How Studio Space Affects your Work as an Artist

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….

16 replies
  1. Uta
    Uta says:

    Thank you for your wonderful blog that encourages me in my work.
    I’m from Germany and so my english may be a little bit strange.
    I think I try the pomodoro method when I get on with my current painting tomorrow.

  2. Deborah George
    Deborah George says:

    Alice, Thank you so much for this post. I have just moved to the Pacific Northwest, on Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound. I believe the weather here is similar to yours. We bought this place because for the first time in my life I can have a dedicated space in which to create: a 2-car garage. However, it is not insulated and is quite cold. Currently, it is 26 degrees outside and snowing lightly. You mentioned wearing a padded boiler suit. I had to look it up. Apparently, it is the latest in fashion statements. However, where to find one? You shop at IKEA for furniture as do I. I am hoping we might have the same shop where you found your boiler suit. What do you do about cold hands? Also, I was concerned about the cold hampering the painting process and drying time; I am glad to hear that doesn’t seem to be a problem for you. I also like your solution for the cold and hard concrete floor which is exactly what I have. Thanks, again for this post. P.S. I have thought about installing a pellet stove in the future.

    • Alice
      Alice says:

      The one I got was from Bluecastle, but if you search padded or quilted boiler suit or work suit you should find them or something similar. They tend to be made for men. I’m 5’8″ size 12 and I got small and it’s quite big enough. I don’t get cold hands if I’m working and my body is warm enough, so I would make sure of body thermals first, and a hat. I can’t work in gloves, but maybe fingerless gloves could be an option. Keeping your wrists warm helps too. Mine definitely isn’t as cold as yours – you may find the drying time slows but a small fan heater gently towards the painting area should help that.

  3. KATHY stewart
    KATHY stewart says:

    After the new year I totally reconfigured my studio! The adjoining (former!) guest room was converted to a fiber studio and now my main studio is just for painting. It has made such a difference already in how I feel about working! Paint and fibers really aren’t a very good mix so I was always being careful not to splash paint on my yarn or fabric. I now have a wall that holds 3 – 36×36 inch canvases at once. So much nicer to paint on the wall compared to my 2 big rolling easels that would never stay still even when the wheels were locked. I’m so excited about what the year holds in store. I have 20 wood panels on order for an Icelandic landscape series planned for 2020.

  4. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Some great tips here Alice. Hoping to move into a larger studio very soon too and this will be a big help. I may need to protect a wooden floor so the hardboard with the underlay would help prevent scratching as well as providing the TLC for my knees!

    I love the development in your work and am hoping that the ‘breathing space’ will have the same effect for mine. In fact I know it will.

    Happy painting!!

  5. Gwenaëlle
    Gwenaëlle says:

    Nice to read your post! Very interesting to see how your work has evolved in a different space!

    I also tried this timer method (I had discussed about it with Susan, from CVP) because sometimes I felt too caught up by my work, and would forget to pause for a moment to think about it and not just follow my intuition or spontaneity. I tend to use it now in other area of my work too. It works well. Have a nice week Alice!

    • Alice
      Alice says:

      Originally it’s called the Pomodoro method (after those tomato kitchen timers!) and should be 25 mins with a 3-5 min break. An important part is recording how many ‘sessions’ you have completed so you feel a sense of achievement! Hopefully you can also see this on the painting, but I do keep a general track of studio hours which is very illuminating!

  6. Josephine Viviani
    Josephine Viviani says:

    Your experience and learning are very helpful to me. I have recently allowed myself the luxury of moving into a larger studio space in my building. On Monday I begin the set up of this new space. Reading the organized steps you took, planning and settling up your new space, offer a model of success for me.
    I have followed you since CVP 2019, your art juice and more. Not sure if I have to sign up again to get all your edifying posts? Thank you, Josephine Viviani

    • Alice
      Alice says:

      I bet that feels good! So you also know what will work for you. I haven’t written so many blog posts last year as the podcast took up so much extra time, but I’d like to get back to more. If you’re on my regular newsletter list (sign up at the bottom of the post or in the side bar) you will get a monthly-ish round up.

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