I have a studio at my house.
It’s technically a garage, but it’s where I supposedly make my art happen. The truth is that most of my art-making happens on the living room couch upstairs, watching Netflix. I recently made efforts to re-organize and makeover my studio space, but it’s still mostly just storage for my supplies. I’m trying to give myself a little credit with the fact that it’s still winter, and the concrete floor makes for a chilly art experience.
I’m trying to figure out why I keep shying away from working in the studio, and I think I got it! I looked to another type of creative process for guidance in how to arrange my workspace: cooking!
Thinking about making art in these terms I believe will streamline my process, clear up physical clutter that impedes my productivity, and give me a metaphor for creating a really sweet art zone. Extra benefit: my roomies won’t wonder why there are little bits of thread stuck to the couch after I finish cutting up pieces of nylon for making yards of hot-knifed fringe.
There’s a rule of thumb in kitchen design called the “Work Triangle.”
The sink, the fridge, and the stove should form the points of a triangle. While some workspaces, especially a workspace that relies heavily on an assembly-line process, should not necessarily follow this rule, most creative brainstorms, I think, would be better served by a workspace with this layout.
Artists, in my experience, tend to jump from project to project in a workday, cycling through different “dishes.” Cooks do something similar when preparing a meal—appetizers, salad, main course and dessert. This, I’ve found, is not something to deny. A whole day in the studio working on the same project can get BORING.
So I’m going to start my work day planning out my meal, and then by the end of the day, I might have something delicious to eat—with my eyes.
Decide in the list below what parts of the kitchen can be applied to your studio practice, and it might help you figure out how to get the most from it.
This is your resource center. Whether it’s a bulletin board, a filing cabinet, or bookshelf. It might exist outside of your studio, but if so, keep a mini-version for your current recipes near your stove. This might be where you plan your day, jot down your goals or make a shopping list for supplies.
For each project, decide what ingredients are needed, and pull them out of the pantry, fridge or freezer. If you’re a multi-tasker in your studio practice, pick out no more than 5 projects at a time, but don’t bite off more than you can chew! A 3-course meal might be a better workload.
This is where your raw materials should be stored in bulk. The pantry should be near the cookbooks, so you can check for supplies & make a shopping list for things you’re missing. Pantry items might be your blank canvasses & paints. Reams of paper, lumber, metal sheets, magazines for cutting up, glitter, glue, clay, beads, whatever. Storage should be clear when possible so you can see what you have.
These are the parts of your work that eventually become dinner, to be consumed by the masses. So don’t store your tools in the pantry—if you do, you’ll probably get distracted by the cookies every time you need the spatula.
Pots and Pans, Mixing Bowls and Counter Space
Your tools should be easily accessible, but out of the way when you’re not using them to “cook.” Shelving or cabinets are great. Sets of drawers will work too. A lot of people have a peg board or wall of hooks to store these things, which is nice because your tools are easy to see, and easy to put away.
This is where you should keep your current projects. It should be easy to get into and organized. Don’t let your leftovers go bad! If you start cooking something and it’s not working for you, put it in the freezer and come back to it later. Don’t store projects in the fridge that you’re bored with; you’ll feel overwhelmed by them when you see them over and over again. Only keep projects that you’re actively working on in the fridge.
Storage of projects that are on hold. This should be right next to the fridge, but make sure they don’t get mixed up! You’ll want the stuff in the freezer for a rainy day. If you’re sure you’re not interested in coming back to a project, don’t let it get freezer-burn. Dismantle it and put it in the trash or compost.
The Chopping Block
You need a place to lay out the tools and ingredients for the materials you’re using in your active project. Again, your ACTIVE project. If you’re a collage artist, this might be where your paper cutter is, your mat board & X-acto blades are. If you’re a painter and you use an easel, this would be where you place your palette, your water bucket, the brushes you’re using, etc. It should be really close to the stove, because you’re going to want to be able to reach your little bowl of garlic.
This is where the ACTION is! Your easel, your sewing machine, your jeweler’s bench. Think about this for a minute: Do you store your pots and pans on the stovetop? You do?! What do your roommates think of that? Do you leave your casserole in the oven for four days? How about your silverware? Does that shit go in the broiler?
You keep the stove clear because a) fire comes out of it, b) you don’t want your roommates to get pissed at you for gross food left out, c) your mother might come to town, and d) you NEED it, to make FOOD!
This is the most important part of the studio-space-as-kitchen. Decide what your STOVE is, and treat it like it’s on fire, all the time. Don’t leave your projects there, unless they’re still COOKING. Like an oil painting obviously needs to dry, or, “simmer” if you will, but if you leave projects on the stove that are finished cooking, or half-baked, you’ll be frustrated when you need it to really get cookin’.
Simmering is okay, but use the “back burners” for that, if you’ve got the space.
The Sink and The Dishwasher
Oh, man! The sink is the most literal piece of this metaphor. Especially for painters, a sink is imperative. Nobody likes doing dishes, but clean-up is just another part of the process. If you’re the kind of person who likes to wait till the end to clean, or if you don’t have a sink right there in your studio space, make sure you have a place that acts like a dishwasher: storage of dirty stuff. Ideally, you will clean as you go. Make sure your cleaning supplies have their own space.
This is where old tired things get transformed, dismantled, and redistributed in the kitchen. If you’re a jewelry maker, you’ll have scrap metals, prototypes that didn’t work out, beads or stones that need to be re-sorted. If you’re a woodworker you might have scrap wood that can still be used.
In an ideal world, these things will be re-integrated at the end of each work session, but we all know we don’t live in an ideal world. So designate a spot to host these pieces and parts, and make a point to clear it out once a week before you start working—you might be inspired!
The Dinner Table
For every artist, there comes a time to serve dinner. Whether that means you’re going all-in for a gallery show, shipping individual products to online buyers, hosting an open studio, or some other type of art-viewing event, you need a place for guests to inhabit your studio, when the occasion arises.
Even if those “guests” are on the internet, you still need to designate a space or supply cabinet for the materials needed to install, ship, or show art. If you don’t have a space for this, you’ll end up “eating sandwiches over the kitchen sink.” Or, as I’ve made a habit of, eating TV dinners, which really don’t taste as good.
Now you can use typical kitchen layout standards to help you streamline and set up your studio.
Studios come in all shapes and sizes, and so do kitchens! There’s the tiny-boat galley kitchen, the family-of-four kitchen, and the industrial catering kitchen. There’s an efficient design for all of them! Below are some useful links to kitchen design websites that I’ve used as references for reorganizing my own studio.
I hope this helps you re-frame how you think of your studio space. I’ll let you know how it goes with mine.
Photo by Eva Avenue.