make the oil paint deck.

studio organizing | paintings and papers | miss mustard seed

I had some watercolor swatch cards already, so I just punched holes in them and put them on a ring, too.  I can use them as a reference if I’m considering buying a color again in the future.

studio organizing | paintings and papers | miss mustard seed

I even paired down my watercolor palettes.  When I first started making palettes, I wanted to be able to include as many colors as possible.  Now, I just want to include a few key colors that I will use all the time.

studio organizing | paintings and papers | miss mustard seed

It’s sort of like creating a capsule wardrobe.  When you have a few key pieces that you love and coordinate well together, it makes dressing each morning very easy.  In the same way, creating is easier when you’ve already selected a few key pieces that you love and coordinate well together.  The focus can now be on the work instead of being distracted by a wide array of options.

Now, all of the paints are organized with their color decks sitting on top.  I still have plenty of colors to choose from, but not so many that I don’t even know what I have!  There were several cases where I had 2-4 tubes of a favorite color because I kept buying it, not knowing I already had plenty.

studio organizing | paintings and papers | miss mustard seed

studio organizing | paintings and papers | miss mustard seed

I still need to make color cards for the oil paints, but I didn’t start that project yet because I have to cut the cards by hand and the paint will take a few days to dry.  I’ll work on them in batches over the next couple of weeks.

studio organizing | paintings and papers | miss mustard seed

As a part of organizing the paints, I’m making a book of color charts and studies, but I’ll share more on that in another post.

studio organizing | paintings and papers | miss mustard seed

I did this same process with my sketchbooks and painting pads, which were stuffed into THREE drawers!  Full books were mixed with empty books, so I couldn’t really see what was what.  Again, I had multiples of my favorites.  And there were papers that I hated that have been languishing in the drawers for years.  I will always use the paper I like best, so it was time to get rid of anything I didn’t love.  I filled an entire paper grocery bag full of pads that I’ll never use.

studio organizing | paintings and papers | miss mustard seed

Now, the paper drawers are organized.  Like papers are together and I only kept what I really love.  I also made sure all of the sketchbooks I’m currently working in are together, so I don’t start a new one until all of the working books are filled.  Another point in doing this is that I would like to systematize the sketchbooks I purchase and fill, so all of them are the same or at least coordinate together.  It’ll be easier to store and display them if they are all the same size, shape, finish, etc.  Right now they are all over the place.  I’m planning to make a list of my favorites and stick to buying just those when I run out.

Uniformity is a friend to neatness and organization.

studio organizing | paintings and papers | miss mustard seed

I’ll share more about organizing the studio in a couple of other posts, since there is a lot to cover!

After going through all the drawers, I have a healthy pile of like-new or gently used art supplies that I will be selling.  All of them are professional/artist-quality paint, supplies, and tools, and I even have a couple of vintage pieces I’ll be selling.

I’ll combine the art supply sale with my next original art sale.  The sale is scheduled for Thursday, March 18, at 7:00 pm CST, so set your alarms if you’re interested in shopping the sale!  I’ll share previews of the art supplies and paintings that will be listed.  Also, I have switched my site to a new server and will be upgrading to a huge server just for the sale, so the site shouldn’t crash this time!  I know that was so frustrating during the last sale, but there was more traffic than my site could handle.

original watercolor landscapes | miss mustard seed

More details to come…


  1. Linda O

    You really hit the mark today. I have the same problem with sewing supplies as you do with painting supplies. I have been walking into my laundry/sewing room, trying to get myself motivated to clean and organize everything. I have floor to ceiling cupboards, mostly filled with fabrics, cutting boards, cutters, etc. Your statement, “instead of being inspiring, it was overwhelming,” hit home. I am now dedicated to clearing out my “stash”. I am moving forward. Thank you.

  2. Daisy

    This reminds me of a tip I saw about grocery shopping recently. A lady keeps a list of what she HAS, not what she needs to buy so that when she’s in the grocery store she can pick up the one or two items that would complete a meal rather than accidentally buying things she already has! Might not be a bad idea to keep those kinds of lists in our phone for art supplies too.

  3. KathyT

    Anything you don’t sell could be donated to a school’s art program. In my hometown we have an organization called Re-Craft, which collects all sorts of things that can be reused in craft or art projects. They run workshops for both kids and adults, and pass on supplies to teachers.

  4. Christie

    I love this! Please keep sharing how you organize your studio, and also what supplies you use & why! And how you store them. (Paint Color names & brands, brush types & brands, etc!) Would love to hear your thoughts & reviews & how to store things. Love these organizing posts & behind the scenes art posts 🙂

    • Terry

      Totally Agree with everything you said Christie. Would love that additional info.

  5. Jo

    Quality art supplies are just too expensive not to have them organized. Friends have been very helpful in sharing “why” they enjoyed working with a particular brand along with research before placing items in your purchase cart is priceless. Thank you Marian for sharing your favorites.

  6. monique odman

    “I may need this later” defines me and my bad habit to keeping too many things. Having a large studio usually well organized gives me the excuse of having a lot of stuff. A few months ago going through many tin boxes ( which I painted years ago) containing loads of small findings from the time I made custom jewelry. Clearly I would never use them again and gave them to a neighbor friend who has painting and creative classes for children. They work on gorgeous projects, some of them outdoors. But I am far from letting go of more supplies and this also goes for kitchen books, china never coming out of cupboards etc. If you have seen Marie Kondo’s videos teaching people to live with without possessions…I will never manage to follow her spartan style. There should be a balance in between.

  7. Helen

    I worked for years in a quilt shop. I love fabric and bought a lot. It was overwhelming. When I decided to clear out most of it I needed to find a good place to donate this collection of fabric. Bundles of Love is a nonprofit organization that provides babies with the needed essentials and they take donations. It felt wonderful to find a place near by that would use this fabric and to have an organized sewing room. Win, win!

  8. Margot

    My biggest stumbling block is finding outlets for selling/donating supplies I don’t want. Goodwill’s website says they don’t take them. The supplies are inappropriate for a grade school – maybe a middle or high school? I would love to sell some of my better, more expensive supplies but have lost money on postage on some past sales (and customers are used to retail’s free shipping).

  9. Carolyn

    Hi Marian,
    You may want to put your watercolor tubes in glass jars. My husband and I are professional artists and share paints. We put the reds, greens, blues, yellows and earth tones in separate jars. It keeps them from drying out. Even if they dry out I’ll peel off the tube and still use the watercolor.
    Your art is amazing paint on!


Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…

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