Studio Journal 2: Starting Points

Whenever I’m faced with a daunting project, I always think of it as a tangle of string, and start searching for an end to tug, tracing the knots to unwind as I go. As I mentioned last week, one of the reasons for this weekly report from my studio is to inspire me to get started on some much-needed changes to my work/play-space. But I was having trouble finding that end of a string to pull. When I go up the stairs and enter the room, two contradictory things happen at once: everything cries out for organizing, but my two main work-zones, which I usually keep fairly clear, try to drown out the din by saying, “Ignore those other voices, they don’t matter. Just come sit here and draw/paint, and everything will be fine.” And I sit down, and get work done, a quiet space amid the howling chaos of the world.

But even while I happily yield to the seduction of Doing My Job, plaintive cries whisper, whine, and growl on the edge of my consciousness. My happy space needs some TLC to remain happy. But where to start? I decided to do a complete photo survey of my studio, which is a converted bedroom in the upstairs of our house, as is, in all its messy glory. I grabbed my iPhone and headed upstairs to capture the beginning of the transformation, like those people who take a Before photo at the start of a diet — I’ve always admired them, and been too chicken to do it myself; this is sort of an externalized version of that.

That’s a closer metaphor than it might seem; my studio really is like an external skin, perhaps more expressive of who I am than what my physical shell looks like (I’m really six feet tall, athletic, with flowing raven locks. Ignore that short plump woman behind the curtain!).

…Which is an alarming thought, because right now my metaphorical external self is a mess! This is going to be a bit scary for me, like getting that bathing suit pic taken when I need to lose… ahem, never mind how much, there are such things as carrying a metaphor too far.

Er. Um. So here we are, at the start of the transformation. Welcome to my studio, warts, chaos, and all.

1 studio from door

The room is a slightly irregular rectangle, about 11×13 feet (one wall is slanted). It’s bright with double southwest-facing windows. On a sunny day, it’s incredibly cheerful, and on a dull day or at night, I light it up with lots of lamps. It’s a good place for plants, too.

3 studio watercolour desk

I have three work areas: this small drafting table which I keep flat, which I’ve had for about 35 years. I use it for watercolour or anything else which needs a flat surface, like making polymer clay models (which I haven’t done for a while, I suspect partly because it doesn’t feel as if there is enough room). On the shelves behind are supplies for inking, drawing, painting, and sculpting, and one narrow shelf holds small sculpture models, both my own and collected ones.

4 studio flat filesIMG_5355

The window area is a bit overcrowded right now; too many things perching where they were set randomly. The plants mostly live outside during the summer on a shady porch, and then I’m able to open the windows. They sit on top of some stacked flat files that two different friends made, which hold portfolios full of comics and illustration projects past and present, and a small bookshelf I made out of an abandoned drawer. The large flat files unit on the left was made by the same friend who made the lower of the smaller flat files; the shelves on this one pull out very smoothly and I absolutely love it. The contents of those shelves, though — definitely in need of some reorganizing.

5 studio closet 1

Just around the corner of the big flat files is hidden a tiny closet. Since this was a bedroom, it was intended just to be a place to hang clothes, and is rather narrow (it’s under the eaves, so also low-ceilinged). I took out the hanging rail and put in some shelves, but it’s terribly cramped and hard to get at.

6 studio closet 2

In the back of the closet I installed some wide shelves, which are good for storage but not so much for pulling things out when needed. So why am I keeping things if I don’t use them (or can’t use them because I can’t access them)? This may be a String End.

7 studio tilt desk

Looking from the windows toward my drawing table. This is my favourite, most used, and probably best-organized part of the studio. I have surfaces at hand for things I use a lot, my little CD player is handy, the table is topped by a light box so I can switch back and forth between the modes I work in. My collection of little animal models and reference books is handy, and my chair is comfy. But clutter creeps up, and usage changes; it’s time to re-think what I want to keep on the handiest shelves, and look at the little things that make me twitch, interrupting my creative flow. Another String End.

8 studio buddies

Just for fun, here’s a closeup of the little tableau atop my CD case. I like to make up stories in my head about these little groupings, and I change them around to keep them fresh. I figure they keep my creativity subliminally exercised.

9 studio toward door

Looking back at the door from the flat desk area. Now we start to see the true scope of the tangle. That Pile O’ Stuff has been there so long it has acquired capital letters. It’s the odd, misfit remnants that wouldn’t fit properly when I moved into this studio a few years ago: past projects and ideas that ought to be filed, tossed, or finished.  It’s an entity unto itself, a hulking barnacle that has settled in, attached itself to the floor, and sends out invisible, feathery cirri to snag more stuff to feed itself. When I move its appendages to get to the surrounding shelves, it groans and growls and snaps menacingly.

Do I need to say I’m a bit afraid of it? It’s a terrifying beast, and although I suspect that this is the String End I ought to pull first, I’m afraid it might spread out and colonize the studio by cloning itself if I let it touch any other surface in order to sort it. Courage, courage. Really, if I’m going to do battle with it, it needs more than capital letters; it needs a proper name. I hereby dub it the Box Barnacle Beast, or BBB.

10 studio The Pile

A closeup of the BBB, and the shelves it is holding hostage. Behind it are some lovely deep shelves that hold my albums of reference photos, and files of prints (not visible behind the BBB). That whole area needs its own reorganizing and culling, but I can’t get to it until I deal with the beast. Same with the nice wooden shelf unit on the lower right, which forms the left part of the support for my largest work-table. So those string-ends I can put out of my mind for the time being.

11 studio big table

A better view of the combination flat-files and shelf unit. I built a very rustic stand (the wood I had to hand was a bit warped, so it’s crude but strong) to bring the flat-files up to the right height, then topped the whole thing with a large piece of plywood. Although I would have liked to have the entire table top clear, I needed more storage space, so put the shelf unit across the back. That has worked out well, since I couldn’t really reach to the back of the table anyway. Besides, it makes a nice place to keep my dinosaur models! In this picture, the table part is still piled with the remains of Santa’s Workshop and my pile of 2017 work needing to be put back into its respective portfolios. Part of that is since cleaned up, a first step in tackling this project, since I knew that would have to be my main place to sort things. The shelves need a bit of reorganizing, but are not a major tangle in themselves right now.

Taking this little tour around the studio, and taking pictures, helped clear my mind as to what needs doing first. Looking at the photos outside the studio (sitting on the couch with tea and chocolates, highly recommended methodology) allowed me to get some distance from the problem, away from the siren call of my art supplies. It’s pretty clear: I’m afraid I must face, and vanquish, the Box Barnacle Beast, just to have space to work on the other areas. I have a lot of visions for the studio, including a comfy relaxing chair, but I notice they’re all cowering in fear of this creature.


13 studio dinosaurs and plant

One of my studio plants has this little scene. I’m going to try to imagine myself as the T. Rex, ousting the intruders from her realm, as I tackle the BBB. Next week I’ll report on my progress and my methods (which are yet to be determined). Unless the beastie swallows me whole, in which case, I hope my readers will notify the appropriate authorities to come and extract me from its clutches (“lock onto my signal and beam me up, Scotty!”).

Have you ever had a beast lurking in your space, distracting you from your creativity? Or maybe you do now! Tell me about it in the comments and we can all cheer each other on!

10 responses to “Studio Journal 2: Starting Points

  1. Good grief, Karen, you’re making me look like an utter slob. I still haven’t recovered from unpacking all my wares from last month’s show. I’ve got fabric everywhere and can’t begin to work. Every time I go into the studio to get something, my mind ponders where to start, and so I haven’t. The one year old grandson is like glue to me, so I will have to progress in small steps.


    • Oh, Tosh, it’s not a race — but I’ll one-up you *grin* — I still haven’t unpacked my wares from last Spring’s shows! But they’re in the Zone of Chaos that lives in the hallway… which is another project altogether. And then there’s the back porch, which is still full of the bins I couldn’t stuff in the studio when I closed down my secondary studio at the art co-op in summer 2016. And I have no children tagging along to distract me.

      That feeling you describe of every time you go into the studio, being stymied by not knowing where to start, is exactly what I was dealing with. Grab the camera next time and let it chop the 360 degree overwhelm into smaller bits (I think that’s how this worked, psychologically, for me). Let me know if it works! Courage!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ji Karen.. as i dissassemble my life i may have some very good storage unit things for you… and maybe, (depending on where i end up) some multi purpose Ikea bookshelves. You do not even want to LOOK at what is happening here. btw…. i am getting rid of virtually all my book collections, so if you are interested let me know if you want any.


    • Hi Elain, thanks! Hmmm… one of my goals is actually to get rid of some bookcases, because like you, I’m trying to get rid of Stuff, not just find more places to put it. Also I’d like some of my wall space back! However, I could always take a look and see if any of yours will work better than what I’ve already got. Books, mmmmm, you temptress!


  3. My craft room is currently all Beast. Literally. There’s a path leading in, and I can kind of get to most of the shelves… but that’s it. Forget being able to work in there! I’ve begun working on it though; slowly I’ll get it together.

    One big thing for me is going to have to be letting go of things. Projects I know I’ve abandoned, supplies I likely won’t use. I hate throwing things out, but unfortunately I’m probably going to have to trash a bunch. There’s only so many things that donation centers will take…. (Though if anyone knows a soft sculpture artist who could use several cubic feet of fabric/yarn scraps for stuffing, I’d cheerfully ship it out! That was my plan when I started saving the stuff, but I think it’s time to admit that I don’t make that many things that need stuffed.)


    • I know just what you mean! Creative people save things, because they see the possibilities inherent in them. Combined with a thrifty outlook, and a responsible attitude towards disposal (both of which I heartily approve), that can really result in a pile-up. It’s not hoarding, or fear of lack; it’s something approaching the opposite of that. But it can be just as much of a practical problem when it exceeds the space available!

      My basement and back porch are still full of bins and boxes from my studio move in 2016, but I’ve been working on those bit by bit. I’ve gotten rid of some things by donating them to a co-op arts centre that specializes in art therapy, given some to teachers for their kids crafts, and put the word out to my friends on Facebook and by word of mouth, and moved most of my (formerly) 16 bins of fabric that way. I don’t know what size of community you live in, but you may have similar resources nearby.

      It takes work, both physical and emotional, to let go of and get rid of the things that have accumulated over the years. I don’t know the answers yet, but that’s what I’m hoping to discover in this project, and I’ll document it all here. I’d love to hear more about your solutions, too!


  4. I got your email/post about changing your working studio, moments after changing my own workstation. I do envy you having an entire room to stretch out in. I’ve been working in the living room’s over-sized upholstered chair (you know the kind you sink into) for wacom tablet and computer work, and sketching and watercolor, etc. at a drafting table in my bedroom. But the LR chair began sinking onto one side, (‘listing’ in seaman’s language) and so I ordered a tilting portable table for the laptop to use on a chaise. Now I believe that’s going to be comfortable.
    Two questions I asked while redesigning: “If I had a million dollars…” and then I did a google search. It seems that money can not buy anything with a big price tag to wish for; so, for just under $50 I got the tilting table–what I would probably have gotten “if I had a million.” I just ordered it last night. Another question I asked myself –this one originated from a minister–“If Jesus was coming over at 2 PM, how would you prepare…?” Surprisingly, I find myself redesigning! lol. Anything to help organize, right? Of course they were talking about Martha vs Mary, but….


    • Hi Rena, must be the time of year — lots of people rethinking their workspaces. That’s a really nifty little table you found! Not to mention a really comfy looking chaise. I agree, sometimes the best solutions are quite affordable (or even free).

      I worked in really limited spaces for years, or rented studios out of the house in cold, drafty, mice-infested warehouses. I’m so happy to have this lovely room, finally. Of course I dream of it being even bigger — my computer work gets done in the bedroom, as I share the large-screen desktop with my hubby (and he can’t have my studio, buwahaha!). I’ve learned over the years, it’s all about making whatever space I have work for the work I’m trying to do. And sometimes limiting the work to what will fit in the space.


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