How to revamp your studio

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I have written a couple of times before now about clearing out your/my art studio and as I moved 18 months ago, although my studio wasn’t built and finished until last July, I still haven’t moved into it properly. It has been a very busy and difficult time. However, now that I am very close to moving the remainder of my stuff into the space, I felt it would be good to revisit the subject.

Having gone through years’ worth of artwork back in 2019 and again in April 2021, the task of going through what I have now is not as difficult but I still have work which I really need to revisit and I suspect you too may need to do something similar.

Let’s start with all those unresolved paintings sitting in a pile in the corner. We all have them and that is nothing to be ashamed about. So, how do you decide what needs to go and what should stay and, probably more important, make the decision to let go of the work you really don’t need to hang on to?

It is not easy. Every artist I know finds themselves in this position and needs to have a clear-out and to reorganise from time to time. However,  the more you stay on top of it the easier it is to cope with.

So, the first thing I suggest is to sort your work into separate piles for selling and those that you won’t sell. The “won’t sell” work falls into two categories: work you won’t sell because you love it too much to let go of it or because it is unfinished or just a practice piece you no longer need to keep. With the “ready for selling” pile, make sure that you do all the relevant cataloguing of your work, just in case you get asked to take part in an exhibition at the last moment. This has happened to me on numerous occasions so get it framed or wrapped, catalogued, and labelled so that you are ready.


The “won’t sell” pile is difficult. Emotions often play a huge part in making decisions about what to keep and what to let go of. In the pile I sorted out back in 2019 there were lots of pieces by my children. They stayed but have been organised into keepsake boxes so that when I die my children will be able to lay their hands on their work which I have saved for them. What they do with it then will be their decision, but I have done the work, and put things in order so that I don’t have to organise it again.

As for the rest of the work, because I have pretty much stayed on top of things, having had a clear-out in 2019 and again in 2021, doing it again now is fairly easy, but the process is still the same. Canvases are split into three groups: acrylics to be painted over; works in oils to be painted over; and canvases to be either thrown out because they are damaged or possibly re-canvassed.

Actually, I’m not sure if that’s really a word [It is, Ed] but if the canvas has been damaged then the old one can be removed, and a new one stretched in place. I never used to do this as the canvases I bought were fairly inexpensive and it just didn’t feel worth the effort. These days, however, I tend to buy expensive canvases so when they are damaged it really is worth doing.

Next tackle the paper works. I make tons (or should that be tonnes?) of ‘play’ pieces. When I am experimenting with line or colour, I use sheets of beautiful, expensive watercolour paper to make these works on. I used to rip up the ones I didn’t want so that no-one else could use them but these days I do a couple of things. Watercolour paper is great for taking acrylic paint so if I have tried something in watercolour and it hasn’t worked, I will put it to one side for painting on with acrylic instead. Also I will often work on those sheets of watercolour paper to make acrylic pieces for lining my leather journals.

Just to go back to the ripping up. Many years ago, an artist friend had a clear-out and had placed all her unwanted works in her recycling bin, ready for collection. A man walking past decided to go through them and took a bunch out for himself. I know she didn’t want them anymore, but she felt cheated that he had helped himself and probably never bought any of her artwork.

If your paper pile is huge and you are struggling to decide what to keep and what to throw out, just pick a number which is reasonable for you to hang on to and then photograph the rest to remind yourself of the work. By letting go of this store of work and organising things to make sense you will make room, both in your art space and your head space, for new works to emerge.

For me the final task I have is to store my BA work. I am still in the second year of my BA. It is a 12-year course which gives you four years for each university year. If I were studying full time, it would be a three-year course and I am currently still not sure if I am going to finish it. Having passed my first year some time ago and finished a large amount of my second-year coursework, I think it is doubtful I will need any of that work again. I have kept my sketchbooks and hung onto my research files but the rest of it has gone and a couple of years on from having done this, I haven’t missed any of it and neither will you. If it really bothers you, take photos!

By reorganising and reducing the number of stored works, you will be able to find things more easily and you will feel less stressed about what you have stored. Letting go of unwanted or non-essential works is cathartic and will open up new avenues of exploration without having to buy more expensive supplies.

I am currently in the middle of reorganising my studio again as I have this wonderful new purpose-built space. I still have loads of works in boxes, but I am getting things ready so that I can start teaching journal making/bookbinding and print-making classes in my lovely studio. Do take a look at my Instagram feed if you want to see what I have been doing.

I do have an amazing studio and I know most people are not so fortunate, but I would like to respond to the person who told me the last time I published a blog like this that I was not living in the real world and that I am really lucky to have a studio like mine.

At that time, I had a smaller, brick-built studio, which was wonderful and now I have this amazing wooden studio which is twice the size. But it is not luck that provided me with the finances to pay for either of these buildings. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite.

My previous studio was financed using the money my mother left me when she died. She was 62 years old when she died; a year older than I am now and losing her was far from lucky. The studio I have now was financed by the death of my grandmother, again hardly lucky.

I know some people are envious or jealous of the space I have. In my large studio I produce artworks in oil, acrylic, watercolour and pastel. I also produce prints using lino, screen printing, collagraph and monotype. Add to that I create journals/books and I make items of clothing. All of these activities take place in zoned areas within my studio and, to cap it all, I use the studio for teaching. I don’t hog it to myself; I share it with people who want to learn new skills or to refresh existing ones. But all of this was made possible by the loss of first my mother and then my grandmother. So, no I am not lucky at all but I am indeed fortunate to be working in a space which reminds me of both of them every day.

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