Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up. ~ A. A. Milne
People often imagine artist’s studios strewn about with tubes of paint, various trinkets, well-used paint brushes and drying gobs of clay or other goo. They picture a general wreck surrounding the artist either for inspiration, or perhaps as a consequence of the artist’s lack of care and single-minded focus on the work.
I wish I could say this is never true for me, but there are times when it is. My tiny dedicated art space, a 8’x10’ room, also serves as both storage and my business office. Art supplies, ephemera, canvases, sketchbooks, seven different types of glue, scissors and other tools of the trade have to be stored alongside tax records, contracts, instruction manuals and exhibition records. When I get focused on a project, items sometimes get out-of-place to the point where it looks as if a bomb when off in there. Given the scarcity of space and the suffocation of creativity caused by clutter, I eventually have to deal with it, regardless of the importance of a deadline. (Needless to say, it is easier to simply put things where they belong.)
This isn’t to say the space has to remain pristine or untouched. I like my studio to feel alive and lived in. The walls are covered with small original art works and decor that inspires or interests me. A cool midnight black velvet cloth dotted with circular reflective discs drapes atop some stark white plastic storage bins. My “Nightmare Before Christmas” votive candelabra means I can have five scented candles burning in a relatively small space. The shelf-unit stereo provides a variety of tunes to keep me inspired as I work. I also have a section of wall with art-related awards so when things get challenging, I am reminded of accomplishments and buoyed by acknowledgements received thus far.
With all of the interesting and useful things in my studio, the most important “thing” is how organized it is. While I’m sure professional organizers could teach me a thing or two, for a greenhorn, I think I’ve done quite well. The one closet has a built-in organizer with drawers and shelving to separate different types of supplies. The drawers hold items ranging from small office supplies (binder clips, rulers, etc.) to collections of seed pods and other objects from nature that I feel will be useful soon. Some shelves in the closet hold office supplies such as reams of paper, where others house small plastic bins with drawers, each containing small art supplies such as charcoal sticks or adhesives.
The wooden six-drawer dresser holds many things from mailing envelopes of all sizes to loops for viewing photographs. Sitting atop the dresser is a wood flat file holding large sheets of paper, sketches for ideas-in-progress and completed projects yet to be given away or framed for display. Each drawer in the dresser and flat file are clearly marked with a large, easy-to-read label listing items contained inside. I could go on, but I think you get the picture.
So what does this have to do with creativity? In my mind – everything. That isn’t to say that you can’t create in a messy space. I have done it before, and if needed, could do it again. But nothing stops the creative flow quite like not being able to find that glue you’re sure you had, or … by the time you finally find what heap the glue is in, realizing you are almost out and have to go to the store. I can’t tell you how many times I howled in frustration when I can’t track something down, something I *know* I just saw, but end up spending a half hour trying to find. Before my space was organized, that was my life in the studio. When I couldn’t tolerate it any longer, I got smart and started labeling.
Once I got organized, I was able to shave off even more time from my work day by setting up structures that not only kept me organized, but helped me find ways to improve on my current system. I came up with a series of steps where I set out everything I would need for the day prior to putting brush to canvas. In doing so, I can determine if there is anything needed prior to beginning the work, run errands first and thus reduce the risk of interrupting my creative flow. Once I start, if I decide I want a bit of ephemera, a special paper or some other small object to attach to the canvas, I know where to find it. I simply walk over to the clearly labeled drawer or shelf, take out what I want and get right back to work without disrupting my the project.
So yes, I can sometimes fall into having the stereotypically messy artist’s studio, and yes, I can work in that type of space (to a point). But I often find myself frustrated when I do. To me, organization supports creativity so much that it’s well worth the effort to put in place, maintain, and improve over time.
Do you find it’s important to stay organized, or can you produce equally creative results in a messy environment?
© 2011 Amy Buchheit. All Rights Reserved.