Art Studios and Ordered Chaos

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I love viewing images of Artist’s studios so I thought I would share ours as it might give others some ideas.  I follow the principle of “ordered chaos”(yeah I know this is an oxymoron), where in the studio I have a lot of tools, supplies and reference material and it is arranged so that I can find things when I need them.  This is not to say that the system is perfect, as sometimes I do forget where something is, but most of the time it works.  I could never be a minimalist and would find this too restricting, yet a complete mess would drive me insane.

Recent studies (Why Creative People Have Messy Homes ) have argued that messy people are more creative than the extremely tidy.  To a certain extent I would agree with this idea, but I also think that if you can’t find anything and have no space to work it just makes you stressed, which hinders creativity.  If you have to spend hours looking for something or continually moving things on a desk to make space, it is a waste of your precious time and energy.  As with all things it is good to have some balance.

The secret to ordered chaos is that you have close at hand things you use regularly and store those not used often in an accessible place.  I also keep related items together and this makes it easier to locate individual articles, as well as being more aesthetically pleasing.

The key to this system is that you need a lot of storage.  This way I can house a lot of stuff without going crazy and becoming buried like a chronic hoarder.  For this purpose the studio has a mixture of second-hand and modern furniture, the latter coming mainly from a chain store (and parents).  The largest pieces are high pine shelves and a bench with cupboards underneath.  Flat pack style shelving was necessary, as the studio is on the second story and you cannot fit large furniture up the stairs.  There are some smaller shelves, a bookcase and assorted trolleys and tables.

The large shelves hold lots of storage boxes, baskets and containers full of art materials, tapestry wools, weaving and sewing materials, tools and memorabilia.   As well as the doll’s house and toy wardrobe mentioned in previous posts (17 Oct and 21 Nov, 2016), there is also a toy dresser that houses a tin collection and several vintage suitcases and a hat tin to store items.  On the stairwell wall is a multi-cultural mask collection, with a couple we made ourselves (very difficult to hang as you teeter over the void).  A bamboo screen hides the narrow shelves used to store canvases and other artworks.  There is a roof storage area off the studio for extra equipment that is not used often.

On the large table is an easel with a drawing board and all the tools you would need, like brushes and pencils.  Under the table is a drawer unit that contains art materials.  Next to this is a wooden boot drying rack, found at an op shop, that now holds paper and folios. It’s fun to find a new use for something that no longer serves any purpose.  Plastic storage bins on wheels fit under the table and computer desk so no space is wasted.

The advantage of having a studio separated from the living area is that there is room to make a creative mess and you can leave project materials where they are until you are ready to work on them again.  Ellie has a small study for computer work and drawing and uses the studio for painting and textiles.  In the latter, areas are set aside for different types of work, from writing, drawing and painting to sewing and tapestry weaving.

In a studio you can store a lot of things that otherwise would be chucked out.  Things that are great for inspiration, like natural objects, old toys and items collected from op shops.  As a creative individual it is common to see potential for artistic applications in items others view as rubbish and there is a danger of becoming an obsessive hoarder.  It is important to be selective with what is kept otherwise it could become unmanageable, so every now and then redundant stuff needs to get thrown out to be recycled, if possible.  But I admit this can be difficult.

Due to lack of space in the house, an old exercise bike and some hand weights are kept in the studio, which is not ideal.  And there is a clothes drying rack used in colder months on the other side of the room, out of view in the photos.   Sometimes it can feel a bit like a laundry.  All the stuff in the room does takes up a lot of the floor space, but as most of the furniture is light or has wheels, it can be moved aside when necessary.  It’s just a case of being flexible.

Storage seems to be a common problem for artists and some of those who I admire work in some sort of organized chaos.  In a thirty-year-old magazine I found an article about the brilliant London theatre designer and artist, Yolanda Sonnabend, who died in 2015.  Her studio was full of wonderful old distressed furniture and lots of fascinating and creative storage units.  It was cluttered, but not a chaotic mess and full of unusual and interesting objects.  There was even a dead tree hanging from the ceiling.  Here is a photo of the magazine page.

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Yolanda Sonnabend’s Studio, The World of Interiors, June 1984

Local Melbourne artist and living treasure,  Mirka Mora, also has a wonderfully cluttered studio with lots of interesting artifacts and furniture.  She wrote an inspiring book called Love and Clutter (Viking, 2003) about the memories associated with the various objects in her collection.   It is full of great photos of her studio.  Here is a link to an interview that she did about her life and work, with many pictures of her workspace:

thedesignfiles.net – interview with Mirka Mora

Everyone needs a place for creative play and if you don’t have a whole room that should not be a hindrance.  Even if you only have one living room you can create a corner workspace on a table or desk.  All is needed is a work surface and good lighting.  For really messy work there is nothing better than a car port or garage and if you live in an apartment you can drape a table with plastic sheeting.

With limited space you would probably need to be quite organized with the storage of materials otherwise it would be difficult to work effectively.  Because Ellie and I have several fields of interest this requires more storage space, but if you only use one or two mediums you would not need so much stuff and a simple shelving or drawer system might be all that is necessary.

It is possible to have a balance between order and chaos in your workspace without any extreme tidiness or messiness that could hamper creativity.  But that is just my opinion and it all comes down to what works for you.

Kat

For a further fix on creative people’s workspaces go to wheretheycreate.com

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