Friday, March 04, 2011

Studio in a Shoebox

A lot of creative people dream of a big, sunny studio with plenty of desk room and rows of supplies. That's a wonderful goal, but there's no reason you can't make room in your sea of school books, garage tools, laundry baskets and children's toys for some creativity right now!
I grew up watching my father transform any space into a functioning studio. His trade is photography and so he always needs a place to edit, print, and frame photos quickly. Wherever he has found himself, he's turned the space into what he needed. He loves all things strange and old: abandoned doorknobs, rusting nails, brass coat hooks, vintage train memorabilia, unhinged doors with peeling paint, etc. He takes these items and creates a dreamscape for himself, where he can sit late at night cropping photos, reaching for pliers from inside a 1920's cupboard as a tiny model train makes a midnight tour through a countryside of shelves and mountain range of stacked books. Over the years I've taken my father's love for designing home studio spaces and applied it to my own apartments.
Some things to keep in mind before we start:
1. Drawers, shelves, and hooks are your friends.
2. Try to find cheap furniture with multiple uses. (Desks with cupboards, tables with drawers, etc).
3. You don't have to spend a fortune. Glasses at thrift stores hold drafting pens just as well as fancy pencil cups and they cost about $0.70 each. (And glasses in your kitchen are free!)
4. Make it your own. Write out three creative elements to a studio important to you! Three things sure to keep you inspired all day. For my Dad it might be: trains, doors, and vintage postcards. For myself: little friends, early 20th century, and mementos of home. This will keep it fun and about you!
We'll use my current studio corner as the example. My workspace is about 4ft x 4ft and consists of three pieces of furniture. A nightstand my father gave me in college, a secretarial desk my great grandmother left my mother, and a small scientific cabinet I found on sale a few years back. When their drawers and doors are closed I'm left with plenty of room and some lovely decor. However, if open them up and look inside you'll find they are filled with everything I need to paint, sew, and run my small business as an illustrator/toy maker. I'm careful to return everything I use back to its own place once I'm done so that my area stays clean and organized and I stay sane and ready to work!

The secretarial opened.

The nightstand. 

The nightstand opened, revealing many many narrow shelves.

Yes, the gameboy is totally necessary. 
Drawers are your friends.
Using these three pieces of furniture I have been able to set up a small work space for myself wherever I have lived. They fit neatly into any corner and can be hidden in a bedroom, tucked into a living room, or even found in a garage. These pieces of furniture cover the first three things we talked about: they're filled with drawers and shelves, each has multiple surfaces and uses, and best of all, the only thing I paid for was the scientific cabinet bringing my furniture investment to $35.00. Are you thinking, "but where will I get furniture for free?" First look around your home, you may already have the perfect items! If not, ask the elderly. Grandparents, neighbors, friends of the family. "Hey, do you have any furniture you're getting rid of?" Chances are good they do, and then some! I have furnished entire apartments this way. The Salvation Army and Good Will are great places to find cheap, well made furniture too! Keep an eye out for medical cabinets and small bookcases, these offer great storage opportunities for creative supplies!
Now we come back to that fourth thing I listed: making it about you. This is the most fun, naturally, but also the most important. It's an insurance policy you take out against creative blocks. If you're sitting in your studio space and find yourself wondering what to create next, it helps to have items gathered close that offer inspiration at a glance. If you're creating music print out some of your favorite album covers for free and easy wall decor. If you sketch from nature place your space under a windowsill and put some seedlings in little pots along the ledge. You'll remember that I needed little friends, early 20th century, and mementos of home for inspiration. I have many little toys, trinkets, and figures that call the shelves of my secretarial home. The furniture itself has an early 20th century/late 19th century look, as do many of the objects I use.
Home is a big inspiration and even more: a comfort. Living three thousand miles from many of my loved ones can be hard, and so my work space is filled with warm reminders of family, friends, and childhood. The walls over my studio space are covered in photographs of the women in my family, and my late uncle. A beautiful art deco print my Aunt Lizzie gave to me hangs over my desk. My great grandmother's 1930's Windmill Teapot sits on a shelf. A brass owl letter opener was a gift from a friend back home. A frog in lilac monk robes is close by, a candle my Mom never had the heart to melt when I was a child.
All of these items keep me company and lend inspiration as I work through the day in my corner studio. Maybe one day I'll have the big sunny room with plenty of wall space to hang my illustrations, but for now I'm more than content with my 'studio in a shoebox'. It's easy to take from apartment to apartment, fits into the smallest living space, and sets up quickly. Often times it's the first part of my home to come together after a move. And when it comes to continued inspiration nothing quite reminds me of home or childhood like being grown and sitting in my own creative space, just like my Dad.


  1. Thank you so very much for sharing!
    Very useful and inspiring!

  2. Great post - I followed over from Eco Etsy - Keeping it all organised :)

    Yours is a great reminder that to have a LOT of space also means the freedom to be totally unorganised and messy with it all. You've done brilliantly with your space - very inspiring! :)


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