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Your Next Studio

by Luann Udell on 1/5/2017 10:18:44 AM

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She's blogged since 2002 about the business side--and the spiritual inside--of art. She says, "I share my experiences so you won't have to make ALL the same mistakes I did...."  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column ("Craft Matters") for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She's a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.



The curse and blessings of many moves is, each studio is a life lesson.


A friend here in Santa Rosa has moved her tiny jewelry studio almost five times in the year I’ve known her. Last night, we moved her “best studio” into a delightfully bigger space, with a large display area. Armed with hand carts and three mighty men (husbands and friends), we moved all her stuff in two hours. (A little over the estimated “fifteen minutes”, but we all knew better anyway.)


I’ve had many studios in my time.


In our tiny Baltimore apartment, I filled a small hallway with my knitting yarn. In our Boston apartment, our bedroom was filled with shelves of....not clothing, not bedding, but quilting fabric. Our “dining room” had what bemused visitors called “a wall o’ yarn”, dozens hundreds of skeins of yarn hanging from several dozens of those expandable wall coat/mug racks.


Fortunately, because of my tendency to arrange everything by color, my Dear Hubby found the shelves “cool-looking” and visitors found the yarn display “artistic”. (I still have a tendency to sort everything—paints, beads, thread, buttons, artifacts, beach stones, shells, nails, mat board ( I revealing too much here??) by color, shape, and size. In hindsight, maybe I could have become an installation artist....??)


It was when we moved our small family to our first home in New Hampshire that I stepped up to the plate as an artist. I had the insight, inspired by my kids, that inside me was an artist screaming to be let out. It was the first time I realized I needed, not just dedicated storage space, but a dedicated workspace. Fortunately, my DH, again, also stepped up to the plate. We worked to figure out how to get me a studio.


My first “real” studio workspace was in our attic. It worked beautifully, for a few years. But then we needed the space for the kids when they couldn’t share a bunk bed anymore. Then a rented room downtown, in a building due for development and renovation. Then another rented suite in another such building, a former dentist’s office.


Each space got bigger and bigger, and the better each situation got, the more I worried about losing it. How could anyone ever improve on a dentist’s office?! I had four tiny rooms and windows overlooking Main Street! It even had a darkroom.


"The wall o' fabric is always with me."​


This fear, the idea that I would never have anything “better”, and the knowledge that someday, the building would be developed and sold, gripped me. My mentor visited me and listened to my fears. And as I rattled on about “this studio” being my “best studio”, she corrected me with the words, “Your NEXT studio.”


It wasn’t til several more years passed that I got it. Her point, I mean. I did indeed “lose” that space, less than two years later. Which led to no studio for a year, as we bought a house with an entire two-story barn for my studio.  The best studio in the world.


When we moved to California, I had the same fears: In an area rife with sky-high home prices and rents, where on earth would I find my next studio?


But I did find one. Several, in fact.


Our home has a basement, rare in California, and I set up a studio there. But the ceiling is way too low for visitors (and I have the forehead bruises to prove it), and the layout doesn’t allow for them to “free range”, something I love to offer visitors.


I found a studio with public access, and moved in.  Too small. Less than a year later, I moved into the space next door, with twice the space and a display window. Perfect! But it’s too isolated, and has other issues. Now what?


Once again, another opportunity is in the works. I’ll be moving again. Again!


There is a blessing in having a studio space that “stays put”. The time spent packing, moving, unpacking, is spent on actually making art. It’s easier to set up a routine that works, and stick to it. Everything is in its best possible place, and stays there. And you don’t have to put tiny new address stickers on your business cards and postcards. People know where you are.


But there are blessings to “many moves”, too. Mine were big/small/big/big/really big/small and now in multiple locations. (Which one has the frames and mats? Which one has the modeling supplies? Where the heck are all my seam rippers???)


Some “perfect studios” were inaccessible to visitors. My “perfect” dental office/studio? Inside a building locked at night, and up a massive flight of stairs. Not exactly open-studio friendly. The roof leaked, and destroyed a small roomful of paper supplies. And the FBI were quite upset with me during President Clinton’s speech on the town square. (I’d inadvertently avoided the security lines, and opened a window to watch his speech, throwing their security team into a panic.) (They DID think my work was cool, though....)


My friend feels overwhelmed right now. During this busy holiday season, she now has to set up yet another space before she can get back to work. But I noticed how incredibly organized she was, as we moved her stuff. She has a “system” in place, one she’s perfected over the last half-dozen moves. She has firm ideas on what will go where. She will be settled in, in no time.


As I contemplate my own “perfect studio”, I find myself thinking once more about my NEXT studio. There are beautiful things here I will leave behind, but new, future aspects that are already speaking to me. I will miss much of the community I found here, but also relieved about not having to “go along” to “get along” so much. (I hope!)


"One thing I can guarantee, in every studio, my workspace is ALWAYS cluttered."


I’m on a waiting list, which could last a few years—or a few months. Either way, I can deal.


The beauty, the real blessing of many studio moves, is nothing is ever going to hold you back for very long. You learn what to keep, and what you can let go of. You learn to enjoy the gift of each one, of what you gained, and what you can give up. What you need, and what you can go without.


Every studio is a life lesson. And me? I, a dedicated, eternal student of life, can only wonder what I’ll learn next, with open heart and many, many moving boxes.





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Topics: advice for artists | FineArtViews | inspiration | Luann Udell | art studio 

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Mark Brockman
Ah, studios. My first(s) was our bedroom(s), where ever we lived. Then in a basement that regularly flooded. Then a small closed in porch with a oldfashioned non working water pump smack in the middle. A front room of a large Victorian house where I hoped to open it to visitors but the town said no (a long story I won't go into). Then a garage for about thirteen years, no heat no air conditioning, I used a space heater right under my easel in winter and opened the garage door in summer. A short time in a bedroom when my son moved out. We moved to a house with four bedrooms, one became my studio till my mother-in-law moved in for a short time, I then got my dream studio, not large but a building separate from the house. Loved it! Then another move from PA to CO, I'm back in a bedroom, not large but big enough and great light. Oh, another studio I have, as a landscape painter my best studio is the great outdoors.

Studios are a necessity for most of us, but I have realised that almost any place will do, nor do I need fancy or showy. For me a studio is a workplace, nothing like those photos of the grand and impressive studios of some artists. Mine is humble, I like that.

Luann M. Udell
Okay, Mark, YOU WIN. You've had more moves and studios than I have! But you've already learned the best lesson of all: ANY studio that lets you create the artwork of your heart is the best studio of all.

John P. Weiss
My first studio was a drafting table in a "studio" apartment (pardon the pun). The next studio was in the garage of a condo. Now my studio is an entire room in my home. I've seen some amazing art created in humble little studios, so the space matters less than the work. Thanks Luann!

Robert Sloan
Loved your stories and photos! This article is great. I've always painted in the room I live in, even when I worked full time as an artist I never rented a separate space. Mobility problems meant I got a lot more done if I kept my supplies and working area organized and all in reach with adequate heating/cooling.

I'm about to go from the smallest to largest this year though, since my daughter's building an outbuilding on the farm for me. My new studio will be wood with a tin roof, paintable and country cool looking, with a porch for plein air and loads of space. I'm going to enjoy it immensely and may wind up painting large again once it's built... haven't painted big for years but now it's tempting.

Teresa Tromp
Your fabric wall IS a work of art. I think arranging by color is very organized. That's how I organize my clothes closet - by color. It's easier to find things that way.
I've had many studios in various parts of the apartment/house as well.
For me, the most important aspect of my studio is lighting.
The largest studio I ever had (which was a converted rental house garage) had the worst lighting, and poor lighting plays havoc with your eyes and work.
Have you ever seen those television shows with the tiny houses? It's all about natural lighting and STORAGE!
Best Regards,

Michel Reynolds
I agree with your sentiments on moving studio. I have done it many times. Your article is wonderful and well-written. Keep writing, along with all your other creative pursuits.

Luann M. Udell
I agree, John, it's not the space, it's making the space, and making use of the space. Glad you now have a room of your own!

Luann M. Udell
Robert, you new studio sounds like a dream come true in so many ways! Can't wait to see what "big paintings" are inspired by your big new space, and your daughter is a lovely, lovely person to create this opportunity for you!

Luann M. Udell
Teresa, you are spot on with your insight about lighting. It is impossible to work with color confidently without a good source of illumination. In my basement studio, I don't even try to pick out fabrics, threads, or clay once the daylight goes. Hence, I'm so much more productive in the summer! :^) Thanks for your comment.

Luann M. Udell
Michel, thank you, and I will! :^)

Thanks, Luann for a delightful article. It accomplished two things for me. I got to have my first deep laugh since dealing with a family illness this past week and I faced the fact that my studio is now too small, it worked perfectly but...Blessings in your next studio, Dianne

Sue Furrow
I would love to have a REAL studio. I work in my fathers old, dark, freezing cold, blazing hot cinder block garage/workshop. I would love a space with room for 3 big tables and storage and a framing area, etc. This old bldg. is FREE so I will stop whining.
Hope this New Year is good for us.

Mark Brockman
I WIN, I WIN! Just kidding.
Actually we moved so much in our first ten years of marriage that the running joke was, 'House is dirty, time to move.'

Luann M. Udell
Diane, my work here is done--a good laugh can heal so much! I'd love to hear what you end up doing with your studio. Cleaning it out? Or looking for a bigger one....???

Luann M. Udell
Sue, "free" is good, and not to be sneezed at. But take some of the money you're saving, and purchase a space heater (The art complexes here in CA do NOT have heat, btw!) and a few good lights. I have one of these at each work station:
They aren't cheap, but they are worth every penny!
I don't have a solution for "not enough space", ironically, because the more space I have, the more I fill it! I thought I'd learned my lesson after selling off most of the contents of our two-story barn, attic, basement, mudroom, and 2-car garage. But no--I'm filling up space even as I write! :^D

Luann M. Udell
Mark, that is too funny! I'll mention it to my husband next time we have to clean.
When the house gets too messy, we tend to throw a party, because then we're FORCED to clean! Beats moving. ;^)

After reading your article, I took a deep breathe and turned to my husband and said, "My studio is not big enough." He replied, "So, what do you want to do about it?"...I will let you know.

Thanks, Luann, for a wonderful article! And timely for me because I'm moving from Boston, MA, to the Hudson Valley in the spring. My current space is small and cramped so I'm looking forward to a new space with new energy!

Joanne Benson
Loved your wall of fabric! And the way you stored yarn sounds very creative and attractive as well!

Being mostly a hobbyist I haven't ever had a studio outside of my home but my space has certainly grown over the last 15 years. I started painting at the kitchen table and realized I needed a space where I could leave my stuff out for when inspiration struck. I then got an art workstation which sat in the corner of my kitchen (I'm lucky because the kitchen is pretty big) in front of my very large window next to my French door to the patio. This was a wonderful space while it lasted. The light was perfect. However, I soon outgrew that space and expanded to our former living room which my husband helped me convert into a studio space. (we never used the living room because we had a family room to gather in) Then I needed a place to mat and frame my work other than our dining room table. So he made me a matting table from our former race car table (that he made for the kids when they were little)in our basement. I moved a bunch of framing stuff to the basement (which is a nice finished space). However, we tend to fill up whatever space is available and the basement and living room areas are getting cramped. Time to clean out I guess. It is on my agenda for 2017. It doesn't help that my youngest daughter was a fine art major and has the bulk of her large scale work stored in our basement as well! LOL

You have inspired me to get better organized with my supplies, etc. I'm at the point where I know where everything is but it isn't optimally accessible and things are pretty cluttered!!!! Of course my clothes closet is also beckoning to be cleaned out as well.......

Good luck with your next studio venture!

Deb Marvin
Timely article and, I agree, well-written. I am just finishing up a studio move of sorts. I too have had no studio, a teeny space with just enough room for a custom easel and a few supplies, an unheated, enclosed porch, my corner of the sofa with sketch pads and pencils in a small box on the side, and a corner of a bedroom. In the last two homes I have lived in, I have had a room dedicated to art - real studios, at least to me.
The move I am currently finishing is really just a total overhaul of the basement studio I have in my home here in Kentucky. The house is built on a slope so I actually have two walls that are completely exposed and have plenty of windows. Our move to Kentucky was a somewhat hurried affair back in 2007 so I wasn't able to put any thought to changes I needed to make to this space to make it really work as a studio. The overhaul opportunity was made possible by the loss of my full-time job in August 2016, the presence of my dear sister-in-law, a professional house painter, and the decision to give up on the corporate world and follow my dream of being a full-time artist. One of the biggest issues I have had with my studio was the dark beige wall color. The space just wasn't inviting. Issue number two, the recessed lighting, will have to be dealt with later. I have wanted to paint the walls but doing so meant moving everything out. I have had nine years to amass more stuff and with a full-time job stealing most of my energy if not time, the studio had become the last second place to ditch clutter when company was coming. The space was a disaster - I just couldn't work in the it.
Not sure why I decided to repaint just in front of the holidays but that is what happened. My sister-in-law was very eager (and still is) to see me working full-time as an artist and had the time to tackle the painting job. Despite an emergency appendectomy in early November, I took her up on the offer and we began the process of pulling everything out of the room and cleaning walls, patching holes, etc. She finished the painting and I am moving everything back in. By everything I really mean only my art-related furniture and supplies. I am going through all of the small storage drawers and dumping all the non-art-related items in a big "yard-sale" box. The box is almost full! The art-related items are now divided by medium or use. Graphite pencils, colored pencils, a drawer for various types of erasers, and erasing shields and such are all grouped together. Then my watercolor-related items - brushes, mediums, and the actual paints have their space. Next I have set up a space for everything related to acrylics. The other medium is oils. So far so good. My canvas cart will remain in the large storage room under the garage, at least for now. I still have to sort through all the papers and reorganize them to reduce the likelihood of damage. There is more but I have gone long enough!
I am pleased with my new space. The lighter walls and the more open floor plan have made my studio a very inviting place and while the process was similar to moving to a whole new studio, having the opportunity to clear out all the unwanted junk and clutter has been a Godsend. I still find myself dreaming about my next studio - one separate from the house, possibly in a local artist studio collective in Cincinnati - but I am very happy to have my new space here in my home. I even have enough room to teach small classes. So until the next move, I am content with my perfect studio.

Luann M. Udell
Oh, YES, Diane, I'm waiting with 'bated breath!

Luann M. Udell
Pat, hurrah! If your energy level is high and focused, move forward with courage! If the move is discombobulating, give yourself room and time to breathe, okay?

Luann M. Udell
Joanne, WOW, your husband is a keeper! I'm SO GLAD you took that unused living room space and turned it into workspace. (Your former kitchen mini-studio sounds lovely, too.)
YES, when we HAVE space, we tend to fill it. That can mean more mess and clutter. But it also means you are using your living space for YOU and YOUR NEEDS, rather than picture-perfect, neat-as-a-pin display space to impress your friends. And I wonder how many of your friends marvel at your creative works/spaces/supplies, like mine do? :^)
It IS a good idea to take even a few minutes here and there, to clear out the stuff that is distracting and not fulfilling your highest purpose. I tend to get distracted by new ideas and trends, and that's a good thing--we need to keep our work fresh, for ourselves AND for our audience. But often it's just sending me down a path that eventually peters out. When that happens, have a give-away meet with friends, have a make-it party with same, or donate it to a person or group that will make good use of it.
Of course, that ALSO frees up space so you can go buy MORE supplies.....
Oh dear. I think I've revealed too much again....!!!

Luann M. Udell
Deb, your adventure sounds like a dream-come-true!There are many advantages to a home studio: NO RENT is the biggest, and when you have spare time, you don't have to 'go somewhere' to start working. The main drawback I have is, everything else seems to take priority when I work at home. The telephone rings, a friend comes by, oh, look, the laundry is piling up, maybe I could get a load in quickly....Soon the hours have gone by, and I have not accomplished much. A basement (especially a light-filled one like yours) may actually create a truly separate space for you, and help you avoid those distractions.
Another thing you mentioned is my favorite tip for people who are overwhelmed with what it takes to repurpose a room. Get friends to join in! I think, rather than writing another 1,000 words about this, I'll write about that for my next column. Thanks for the idea! :^)

Suzanne Kish
What do you make/ sell? Do you need to have customers come into your studio? When you didn't have a space for displays for customers, where did you display or sell your work.That is my problem. I am a Abstract artist that is setup in my son's old bedroom.

Luann M. Udell
Suzanne, these are very real issues, especially for women (especially for women who live alone) when a studio is in our home. It may be hard to access, or leave us feeling vulnerable (inviting perfect strangers to our home.)

By the time I had an audience, I also had a studio that was accessible to the public. Friends who didn't, simply staged their work in their living rooms, great rooms, etc. Or they shared display space, in another artist's studio. (Like I'm doing now!)

For me, these compromises leave out the magic of my workspace (which is often referred to as the "I Spy of studio spaces"!) So yes, still not the "perfect" solution to an imperfect studio space.

BUT I'm guessing there are many, many artists on this site who struggle with the same issue.

Would those folks like to comment on how they've handled a workspace that can't easily accommodate visitors? We'd love to hear your work-arounds!

Suzanne L Kish
I had been showing my art at fairs, but never had much success getting my target market. Now I am older and can't carry all the equipment as easily. I'm trying the internet. we'll see how that goes.


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