organizing the art studio | brushes, pastels & rearranging

by | Mar 10, 2021 | All Things Home, art supplies, Artistic Endeavors, Decorating, Organizing | 34 comments

One of my goals when organizing the art studio was to greatly simplify the amount of stuff that’s sitting out in the open.  I waffle between wanting to see all of my supplies, so I don’t forget them and because they are beautiful, and wanting to have completely clear surfaces.  The former usually wins out and the studio ends up feeling messy to me as a result.  Now, you have to understand that my mess-tolerance is pretty low, so a mess to me probably looks pretty normal to some people!  But, I do like stuff and can let things get a little too cluttered.  Tidy, but cluttered.

In order to tackle the clutter, I needed to clean out the drawers to make much better use of them and be honest about what I use most and what really needs to be at-the-ready.  I also have to be honest about what I don’t and never will use.  Anything that falls in that category is just taking up valuable space or making it difficult to take stock of, find, and access the things I use most.  Some of the things I have sitting out, I don’t use at all!

For example, I ended up hanging the plaster casts in the back of the closet instead of having them sit out on the cart.  I can pull on out when I want to sketch or paint one, but they certainly didn’t need to be out in the open.

organizing an art studio | miss mustard seed

So, what started as organizing the drawers turned into scooting around the furniture around the art studio, tweaking, thinking, trying one thing, and then another.  The nice thing about having everything on casters or sliders is I can do that pretty easily!

organizing an art studio | miss mustard seed

I laughed out loud when I rolled the green cabinet from the wall and saw the little treasure trove of lost cat toys.  These “crunchy balls” are Esme’s favorite toy.  She will carry them around the house, bat them all over the place, and then eventually lose them under a piece of furntiure.  Or, apparently, this piece of furniture.

cat toys under furniture | organizing an art studio | miss mustard seed

Through the organizing process, I was able to get both of these little white rolling carts cleaned off and moved out of the art studio.  I think these carts can be very useful, but they just felt cluttered to me and weren’t as functional as I imagined they would be.

organizing an art studio | miss mustard seed

I was intending to only clean off one little white cart, but when I decided to pull out the antique green cart to make better use of it, I was able to get rid of both.

organizing an art studio | miss mustard seed

I spent a lot of time thinking through where all of the displaced items would go, so they could easily be found.  Cleaning out the drawers helped with that immensely!  Instead of storing things I would likely never use, they now hold things I regularly use.

Another thing I spent a lot of time on was the pastels.  For someone who struggles with pastels, I sure had a lot of them!  All three of my pastel drawers were packed full and there was overflow in a few small boxes, too.  I got rid of about 80% of my pastels, which felt great.  I only kept the colors I was drawn to and felt like I would use.  I wipe each one down and gently vacuumed out the dust.  (HERE is a detailed post on cleaning pastels.)  I feel much more inspired to use them now that I’ve weeded out the bright pinks and purples and even some blues and greens that I would never use in a landscape.

Maybe I’ll end up missing a couple of the colors, but I can replace those specifically if I ever really need them.  This process showed me I needed a new rule when it came to pastels, colored pencils, etc.  NO MORE SETS!  I need to only buy open stock, as I do my paints, so I don’t end up with a bunch of colors I don’t like and won’t use.

organizing an art studio | soft pastels | miss mustard seed

organizing an art studio | soft pastels | miss mustard seed

I have a small vintage pastel box that holds the colors I use the most and I took some time to give that a little TLC, too.

organizing an art studio | miss mustard seed | vintage pastel box

organizing an art studio | miss mustard seed | vintage pastel box

I cleaned the pastel dust off the rim with a baby wipe.  If you didn’t already know, baby wipes are incredibly handy in an art studio.  They clean almost anything!

organizing an art studio | miss mustard seed

I then hydrated the box with some MMS Hemp Oil.

organizing an art studio | miss mustard seed | hemp oil

When you put Hemp Oil on very dry wood, like this box, it’ll darken while it’s wet, but will slowly lighten over time.

organizing an art studio | miss mustard seed

And then, I dealt with organizing the brushes.  Oh, the brushes!  Even though the brushes were all in the art studio, they were all over the place in the studio.  They were in at least five different places…drawers, in the cabinet, next to the cabinet, on the carts, on the table, on the desk.  They were so spread out that it was hard to see how many I really had.  I assure you, I have a lot.

organizing an art studio | miss mustard seed

I pitched brushes that were cheap, poor quality unless I had a specific reason for keeping them.  I got rid of any that were rusty, crusted, or otherwise ruined.  I made a pile of brushes to repair and clean.  (HERE is a post on how I clean and repair brushes.)  I set a few aside to sell, specifically was brushes for furniture, since I don’t work on furniture anywhere near as much as I used to.

organizing an art studio | miss mustard seed

I got all of my large brushes and paint tools sorted in one drawer.

organizing an art studio | miss mustard seed

And I put all of my artist brushes in one place.  As I started collecting them from all over the studio, I could truly appreciate the volume!  Oh my, I could open a little used brush shop.

organizing an art studio | miss mustard seed

I didn’t force myself to purge the artist brushes too thoroughly, because I’m always trying out different brushes for different mediums, substrates, etc. I don’t mind having a plethura of brushes to choose from.  They won’t corrode or spoil, like tubes of paint will, and I can always revisit and thin the herd down the line.

In the vintagewooden tote, I sorted the brushes by size and type, so it’s easier for me to see what I have and find what I need.  I can take a much quicker inventory of my favorite brushes to see if any need to be replaced.  (Some of the synthetic brushes will splay and no longer create a clean edge/line or the natural bristles will break/shed, changing the shape of the brush over time.)

organizing an art studio | miss mustard seed

I used vintage crates and antique marmalade crocks to contain all of the brushes.  This is partly to help them look neater, like little bouquets, and also to protect them a little bit from the cats, who love hunting, killing, and dragging away my natural bristle brushes.  They’ll even bring them to me as gifts, showing that they know me on a very deep, soul level.

organizing an art studio | miss mustard seed

organizing an art studio | miss mustard seed

The rest of the cart holds binders with reference photos and color charts, paper towels, oils mediums, ziplock bags for rags, and my antique artist boxes.  Those are more to make the cart look pretty and display the boxes better.  Since the cart is right in the line of sight from the kitchen door, I want it to be both functional and pretty.

organizing an art studio | miss mustard seed

I do have a few watercolor and short acrylic brushes on my art table, but that’s where I’ll use them most, so it makes sense to keep them there.  Now, the brushes are in only three places, sorted by type and function.  Clearly visible or clearly labeled.

organizing an art studio | miss mustard seed

I also cleaned out all of my pens and pencils.  When I find someting I really like, I tend to spread it all over the place.  In my office, my desk, in crocks all over the studio.  In truth, I just need them where they are used and maybe a few extra in a drawer.  So, that’s how I’m organizing now.  Sorting and putting like-things together where I use them.  (Duh.)

During this process, I also realized that some of my sterling silver pieces were really tarnishing and some pens, scissors, etc. were corroding from being jammed into a crock with all sorts of other metals and materials.  I polished up the silver pieces, chucked anything that was rusting, and made sure pieces were stored in a more thoughtful way.

organizing an art studio | miss mustard seed

I gathered up all of my dip pens (that weren’t silver) and stored them in a vintage pencil tin.  Nibs can be incredibly sharp and I have stabbed myself on them many times!  This will protect me as much as it protects them!

organizing an art studio | miss mustard seed | antique dip pens

I also changed out and pitched the rusted nibs.

organizing an art studio | miss mustard seed

I can still keep the pencil tin in the tote on my desk, so the pens are easily accesible, but they won’t impale me when I’m reaching for a pencil or pair of scissors.

organizing an art studio | miss mustard seed

I’ll share more about organizing the art studio in another post, but I can say that it’s all finished and it feels so good!  I will also be sharing some blog posts about my favorite “keepers” – the colors, papers, pens, pencils, and paints I use the most.

Now, I need to sort the supplies I set aside for the used art supply sale and get them photographed for the preview.  As a reminder the art and art supply sale is happening March 18, at 7:00pm CST.  I am selling over 40 original paintings and I will be putting together a bunch of lots of professional/artist-grade art supplies for a bargain.

34 Comments

  1. sandi m

    Too bad you tossed the rusted nibs. 🙁
    I would have created a piece of art work behind glass using them.

    Reply
  2. Toni

    I like to store my brushes and pens in vintage pewter cups, trophies, etc.

    Reply
  3. Margie

    You have the most wonderful containers! I especially love the wooden boxes! I have a couple that have been in my family for years, but never really thought to clean them up and use them! I’m curious now, where you found them all?! Thrift shops, antique stores?

    Reply
  4. Dana Calvert

    Thank you for sharing Kristen.
    I was wondering what to do with all of those
    Vintage timber boxes and French mustard pots.
    Now I know. I too collect stuff. I’ve been collecting
    White China for years, and didn’t even know it was called ‘stoneware’, but mine’s not on display.
    Do you hate dust?

    Reply
    • Dana

      Sorry, Marian. I’m having one of those days and it wouldn’t let me edit my comment

      Reply
  5. Teddee Grace

    I have a plethora of paper craft materials. I’m hoping to use some of your guidelines to help me purge and organize those. I love the molds for the nose, ear and lips. I’d hang those as wall art!

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      They are casts from Michaelangelo’s David, so they are pretty cool!

      Reply
  6. Kathryn Casey

    Watching you sort the studio cracks me up as I read your surprise at the volume of supplies you have. I’ve followed you for a long time and in the past year or two noticed how you were shopping and accumulating more (not in a judgmental way, just observed), and now you are writing about it!

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      Yes, my no-spend February was very good for me and going through the supplies systematically is going to help me shop much smarter. When I feel the urge, I just need to check my inventory and see if I really need something!

      Reply
  7. Cindy W.

    I’ve always loved the appearance of your antique store-looking cabinets–the BIG wood stained one and the green one. Where did you find them and what do you put in the shallow drawers?

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      I found the large hardware cabinet on Craigslist. It was removed from a hardware store in Maryland. The bookcase on top came out of the Wilder school in Minnesota. The green cabinet was found at an antique store and was a homemade piece, likely something someone made for their workshop.

      The drawers are actually perfectly sized for paints, papers, pencils, etc. They are filled with art supplies!

      Reply
  8. Anne

    Hi Marian, your studio is amazing!! Just looking at all your pictures of your room and supplies is so inspiring!! Question – where have you found antique marmalade jars? Do you have any recommendations where to shop for them and what price to pay? What I have found seem so pricey.

    Can’t wait to read your future post of which supplies are your favorite!

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      I bought a huge lot of them at a wholesale price when I was getting ready for my last Lucketts Market. I ended up keeping a bunch of them for myself, because they are just so cool! I retailed them for $50-65/each, so yes, they can be pricey.

      Reply
      • Kim

        Wow, that’s amazing for the price of the marmalade jars, I have never seen one for more than $10 here in Canada! Maybe because we have LOTS of British antiques here. I’ve only got 3, and I use them for Dixon Ticonderoga pencils.

        Reply
  9. Nancy

    Store your Pigma Pens with the tip down. They will be usable longer.

    Reply
    • Jenni

      Actually Pigma Micron Pens (per the recommendations on their website) should be stored horizontally and never with the tip down.

      Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      I’ve had some of these for a few years and they are still doing fine. Thanks for the tips, though!

      Reply
  10. Diane Lanford

    Awesome. I Ed to do this myself. Hopefully I won’t forget your sale

    Reply
  11. Martha Bradford

    In the picture of pens etc, what are the cream colored pens in the holder with the feathers?

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      They are micron pens, which are water-fast felt-tip pens. I have them in several sizes and colors (black and sepia.) That’s one reason why I have so many!

      Reply
  12. Michele M.

    Great pics – such eye candy, one and all!

    I laughed out loud too about your kitty’s lost toys. That’s classic.

    And finally – you have a crate that says American Crayon Company, Sandusky , Ohio! I grew up on Catawba – and
    road across the huge bay bridge and worked in Sandusky for years. It’s the home of Cedar Point. Google CP – it is a really great vacation area.

    I left home many years ago – but still get home to see family as often as I can….and I have never EVER gotten over not living with a huge Great Lake in my backyard. : – )

    Reply
  13. Christie

    I love these organizing posts, thanks so much for sharing! I love the vintage and antique pieces you are using to store your pens in, the antique boxes, etc. Do you specifically seek them out, or just like them and found they were the right size after you already owned them?

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      Yes, one of my favorite things to hunt for at antique stores/markets are pieces that can be used for open storage – baskets, crocks, totes, crates, etc. They are so versatile and beautiful!

      Reply
  14. Joan

    LOLLLLLL, we have a photo of about 30 lost ‘favorite’ kitty balls like your kitty lost tooo! they (our kitties) are soooo funny and what did we do without them, eh!? lol……love that they bring you your brushes on a deepest soul level………ohhhhhh that made me laugh, love your writing!!!! Ty for the chuckles ! ! ! ! ! ! great job on the room! love micron pens also! I’m getting rid of stuff too, only what I use now or will use in the future (for sure) is staying ! 🙂

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      You are my kind of person, Joan! 🙂

      Reply
  15. Mary

    Who knew purging and organizing could be so beautiful?!? We will be moving and I want my new studio to be clean, fresh and organized. Seeing that you have changed directions in your art focus, painting furniture to landscapes, helps me to readjust my focus. Having lovely containers to store things, hopefully, will encourage me to stay neater. I’m using the same mismatched, cracked and broken plastic containers….ARGGGH! Thank you for your continual inspiration.

    Reply
  16. nina

    good job cleaning up the studio!! i however, was tooooo distracted by your checkerboard floor! LOVE IT!!!! how big are the squares? i have been wanting to do that in my foyer for the last 20 years, but have inertia!! you may be my inspiration.

    Reply
  17. Terry

    Cannot wait for your “keepers” post! Thank you for creating so much motivation for us. I have a garden shed, green house, potting shed that suffer some similar issues as your studio multiples everywhere. Here in California I’m in and out of them all almost daily all year but spring they need to be ready to go.

    Reply
  18. Addie

    mmmm……I know your thinking that some of those pastel colors are not “your” colors….but in getting rid of the pinks and purples don’t you think you might need them for sunrises and sunsets? Or maybe doing a landscape with a field of wildflowers?….you can see why my organizing is difficult!!!! Just some thoughts.

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      Yes, I did think about that, but I almost never use bright pinks or purples in any of my paintings ever! Maybe there will come a time, in which case I can buy the small handful of colors I pick myself. I did keep a few reds, pinks, and bluish purples for that purpose, thought, so I think I’ll be able to do what I want.

      Reply
  19. mcgrathinnola

    Would you mind sharing where you found the gold clip lamp on your easel? I’ve been looking for one to put on mine. Thanks!

    Reply
  20. monique odman

    Thanks to your last posts, I an digging into my belongings in my studio. Doing so, I discovered a great collection of unused brushes, they must be worth quite a bit. I won them with other art supplies from winning a contest using Grumbacher’s products. I will keep them. But about casting things away, I explored several carboard boxes hidden under a large table, and what a mix! Unsold things from past stoop sales, that are so out of style: clothing, china pieces, custom jewelry, shoes, perfumes etc. I set some of it along our house planters. YAY, all gone so far! Tomorrow there will be more to put out and will keep digging for more. I am happy to unload and others are happy for the free stuff to grab. My studio as a whole is always looking good, just as you set up your collections of ironstone with other pretty things to see and enjoy, that is what I do with all my collections, many ‘nature morte’ arrangements all around. Even my art supply closets are that way. We have similar old wooden boxes where I stand my brushes. Nothing ever looks bad, only my desk top.
    Again, you have help your faithful readers, I am glad for the energy you shared, very useful!

    Reply
  21. Annie

    Oooh fun pics. I should probably pray before I jump on your blog to prevent my heart from being insanely jealous. Lol. Ahhh, my art studio has been taken over for the past year and turned into my husband’s zoom schoolroom.

    I grind pigments for traditional egg tempera and I saw a little clay tile with a well that had “sylvan” perhaps? stamped on it. Those would be such a great tool for me. What are they called? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      Oh, I am sorry to hear that! When we were under stay-at-home orders and both Jeff and I had to work from home, he took over my office and I worked exclusively out of my studio, which is typically just reserved for creative work. It was so nice to have both spaces back. You’ll appreciate it even more! 🙂

      As far as the paint pans you noticed, yes! They are handmade paint pans by Sylvan Clay Works. If you follow her on Instagram, you can get the details for when she’ll have her next sale.

      Reply

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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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