Clean-Up Day in the Studio

Creativity means making a mess… and then cleaning it up. I don’t know when or where I first heard those words, but I’ve always recognized them as true. There’s a definite connection between messiness and creativity. A quick search pulls up lots of links in support of the belief that creative people — including artists — are messy and disorganized.

Why Creative People Have Messy Homes

The Psychology Behind Messy Rooms — Why the Most Creative People Flourish in Clutter

Want to Boost Creativity at Work? — Make a Mess

The Psychology of Messiness and Creativity

Creative Mess, Creative Clutter

Read these articles if you want. I’ll be honest and admit that I didn’t bother reading any of them. I know that creativity and clutter go hand in hand. I know that art is messy. I don’t need any psychologist explaining it to me. Chances are you already know these things, too.

I find fault with articles like this, though, because they focus on the wrong side of this creative coin. Time and again making a mess is lauded as a sign of creativity, but the necessary directive to clean it up is ignored. To put it in a slightly different way — from my point of view — messes are not creative; messes are only a breeding ground, a place where seeds of creativity are planted. The actual creativity comes later during the cleaning-up phase of the process. 

Making a mess involves getting out dozens of different things, scattering tools everywhere, playing with dozens of different ideas — which may or may not work. It’s fine. It’s fun. But to be truly creative, we have to put things in the right places. We have to pick up the pieces, figure out what to do with them, and throw away things that don’t work

But that’s all a bit beside the point right now. I’m not here to expound on the creative process. I’m just here today to say, hey, I cleaned up my studio! Yes, the mess had gotten totally out of hand. I was tripping over things. I couldn’t find what I wanted or needed when I wanted or needed it. I was spilling things, knocking things over, ruining things around me, and it was all making me… not creative, just crazy.

And so, yesterday morning instead of making art — and a bigger mess — I set about cleaning up the mess I’ve already made. 

I started with my art supplies, sorting out my different “art areas”. Now, all my acrylics and acrylic pouring supplies are gathered together in one storage area. Alcohol inks and tools have their own area. I have a “drawing” area that includes graphite, charcoal, and ink, with each medium separated. I have a watercolor supply storage area, complete with paints, brushes, palettes, and miscellaneous implements. Of course I have an oil painting area. My newest area is my “mixed media” and crafts storage. Washi tape, collage paper, art crayons, string, varnish… everything but the proverbial kitchen sink!

Speaking of the sink, I’ve cleaned it up a bit, too. I’ve also swept the floor and added a nice rug to stand on. I’ve sorted through my canvases, and I’ve stacked my sketchbooks and drawing pads neatly. I also have a “scrap bin” now where I can add bits and pieces of this and that — things that might look like trash to somebody else but which might become part of a mixed media project one day. 

I put my new organization to the test this morning when I put my art journal page together. It was easy to go to my “mixed media” area and take out just what I needed. I was able to quickly find and choose the precise colors of acrylic paints I wanted for the page. I enjoyed making the page, and once finished, I quickly washed up my brushes and put my supplies away again. 

I like having an organized studio. It will never be clean, and it will never be neat. Every day I will be coming here to mess things up as I create art, but the most important part of that process for me will always be cleaning it all up afterward. That’s where it all comes together. That’s where imagination, ideas, and inspiration come together. 

Anyone can make a mess; only a truly creative individual can clean it up and turn it into art. 

12 Comments

  1. The messiness is always a struggle for me, in my art and in my quilting. Partly because I do art in an old kitchenette turned into my office for my working years, and now into a studio. But my art desk is also where I tend to all life’s personal paperwork. I use the storage I have, instead of designing well thought out, pretty unified storage shelves, bins and cupboards.

    Same problem in the spare room turned quilt room. I used to have to work around a guest bed, but now I have as many tables as I can cram into there with room to turn around. And guess what! They are all a mess. I need to get back to quilting, but I am going to do it in a more intentional way by not signing on for a bunch of different quiltalongs.

    As far creativity happening during the cleaning up, it’s a trap for me sometimes. I just start ruminating on “what can I make with this?” and leave stuff out thinking I will get to it in the near term. But I get either distracted or focused on something else, and it just lays out there.

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    1. There are so many different approaches to the creative process… and so many delightful messes to make! I always feel good when I’ve “cleaned-up” my studio, but then I’m astonished at how quickly and easily it becomes a mess all over again. It was especially frustrating when I was doing my artwork in a corner of the kitchen. Now that we’ve moved and I have my own studio, I have so much more opportunity to make a mess! Sometimes it’s overwhelming. One thing that is helping me is having my “scrap bin” — for papers, old watercolors, fabrics, bits of lace… anything and everything can go into my scrap bin for later use. Which reminds me! My husband found a box of old, old patterns in the garage when we moved here. I want to grab them and add them to my craft box! Happy “arting” to you. Let’s go make some good messes now.

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    1. I think I was missing a lot of the “method” in the madness of my mess. I’m glad I was able to clean it up a bit. I’m a lot more comfortable now. We each have to find the way that works for us. We have to do what we can, wherever we can do it!

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  2. Enjoyed reading this and you raise excellent points! Like “to be truly creative, we have to put things in the right places”
    And i think it is all about balance
    Because sometimes people
    Might clean too much if they feel weak inside – or if they feel hurt or disarray inside they might not be able to tidy up
    And then there are seasons in our life – sometime so darn busy we just cannot clean like we want – or need to
    Or our needs and attention changes
    Like I heard Norman Rockwell cleaned more in his studio in his last ten years because it soothed him

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    1. I’d never thought of it before as you’ve put it… “the seasons in our life”. Now that I’m older, I do see that my creative clutter/cleaning up activities have changed a lot. I think I need more organization now than before. Interesting to ponder the reasons behind that! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. 🙂

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    1. My husband has a creative side too, although it comes out in other ways — music, woodworking, and different projects. He not only makes huge messes (he would prefer living in a messier house), but he also encourages my messes. It’s nice in a way, but in other ways, it makes me crazy! I have to have structure along with the messiness. I can’t let things get too far out of control or my brain self-destructs. I have to have some order, some routine, some “house rules” in order to function. I need to have the bed made each morning, for instance. To me, that symbolizes that a new day has begun. Likewise, in the evening, I want my kitchen clean, the dishes done, and my counters and cabinets washed down. That’s my sign that the day is over and it’s time to rest. So, like you, we find ways to make things work, but when we’re both working on creative projects and are in our “messy mode” — oh, what a big mess we do make!

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