As 2020 was ending, I really felt the need to get the Big Broom out and clean out my studio. After the year that was, I wanted to pare down and organise my art materials, tools and bench space.

If you look around your art-making space and can’t see any floor or bench tops for *stuff*, then maybe you’ll be interested in my 5 tips and 6 big questions to help you do this with ease!

Serenity Studio after the Big Broom

Here’s my 5 tips:

Tip #1

Pick an area – 1 bench, 1 set of shelves – and do that. Don’t allow yourself to get distracted until it’s done. Do a celebration jig, make yourself a cuppa and then go again. Next!

Tip #2

Do a little bit often – it took me 10 days, working a couple of hours a day to avoid the midday heat to get from one end to the other of my (rather large) studio. But I got it finished.

Tip #3

Be honest with yourself if you’re thinking of keeping something. Are you REALLY going to use it? If you think of the organised spacious feeling you are after, is this one of those things you need to let go of to get you there?

Tip #4

Think about the studio space as a whole – how will you do your different creative activities? I have jewellery making (smithing, soldering and enameling), painting and collage areas. What needs to be handy and what can be put onto a high shelf because you only need it on that odd occasion? Think about movement flows – what tools and materials do you use together? Organise it so you can store them within handy reach of where you’ll be working.

Tip #5

Pick a great podcast – something that fills your creative spirit while you’re having your clean out. here’s a couple of my faves – ‘Art Juice’ with Alice Sheridan and Louise Fletcher and Laura Horn’s Art Podcast.

5 Tips for a Big Studio Clear Out

Here’s some questions to help you work through what to keep, what to gift on and how to organise your creative space…

1. Have you used it in the past 12 months?

If yes, do you need all of it? (see Q2 below)

If no, are you likely to use it in the next 12 months?

I had a box of timber offcuts from a woodworking friend. Beautiful Australian timbers, like flame she oak and gidgee, with distinct grains and patterns. I had fancied using small pieces in my silver jewellery. But I’ve had this big box sitting in my studio for 12 years and I’ve used it for one sculpture project. I found the timber difficult to work with the tools I had in my studio… so, time to move them on.

It was the same story for a pile of scrap copper and old rusty tools my Dad had given me. I have had sentimental reasons for wanting to hang on to them (Dad died 6 years ago now), but I knew someone else might be able to make better use of them.

Our local recycling centre took them all with joy and when I returned 3 days later, the recycling man told me 90% of what I had gifted had already found new homes!

2. Do you need all of it/them?

I had a cupboard full of magazines I kept for collage papers. I had collected them from charity stores and been gifted them from friends. They took up a lot of room – a shelf and a half in my one lockable cupboard, so I decided to cull. Over 3 nights I sat with magazines on my lap and cut out the colours and textures I liked. I sorted them into separate sleeves – by colour, one for text, one for textures. The magazines were then sent to recycling.

Sorting art materials for an organised studio

3. Is there a better way to store them that takes up less room?

I used to have my paints in boxes laid out on a bench. They took up a lot of bench space so I couldn’t do other things like gelli printing on that surface. So I invested in a utility trolley – the metal kind on wheels with 3 open shelves. A good number of my paints and all my acrylic inks are stored there and I can wheel it to wherever I am working in the studio.

Same situation for my enamel powders – I used to have them laid out across my enameling bench but they took up half the space. I found a couple of stackable trays and now I can still see the lids, and know what colour I am looking at but they are vertically arranged on my bench, so take up much less of my valuable studio ‘real estate’.

4. Have you got your materials and tools stored for easy access?

Things get into a mess quicker when what I need is buried under boxes and packs. So in this clean out, I was really mindful of where I stored things – if it’s something I’m likely to use regularly I make it accessible and if I need a number of things for a particular activity, I store them together. For example, doing the finishing steps (hangers and labels) on my canvases, I now have all the d-rings, wires, blank label stickers and tools together in a plastic tray, so all I need to do is grab that and I’m good to go.

5. Can you organise storage that protects the value?

I love hand made papers and also stain my own tissue and plain papers for collage. But storing them so they lay flat and are not damaged by insects can be a PAIN! (Mud wasps LOVE to make their exquisite nests in amongst the sheets!) I now have 2 sets of map drawers salvaged from an architect’s office. They are heaven – I have all my large sheets of paper stored flat.

I’ve seen other artists who use dowel racks to hang their papers, but the frequency of insect activity here at the farm makes that a less workable solution.

I’m still working on storage options for my finished paintings. They currently get wrapped and stored in my office against the wall. However, I really liked this repurpose idea for a TV stand that Rene Paints posted on Pinterest.

6. Can you have changeable set ups?

I have 2 collapsible tables that I put up when I need them – one for my flat works on paper – collaging in a series, small canvases that I work on flat, and one for jewellery and enameling so I can lay out all the projects that are in production. When I’m not using them, they are put away in storage outside the studio.

The result => that spacious feeling!

So what have been your best tricks for keeping your studio and art making materials organised? Do you do a regular studio clear out? Also let me know if any of the above ideas have sparked something for you!

Creative joy!