Even I can hardly believe it. Often, my studio looks like a wreck. I have a tendency to spread out when working on something.
When it’s time to change projects, I’ll spend an hour or so putting away everything that is sitting out. But I confess I have never done the “Equalize” step in Morgenstern’s SPACE system for the studio, which is supposed to enable you to not only stay organized but improve on your system over time. Instead, I’ve just added piles as more materials get added to my stashes and I’m coming to the point where I need to figure out how to integrate all the extra stuff — or throw something out.
Despite this, the underlying organization still works. My recent foray into stitch meditations has proven that I can easily lay my hands on an item in my studio when I think of it, even if it’s something I haven’t seen in ages. In fact, I’m finding stitch meditation really fun because I can use whatever pops into my head. If I decided I needed a metal key but then spent an hour looking for it, it wouldn’t be very enjoyable. In fact, I’d probably give up on doing the meditations at all.
I’ve especially appreciated the organization during my recent beading frenzy. When I organized in 2009, I took the time to sort my bead collection. Things are labeled and grouped in ways that make sense to me, so when I want to put fringe on a book, I know exactly where to look for the sort of bead I need.
I am not a neat person. I like abundance and stink at keeping things tidy, which is why I am astonished that my studio is still organized after all these years. It reminds me that Morgenstern’s system really works, and that I should apply it to some other rooms in our house.
Yesterday morning, my studio was starting to look like a real mess again.
But it was a mess with a purpose. I had moved everything over to my work table so we could put up some shelves over my sewing desk. Now I have somewhere to put my finished pieces as well as inspirational materials I have from family, friends, and other artists.
As you can see, there’s room to play with yet, and I’ll probably be rearranging things over time. My goal yesterday was just to get the pieces I put in our family show out of the boxes and on the shelves. The top shelf is hard for me to get to; I’ll probably be storing things I don’t use very often up there. Maybe after I go through the closet that shelf will start to fill up.
I think my favorite studio container has to be the picnic silverware caddies I’ve picked up at thrift stores. As mentioned yesterday, I was able to get all my paint brushes, plus some pencils and even a pair of scissors, into a single caddy.
They can hold all sorts of things – scissors, pencils, brushes, awls, hammers, pliers, rotary cutters, small bottles – so I have one for each of my activity areas with the tools most commonly used in that area. They come in various materials and are easy to move around. Thanks to caddies, I can always find my scissors (which can be a trick when I sew and the fabric starts to pile up and drift all over the table).
Thanks to the clean-up/organization I’ve done, I’ve spent time playing in my studio every day this week. Even brainless sewing (assembling quilt blocks into a quilt top) has been fun thanks to my stress-free creative environment.
Of course, I’m not really done with the studio yet. I want to put up shelves to hold my finished projects and display inspiriational materials. I need to organize my closet. I can find things in there right now, but not all the storage is appropriate for what I have (ex: all my yarn is in one huge bin). My bead collection needs to be re-organized – everything has a container, but there’s no rhyme or reason to what is where. I also need to get better shelves and/or containers for my doll-making materials, which include a variety of strangely shaped bits and pieces. So there’s more to do, but I think I’ll wait until January before I tackle the next organizational task. I’d rather spend my time right now basking in the fun of a clean studio.
Part of my frustration with my studio was not having any open space on my worktable. The magazines and books I’ve been reading for inspiration over the last few years often show pictures of art tables with interesting antique containers used to hold and display a variety of supplies. I like the idea of getting to use unique and interesting containers this way, so I’ve been collecting jars, bottles, and other containers I like from the local thrift stores and using them to hold brushes, pens, scissors, glue, and anything else I thought should be available for use. The only problem was that all those containers were taking up a lot of space.
My lightbulb moment was realizing I didn’t have to have all those supplies within reach all the time. I just needed to be able to get to them when I needed to get to them. So I decided to move most of the supplies off the table and into storage on my shelves, in containers that could be set on the work table for easy access when I actually needed those supplies. For example, I put all my markers and pens into wooden silverware trays which stack nicely on the shelf, are easy to bring over to the table, and store the pens horizontally, which is supposed to be better for them anyway. I also had six jars of brushes, sorted by size/use, sitting on my table. I got them all into a single container that maintained the categories while taking up a lot less space. I still have one jar of colored pencils and one of crayons on my table, and some pencils in with my brushes, but gel pens, markers, Sharpies, etc., are all in the trays.
The few jars and baskets I still have now sit on top of the drawers that hold my “embellishments” – bits and pieces that I want to use in my art but often haven’t. Now that they will be in my line of sight while I am working, I expect I will make much better use of them. The drawers line the back of the table, taking up only some of the space that all my supply storage used to, so I still have more table space than I did before.
Letting go of “the way everyone does it” really helped me to make better use of my space. Now I have a table with plenty of open space on it, and I still have the option of using all my different supplies whenever I want to. I also have a couple boxes of empty containers that will probably be heading back to the thrift store…
Once I had a plan (thank you, Julie Morgenstern!) and had thought things through via the writing exercise, I was ready to start sorting. This was the longest part of the process. I had to make piles and piles and piles of supplies as I went through the materials that were stacked on the floor, sitting on the tables, and stuffed in containers. I had a box for each of my large categories (sewing, paper arts, or embellishment) for the really homeless odds and ends, but I actually spent a lot of time just putting things away. Even though it didn’t look like it, I had some areas in my studio that were already well-defined, and I used those locations to collect and pile related materials as I unearthed them.
The hardest part of this process was out in the middle, when I’d been sorting for days and still wasn’t done. Everything was a mess and it felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere. Because I didn’t know how much of what I had to deal with, I didn’t always know how I was going to actually store something even though I had a good idea where in the room I wanted to keep it. Writing really helped me to work through the process. Because I’d already done some writing to prepare for the project, I made a point of writing whenever I was feeling stuck. Before I started, I would state my goals for a session, then at the end, write about whatever I was unsure about. Just by writing things down, I often found a solution. At one point, just making a list of all the piles sitting around that needed homes helped me to focus on finding the right containers and getting things put away. Much as I wanted to bull through this process as quickly as possible, I think I needed the time between sessions both to recover my energy and to cook-up more ideas of things to try. In actual hours, I put in maybe two days worth of time, but it just wasn’t possible for me to do all this work in just two days.
For the record, Morgenstern forsees the slogging stage of this process. One of the reasons for the questions in the analysis phase is to build a list to help the organizer stay focused and motivated. When I was particularly stumped, I would pick up her book and reread her instructions, and that often gave me a new idea or reminded me of something I had forgotten. In case you haven’t guessed, I highly recommend her book for organizing a studio, or anything else for that matter.
Tomorrow: Getting my worktable back.
So, I have finally got my studio in the shape I was hoping for. The majority of my supplies have been sorted and organized and I know where they are. I’ve been trying to get to this point for months, but the reason it has finally happened is that I got a copy of Julie Morgenstern’s book Organizing from the Inside Out three weeks ago, read it, and followed through.
Morgenstern’s book was full of ideas and advice that really worked for me. She recommends planning and writing things down, talks about the many things that can get in the way of being organized, and offers a great way to think about the room or area to be organized. Then she gives you specific steps to follow in implementing your plan.
One thing that was really different from any other method I have ever tried is the detailed analysis she has you do before you get started. She has a set of questions to work through before you do anything else, so I sat down and wrote out my answers.
One of the questions is: what is already working? This proved to be a valuable question for me to answer for two reasons. First, it’s positive. As much of a disaster as I had on my hands, it helped me to realize that there were bits of organization I had put in place that were actually working. The second thing it did was encourage me to really try her ideas. It turns out that what was already working actually followed many of the suggestions she makes (like assign everything a specific home, group items by activity, and use an appropriate container). Finding out that I not only was doing something right, but that the things she was suggesting were already working for me made me much more eager to try her system.
When it comes to planning, she looks at a room or area with a kindergarten class room in mind. In kindergarten, there are certain activities that happen in certain areas. Everything you need for that activity is located right there, in easy-to-use storage that makes clean up a snap. So I applied this concept to my studio.
My studio has an overwhelming amount of material to deal with. I quilt, paint, draw, bead, collage, make books, and make art dolls. So I needed areas that would allow for the different sorts of things I do. I wound up with three “activities”: sewing (which includes cutting and ironing fabric), paper arts (drawing/painting/collage/bookmaking), and embellishing (beading and construction of dolls and their props). I decided to use my long work table for paper arts and embellishing, since some of my work combines the two. I put all the paper arts supplies on shelves off one end of the table, and the “embellishment” materials on the shelves at the other end. The other side of the room is sewing, with my sewing desk, cutting table, and notions storage.
Having this plan really helped me when it was time to go to work.
Tomorrow: The hard part
For the last three weeks, I’ve been putting serious time into getting my studio re-organized. I’ve worked roughly every other day for 2-4 hours at a time. Yesterday, I hit a major milestone – I found the floor. At least, it seems like what I did. What actually happened is that everything I’d been sorting and piling finally had a container and/or home. All of a sudden, my studio was clean.
(For before pictures, click here.)
It feels like a complete and utter miracle. Not only do I have surfaces to work on, but I know where everything is. In the last 24 hours, I’ve done two projects (start to finish) in record time, without frustration. In both cases, I had an idea, could lay my hands on everything I needed to complete the project, and was working in no time. Clean up was easy because everything has a home. Every step of both projects was easy and fun! Wheee!
I’ve decided to spend this week blogging about the process involved in getting from studio hell to studio heaven. Tomorrow: The secret to my success!