Where Do I Even Begin?

Recently I mentioned the disarray in my studio. Some “messiness” is good when we’re working and playing in a creative environment. But too much “messiness” can be frustrating and overwhelming. For me, trying to keep my studio in-between the extremes of being “too organized” and “too disorganized” has proved to be a huge challenge.

It’s reached the point now where it’s difficult to work in the studio. Recently I searched for charcoal, conte, and pastels. I never found them! They’re here, in one box or another, or maybe put away on one of the shelves. And speaking of shelves, I have a lovely shelf just for art books, yet as I look around I can count no less than a dozen different books scattered about the studio.

I do a lot of my drawing practices upstairs. I still enjoy sitting at the kitchen table in the mornings with my sketchbook and pencils. That means that invariably when I want to look for my sketchbook I’m never sure if it’s in the studio or in the kitchen. Same with a lot of my drawing pencils.

And then there’s the problem of going places with my art supplies. I take a few things with me — usually a sketchbook, and either drawing pencils, artist pens, or gansai and waterbrushes — when my husband visits his retinologist and I have a little waiting time. I also pack a “go-bag” with art supplies when I attend art club meetings. It’s difficult to keep track of exactly what’s where!

Consider, too, that I’m always getting new goodies to enjoy. Each month I receive my subscription box with new art tools. Sad to say, they don’t always get put away promptly. Sometimes I’m not even sure where to put them! Yes, I’m a bit obsessive-compulsive at times, and I fret over such mysteries as to whether acrylic inks should go with my acrylics or with my inks.

(In a similar way, I once tried organizing my library of books with the Dewey Decimal System. Oh, dear! What to do with all those foreign language books? Does a book about herbs go in “Foreign Language” just because it’s in Spanish? Or should it go with all the other books I have about natural medicines and herbal cures? Does Nostradamus in French go with Nostradamus in English, or should that book, too, be relegated to the “Foreign” classification?)

What’s helped me most is having what I call “separate workstations” for various media. I have a bin filled with acrylics — but again, should acrylic ink be there? What about acrylic gouache? What about acrylic markers?

Look at my “watercolor workstation”, too. Lots of watercolor sets and my gansai. Should my watercolor pencils be there? Or should they be in a separate area?

Oh, I can hear you laughing. I can see you shaking your head and rolling your eyes. I do the same thing! I know how absurd it is that I struggle with these ridiculous questions. To help me resolve the problems, I did a bit of browsing. I did come across Art Studio Organization: 11 Tips from Professional ArtistsIt didn’t help. That is to say, it didn’t help me. You might find a lot of valuable tips that do work for you. There’s also a bit of advice from My Modern Met: 5 Quick and Easy Tips to Help You Organize Your Art Studio. I found their suggestions a bit more practical, and reading the article helped me gain a bit of understanding on where and how I’m always going wrong.

The biggest problem for me is that I’ve never settled into an artistic niche. I do refer to myself primarily as a landscape painter who works in oils, but more than that, I’m an avid student of art, one who’s still learning and who, consequently, is always trying something different. I’m trying to focus on three areas — oil painting, watercolor, and graphite drawing — but there are so many other “fun things” I want to try. I do occasionally want to draw — or doodle — with ink. I’ve definitely had fun playing with my new Copic markers. I like using charcoal… at least, I’d like using it if I could find it!

The key to “art studio organization” (which is almost a contradiction in terms, don’t you think?) is two-fold:

  • You have to keep things organized and “put away” so that you know where your supplies are
  • You want to have your art supplies and tools convenient and close at hand.

My plan of action is going to start with a lot of “putting away”. All those art books are going back to the shelf. All my sketchbooks and drawing pencils are going to have a definite place. I’m going to go through all the supplies that are sitting around the studio and make decisions on where to put them. As before, I’ll have separate “storage bins” for different media, but maybe with a bit more thought aforehand than before. Instead of tossing anything “acrylic” into a single bin, maybe I’ll look more at how the products are used. I’ll make decisions based on that. Fluid acrylics — ones used for acrylic pourings — will have a place of their own, separate from things like “acrylic gouache” or “acrylic ink”.

I can gather up ALL my markers — dot markers, Copic “Sketch” markers, Tombow dual-brush markers and others — and keep them together. And yes, acrylic inks can go with my other inks and artist pens. Acrylic gouache can go with my watercolor and gansai.

Maybe I’ll put watercolor pencils, Derwent “Inktense” pencils, and colored pencils all in one area. I don’t know. As you can see, I don’t do well with decision-making!

What’s really important to me is that I’m able to come to the studio each morning and work on the “lessons” and “assignments” I have planned. That means having my oil paints and related materials close and convenient. I can do that. It also means having my watercolors, brushes, and papers ready to pull out and use. Yes, I can do that, too. And, of course, it means having a convenient storage area for my sketchbooks, drawing pencils, erasers, and sharpeners. I’ll get that done. I really will. It will make life a little easier.

As for the other media — the ones I don’t use every day — I can put them “neatly” aside. One helpful tip I did pick up from the articles above is the need to LABEL supplies. Part of my frustration is having to open different boxes until I find the one I’m looking for. If each container is labeled, it will make things much easier for me.

And then there’s the matter of cleaning up. My worst bad habit with art is that I don’t always clean up before I leave the studio each day. I tend to leave things scattered around. I always say “Oh, I’ll come back later and take care of this”, and then I don’t get around to doing that. Of course, I am careful now not to leave anything out that our cat, Flower Child, might get into.

She’s over there now at my easel, climbing over the box where my oil paints are stored. She’s snooping and sniffing around, poking her kitty nose into everything. She’s a good reminder to me of the importance of picking things up and putting them away.

So, yes, I do have some sort of action plan here. As always, though, the real question is where to begin! I’ll start with my desk, clear off the clutter — which includes a palette knife, a new brush, several of my Copic markers, a set of artist pens, and a cup holding all my woodless pencils. I also have a couple of coasters, an incense holder, a note pad, and more! There’s a stapler, a kneaded eraser, and a mug with such little “essentials” as scissors, a hole puncher, a liquid masking pen, and a white gel pen. How I can accumulate so many things in such a small place… well, that’s just one of the great mysteries of life.

But, that’s where I’ll start. I’ll pick up, put away, and somehow — between now and the end of the year — I’ll get my studio back into a “comfortable” working order. That’s the real key. We have to be comfortable in our environment.

Tell me, please, how YOU keep your art area organized. Do you have clutter, too, or are you more disciplined when it comes to picking up and putting away? What tips and tricks do you have?





    1. It does help. My problem has been getting so much crammed into my watercolor area that I still waste a lot of time looking for things. I’m working on it though. Already in the last few days, I’ve gotten a good part of the studio reorganized. It’s a start at least!


  1. Empty shoe boxes made of cardboard are great for keeping sets of watercolour and oil paints as show boxes are long and wide enough. For my brushes I use a own stand and have a lot of spare cloths to clean up the mess, paint. I keep all the art supplies in my cupboard at one place so that I can easily find it .

    Liked by 1 person

  2. oy- yes, it is a constant problem. I invested in some great metal cabinets and lots of bins which i have labeled and put inside of said cabinets – so for the most part, i have been able to finally stay semi organized. the bigger issue comes in when i add a piece of equipment or tool ( like a border mat cutter or an new type of easel). even with several tables i am all over the place. No matter how big of an area i have designated for a working studio, i am always running out of space! I also keep several back packs – each designated for art i must do elsewhere ( plein air, figure drawing and such) and i have another entire box at work. but i am always finding a reason to take from one or another and it all kind of over laps at times. Best thing i do really is purge twice a year and give everything a good scrubbing/labeling. Probably not helpful but its the best i can tell ya…lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like the twice-a-year purge idea! Every time I go through a big mess and clean up like this, I get closer (I think) to having everything as it should be. Labeling my storage areas will really help, I think.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. yeah i started with some from the dollar store but they didnt fit in the cabinets the way i wanted, so got some fabric ones from target with built in label areas – they work much better. However i am always STILL out of room..haha

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m making progress. I moved all of my alcohol ink and supplies into a see-through bin, and since I don’t use them often I moved the bin out of the main studio area. Next I’m going to work on organizing drawing supplies — plus making up “go-kits” to grab when I go to art club meetings or when my husband has doctor appointments.

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