Order — With a Capital O

There’s something about a “first” that always catches our attention, I think. At some level, I believe we’re always looking for order in our lives. Of course, right now my thinking might be influenced a bit by Denman Ross and his “Theory of Pure Design” which I’m carefully re-reading. He speaks a lot about Order — with a capital O. His first principle is this:

“By Design, I mean Order in human feeling and thought and in the many and varied activities by which that feeling or that thought is expressed.”

Denman Ross — pictured here in a self-portrait — was an “old school” artist, art historian, and a professor of art at Harvard. The book I’m studying was written in 1907, yet while art trends may change from time to time, the essential, underlying principles of design remain the same.

And thus it is, I believe, that we’re searching as much today for Order — with a capital O — as people did in the early years of the 20th century.

As we search about, we come now and then to firsts — the first day of the week, the first day of a new month, and, of course, the first day of a completely new year.

Whenever we encounter these firsts, our need for Order — with a capital O — kicks in again. It’s a new starting point for us, a time to break old habits, a time to develop new and better ones, a time to re-think, re-group, and make plans for the future.

Many people make resolutions. According to psychologists who study that sort of thing, 25% of our good intentions have already fallen by the wayside within the first week of the New Year. We’re already past that point, so who’s still keeping their resolutions?

As a general rule, I avoid resolutions. Instead, I choose a word to serve as a guiding philosophy throughout the year. For 2021, I’ve chosen EXPLORATION, and I think it’s going to be a good word for what will hopefully be a very good year.

But, I’m also making a few resolutions, specifically for my art studio. While I know that some artists have worked and played in very messy studios, there’s something to be said for having at least a little Order — with a capital O — within our creative environments.

Now, imagine my delight as I browsed online and came across this little bit of text:


Yep. And this, in fact, was what I spoke about recently — digging through all my art supplies, sorting things out somewhat, seeing what’s there, and figuring out where it needs to be. I loved this graphic that accompanied the article:

I can relate. Surely you can, too. It’s a simple reminder of what matters most — in art, and in all of life. Keep what is good. Keep what we like. Throw out the trash, and if we don’t like it, throw it out, as well.

The entire article — Having a Messy Studio Can Help You as an Artist — is filled with good advice and logical explanations about the connections between and importance of messiness and the creative process.

Being creative, I recognize that my art studio will never be well-organized, neat, and spotlessly clean. But understanding, too, a certain need for Order — with a capital O — I also recognize that too much clutter can lead to inefficiency, unfortunate accidents, and a lot of artistic frustration. Drawing again upon the teachings of Denman Ross, we learn that Order — with a capital O — consists of harmony, balance, and rhythm. If any of these are missing… well, it might be a bit like a motor that’s not hitting on all cylinders. The car might still run, but it would be knocking about, wasting gas, and in the words of my husband who knows all about these things, “it probably wouldn’t last too long.”

I think I owe it to myself to create a “working studio” that really does work, one where there’s enough messiness to stimulate creativity, but where’s there is also a semblance of Order — yes, with a capital O. That means finding the proper balance, creating a sense of harmony, and giving myself every opportunity to achieve that comfortable rhythm that is so important in art.

So, in 2021, I’m resolving to have places where essential things belong. I don’t want to be wasting time looking for any of those “lost treasures” — like white charcoal pencils or frisket. I’m resolving, too, to handle my brushes with a bit more care, treating them with more respect than I’ve done in the past. I’m resolving to keep what I need and use often close at hand, things like my cutting board, my scissors, my paint rags, and my woodless pencils.

It’s time now to once again go through that lovely closet with all its shelves and figure out how to use it most efficiently. It’s time to go through old paintings, too. Some I’ll keep. Some I won’t. Quite simply, it’s time to see what helps me in the studio and what hinders me.

Creativity does require a bit of messiness, but it also demands a bit of Order. Order with a capital O.



  1. I like that you defined a working studio, an efficient one. I have spent so much time wasted looking for supplies, going through the same piles over and over again to find something. I think it is one of the reasons I went digital but I still have a few boxes and sketchbooks. It was also a nice reminder to think of design as creating order. I like that very much! Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. Yep, having a studio with lots of art supplies isn’t helpful if we can’t find what we’re looking for. Little by little I’m getting my studio organized and “workable” — and it feels good.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s about how I approach it. My separate supply bins might be messy (like watercolor, oil paints, drawing supplies) but those bins are neatly arranged so I know where to look for whatever media I’ll be working with.


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