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What to consider when setting up your studio

What things should you consider when setting up and choosing your working studio space?  Jimmy Leslie, Artists’ Outreach Manager at Winsor & Newton in the USA, outlines the considerations when setting up your studio, whether it is a dedicated space or integrated within your living area.

The Basic Rules

Ahh, the elusive studio space, it’ll cost a lot of money to set up and needs to be huge, right?  Not necessarily. I’ve worked in an old woodshed that I insulated to keep it from being too drafty, part of a garage, and also a spare bedroom.  Of the three mentioned, stay away from working in your bedroom because it’s important to keep your work space and living space separate. Sleeping in the same room where you use solvents and other such materials isn’t recommended as it would be uncomfortable and could cause irritation. 

Melissa Guardia Studio   Nicholas Woodhead  
Melissa Guardia's Studio    Nicholas Woodhead's Studio (Painting)   
Also stay away from the kitchen or dining room to avoid working where food is handled.  My first rule for studio safety is to listen to what your parents and teachers told you; don’t put your hands in your eyes, ears, nose, or mouth.  This means don’t eat, drink or smoke in your studio.  Ok, so this means I’m guilty and breaking my own rule by drinking beverages like water or tea in my studio but I make sure to keep my drink in a closed bottle and never touch the opening of the bottle with fingers full of paint.  I definitely don’t eat in my studio and I don’t smoke so I’m good there as well but keep in mind that smoking around solvents isn’t a good idea anyway regardless of whether you have paint on your hands or not. 
As for size, your studio doesn’t need to be large unless you plan on working on mural size pieces.  Being an artist is about creativity and limitations breed creativity. A small studio means you need to really think about your environment. 

Ventilation when working with solvents

When working with oil paints and solvents, ventilation is always recommended but more so in a small space.  An exhaust fan can help move the air from inside the studio outdoors and stepping outside the studio for frequent breaks is good practice as well.  This is what’s known as dilution ventilation in which clean uncontaminated air is mixed in a space and then exhausted outside. 

Gitte Mertens Studio   Bernard Victor's studio  
Gitte Mertens' Studio    Bernard Victor's Studio   

You can also think about the materials that you use. Using a solvent like Winsor & Newton’s Sansodor with a P.E.L. (Permissible exposure limit) of 300 is a good alterative to Mineral spirits (100-200 P.E.L.) and turpentine (100 P.E.L).  The P.E.L. relates to exposure to a material during an 8 hour time period and the higher number the better. 

If exposure to solvents is a major issue, for example you share a studio or simply don’t enjoy working with them for long periods of time, Winsor & Newton offers the Artisan range of oils and mediums that can be cleaned up with water.  Oil and water don’t mix you say?  Check out our Artisan pages for more information on that subject.

Make the most of your space

In a small studio space it’s necessary to utilize the space properly.  For a space saving easel, I like the Winsor & Newton Hamilton Studio Easel. It can be used in a traditional upright manner, converted quickly and easily into a flat surface for watercolour or folded up for storage.  Speaking of storage, what do you do with all that art you’re making assuming the collectors aren’t lining up to buy all of it?  Unfortunately this is a space limitation that’s tough to overcome. 

Silvia Moscovich StudioSilvia Moscovich's Studio   Marie Stevens StudioMarie Stevens' Studio   
When I was working in smaller spaces I would hang as much as I could in the studio and then loan pieces to family and friends who admired my work.  I also adjusted my work to the size of my environment by working smaller.  Sometimes these restrictions can be positive and force an artist to think in and work in ways that he would otherwise not do.


In the event that your studio does not offer good natural light, lacks windows, or you work at night try replacing your standard incandescent light bulbs with full spectrum lighting.  Full spectrum does just what it says and provides the full spectrum of sunlight to mimic natural light helping you to see the true nature of your colours.  In recent years the cost of full spectrum lighting has come down quite a bit and is affordable.

Maibritt Schultz's Studio   Ann's Studio  
Mai-Britt Schultz's Studio    Ann's Studio   

Read the label

To really understand the materials that you are using and how they may affect you be sure to do the obvious but often overlooked thing; take a look at the label.  For instance, the label on Winsor & Newton Artist Oil Colour may have the AP symbol meaning that it is an “approved product when used as intended” i.e. applied to a canvas or other such surface rather than the body.  Alternatively the CL or cautionary label may be found on colours such as those containing lead because of its known health hazards in large quantities.  These seals certify that the product has been tested to conform to ASTM D-4236. For more information about about how certain harmful elements are measured, read our Cadmium report which explains it in more detail. 

Want to know more about studio safety?

The subject of studio safety is a vast one that requires more attention than can be given here but the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) which provide important product information regarding safety can be found here and are a good starting point.

The most important thing for your studio is to make the most of what you have, whether it is a spare room in your house or a rented studio, it needs to be somewhere you can pick up a brush and paint without significant physical constraints.