Studio space: what works for you?
Landscapes and locations are great, but at some point every artist needs their own space. A studio can be a haven, an engine room, or sometimes just a hiding place. So what will suit your style, personality, budget and available space?
Jimmy Leslie, artists’ outreach manager at Winsor & Newton in the US, takes us through the options.
Bedrooms and painting don’t mix
Ahh, the elusive studio space. Maybe mystical and symbolic, certainly huge and expensive, right? Not necessarily so. I have worked in an old woodshed, a garage, and even a spare bedroom. Based on my experience, don’t do the bedroom. It is important to keep your workspace and rest space separate. Sleeping in the same room where you use materials like solvents is not great for your health. It is also a good idea to stay away from the kitchen or dining room to avoid working where food is handled.
Studio rules: no eating, drinking or smoking
My first rule is don’t eat, drink or smoke in your studio. I have been guilty of breaking my own rules by drinking water or tea in my studio but, in my defence, I keep my drink in a closed bottle and never open it with fingers covered in paint. I don’t smoke, so that is taken care of, but keep in mind that smoking around solvents just isn’t a good idea.
Size doesn’t always matter
As for size, it really isn’t everything. Unless you plan on working on mural size pieces, your studio doesn’t need to be large. Being an artist is about creativity, and limitations breed creativity. A small studio means you need to really think about your environment, and this can focus your mind.
Keep it fresh
It is always a good idea to keep an eye on ventilation when you are working with oil paints and solvents, especially in a small space. An exhaust fan will help move contaminated air outside and taking frequent breaks to get some fresh air is a good idea as well.
Also think carefully about the materials you are using. A solvent like Winsor & Newton’s Sansodor with a PEL (Permissible Exposure Limit) of 300 is a good alternative to mineral spirits (100-200) and turpentine (100). If exposure to solvents is a major issue, Winsor & Newton offers the Artisan Water Mixable range of oils and mediums that can be cleaned with water.
Making space work
In a small studio, it is vital to make the best use of space. For an easel that does a lot in a little, I like the Winsor & Newton Hamilton Studio Easel. It can be used in a traditional upright manner and converted quickly and easily into a flat surface for watercolour or folded up for storage.
As for storage, what do you do with any art the collectors aren’t lining up to buy? Unfortunately, this is a space limitation that’s tough to overcome. I would hang as much as I could in the studio and then loan remaining pieces to family and friends. I also adjust to my environment by working smaller. Sometimes these restrictions can be positive and force you to think and work in new ways.
Let there be light
If your studio lacks natural light and there are few, if any, windows or you work at night, then try replacing standard light bulbs with full-spectrum lighting. It provides the full spectrum of sunlight to mimic natural light, helping you to see the true nature of your colours.
Check the label
It may seem blindingly obvious but to understand the materials you are using and how they may affect you, make sure you read the label.
For example, the label on Winsor & Newton Artists’ Oil Colour in the US may have the AP symbol, meaning it is an approved product “when used as intended” – that is, applied to a canvas or other such surface, rather than to the body. The CL or cautionary label may be found on colours containing lead, which can be a health hazard in large quantities.
In the EU, Winsor & Newton materials are labelled with pictograms and a signal word – either “danger” or “warning” – and hazard and precautionary statements. You can find out more about these by reading our guide to decoding hazard symbols.
This is a huge and wide-ranging topic but the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), which provide important product information, are a good starting point. The most important thing is to make the most of what you have available in a safe way and in a space where you can pick up a brush and create without coming to any harm.