art projects and exercises, art ideas to try

Manchester Art Fair delivers a curated mix of acclaimed galleries and independent artists, blurring the boundaries between traditional and contemporary, creating a friendly, unpretentious and uniquely Northern art-buying experience.

Last year was my first time showing at this fair and it was a blast, so I’m pleased to be back with all new paintings. I’ll be showing the larger canvases I’ve been working on. Some of these started out fairly raw and wild, and I’ve pushed myself to working with new colours; indigo, deep plums, olive green….

…exploring the interaction of materials and time. Sometimes it feels as though I’m just turning in space, and I come home wondering “what’s changed today?” or “does any of this have any impact?”. But over time, through a continued back and forth, gradually the painting emerges.

At the moment it feels like less drastic changes (perhaps we have enough of this) but what exists at the start in raw form becomes ever more nuanced and richer as the colours interact. One comment I hear time and again when people see the paintings is “so much more to them in real life”.

On screens it’s easy to scan and swipe, but the good things in life demand that we take time to enjoy them. I’m looking forward to showing these, and meeting you if you can visit.

When to visit

Friday 4 November 4pm – 9pm (VIP Preview)
Saturday 5 November 10am – 6pm
Sunday 6 November 10am – 4pm

Book your ticket through the Manchester Art Fair website HERE or click the image below.

I have a limited number of complimentary tickets available – please email me if you’d like to attend the Private View evening.

I’m pleased to be showing this year at Fresh Art Fair, Ascot. This is a new one for me … Fresh is a gallery led art fair and promises “an easy and enjoyable way to see 40 to 50 leading Galleries in one convenient place. You can browse and buy the work of 500 UK and international artists, from exciting new talent to famous names…”

I’ll be showing with Over the Sofa collective. A female artist collective spanning a range of styles, from figurative to pure abstract, with a shared desire to explore, experiment and never repeat themselves. Jenny Fermor lives in Madrid and is bringing her striking architectural compositions fuelled by light and strong compositions, and Sara Breinlinger will be showing collected collage works. “Driven by a disorderly attempt to make sense of things, a love of pattern and strange juxtapositions her paintings have a real sense of immediacy.”

It’s going to be exciting to see these works together so do come and visit us on stand D13. All the details are below including how to access your complimentary tickets.

When to visit

Thursday 22nd September: PRIVATE VIEW 5.30pm to 9pm
Friday 23rd September: 11am to 6pm (no ticket required)
Saturday 24th September: 11am to 6pm
Sunday 25th September: 11am to 5pm

Private View tickets: £10 per person online or £12 per person on the door.
Weekend tickets: £6 per person online or £8 per person on the door.

Get your complimentary ticket here:

Tickets are available through EventBrite and please use the code Overthesofa to claim your FREE entry.

How to visit Fresh Art Fair… at Ascot Racecourse

use Satnav SL5 7JX to find the racecourse

Less than 20 minutes off M3, M4 and M25 and with unlimited free parking, come by car to easily take your finds home with you…

or Ascot station is 5 minutes walk (Waterloo 45 mins).

Sat 3 + Sun 4 September

For the first time I’m opening my studio space… Come and visit – see where I work and there will be a large selection of paintings and smaller work on display for you to browse and buy.

Some work has never been seen or exhibited, some are experimental pieces which often lead to new breakthroughs, and some are single paintings remaining from a body of work. Paintings will be available at special prices… so you can find a piece you love at a price to make us both happy.

The walls have just been freshly painted so before they get painty again I’m jumping at chance to welcome you in while the space looks good!

Think working studio rather than “an exhibition” so this is relaxed and casual. I’ve never offered work at reduced prices before but I would rather they were hanging in your home to enjoy than wrapped in store, and there are some beauties in this selection.

I hope you come and enjoy looking!

Open Times:

Saturday 3rd September 11am – 5pm
Sunday 4th September 2pm – 5pm


Studio B10, Acton Business Centre (look for the blue front door!)
School Road, London NW10 6TD

North Acton station (central line) is 5 mins walk
turn left out of the station and walk along Victoria Road

FREE roadside parking in School Road and surrounding area over the weekend
The studio is just off the A40 if you’re coming from outside London

If there’s one thing in modern art making which drives me crazy, it’s the notion that artists should keep to a fixed colour palette in order to be recognisable or consistent. Historically the colours in paintings may have been limited by available pigments, or relative cost but these days we have so much available and exploring colour within art is one of the joys of painting for me.

Of course we all have colours we are naturally attracted to (or vice versa) and I am always drawn to those soft and deep murky blues but the thing with colour is that it’s always about the combination… what it sits next to, the pairings and harmony you can create. Sometimes how a bit of discord can make a painting sing in unexpected ways.

So, as I continue with this series of work one of the things I want to do is to see how I can shake up my natural habit by introducing new colour. This creates a different problem for me to confront. But each painting is a solution to a unique situation so this is one of the ways I like to shake things up.

In this video you can see my thoughts in the studio. If you want to try this for yourself I suggest you choose one area of the colour wheel to keep vibrant. Here I’m using a cadmium red mixed with a cool yellow (hansa or lemon yellow) to make this bright light red. Adding white makes it more coral. I’m avoiding using magenta in this palette.

Let me know in the comments below if you have a colour palette you like to stick with.

If you would like to see how these paintings continue to change you can follow me on Instagram here: @alicesheridanstudio

Or join my mailing list:

Painting should be an enjoyable process. It IS an enjoyable process – overall! But every stage also bring its doubts.

Beginning a new series is full of potential; new ideas waiting to be discovered. I find colour often leads the way, endlessly surprising combinations are one of the joys and key reasons I paint and I feel these will contain brighter flashes so using unexpected colours is often what this stage is about… something to jolt me out of the boredom of the familiar. I don’t pre-mix colour so the variations layer and grow and bring a complexity to the finished paintings.

Every time I want to further develop the way I use paint. It’s like a living thing which needs nurturing and also encouraging and I love that I still need to learn how to mould it to do what I want. Each series is a bit like setting out on a new journey without a map. You may have a compass; something to give direction, but you’re not yet sure where you are heading.

Of course, usually this stage comes after you’ve completed a group of work. One of my criteria for feeling a painting is finished is that it has something magical about it and has reached a point so that even I don’t fully know how it was created. So I suppose it’s inevitable that starting fresh reminds me that I’m always just exploring.

These paintings will continue to explore feelings of freedom and space, hopefully with a freshness that spring brings and you can see more of the starting stages in the video below.

At the other end of the scale, I’m busy finishing framing and photographing the recently completed “Wild Swimming” series which I began during the summer mid-lockdowns. These paintings will be coming first to my mailing list in April and include large and small paintings. Last time the small ones all sold within 24 hours so do add your name if you’d like to be included.

3 months ago, in September 2019, I moved into my dream studio. It’s 550sq ft with big windows and white walls. I’ve been painting at home for almost a decade so this feels rather miraculous.

I’ve looked a few times before for studio space, but it’s always been too expensive, impossible to travel to, miserable as hell, or no larger than my 10×10 ft spare bedroom so not worth the added cost. Instead I’ve made what I have work for me and my space at home developed alongside me, starting with clearing anything which didn’t belong there. At first I had a desk from plywood propped on cupboards and then, when I wanted more space, I cut that to become a trolley and created a painting wall so I had space to move around.

(I’ve never liked easels – allowing myself to get rid of my easel was a big sigh of relief, even though it’s what ‘proper’ artists use. Or so I thought!)

But as I wanted to work larger I could only work on one painting at a time, and with sloping ceilings they ended up propped everywhere with nowhere to dry. And this time was different. Here are a few things I’ve learnt so far:

Things happen at the right time

I’m actually glad I didn’t find anywhere suitable before. When my children were a bit younger I needed to be at home and working there allowed me to grab extra moments in the evenings or continue while they were doing homework. Now, I need better time discipline and a real structure to my week to get to the studio. I’ve been working long enough now to have this, and to allow for flexibility, but if I had an external studio a few years ago I know it would have felt waste. Which brings me to….

Money thoughts

Don’t get me wrong – it’s still a big cost. I’m in London, so this is pretty big. The studio in a location with other creatives – you know, people running proper businesses. Exporting things, seamstresses with retail display shops elsewhere, vans making deliveries….

This could be a big cause of Imposter Syndrome but it’s encouraged me to raise my game. As my Dad said “are you selling enough to make this worthwhile?” (thanks!). So, what do I need to do to make that happen? I’ve applied for bigger art fairs this year and will be showing at Manchester Art Fair in October for the first time and Contemporary Art Fairs Surrey in March 2020 again.

I am also developing plans for some exciting workshops – some ideas which have been brewing for a while, but I’ve never had the room before.

Any problems? For the first 2 months I panicked each time the rent bill arrived. Plus all the moving in costs I had invested! Now, I try to think I will only be moving on when it’s time for something bigger still! This is what I need to grow, I ask others to invest in me by choosing my work, it’s only right that I do the same.

Practical considerations

When a sink is a total luxury!

It took me a full month to move in. Walls and storage needed building and there were multiple trips to IKEA. This is all on top of the rent and I blew my moving-in budget, but it felt OK because I’ve been working long enough now to know what I need:

  • I have hidden vertical storage for panels, packing and finished work because I know I like to have this out of sight. It’s my attempt at being tidy 🙂 or rather – I know having a place to hide the mess is an essential luxury.
  • I have removeable hardboard covering the working area of the concrete floor. Underneath it is foam underlay – to help my knees while standing for long periods and for insulation. I will paint this, and it’s an easy re-fresh.
  • I’ve only moved in what I need, because the whole purpose is to grow, but I have a long desk for clean work or smaller pieces.
  • A moveable trolley with castors is essential for all my painting bits. We made this ourself with fence posts for the legs, wooden battens with metal L-brackets to support the surfaces which are just plywood.

Any problems? It’s unheated so I’m now the proud owner of a padded boiler suit (not sexy) and I need a thermal mug to keep my tea warm. The dog doesn’t like it because it’s too echoey. No internet means less live-streaming, which I enjoy. Instead I’m trying to record short snippets as I go to upload later (but see echoey above!) The travel time can be unreliable and is time wasted and I’m still working that part out…

This has changed already. Also 50cm feels tiny in here!

And what about the actual work?

The first thing I noticed was that when I could see it all together, it felt busy and a bit heavy. I know people tend to buy works in isolation, but it’s important too that it feels coherent and makes a clear display, wherever it’s to be shown.

Previously it was only possible to see a lot of paintings once they were displayed at art fairs (it’s one of the great benefits of doing them). Seeing it as a group like this has allowed me to understand what impact I want it to have, spot patterns and identify how I want it to develop.

I’m embracing a messier, more fluid approach with liquid paint. Previously there was simply not room for this, or the drying time required with more than one painting in progress.

Any problems? With so many pieces on the go (38 at last count!) I’m finding it’s too tempting to just sit and look at the big ones, or flip between them. On Friday when it took me forever to get there, I was on a rush and tried this which worked really well:

STUDIO TIP: Set a timer on your phone for 10mins. You have this long and no more to get set up and review what you did last time and choose a painting to work on. Re-set it for 20mins and work on that painting without stopping. I found that when the timer went off I was disappointed and keen to keep going but a short pause stopped my moves getting tired and gave me a short time into more considered thinking.

This is a pattern of work I recognise, the flipping between intuitive action and more considered thinking, but I’ve never done it quite like this before, actually using a timer. I enjoyed it!

The space is so big that ‘normal’ size paintings can seem inadequate. But most of us don’t live in huge modern loft conversions or barns…! Do I want my work in large corporate spaces? Maybe. But I love what original paintings bring to a home, so I will still be working at a human scale..

20cm paintings coming soon – join my mailing list for first access

If you are an artist I hope this has inspired you and reassured you. Maybe given you some ideas for your own space or set intentions for your dream studio. Dream, and it just might happen….

You know that feeling when some days you paint and it’s great? Then other times it just doesn’t work so well? Would you like more of the first and less of the second?

We are mid way through an amazing free workshop offered by Nicholas Wilton just once a year. [2021 update: coming in February – you can join for free below} The full series covers Design, Value and Colour.

UPDATE: CVP 2020 will open soon
Click here for details

So far these classes have been amazing. I feel like I have a better perspective and grasp on the intricacies required to take my art to the next level. I know I learned this many years ago but your way of explaining resonates much better. Thank you for you generosity and time.

Theresa Allen

This was a recording of a bonus teaching session Nick did into our pop-up Facebook group in 2019 showing real examples of paintings which had been shared for feedback.

Once you understand that value and design are key tools you can use in your art, whatever your subject or choice of materials you can use this to really develop and improve your paintings.

If you’d like to see the lesson on colour, you can sign up HERE and you will be included as new lessons and workshop sessions are sent out and you can see the previous lessons on Value and Design.

This was a session Nick did for our workshop buddy group, which I’m pleased to be able to share with you. If you are thinking of joining CVP and would like to be included within our buddy bonus group alongside the course, you can see all the details of the full programme through the link below:

>> See more

Wow, this video is a game changer for me! With no formal training I have been painting abstracts off and on for a few years with some success, but overall I’ve been feeling like I have no idea what I am doing. The differences principle absolutely makes sense and I cannot wait to apply this new knowledge. Thank you, Nicholas, this is so very helpful. I am excited to learn more!

Cindy Corbett

Making art starts with the basics of form: colour, line, value, design. We need to become fluent in using these if we want to make art which takes this basic vocabulary and turns it into poetry.

Nicholas Wilton joined me for this discussion where we talked about how to create true feeling in your work, bridging the gap between realism and abstract work, and ultimately how to extend your own personal art making journey.

Find out more about the workshop and join the group here

Usually art tuition starts at school, but as adults we get to choose our own learning experiences. You can learn a lot from well-chosen books, from YouTube, by taking a week long residential class (all of which I have done!) Finding your style is about more than how things look, as you will discover… exploring these ideas alongside a structured way to learn more about set principles has been a game changer for me.

Listen and see if you agree.

Nicholas Wilton You're making a painting first

I’m often asked to teach, and the truth is that I can’t do it as well as I learnt from this program, so I hope you will sign up for this workshop and start to grow and extend your own art vocabulary.

It starts with a new way to think about the language of design and colour but there’s much more to it than that. It’s free – why wouldn’t you?!

Art2Life free workshop

We all want to make better paintings, get absorbed in the process of creating art and then stand back and discover a masterpiece. Often it doesn’t work quite like that! We can get swamped in the middle stages and easily lose our way, or even motivation to continue.

If you recognise that frustration, I hope these ideas will help.

1. Don’t stop through fear – trust that you have the knowledge to make it better

There is often a moment when you are quite pleased with what you have done so far. Personally I’m quite drawn to slightly unfinished looking works – the sense of potential and more to come really resonates with me. I don’t mind if the canvas isn’t fully covered. I don’t want to know it all; if I wanted all the detail I could take a photograph. I want to leave something for the viewer’s imagination.

However we all know that fear of spoiling what you have created so far. When you are working on bigger paintings this can get harder – perhaps you already have a lot of time and/or energy invested within them and it can be hard to move forward and ‘spoil’ what you have already created.

‘Cloud Shift’ in progress on the studio wall

This is a large painting on canvas I had been working on over a few months. It’s been quite a play piece. At this point I liked it; I liked the mood, the looseness of some of the marks, but it felt predictable and a bit gloomy. Stopping here would have been so frustrating, because I knew this painting could be better.

I knew I needed to do more, but the fear of messing it up was so overwhelming it almost stopped me. If I had listened to my inner fear voice I would never have completed this painting.

2. Get clear on what you are working on

When you’re caught up in the flow of creating something you are usually so involved in what you are doing that you don’t stop to assess it. You work almost instinctively. Your experience leads you where to go what next, what to try. If you asked me how or why certain marks or colours are there I couldn’t tell you why – they just felt right and arrived. This process comes with experience and practice. It can be tiring. Heck, it can be exhausting, but usually it’s only once you come to a stop that you realise you’ve been working quite a lot out.

But at some point there is a natural break in flow. Particularly if you are tired it can be difficult to recognise this and because we are in some sort of rhythm we keep going. Often this is when I muck it up so I have learnt that when I stop there is often a reason.

It’s hard to be objective about your own work. The very fact that you have invested your time and energy into it means you are emotionally connected to it and this can make it very hard to assess what you have achieved and what should come next.

I liked the marks I had created here as part of a loose play stage, but the composition as a whole wasn’t yet working. It was so hard to do the next stage! The more experimental and uncontrolled means a higher chance it can all go wrong.In the example above I was stuck because I wasn’t sure what the next development should be – the hesitation got me.

Having a set of principles really helps in these moments. Not rules, but guidelines you can use to ‘see’ your own work and know what will take forwards.

After a short time away I could remove myself from the parts I liked and start to see what the painting needed overall. For me it was all too messy so I needed some structure. I liked the yellow ochre but it was too dark and I wanted to really let those linear marks show off – which meant bringing in some areas of clarity. This is how I finalised the painting.

3. If you’re not sure what needs doing next, do anything!

Don’t fuss around the edges, tweaking at small changes. Do something bold!

I was loving the soft greys here with flashes of bright coming through, but it all felt a little…bland? pointless? I knew it needed something radical – a dynamic shift which would bring fresh life.

I find a painting goes through this stage many times, but adding this bold fresh cobalt suddenly gave this painting new direction. Yes, it shook things up a bit, but that’s what I’m looking for. And now I know how to handle this stage I find it exhilarating.

Middle stages of a painting, Alice Sheridan

pink painting in progress

Adding this blue surprised me and gave the painting a new lease of life. Without this it would all be simply too soft. Working like this takes guts, but is so rewarding. (see the final painting here) 

4. Check in with your personal ‘bigger picture’

Take a moment to ask yourself what you are exploring within this painting. There should be a deeper level of enquiry… something you are looking to test and learn. That can be as simple as how to portray the light hitting a glass vase or creating a certain emotion within an abstract.

I find it really valuable to re-connect with this big idea in the middle stages. Often as I start painting, I have no idea or plan and this arrives during the process of working on each individual painting. It helps to articulate it, whether in a notebook or just taking time to clarify your interests on that painting.

Here is the finished version of ‘Cloud Shift’.

Adding the brighter sweeps of blue (colour harmony and saturation contrasts) and a flash of turquoise lifts the land from the deeper muted tones. And that sky has carefully adjusted areas of lights and darks and uses a wide variety of marks so it has its own interest.

I work with hundreds of artists within my Connected Artist membership to help them strengthen their professional approach.

You can find out about ways to work with me here.

So excited finally to share this! One of three ‘secret’ projects which I have been keeping under wraps since the end of last year when I was asked to lend paintings for a Zoffany photoshoot. I love these experiments – there is no payment involved but I get to see my work styled in an amazing setting.

OK, it’s playing second fiddle to a roll of (fantastic!) fabric but still feels good to see my paintings can hold their own against such exquisite design.

Abstract blue painting Alice Sheridan
‘Split Fused’ 90 x 90cm abstract painting on deep wood panel

OK, so this one is a little more “need a magnifying glass”, but it’s still there! Personally I loved to see how all the elements have been pulled together. I’m a sucker for dark walls. My own home has deep smokey blue walls and almost anything looks great on it.

‘Poised Earth’ just peeking through in the new ‘ICONS’ by Zoffany photoshoot
‘Poised Earth’ 60 x 60cm acrylic on wood panel, framed

We may not all be so slick and beautifully styled at home in real life, but if this range inspires you to go a bit bolder that would be amazing! It feels brave, but makes such a harmonious space.

Want a little colour tip?

For stronger colours always go much less saturated to make a space feel sophisticated rather than in-your-face colourful. Choosing a greyed-down version rather than saturated colour will feel more elegant – we really don’t need much colour to ‘see’ it. And then you can have fun with accents, the walls are just the backdrop for your personal things (like paintings!).

Now on display at Gallery Top

I’ve spotted the photographs in a feature in the March edition of Living etc but chance co-incides and you can also see both paintings in real life as part of the current ‘Modern Works’ show at Gallery Top which runs 2-31 March 2019

“this an exhibition of contemporary paintings by a group of artists who have a diverse, though connected, approach to their work. There are five painters in the exhibition and their work has reference to many of the signifiers associated with the development of abstract art – fluid spirituality, geometry, hard-edged and gestural. What unites the exhibition is a passion for painting – for colour and form but also the physical process which the media offers to develop and mould their unique creative identities.”

There will be also be paintings from Andrew Bird, Val Hudson, Brian Neish and Ian Rayer-Smith

The gallery is open in Rowsley, Derbyshire on Tuesdays to Saturdays from 10.00 until 5.00 and on Sundays from 11.00 until 4.00 and you can also visit their website or call and speak with them directly if there is a painting you like.

Gallery Top Modern Works
‘Decorate the Silence’ acrylic and oil pastel on wood 50 x 50cm

You can always contact me directly if you have any enquiries about a painting you see, whether it’s to see more details or ask about shipping. In the meantime, if you see the paintings featured in a magazine or advert, do share it with me – tag me on Instagram @alicesheridanstudio.

Facing a large white panel or canvas can be daunting, but once I get started I actually love this first stage of painting. With nothing established, there is nothing to lose and no risk. 

Usually I begin by making marks with black – it’s too strong and too harsh but the strong contrast immediately gives me something to react to and to knock back. This time I am looking for a different approach. 

I’d like these paintings to be a bit gentler and less busy and really enjoy the movement of paint and not be so concerned with the structure. In the video you can see me starting 3 large panels. First I subdues the white with a soft grey. I’m not bothered at this stage by getting the exact shade or colour temperature correct. In that sense, it’s still about building the tonal layers, but starting with versions of a colour I may hope to keep throughout the painting. 

Still no plan!

The danger here is that I find something I like quickly like and it feels restrictive to move away from it. As soon as you create something you enjoy there is a risk of loss – if you see it that way. 

I enjoyed this approach so much that I came away thinking “I love this stage” and then quickly: “so why can’t I always paint like this?”

Have I been too concerned to make ‘corrections’? So my intention is to continue to paint with this feeling in mind. 

I hope (!) these paintings will be ready to show at Surrey Contemporary Art Fair in March. If you’d like free tickets to see them in person, or to see the final results then I’d love you to sign up to my mailing list


This time of year always sparks a desire to freshen things up a little; often accompanied by a need to declutter and tidy my home and art studio. This year I’ve been accompanied by the #sparkjoy approach to decluttering of Marie Kondo who has been all over Netflix with a new series. 

How is this relevant for art? When I tidy my studio, I’m creating space to work clearly, and find what I need NOW to make the art I aspire to. If this is important to me then it’s also important to create work space which feels energised and inspiring.

Creative spaces can be messy – and at times should be! But I know many artists who have this seasonal refresh  so I wondered if the Marie Kondo approach would help me tidy…

How to kon mari your art studio

Everyone has a different tolerance level, especially in a creative space. You may be happy in your creative, inspirational pig-sty, but sometimes it’s annoying to stand on a tube of paint and squirt it across the floor, or spend ages looking for the staple gun and have to go and buy another one. 

I’m not naturally tidy or at all minimalist, but I am conscious about what comes into my home; careful about adding clothes, going through papers as they come in. I feel calmer when at least parts of my home are ordered. Clearing the decks domestically gives me a calm path so I can go and focus on making art without that hangover feeling. 

The studio however can easily disintegrate into a muddle. There has been so much discussion about whether the Kon Mari method aka “the life changing magic of tidying up” works, so I thought I would draw some comparisons as I tidied my creative space.


KonMari step 1: start with the vision

Tidying isn’t about tidying. It’s about having the life you want; not wasting time looking through clutter for what you need or getting grumpy as you trip over more shoes. 

There is a mistaken idea that Marie Kondo’s approach is about minimising or limiting. In fact it’s about your vision of the person you are becoming.

My version: I agree!

The options in art are endless and extensive. That’s partly why we collect so much stuff – for inspiration, for future projects; just in case.

Being an artist isn’t about doing it ALL, it’s about making choices. Is that hard? Of course it can be. But this is good practice! If you can make decisions about the objects you are keeping then decisions which help progress your art work will follow on more easily.

I recommend creating a mood board for your art. You can find how to do this here. I also spend time setting some intentions for my upcoming work. The main question I ask is “What am I interested in bringing to my artwork this time?”

Art quote

Think about the artists you admire. Can you visualise the kind of artist you want to become? What kind of projects will stretch you and excite you? How would your space have to change to accommodate this? Write these down until you have a sense of what you would like to move towards. Keeping your ideas forward looking rather than backward looking is a key realisation that has helped me. 

Use the pinboard or a notebook or whatever works for you. Knowing why you need some clear creative space – and what you intend to create within it will help. 


KonMari step 2: move through the categories in order

In the Kon Mari method you don’t tidy by location, but work through your possessions in a particular order; clothes, books, paper, ‘Komono’ (miscellaneous & huge! bathroom, kitchen, garage, hobbies) and sentimental. 

I go through my studio usually twice a year. Many things in there cross all these categories: art clothes, books, paper and certainly when I first did it, a lot of what I was sorting would come under sentimental. The space had just evolved from a study and storage area. In that sense it’s been a long process, but that’s OK. Things have changed a LOT over that time so be forgiving of yourself. 

To do the whole method they say to allow 6 months. That’s a big task, especially when we really want to be creating, not tidying! If you find it difficult to sort then using the system may help, but otherwise….

tidy art desk for making collage

flat surfaces are my clutter magnet… tidying these first always helps!

My version: start with what will make the most difference

You may want to begin with another small area within your home. I find that our art-related spaces often have strong emotional ties. That’s kind of obvious – they need to. There is a reason Marie Kondo leaves sentimental objects until last – it can be much harder to see things objectively. Starting with something you are less attached to is like training your de-clutter muscle and will ease you in gently. 

Think of ONE place you know you could improve in a short space of time. Start there; it will  motivate you to keep going.


KonMari step 3: gather everything together!

You are supposed to gather all the items in that category in one place. I can’t imagine anything worse and this seems a lot of work.

It feels like a LOT of moving things around needlessly. To have everything heaped together must be kind of overwhelming. I think it would make me feel exhausted before I even began and turn to chocolate eclairs instead.

If you haven’t done anything like this before then I can sort of understand. After all it’s a kind of shock tactic; “I have HOW MUCH stuff?!” But doing this on your own, unless you have a good amount of time, there is a danger that you begin, and then grind to a halt as it takes longer than you anticipate. Plus, in a studio space it ties you up and stops you doing any work! Which kind of defeats the purpose.

My version: start with what is most important  – or least

If our focus is on just our creative space, it’s OK to leave the most sentimental objects until later. Instead look at areas of your studio you use most – and least. 

What do I mean by that? 

What we use most is part of our current practice. Disordered is usually an understatement once I get into the flow of painting; messy rags build up, cleaned brushes get randomly brought back in to play, pastels end up scattered on the floor, strips of tape hang from the walls, mixing bowls stack up with dried layers of colour. 

If you can make an improvement here it will help your work flow hugely. 

storage tips for art studio

I use an old wooden drawer liner box to keep scrapers and tape as a pull-out tray near to my painting station.




What do you use least? 

The chances are these items are part of a “someday/maybe project” or you are keeping things because you have spent time or money on them.  We can have a desire to keep everything as it’s all been part of our art journey. At one point I had huge piles of large A1 drawings from life class. They represented hours of learning and some of them were pretty beautiful. It was difficult and some might say a waste to let them go, but that’s not the direction I wanted to move forward with my work. I had done the learning. It felt great to let these go (see step 4) and reclaim the space.

What bothers you the most about your creative space?
Is there one thing you know you would like to improve?
Do you need storage for raw materials?
What do you trip over? Is there a stack of boxes in the corner you don’t even know what’s inside?
Which one thing, if it’s done today, will bring a big improvement?

Maybe it’s a task-based thing. I recently realised that when I need to wrap a parcel I have to collect items from 3 different rooms. Stupid and not necessary. I haven’t yet worked out how to persuade my husband to keep the giant roll of brown paper in the dining room, but it’s on my radar and I can now easily gather all the other items I need for that task together and make my life just a bit easier.

In part the method is about awareness. Life changes and shifts all the time – this is a way to re-asses and re-set what’s important for you. 

Don’t have all day? Make it easy on yourself and do just one shelf or cupboard at a time. This is manageable in short time blocks and unless you really have things in the wrong place it makes sense. You could even do this for 10 minutes at the start of each studio session as a way of re-acquainting yourself.  I do like to take everything out from that one place, sort what I need to keep, clean the shelf or cupboard and then replace.

Once you’ve done this you have fewer items which you can actually see and it encourages you to continue. If you need to move and re-arrange later, it’s easier to do because you know what items you are dealing with.

The aim isn’t to get rid of everything. My aim is to have a home which feels personal, works for us as a family, is welcoming and comfortable with things we enjoy and need. I like to have books and objects (and art of course) arranged, including strange nerdy Go-Gos (playground craze from 10 years ago) yelling up at a model of the Eiffel tower in my bathroom.

Is this practical? Not particularly, but it does make me smile – it’s a memory of a family trip to Paris and reminds me each morning the children won’t be small forever. (Note: they’re not small now – the big one is 17!)

The same is true in my studio. If I gathered everything it would be daunting and delay actually doing the creative work. I don’t want tidying to become a means of procrastination. Shelf by shelf it’s easy to look at what you have and if you still need it. Which brings me to: 


KonMari step 4: Sort first; keep what “sparks joy” and let things go

There is no point in organising your stuff, buying containers, moving things around if it’s no longer relevant. Marie’s advice is to hold each item and feel if it “sparks joy”.

This can be pretty hard to judge. After all, many things are purely practical rather than filling you with a well of emotion. She also advises you to thank each item as a way of moving forward. 

My version: respect

Maybe it’s personal, but the spark joy phrase seems a bit twee to me and I think it puts a lot of people off. Creative spaces are busy, messy places; just as they should be, and often need to be. Not everything is beautiful. But, I agree that we need to feel inspired within our space.

A few years ago my studio could become the dumping ground. It’s on the top floor with the only access to attic/eaves storage, and boxes sometimes got left “in transit”. I don’t often clean up there, but the dust and general dirt gathers and when it gets too much the space can feel neglected and sad.

I think of this part as showing your creative zone some love and respect

If your art is important to you, or you would like it to be, then honour how you do things and what you keep there.

questions to help you tidy your art materials

Keep to hand only what you need for your current work practice.

  1. Throw away anything you clearly no longer need. Check any lids, caps, dried up paints. No point keeping those! Rubbish, tatty paper.
  2. Does it make your heart sing or sink? If you are only keeping it because you feel guilty (it was a gift or you spent money and never used it) then the idea of thanking it before you let it go is worth experimenting with.
  3. Do you need it? With art materials, if I don’t know what’s in a cupboard or box, that means it needs re-housing or placing somewhere else or probably I don’t even need itInstead of thinking about how to store all these material, think about what you need in order to create the art you want to make now.
  4. Will you use this? Either make it a priority or accept this is not for now.
  5. Check for duplicates; do you have more than you need of certain items? Would duplicate items be more convenient in another place?
  6. Do you love it? Some things we keep in our creative spaces because they do honour our journey or inspire us. They deserve to be recognised – more about this below. 
  7. Will I really miss this if it goes?

Letting go of items you no longer want to keep

If you find this tough, have a ‘maybe’ box and postpone the decision until later. Once you’ve made some headway and can see the benefits of keeping things clearer it will be easier to decide what you no longer want. If art materials are in good condition, pass them on to a school or donate them.

In practice this gets swifter. You may not achieve Zen levels of de-cluttering but, just as Marie Kondo leaves the sentimental items to the end, I’ve found over the years that sometimes I need to keep things for a while. Having considered them once and given them a reprieve, I find it far easier the next time (Spring or back to school Autumn) to acknowledge that project probably isn’t going to happen and I can let things go more easily. 

I find the idea of thanking objects helpful. Nope, I don’t say it out loud, but acknowledging that stack of life drawing pages and being thankful for the classes definitely helped me to let them go.

Still finding this hard? Yearning for a bigger studio? ( I don’t know an artist who isn’t!) Just imagine what could you do with the space you currently have allocated to storage/materials you don’t use. No creative space is ideal, but you can make the best of what you have.


KonMari step 5: …THEN organise

Now you have what you love or need you can organise. I find it helps me to think less about where I put things, but about knowing where I can go quickly to find things.

how to organise your art materials

A few tips I use to organise:

1. Group similar together and think by task
eg collage material together. I try to keep all my spare and ‘waiting’ panels stacked in one place rather than dotted around. All my finishing materials are together in one place. Items I use to ‘grab and go’ when I want to take paints outside are kept together in the bag I use for that. Items for hanging at shows are kept in one moveable box. This is one place I keep duplicates, tape measure, screwdrivers, blu-tack – it’s all in one place so I don’t have to search and gather.

storage containers in art studio

So much easier to grab what you need when you can see it. Having items a similar size helps eg if you re-use plastic tubs for mixing paint, find one size or shape you like, and stick to it!

2. Divide into boxes
One thing I have been doing for years is to re-use boxes to store smaller items (it’s not rocket science is it?) Divide drawing materials by colour and use low height boxes on your work surface. My paint tubes are sorted into three shoe boxes on my trolley: one for white, black and neutrals, one for blues and greens and one for reds, oranges yellows. This has worked well – quick enough to chuck the tubes back in quickly, but also find what I need.

Shoe boxes with lids can be great for keeping like items together and stacked on shelves. 

3. Store vertically where you can
Or at least so that you can see and remove items easily. Don’t over-fill spaces so you can’t see what’s at the back or stack bottles too deep to get them out.

4. Label things
The cupboards in my work space house things I don’t use on a daily basis. Maybe just because I’m visual, once something is in a cupboard I can easily forget what’s in there. For quick labels I write on masking tape. You can tape a sheet of paper inside a cupboard door with what’s inside if it has lots of small items. I do the same with drawers. 

TIP: If you don’t want the labels to be visible you can add them to the top of the drawer edge as you open the drawer – this works for papers in a desk I have in our living space. 

5. Use your space in creative ways
I work in an attic conversion so I have sloping ceilings. I’d love to have more wall space but cupboards in the eaves are great for keeping squash-able bubble wrap, and I have created a false wall on one side and behind there I keep poster tubes for sending prints and smaller paintings ‘in waiting’.

We tend to ‘move in’ once and then not change how we keep things. In reality our process is changing all the time. Think creatively about what suits you now.

6. It’s not all practical – refresh your inspiration
Find places for the things which inspire or motivate you. I have a small mantelpiece and a shelf where I keep certain items. I see the shelf on the way out of the studio every day but we get used to seeing the same things and glaze over them. Refresh your pinboard, or postcards from exhibitions, or gathered natural objects or collections of colour…. whatever you gather to inspire you.


Keeping it this way…

Will my socks stay folded? This may be one area where my husband is right; maybe life is too short for this. However I did find 6 odd socks, pairs with holes in the heels I was keeping but never wearing and it doesn’t take any longer to put them away this way. We’ll see.

Will my studio stay tidy all the time? I really hope not! Getting messy is a natural by-product of making art. The last thing we need is to hold ourselves accountable for an immaculate work space.

Creativity is like a gas: it expands to fill the space available for it.

We can help by making sure that space is available as intended, so we can do the work we really want. 

Doing a major de-clutter is a big undertaking, but this is actually about the same thing all artists do – paying attention; looking at what’s important, for you, at this point. It’s inevitable that things build up, but the large printmaking studio I used to work in only functioned because everything had its place – and things went back or you were in trouble!

Tidying can bring a lasting change to your work space and help you keep on track with the art you intend to make. Going through this process maybe twice a year becomes easier each time and helps me appreciate the space I do have.

I’d love to know your views on an ordered/messy work space and please share any tips you’ve discovered in the comments below. If you’d like to see and share photos of your work space come over and join us in the Art Explorers facebook group  where we shall be using the hashtag #tidystudio to share tips and motivation.