Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Big Creativity in a Small Creative Space

Some fellow artists over on the blissfully_art_journaling yahoo e-group are discussing organization right now, sparked by the amazing insights from Kate Palmer on organizing her space (read more about her awe-inspiring efforts at www.sparkletart.com).  It got me to thinking about my own strategies for keeping my small art studio organized and keeping myself primed for whenever the creative bug bites. 

Strategy #1:  Face reality.

What are your space parameters? 

I am blessed to have a tiny/dedicated art studio space that my hubby lovingly created by converting an outdoor poolside bathroom.  I am a lucky girl to have a small sink and toilet in my dedicated art space.  Luckier still that it is outside my home, but still attached.  Air conditioning and heat year round=YES!  Constant interruptions by family members=NOPE! (Not unless they go through two doors to get to me.)  Serenity is mine!

Though I’ve managed to make it efficient, the space is very small.  There is just enough room for a small drop down Ikea desk, a couple of shelves, and a couple of rolling carts with drawers.  No matter how much time I spend moving things around, the room is never going to spontaneously get bigger.  Though between you and me, I have been eyeing the small tool shed right next door.  Once the big shed is built on the other side of the house in a year or so, I’m hoping I can convince the hubby to knock down a wall and do a little more remodeling.  Oh what I could do with a few glorious feet of additional creative space!  But back to reality--for now I am making do with what I have.  And that means I can’t acquire more than what I actually have room for.

What is your budget?

Any budget I have is going toward supplies, tools, books, classes, etc.  I’m not spending my fun money on “organizing.”  So I use what I have.  I’m creative.  I make do.  My favorite cheapie/free organizational tools include:    

·       Photo storage boxes in a uniform size and color, with a nice big label, do wonders for keeping things corralled together.  I have one for ribbon, ephemera, embellishments, cards and envelopes, etc.  When the box for that category is full, I stop acquiring more stuff to fill it. 

·       Disposable aluminum cookie sheet trays (from the $1 store) are great for keeping projects that are in process organized.  I can jump from project to project as the mood strikes.  AND, they fit nicely on top of the photo storage boxes when not in use. 

·       When I bought all my paints, I asked the store if I could have the cardboard cases that I was helping to empty.  Now I have a perfect sized box to store my paints.  They also create a flat surface when all neatly lined up (more horizontal space!).  Keep an eye out the next time you go to your favorite supply store.

·       I’m always on the lookout for cardboard packaging that I can use for storage/organization solutions that, when cut up the right way, can be used to organize smaller items in drawers, paper on shelves, etc.

Strategy #2:  Give yourself permission to let go and let it be. 

How many “in process” projects are you going to actually finish? 

I recently had this conversation with myself…So what if you really liked the idea of learning how to do paper quilling at one point.  And so what if you invested in a few supplies and a book or two.  Once you started, you realized it was NOT the art medium you thought it would be, you hated it, thought it was too limiting, and totally not your artistic style/taste.  So why are you hanging on to all of these half-finished projects, supplies, tools, books, research, etc.?  YOU ARE NOT A PAPER QUILLER!

I’ve also had similar conversations with myself about latch hook rugs, encaustic art, and some forms of jewelry making, scrapbooking, ephemera, etc.  If there are projects left undone, maybe it’s because you hate it.  LET IT GO ALREADY.  Donate it to someone who will appreciate it and get some use out of it.  More importantly, make room in your creative space and your soul. 

How organized are you going to be?  Really? 

While I have drooled over and have been so inspired by a wide variety of pictures and videos of the perfectly organized creative space, I am just not that organized.  Not for any length of time anyway. And I much prefer the ooohs and aaahs to come as a result of my work.  So I try to spend 95% or more of my time actually using my creative space.  I’ve put strategies in place that make it easy for me to keep the creative mess from taking over, without taking over all of my free time.  For example, I break my projects into stages and force myself to clean up after one stage before moving on to the next.  And I limit the amount of space I dedicate to each type of supply to force myself to use up what I have or donate it before I can acquire more. 

Questions to ask yourself before starting any organizing project:
·       How much space do I really have?
·       How much money do I want to spend?
·       What is my process (one project start to finish, many in stages, etc.)?
·       How many “in process” projects can I effectively handle at any given time?
·       Do all of these projects need to be in this space?
·       What should I just let go (unfinished projects, supplies, etc.)?
·       What’s stopping me from letting go?

For me, big creativity is possible in a small creative space.  Why?  Because my overall goal is not organized perfection, it’s creative bliss.


  1. Perfect Felicia :O) The hardest part for me was accepting reality and then figuring out how best to use the space I had, for the way I work - and not following what others had done necessarily. You are totally on the right track! Sending hugs and loads of good thoughts (you'll need these when you hit the 'oh gosh it's a mess' phase lol!).

  2. Great post! I am reasonably organized myself, but the system is simple: like goes with like. Paints with paints, papers with papers, images with images, fiber with fiber. I don't colorcode or store according to themes or anything like that. This makes it possible for me to find everything and yet be surprised by new possibilities. And the second thing that's important to me is to have things at hand and as much in the open as possible. Things that are stored too well just don't get used. ;-) I also use everyday items for storage a lot, from cookie jars to flower pots and rice baskets. If it can contain something I will use it.

  3. Felicia, what a fantastic post! I will be thinking about this while I tie up some loose ends (promised sewing jobs that I will no longer do) and move forward to artwork that I love to do. It's way past time.
    Kate's blog is a great resource. Thanks for that tip.

  4. omg this is so true -- especially about those ongoing projects. That is my single biggest source of disorganization. I always imagine I'm going to do a bunch of things, so I let them stay out...for months. Thanks for helping me think about that.

  5. Thank you all for your kind words and feedback.

  6. I love the questions at the end, Felicia and the storage tips - the cookie trays is a great idea. I use old shoe boxes and the stiff cardboard gift bags to store lots of things in. I'm with you on the fun over organising and getting rid of old projects, although I still have loads of unfinished stuff ehre that I love and want to get back to, it's knowing which ones to go back to and which ones to give up on! Every so often I'll have a huge sort out, re-organise etc., otherwise about once a week I clear the things that have built up on my desk and get it back to being visible...then I proceed to cover it up with paper and bits and stuff again!

  7. Great post about being realistic! I, too, admire all of the organization/storage ideas in the glossy magazines. None of that will ever fit in my son's bedroom, which I took over when he relocated to Chicago after college. I admire your fortitude in not going beyond the physical limits of your ephemera box; I'm afraid I can't do that. I have stacks of plastic shoe boxes, filled to overflowing, LOL.