Nowhere to paint? Top tips for making ANYWHERE your art studio
Do you feel that you’re held back from painting because you don’t have the space to do it?
Do you dream of having your own art studio space, which you’d paint in every day?
Does seeing beautiful photos of other artists’ studios on Instagram or Facebook leave you feeling defeated?
If the answer to any of these is ‘yes’, let me try and help you do a little re-framing.
Unless you are currently sofa/couch-surfing or experiencing some other housing crisis (in which case, my heart goes out to you), it’s likely that your home does physically have some space you could paint in. Your mind has probably been trying to talk you out of it because it’s going to require a bit more effort to get those paints set up.
That’s easy for me to say though, right?
Well I’m not actually sat here writing this from my big fancy art studio where I can paint all day long. In fact, I’m slightly embarrassed to say that despite being pro for over 10 years, I’ve NEVER had one. I did have a dedicated room in my last house, but I also had to run a business from there and store a load of paintings etc.
And since moving to a new house, I have to make do with a corner of a bedroom whilst I wait and plan for a garden studio.
Here’s the little desk I’m working at right now:
And here are a couple more photos showing you previous spaces I’ve painted out of!:
A studio would be nice. Or would it?
A beautiful, well lit, big art studio should make going and painting easier.
But then if you had a gorgeous studio maybe other barriers would get in the way like:
“I don’t have time to paint” (I am living that one too at the moment with 2 very young children!).
Or worse, “Now I’ve built that art studio I feel like I OUGHT to use it and that’s really putting me off!” Haha. I’m willing to bet that’s happened to someone!
My point is that the mind has an uncanny way of putting up resistance to us doing things that would actually benefit us (like art or exercise).
So it’s important to remember that not having enough space might not be as valid a reason not to get your brushes out as you thought.
If you get creative, you might be lucky enough to find a little ‘nook’ you can set up as a permanent spot. Is there potential in the corner of a bedroom, or under the stairs?
A little space is STILL great but it needs a little thinking through.
My top 3 painting tips for when space is at a real premium:
1) Work smaller
It sounds obvious, but you might need to shelve your plans to work on 6 x 4 foot canvases and accept that you will have to work on smaller studies for a while. It’s better than nothing, will keep you improving, and you really don’t need much space at all. To help transition to working smaller, try working on some larger-than-life studies so your paintings can still have impact. And remember, a little table top easel can help you to work bigger. With the one in my little nook, I can still work on watercolour pads up to around 24” x 18” without issue (see the photo above!).
2) Work with watercolour
When I was at school I mostly used oils and, after I left school, I hardly painted at all. The effort involved in getting the oil paints out, the pressure to then use them all up before they dried. The mess involved and the smell of the white spirit I used to thin the paint and clean my brushes all added up to one helluva barrier to painting! None of those issues is a factor with watercolours though and you can find out lots more about their convenience here.
3) Work from photos
With space at a premium, you’re unlikely to be able to set up a subject to paint from in just the right spot to paint. Plus your lighting is unlikely to be ideal for this. Which is why working from photos makes perfect practical sense. View them on an iPad and you can zoom in on them as well as store thousands! For more on this check out this post.
If a permanent art nook is just impossible, it’s likely you can use the dining table or a bit of kitchen worktop with the right chair. Then it’s just a case of tackling head-on the added hassle of having to pack away each time you paint. Here are my tips:
Keeping up momentum when you have to pack away every time
1) Set up a ‘studio in a bag’
At the most basic you literally only need a few items to get going. Of course you’ll need your paints, which can come in a very compact travel tin. Add your brushes, a sketchbook or pad and something to mix your paints on, and you’re ready. You’ll probably find you add handy little bits and pieces to this as you go along. You can neatly pack your art studio into a little bag and hang it on a coat hook. The beauty of this is that you can take it anywhere.
2) Work in a sketchbook
Hard-cover sketchbooks can take a bit of a battering if you need to move them around a lot. They are highly portable and you can rest on them without the need for an easel if you have to. Check out my advice on choosing a suitable sketchbook for working in watercolour (they’re not as easy to find as you may expect).
3) Out of sight, out of mind?
The best thing about having a dedicated space for painting is that you can leave everything set up. The real benefit is that your work invites you back to it later. “Take a seat”, your work calls out, “pick up a brush. Just do a little bit whilst you have a few minutes to spare”.
Without a doubt, the biggest drawback to packing away is that your art work goes out of sight and out of mind. This can hugely affect your momentum.
If this applies to you, keep your work in your sight and in your mind by taking a photograph of it at the end of your session. Then, set it as the wallpaper on your phone. This will help to keep it in your mind and prompt you to come back to it.
You’ll likely also need to muster the extra discipline to schedule time in your diary to paint, like you would with any other appointment.
So many creative people are in the same situation
I asked the community from my online school if any of them have to manage with working from small spaces. Some of them have been kind enough to share pictures and descriptions of their spaces for you to see. Hopefully you’ll get inspired by these REAL spaces that are REALLY working.
In the real world, most of us do not have Instagram-worthy studio spaces. Many artists work from makeshift set-ups and some of us do not have any space at all. Check these out:
Some dedicated art nooks:
Some pack away art studios:
Some more simple set ups:
Over to you…
To find a place in your life for your creative passion, you must first give it a place, however small, in your home.
You are a creative person, so get creative with your space too!
Have you struggled with this issue? Is a lack of suitable studio space holding you back from being creative, or have you found a way around it? I’d love to hear your story, so please leave a comment and even a photo of your space below.
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Thank you so much dear Anna for sharing this. It’s a subject that many of us have in our minds and for those of us who have little space to create, it can become frustrating and mojo killing. I’ve accepted the fact that I work in the kitchen lol, but it’s always comforting to know that so many people face a similar reality. Hugs from Greece ❤️
Whoa! Just reading your blog, Anna, and thinking how lazy I am to have so much space to work in, but not working within it. I live alone and so my space is my own to use as I want, but I haven’t taken advantage of my good fortune. Thanks for a lovely and timely reminder!
Meredith, I am worried that I will be in that same situation as you someday down the road. We recently moved into a home
which had a two story coach house that was abandoned by the previous owners. We had only two choices; take it
down or do a complete renovation to it.
We chose to do the reno, keeping an art studio in mind. We live in Canada, so my fingers are crossed that I will have the
motivation to bundle up and make my way through the snow to get there.
In reading Anna’s post, I love her idea to take a photo of my unfinished painting to keep as wallpaper on my iPad, to keep my interest in the painting fresh. Great idea!
Awesome ideas! Guess now I will have to rethink my space. Thanks for all the good ideas.
My friend and long time art teacher Val Webb has started a new venture: Bindweed Sketchbooks. She finds old books, vintage postcards, and children’s game cards, and makes them into sketchbooks. A wonderful way to start your children on the road to art, as well as honor a favorite old book. I love your stuff, Anna. I have so many interests I have to do “crop rotation” – will get back to the classes this winter. Meanwhile, I gifted a friend with a painting I did in your video class. He is having it framed to hang in one of his rental properties on the St. John, U.S.V.I. (Artistic Villas dot com).
Wow guess no more excuses
Yes thanks for sharing your wounderful journey of painting!
Keep going …best wishes for yet new innovations and beautiful creations
I love seeing all the creative ways to make a dedicated artspace. It’s sometimes I’ve struggled with for a very long time. We live in a motorhome so every space and nook and cranny is at a premium. Here is a pic of my “studio” at the dining table. Of course when we eat everything has to get moved. The cabinet to left is my very own dedicated space for supplies, so some things will go back in the cabinet, others will get put on the counter above it.
Can someone tell me how to post a photo? Would love to show you all my working space but see how to do it.
What do you do with all those wonderful practice paintings
in addition to
reference photos and magazines?
Thanks for encouraging photos!
I’m so excited to read this and excited to watch the DVD of yours that I got from Craftsy! I have lots and lots of places where I can paint, so there’s no excuse not to. Recently I set up my painting space in a corner of the living room where all of my supplies are. I can easily move my painting to a North light window if I need to. I’m also looking forward to taking an online class of yours. There’s so much to do and no time to waste! I have already received the recommended paints and brushes. We have it so good these days. When I was a teenager (over 50 yrs ago) all I had was an old brush with splayed hairs that was falling apart and some India ink. You do what you have to in order to feed your passion!
While I have a designated art studio and is big enough I have trouble keeping it organized. These pics are great to see and an inspiration to reorganize again. I also have a pottery studio so going back and forth between the two.. Thanks for the post Anna! Love seeing ways to “down size”
Thank you so much for this reminder ! It really is a mind set ! Leaving things out is a problem for me, due to the cat and grandchildren.. Watercolor became my choice of paint partly due to this problem. I can”t begin to tell you how many times my cat has decided to paint with me, springing up on my palet and running through the room. And the grandchildren are no longer happy with a cheap child’s set of paints, they want to use mine. So I do pack things away when not painting, which has resulted in painting less. Love the idea of putting a photo of what you are working on the telephone as wallpaper. I am going to try that. I love all your tips, videos and encouragement. Thanks again for not giving up on all of us “want to be painting people ” Betty
Wow… Thank you all so much for sharing your working spaces!
I am spoilt & have my own room (albeit small) but I have lots of other interests… Too many! So why do I find it difficult to get motivated? Ok, I have issues but I’m sure no more than anyone else. Paints are at the ready etc, my time is my own… So why isn’t it working for me? Any advice would be well reviewed!
I recently joined the craft group at my local church. The crafter ladies were keen to see me working and they love my paintings (thanks Anna for teaching this great method). I had to fit my art materials into a bag that I can take on the tram, so I discovered I really don’t need much. Just paintbox, a couple of brushes and a small block of arches paper. At the church hall they have glasses for water, kitchen towel and plates for palettes. Only snag – don’t over wet your paints or they get all mixed up on the journey home!
Also – I wanted to see if I could paint in public, as I have an exhibition coming up where I have to invigilate and I’ll have to do something while I sit there else I’ll go crazy. I find it’sOK as long as I don’t join in with the gossip or I lose focus, so it’s been useful.
They make stuffed toys while I paint!
My husband and I are retired and have a guest bedroom. That bedroom was only used several times a year. What a waste of space! But, I still wanted to have a place for overnight guests when they came. My solution? I simply put up a utility table in the middle of the twin beds. I set up all my equipment on top of the table. I have stacks of art books on the bed and the chest is full of rarely used equipment and painting ideas. When guests do come, I put everything away, clean the room thoroughly, voila! It’s back to a proper guest room.
I loved this article. It is exactly the reason I don’t bother to take out my paints I have nowhere I can leave them without having to tidy away every time. I found this a great inspiration. Thank you Anna. Your paintings are amazing ❤️
I use a cheap pc desk with shelves and a slide out shelf ( for keyboard) set up permanently in one end of conservatory. Light is excellent as multi windows and desk on wheels so can move it around to change direction of light. Standard lamp with three daylight bulbs I took advice from lady running a good lighting shop which type to buy these are virtually everlasting helps in winter light. I need to get a holder for tablet like yours where available ?
My studio is in a large wicker picnic basket, easy to put away when company comes as I paint out in the living room.. Thank you for inspiring me to keep at it. I don’t belong to your school, but I still inhale every bit of what you say and show us. Thank you, Thank you!!!
What an inspiring post! I love it! That´s so true, so many great artists, even professionals, spend years working on a kitchen o dining table cause they don´t have a fancy studio. The other way round is also true: having a great wonderful place to work at doesn´t magically make you a great artist. 🙂
Oh, oh, oh, and what a great advice to let your paints and brushes visible for you cause it truly invites to grab them and so something!
Thank you for sharing, Anna!
Here is my tiny little set up in the corner of my sons room! The kids do their computer work in another little desk next to me and keep me company. The convenience of watercolor has been the reason I have been able to keep painting! I have a 27″x27″ ikea pub table used as a standing desk, with a drafting chair and it has been my permanent setup for 4 years and will be…until my now 7 year old son kicks me out!
Over the years, thinking I would get back to my art “some day”, I collected a lot of art tools and supplies. Since they were really just taking up space, I can’t tell you how many times I thought about selling them at any one of our many yard sales, but by God’s grace I never did! We have this “rec-room” behind our basement garage that had become our storage space – full of all kinds of junk! We had installed large heavy metal storage shelves in there for more space to collect store even more. Well, once I got bitten by the bug to paint again, thanks to discovering AnnaMasonArt.com, I realized we could do without a lot of that stuff, so I spent a couple of days reorganizing that space, getting rid of a lot of junk, and setting it up as my studio. I love that it can stay set up just the way I leave it and can go down there anytime I wish and easily get back in to my mental “happy place”. I agree with you Anna, it’s really important to have a “dedicated space” where you can leave it all set up, no matter how big or small it is – you are much more likely to make time to paint if you do.
I agree completely! My biggest luxury in having a dedicated studio space was not having to pack it all away. I have Asperger’s and so quite often have a head full of ideas and thoughts. I have folders and trays where all the inspirations, tubes of colour etc. sit and when I’m ready there it is! Being 62 it also compensates for some hazy memory moments, as long as put stuff into it’s tray the minute I think of it . I am totally aware however how lucky I am.
Wow, perfect timing!
I have had a block (long story) and now realise it is exactly what you have written about! I have very little space!
Now!!! I will find myself a bag or box that will hold my equipment and get going again.
Thanks to you and your lovely friends that have posted their small working spaces.
After my house flooded everything I owned was either lost or stored. I was fortunate enough to be able to relocate and build another house. It took over a year. I included a painting/craft/ sewing room. I’m still getting settled but love my space.
Wow, you’ve been through it Kathy! But out the other side. And with a lovely art space. Happy painting there!
Thank you Anna for sharing my Art Room is my spare bedroom which when I feel better will start to decorate it in a nice pale cream miss your site but will wait until you have a special offer on and rejoin again.
I love seeing other people’s spaces !
I paint sitting on my sofa, a small table to my front right loaded with brushes, paints water etc, my paper is stuck down onto a board which has a mount on the back, that is then screwed onto my camera tripod. Over my right shoulder, but a bit behind, I have a mid height daylight lamp. It works for me , well after a fashion ! I keep my brushes in a brush tree which is wonderful
My iPad is usually along with scrap paper and other junk on my left on the sofa.
My lounge is the lightest room, plus it has a cosy log burner.
Our spare bedroom (north facing ) has been turned into a play room full of playmobil etc for grandchildren as they are here several days a week, so that said good bye to my studio /crafts etc room .
Thanks so much Anna – it’s exactly what I need to get it all my materials out again! I moved in June to a smaller house so don’t have a studio any more but you’ve given me the impetus to get a grip and get on with it again!! X
Oh good! Downsizing can be a challenge. But you can make it work!
Beware of the giant studio that has everything you can imagine in it’s perfect spot. I have been painting, crafting, quilting for 30 plus years. I really go through cycles of favorites. As my boys were growing up, we moved frequently (military) and space to work was a premium. It was usually the dinner table that had to be cleared for a meal, or sometimes we ate at the coffee table (fun!) when I had a piece that needed finished. Time was a premium also, as I worked full time as well. Fast forward to a time when the boys moved out, we had a permanent home and I built a beautiful space in an extra room. Everything had a place. Paints, fabrics, and thread all organized and arranged in color order. I had to take a leave of absence from work for about 8 month and found that with everything perfect I was afraid to mess up the room! My creativity was stifled and I found myself longing for the messier space that inspired other ideas.
I resolved the problem by one day, with tears in my eyes thinking I lost the creative mojo for good, I just started pulling fabric off the shelves and mixed it up into possible combinations. I got out all of the watercolors and mixed up the brands! Colored pencils were no longer in drawers categorized by color and softness, etc. This helped so much. I was no longer afraid of messing up the space and “using” the materials. I also took down all of the pretty home-dec items that hung on the walls and put up my work that had not sold and prints of those that did. I am still working on getting rid of all of the duplicates of things I will never use and with that I am sure piece of mind will come and allow me to create in a more comfortable space. Good luck to all that has had this problem on either side of the issue. Thanks to Anna for an open, honest discussion.
Hi you are so right, I am always wanting my space and have a ongoing discussion with my husband as he has taken over the study as his man cave. It’s so unfair as he uses a little corner for a laptop which could be used anywhere and I’m moving around the house setting up for a few hours and then having to put everything away as we want dinner on the table I have been using. If only I could leave things out to carry on the next time. I have a friend that designs rooms so she is invited for dinner very soon and hope we can redesign the study to suit us both. So watch this space and will send photos if it happens but I’m not holding my breath.
Yes, I have finally found my space in the house. It is difficult to keep putting your paints away.hopefully I can get down to some painting and learning.
Anna. I have plenty of space in my large bedroom. My problem is I suffer from chronic fatigue. I spent as much time as possible in the garden in the sunny weather to get as much sun as I could. I’ll be back to my art soon, I’ve really missed it and am really pleased with what I’ve learned and my paintings. I’d love to paint much more, but with my health i just cant. Kindest regards to you and the team
So true about “out of sight, out of mind”. I have a little easel that I keep my unfinished work on. I can keep looking at it to see where I need to make adjustments and because it’s sitting there where I can see it every day (in my bedroom), it calls out to me to finish it. When I take the finished piece down, the empty space cries out for another piece, so I’m prodded to start painting something else.
Inspiring, as ever! My daughter has moved out of what was the best room in the house. Light, view, space – so sad as I may be I am trying to claim the space and make it my own. Slow progress as I AVE injured my wrists. But Will post pics as soon as it is ready.
Thank you so much for this post! I don’t feel so alone or pressurised to have a perfect studio! As much as I love Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and all the social media platforms I do think they create unrealistic expectations. My dream is a dedicated studio but for now I work where I can.
So thank you for being real! Congratulations on your Sweetie Pie by the way!
This hit home and cracks me up at the same time! My “ studio” is in the basement, it stays cold and it’s a storage heap because I don’t regularly go in there!
I do my best work between the kitchen or the family room.
I paint precariously in my easy chair, balancing my palette on my lap/chair and my water cup on a TV tray.
I teach art all day and when I want to paint I’m either at the kitchen table or in my easy chair.
I find I get my energy, inspiration and motivation in the moment.
I feel that my studio is too formal.
One day, if we ever move to the countryside, I will have a open studio, most likely a garage that it set for this.
I plan for a couch, easy chair and TV so that my family can hang while I create.
I guess I thrive on chaos and frenetic activity and the solitude of an empty room actually clutters my mind with the thoughts I can’t escape!❤️
You were spot on with your observations Anna. It is easy to look for reasons not to paint, but you’ve not got to let these thoughts stop you, that’s what I keep telling myself.
I take a picture of the finished painting and put on my phone. It inspires me to do more because I feel proud of my work.
Really so great Idea, This post is really so helpful for me. I am a painter so i was looking for setup a art studio. This post make my job easier. Thanks for sharing
Thank you Anna , so interesting to see how others manage .
I usually paint at the kitchen table as there is more light there.
Then move everything to the bedroom when grandchildren arrive
then set up more paints for them!
Feel so much better now, all this time I thought I was in a minority struggling with space ! Thankyou for sharing.
I guess my studio space isn’t as bad as I thought! Thanks for that informative article. No more whimpering about space. I just need to get busy
Anna, my nephew recently took a liking to art and is starting to draw and paint quite a bit himself. He asked me to help him find ways to paint on the go and I came across your blog. I love how you talked about setting up a studio in a bag that allows you to paint anywhere with things such as paints, a few brushes, and a sketchbook or pad. I will keep these tips in mind as we search for a professional who we can get a drafting bag from.
So pleased to be helping you get creative Vivian, thanks for leaving a comment!
oh if you only knew,
Whenever i get a chance to paint, it is an ordeal.
My only place to paint is at the kitchen table, Where all the action is in my house, so in order to paint i have to bring everything to the kitchen table. Where i have to clean a spot before i can paint. Don’t get me wrong, I love the aspect of being in the center of chaos all around me. Well enough about my situation I love what you have taught me Anna. You are a wonderful teacher. I can’t wait to see what our next project will be. Thank you again.
Thanks for the reminders….couple clever ideas for me to think about. With recent move, with reno not finished the only space I have is part of dining room table at times, and the sofa. I don’t even know where alot of my not so broad spectrum art supplies are since moving! However, I do have a bag that has a WC palette, some CPs, brushes, papertowels, aquabrushes, and a couple small sketchbooks. I can grab it for the table, or for the road. I also have a rubbermaid container with misc sized WC paper pads that fits under a living room chair (no I haven’t decorated it to match the furniture), and a small box of professional markers (new to experiment with WC and Colored pencils due to a hand wrist injury….have to keep doing something!) in a closable box with a handle sits nicely at the end of the sofa. So if all I have the space, time, or awakeness for is doodle-sketching its right within arms reach. Due to an accident my nervous system cannot handle working in small tight spaces for hardly any length of time no matter when size the project. So working on ways to keep creatively flowing inspite of limitations. Was working on a project this week for a business and literally ran out of any workable room in my house to work on it. I just told them I was coming in to work on their project, and needed space with good lighting. That day they offered the entire committee-conference room. The table could sit probably a dozen of these tiny studio spaces pictured. Because of size of project I used 90 percent of the space. My point…be mobile, and willing to ask when you have to have more space for that special project whether personal or for hire. Made all the difference for me! I made it mobile, asked, spread it out, prayed, and finished the project the day I mobilized it. Figuring out workable creative space is a continuous on going reality for me.
I am not going to lie, I almost started to cry because it seemed so much like my life now. I was single and painted all of the time and used my own home as “studio space”..because it was my space. But I got married into a family with a husband and young twin boys and that changed my entire life forever including moving away from where I lived into a smaller home with children who have more energy than I could ever imagine myself having in a minutes time. lol I love my new family but I have very little to absolutely no time to paint…not even draw. I feel like..now that my attention and time has changed, I could no longer purse a great love…ART. Neither do I have the space but reading this was more than helpful and inspiring beyond belief. I have the Lord in my life as well and I know that He will make a way for things to grow …I mean..He IS the one who gave me such a passion and desire for art. So surely, my Lord and Savior would open up time, space, and opportunities to do what I love to do. And I thank God for who He is and for creating me. Thank you so much for creating this website. God Bless you.
I have a designated space, at.the back of my room. It has become quite hot, despite having the airconditioner on. I guess with the global warming and everything.I put up a small studio space near the living room, so now the
TV distracts me. Thanks for your pieces of advice. I will have to decide where.I will be,
to be more productive.
I am indonesian,and I stayed in Samosir island north sumatra.eventhouth I can’t speak english very well.I tryed to wrote this to say your creation are very good.nice to know you and your painting.Thank you alot.
We chose a small house when we bought and didn’t opt for a spare bedroom even. We have a hotel around the corner so why pay more for a room we won’t use often. However due to the space that artworks take up, I stopped painting, drawing and everything else, It took a good friend convincing me to do the October drawing challenge to get be back on the horse. I only have a dining table and a cluttered desk so I have been painting on the dining table and then i tape my WIP on to the door when I am done for the moment. I would love a dedicated art space but it’s not realistic! I used to have one with lots of light and it was fabulous. I now sit with a need to put my art somewhere, and so there is that at the moment. I have recently started working smaller and purchased watercolours to work smaller too. It’s certainly important to continue creating. I now am looking for ideas and this page is good. I plan to get a little easel, a bit of hardboard to mount my work on while i am working with it and that way i can move it easier from the table when I am still working on it..
It’s an added barrier when you have to consider space Nicola, but it can be done, and working smaller is a great idea. Embrace it 🙂
I remember having to put away my paints every time. Now I have a studio on my back patio which I love with air and heat. We saved our money to have it built and it is worth it.
Hi dear Anna I’m Anna too by the way!
Thanks for your advice it was really helpful to ease a busy mind like mine!
But despite everything you said I still have a major problem which is sharing a room with my sister! and we only have one desk(there is another one suitable for putting One Book on it!)we have one bed we exchange it every night and the other one sleeps on the ground and there is a Big Piano in here! I’m not trying to nag but my profession is poster color and it requires an expansive place, at least a tiny bit bigger!
And I have a big family in a small house. we are 5 people and we are really noisy(a bit too energized!) So I can’t even paint at the hall cause I can’t concentrate for christ’s sake. Help me, what am I to do?
It fell so good now,all this time i thought i was fighting for a minority seat!Thanks you so much
It’s a really unique idea for using space