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It can be difficult to find the time to be creative and make your own art. But if you can develop your own creative space, it makes it so much easier when it comes time for your studio practice. Cassie tells the story of her own studio today, including why it took her so long to set up her own creative area (3:30), the inspiration she drew on to plan her own space (6:15), and why pegboard is slowly taking over her house (10:15). Full episode transcript below.
I didn’t pay too much attention in science class. I’m going to be real with you. I didn’t pay too much attention in school, in general. In fact, I looked forward to the most boring classes I had, which in my mind, for me, were social studies, unfortunately, because I love geography now, and science, which is especially unfortunate because my grades reflected it, but I looked forward to those kind of dull classes because my favorite thing to do was sit and daydream. However, I do recall one kind of important thing from science class, and it stuck with me, not because I applied it to science at all, but because I apply it to my life and to my way of thinking about creating.
It’s from Sir Isaac Newton, who said, “An object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion stays in motion.” The way I apply that to my creative thinking is this. The beginning of my art teachering career, I thought that my entire focus should strictly be on teaching, on giving my students the best art education I could possibly provide, which was and still is pretty subpar, but, man, I try my hardest. However, I really put my creative side to rest, and there it sat. Me, not creative, not touching that creative element or part of me for years. It was at rest, and it, indeed, stayed at rest.
It wasn’t until I really started feeling that something was missing from my life, that there was almost like a vitamin deficiency, that I realized that it was because I wasn’t creating. Getting that ball in motion, getting my creative juices flowing again, that was really hard, but now that that object, that creative mass is in motion, it’s been staying in motion. I’m constantly coming up with ideas and trying my hardest to find time to create.
One of the biggest important pieces of having time to create or just creating, in general, is having a space, carving out a creative space for yourself to do what you need to do, which vital to your art teachering career, which is create.
Let’s talk today about how to carve out a creative space in your home. I’m Cassie Stephens. This is Everyday Art Room.
One of the biggest reasons that it took me so long to carve out a space, a creative space, an art studio, what have you, in my home was because I had that idealized vision of what an art space should look like. Of course, the word studio popped into my head immediately, and then you have these grand visions of some loft in New York City with 20-foot ceilings, wall-to-wall windows, a beautiful easel, possibly a handsome, slightly nude model just lounging around for you to sketch from. That was my ideal. That’s just not going to happen, at least not in my world.
Those kind of notions, that idea, you need to scratch that right out of your head because that will be a big roadblock for you, if you’re like me anyway, and thinking that, “I’ll be able to set up my art space or my studio when I get enough money to save up for it or when I have a big enough apartment or a large enough home or maybe when I clear out that space in the garage.” No, just start thinking about what you have now and making that work for you because that is what your studio space will be. Your space is going to look totally different than your BFF’s, who’s selling her paintings at craft fairs or people that you find online. Use what you have to carve out your space.
Before you even dive in, if you don’t have a studio space or even if you do, it helps to take a little walk around your home, your apartment, just to see what you’re working with. Is there an area, if you don’t have a space already, that you could use, some place in your home that isn’t used very often? For my house, it’s usually the dining room, otherwise known as the dumping room. We tend to pile things on our dining room table, but for a long time, the dining room was my art studio. It was a space that had a beautiful, big table and lots of room that we never used.
Is there a place, even if it’s nontraditional, who cares, it’s your house, that you could use for your studio space? Don’t even limit yourself to a room. Obviously, not all of us have that luxury. Could it not even be a corner of a room or a closet that doesn’t get used? Who doesn’t use closets? If you don’t, hook a girl up because I got so much stuff I could be storing in your closet. Anyway, think outside the box if you don’t have your studio space yet.
Then, start imagining and sketching, once you have that spot in mind, what you want this space to look like. I love spending time with pencil and a blank sheet of paper and just drawing out, sketching out, my dream, my ideas for what I want that space to look like. It helps, I guess, to look a little bit on Instagram and Pinterest, but that can be like a rabbit hole of ideas that you go down, and you’re just going to get stuck and overwhelmed with possibilities. Working with what you have will help you get a jumpstart, but it’ll also save you some money. You don’t have to break the bank to carve out your studio space.
Once you’ve got your sketch and your spot figured out, think about what do you really need in this space? What materials and what mediums do you love to use? If you’re like me, you’ll love to use everything. That’s the problem with us art teachers. When you’re an expert at all the art supplies, you enjoy using them, and that’s a little tricky because how are you going to store all of the variety of media and tools and supplies that you want to use?
After you’ve gotten your space and what you really need, list the materials that you have and the materials that you want to purchase for your space. What I like to do, because I’m like a squirrel, I love to sock things away. You could probably find art supplies in the bathroom at my house because I just stick things where there’s a spot. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make sense, and that’s a real problem because when it comes time to finding things, when at the time it felt like a really good idea to stick my paintbrushes at the back of my sink in my bathroom because that happened to be that day where I washed them, when it comes time to find them, I don’t have a clue where I put them. Compile all of your supplies in your designated space.
For me, I just did this recently. I have been completely revamping my creative studio space, which is why this podcast, I decided to chat about it because this is something that I’m doing currently, and as I was putting together my studio space, organizing it, I found that I had at least five different cups, jars, and containers filled with a mix of paintbrushes, markers, Sharpies, and pencils. Each one of those five containers had a mix of that, and I thought no wonder I can’t find anything. I’ve got stuff literally mixed in all together everywhere.
Once you have all of your supplies compiled, start sorting them, and when you start sorting them, put them in containers that make sense. I have a habit of just using whatever containers I have on hand. A lot of times, they’re cute and they’re pretty to look at, but they’re completely impractical for me. Me, personally, I need all of my supplies out. I need all of my supplies visible, and I need my supplies easy to access. These are things that I don’t normally do when I organize, because in my mind, I think about what I think organization should look like, what might work best for somebody else and not works well for me.
Unfortunately, that means I usually put things in containers that aren’t clear, I usually don’t label them, and like I said, because I’m a squirrel, I tend to sock things away. I have a couple of chest of drawers, not Chester drawers, chests of drawers that I tend to put things in, and then immediately forget that they are there.
In my attempt to create a space that works for me, my solution has been pegboard. Pegboard has been my new BFF everywhere. I really think, at some point, my husband’s going to wake up one morning, and our entire home is going to be wall-to-wall pegboard. I love this stuff. What I did recently was, for my studio space, I went to the thrift store, and I picked up some really large picture frames, took those picture frames straight to the Home Depot or Lowe’s, whatever. This is not an advertisement, so whatever hardware store you prefer, and I bought pegboard. It comes in those giant sheets, and with my frames right there, I asked them if they would please cut me the pegboard down to size to fit the four frames that I had on hand. They did, and it helps to really … This is just a little side note. It helps to really take those frames with you when you’re getting things cut because some of your frames might be a little bit wonky, and just because you know the dimensions, don’t go with the little piece of paper with your frame dimensions. Take the actual frames and make sure the pegboard is going to fit. Trust me. I speak from experience.
I have been hanging pegboard now in my little studio space, and I also have some hung in my sewing room, and I love it because I can now put all of those sorted brushes, organized in little individualized containers. I like to use the little metal pails that I got at the craft store, hang them on hooks on my pegboard. Everything is now visible. Everything is now organized. With it being that way, I have found that I really am much better at staying organized. I’m putting things back where they belong because they have a place and the place makes sense for me.
I’m fortunate that I have a space in my home where I can hang pegboard, where I can have my drafting table permanently set up. It might not be that way for you, so you need to think about what’s going to work best for your space and for your home. If that means that you’re working at, let’s say, your dining room table and pegboard isn’t an option because you might not want to hang that in your dining room, although I don’t see why not. Who says your house, since you’re an artist, can’t be something slightly different than the norm, but you might want to think about getting some of those carts that you can get at Target or Ikea. I love those little metal carts. They are deceiving in that they are so teeny tiny, yet, they hold so much. They have three shelves. You can organize all of your supplies on those shelves, and they’re on wheels, so easy for you to wheel around and transport.
When you’re thinking about your space, your studio space, I think a lot of people get stuck in the idea that their studio spot, their studio space, has to be a really specific location in their home. For example, when I lived in another house with my husband, our first home, we had a converted garage, and, immediately, I thought, “This is gonna make the perfect studio.” I set up my table out there. I had a wire rack that I filled with all of my supplies, and I rarely ever used it, and here’s why. My husband and I, we love to watch TV in the living room. The living room, though not far from my converted garage, was not in the same space, and I always wanted to hang out with him while wanting to create, so I ended up rarely ever using that converted garage because whenever I sat in there and he would try to talk to me, we would end up just yelling from one room to the other back and forth or, at one point, we actually had walkie talkies that we would use and talk to each other that way. That didn’t last long. It ended up becoming a space that I rarely used, even though I took all of this time and effort to set it up and to organizing it.
In retrospect, what I think would have worked far better was for me to use what I had in that space. Use the dining room table or, better yet, get yourself a TV tray and that little metal cart. TV trays are collapsible. You can sit and enjoy time with your family while having a small, little workspace. Have that little cart of supplies that you can wheel right up to you, and there you go. You have a mobile studio, so you can still be creating while spending time with your family.
Currently, what I have now is because I’m spoiled rotten, and we have this space, not having children. I have a bedroom that I’ve converted into a sewing room, and I also have a little studio space carved out in our bonus room. We have a little joke here at the house. My husband literally has his side of the bed, and I basically dominant the rest of the house. Remember, I’ve got paintbrushes under the bathroom sink. It’s kind of nuts.
Once you have your space carved out, your idea of where you want your studio space to be or, like I said, maybe you’ve already got it sorted, and you have an idea of how you’re going to organize your supplies so that it works best for you, I think it’s also really important to have a place to display your thoughts, your ideas. We’re visuals, so we need to have our inspiration somewhere so our eyes can gaze on it and our mind can always be thinking about those ideas and then generating more.
I love sketchbooks, of course. I think we all probably have mountains of them, but the problem for me with sketchbooks is I have to have everything where I can see it. If I draw something in a sketchbook, it’s like how I squirrel away art supplies. I have a habit of squirreling away my ideas. I probably have about 27 sketchbooks laying all around my house, started at different times of my life. One I draw in today, and then I won’t pick it up again for another couple of months. That’s a real problem because I can never seem to find the idea that I was looking for or had just come up with.
Something that I started doing recently was hanging up my ideas. Duh. I think a lot of us probably have, I guess you could call it, an inspiration board. For me, I don’t have that space for a large bulletin board in my sewing room. My sewing room is where I like to have a lot of my sketches on display, things that I want to stitch up, little swatches of fabric that I want to use for certain outfits or dresses. Something that I did just last week that I am now loving is I purchased a bunch of those smaller format clipboards. They’re about $2 at the office store. I like them because they’re cute and little. I know, ridiculous, and I just hammered a couple of nails in my wall. I got about six of those miniature clipboards, lined them all up in my sewing room and, now, I have been tearing out my sketches from my sketchbook and clipping the drawings of dresses up along with those little swatches of fabric that I want to use to create those dresses, and I love it because it’s a constant reminder when I’m in my sewing room of what I want to create. It’s inspiring for me. I’m so excited because I’m really close to having, now, one of those dresses complete, so I can take that down from the clipboard and pop a new idea up.
In my studio space, I do have room for a bulletin board, not a big one, but one that’s large enough to suit the purpose, and I’m currently working on a new project in there, coming up with ideas for the new school year. On the bulletin board, I went to the Dollar Tree, bought a bunch of index cards. I love index cards. I actually love all office supplies. When I was a kid, instead of buying toys, me and my buddies, we would go down the office supply aisle and buy index cards and those little … When people used to have to hand-write receipts, we would buy those and just play office all day long. It was my favorite thing, so I have a slight fascination with office supplies. Little random side note that you didn’t need to know about me. With those index cards, I love jotting down my categories for my bulletin board. Like I said, I’m trying to generate ideas for the new school year, as well as coming up with ideas for creating, so I’m writing down on the index cards the different grade levels, putting those up on my bulletin board, and then just as I’m flipping through magazines or just going through my sketchbooks, I’m cutting out, tearing out, and pinning those ideas to that board.
Having a place where you can have your ideas visible is wonderful, but, like I said, might not be a possibility if that’s not something for you, then just have one sketchbook, not 27, that you keep up with. Keep it on your little cart. Keep it in your work area. I love to have a sketchbook that’s small enough for me to constantly carry with me because you never know where you’re going to find a great idea or some inspiration, so having one’s that small enough to tote around is also amazing.
All right. If carving out a creative space has been on your to-do list or just revamping your creative space, if it’s become a dumping ground, like mine often does where I just chuck things on my table and forget about it, summer is the perfect time to really flip your studio space, to really create a space that works for you. Think about it. Gather up your supplies. Organize them. Make a space that is beautiful, inviting, works for you in the space that you have, and the next thing you know, you are going to have that creative ball rolling.
Thank you, guys, for letting me share so much with you today, especially on my journey to organize my life, as well as my studio space.
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Cassie Stephens: I got a really great question the other day on my Instagram, and it from @potteryplayground, and she says, “I could really use your input on teaching art to large groups of mixed age kids. I run an afterschool art enrichments and summer camps where my students are grouped preschool-K or K-5, ew, you all, or 5th-8th. Enrichment during the school year are more manageable, as the kids listen better. Summer camp, however, becomes a huge, messy mix of kids from different schools, all converging, at one school for day-long camp. My days are often crazy, loud, nonstop blurs, and I’m drained by the time I get home. My daughter is my partner, and she’s amazing with the kids. She’s stricter with them, and she says that I’m a pushover. Would you please share your strategies for, A, developing art projects that kids of different ages can all handle efficiently, and, B, creating rules and structure that everyone can follow so I keep everybody on the same page?”
Ew, boy. All right. I’m going to just address this … I’m going to speak from what I know, and what I know is I’ve never taught pre-K, so that is going to be a little tricky for me to address, and I’ve never taught beyond 5th grade. I have done camps, I guess, where kids are probably up to 6th grade. I had to stop and think, but I’ve never taught that upper middle school age group, so I’m going to speak to you from what I know, which you can probably apply some of it, but maybe not all. I have done my share of summer camps. I’ve done my share of afterschool art. I no longer do either of those for a good reason, for this reason.
I feel as though when kids are outside of that school “setting”, they lose the school mindset. As soon as that bell rings, they switch off their school mode, and they go into a recess kind of mode, a fun mode, which is great. They need that release, but it can be very tough if you don’t have a way to rein it in.
Let me first address the creating rules and structure portion because I think that that’s far more important than the projects you’re doing with your students. If I were you, I would have a very solid routine at the very start of your summer camp or your enrichment program after school, meaning as soon as the kids come in, because they’re going to probably all be coming in from different places at slightly different times, different energy levels, I would do what I know a lot of middle school and high school teachers do, which is something called a bell ringer. Have something written on the board or maybe a small art task, a sketchbook assignment, that as soon as they walk in, they know that they’re going to either grab their sketchbook, regardless of what age group they are. Every kid is capable of having a sketchbook.
If that’s not in your budget or something that’s doable, have them walk in and just grab a sheet of paper. Then either that paper, if it’s copy paper, it could be almost a drawing idea sheet. Perhaps at the top, it has an idea or a drawing starter for them, to go to their seat, immediately come in and sit down and start working. Have some soft music playing to set the mood. Dim the lights just a pinch to also establish that as they walk in, they’re to put down their backpacks calmly, maybe even have a designated space for the backpacks because I know when I did afterschool sewing, the girls would just love to pile all their backpacks in a mass mountain, and then it was chaotic when it was time for them go. If everybody has a designated spot for their backpack, has a designated spot for them to grab their sketchbook or their paper and sit and get started, that will set the mood. How you start your enrichment or summer camp is how it’s probably going to play out for the rest of the time that you have with them. Start with a “bell ringer”.
Once that is established, then I would definitely listen to last week’s podcast where I talk about routines, just because it’s not “school” doesn’t mean you can’t have routines established. Have a common meeting spot for them. Have signals for them to stop and listen to you, whether that be a Mona Lisa call and response or a chime that you ring. You need to start to setting those routines.
As far as projects goes, that can be tricky, especially that kindergarten through fifth age group that you mentioned. I did an afterschool art club for years, and it was first through fourth, I believe, and we actually did a lot of clay. Clay seemed to be the universal medium, and I really encouraged the kids, the older kids, to help the younger kids. You could also do projects that incorporate the two minds of the younger and the older kids. You’ve probably seen those sewing projects where the younger kids draw a picture of a monster, let’s say, and then the older kids stitch it along with them. You could think of collaborative projects where they work together. I also did a podcast not too long ago about collaboratives. Think collaboratives would be awesome for age groups like this, for varying age groups.
Ew, girl. I know it’s really tough. Like I said, there’s a good reason why I don’t do afterschool and summer school, because it’s a different beast, but it’s one that you can tame. Definitely start with those routines.
If you have a question for me, you should totally send it my way. I am at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When I was in high school, my studio space was in a corner of my bedroom. It was just a little desk that I’d set up, and my favorite thing to do was to paint. I loved any kind of painting, and I couldn’t even tell you what I was painting. It was just something that all day long, while I was daydreaming in class, when I should have been paying attention, I thought about getting home after school, going up to my room, finishing off whatever homework I had, and just sitting and painting. I spent so much time upstairs in my room that I think my parents thought I was avoiding them purposefully or depressed or something. They had to have a little intervention, like, “Can you please come spend some time with the family?”
I couldn’t help it. I was in love with my space and creating, and as an adult, finding that love and finding that space is vital. It’s also vital to spend time with your family, so making that space really work for you and for your family, for how much space that you actually have is important. It’s important because, as art teachers, we’ve got to be creating.
You all, good luck on setting up your art studio, tidying it up, cleaning it out, whatever you need to do. Have an awesome week.