Category Archives: studio

On My Table

This is another post inspired by a daily prompt at write alm, On my table. You can also read my response to this week’s Kindred prompt, posted today here.

on my table at

I’m sitting at the art table with G and N. The table has gotten a bit out of control since the Big Studio Clean at the end of the summer. Right now on the table we have:

* my sketchbook, pencils, markers, and wire, along with a full roll of wire;

* pirate hockey stick tape, recently bought and needing to be put away;

* my phone, wireless speaker, and camera;

* a jar of paintbrushes;

* colored tape;

* G’s box of fabric;

* bottles of liquid acrylic paints;

* G’s painting that she’s working on, her reference picture, and her palette, water jar, and cloth;

* N’s canvas, reference picture, palette, water jar, and cloth;

* finished works, in a pile;

* a squash, because it wanted to be a still life;

* tubes of Liquitex Basics acrylic paint;

* the big wooden caddy I built at Squam, full of glass jars of sorted supplies;

* a tray holding odds and ends, and a bowl holding other odds and ends;

* a metal ruler;

* a pad of Bristol board paper;

* a handmade snow globe;

* a wooden model of the human figure;

* a box of wet wipes.

My art table is where creativity blooms, where problems are worked out, where some of the best family time happens. It’s also where frustration sometimes blooms–mine, the kids’, alone or together. But it is the center of our finished basement, where the contractor assumed we’d want a carpeted family room with a TV. “No,” I said. “We’re going to have a washable floor, a utility sink, and the largest table we can manage.”

Labeling the Studio

(Inspired by the project “Water-Slide Decal Jars” in Print Workshop by Christine Schmidt.)

Materials: Photocopy of your child’s art and a copy of the book. I can’t find instructions online (although she blogs here and might include it as a project sometime, who knows?!) and I want to encourage you to buy the book yourself, because it’s so inspiring! But I can tell you that all the materials we needed were right in our house, except for the photocopier–our printer will make copies, but ink jet won’t work.

So. I had no idea water-slide decal paper even existed, but it does, and it allows you to print your own decals and then, like the name says, soak them in water and slide the decal off the backing. According to Christine Schmidt, her way is easier and doesn’t involve sealers or special adhesives. When I read the directions, I wondered how on earth this could possibly work–how can I make a photocopy, then get the ink to stick to the decal while the paper rubs away? But it’s in a book and all, so I decided to have faith and try it out.

This was the result:

My double-pointed knitting needles sit in an old pickle jar by my knitting chair, and I decided to make the jar a snazzy label using a stamp I’d drawn and carved. Nice, huh? The boys thought so, too. Since we never recycle glass jars in this house unless the label is completely stubborn, we have lots of stuff in glass jars in the studio–markers, pencils, buttons, paintbrushes, pretty much anything that can fit in a glass jar is in one. The boys thought drawing labels was a smashing idea. (Click to embiggen pictures.)

At one point I heard one of them say, “Let’s label everything in the world!” Oh, I do love me some organization! I arranged the labels onto two sheets, and sixty cents at the library later (and that’s because I made two copies of each, just in case), we were in business.

It’s hard to see the labels very well with stuff in the jars, but they’re there. I learned some things along the way, and I realize that if you don’t have the book, this won’t make much sense, but I’ll share them in case you do buy or borrow the book and you decide to try this project.

One, I think the photocopier at my husband’s work is better than the one at the library. He photocopied the knitting label for me, and when I peeled the paper backing off, all the ink stayed where it was supposed to. Not so much with the library photocopies, so for subsequent labels, I burnished them much harder with the bone folder before soaking. That helped quite a bit. (Inconveniently, my husband is in Chile this week, far far from his work photocopier.)

Second, it’s hard to catch everything when doing this with kids.

On one of those decals up there, I didn’t get all the white paper off in one little spot, but I didn’t notice the straggler until we’d already Mod Podge’d the decal onto the jar. Oh, well.

But that’s about it! Really, this is ridiculously easy and the wow factor is huge. So huge that when we began peeling paper away, both boys said, “WOW!” It’s really cool to watch how the ink stays behind. It doesn’t seem possible, somehow. I felt like we should be muttering incantations or something.

Meanwhile, the boys were drawing, writing, and designing, and my oldest decided to practice his cursive while he was at it. They had free reign to design the labels any way they wanted, as long as they fit on the jars (or mostly fit, in one or two instances!). The buttons one might my favorite, although “brushes” runs a close second. I was having a hard time getting a good picture, even with the jar emptied (and whew, I had no idea the button jar still smelled so strongly of salsa!). This was the best I could do:

I think our studio now has the coolest organization system!

New Additions to the Studio

Just one major one, really: a chalkboard.

Eventually that wall is going to be orange, like the rest of the walls, and there will be a full frame around the blackboard, and it and the ledge at the bottom will be painted purple. We also need to tilt the ledge a bit, because the chalk rolls off. (We made due with what we found in the edging section at Home Depot.)

To be honest, it’s making a heck of a mess at the moment, but it’s in the studio, so it’s not really a big deal. I scooped G up and set her on the step stool to wash the chalk off her hands (and face!), and later I noticed little chalky footprints on the step stool. Made me smile.

And a little addition… pink paper. Card stock, really.

The other day I was picking up some sewing notions and G declared that she needed some pink paper. The closest we could find was a package of card stock that included pink. G held onto that package of pink card stock in the car and told me when we got home, we needed to bring the pink paper downstairs and she would stick tape onto it. She had a plan, she had a clear need and desire, and she felt strongly about it. And she was pleased with her creation, so pleased she brought it upstairs and put it on the play table and kept it nearby.

She’s right, too. Our studio was lacking in pink paper. This was an easy request to say yes to. I try to say YES as often as I can. This is fairly easy with a toddler, given the attention span. I know when she asks to paint, she’ll be painting for, usually, fewer than fifteen minutes. I can set her up in the time it takes me to switch a load of laundry.

Art activities, especially at this age, do not have to be Big Productions–this can seem overwhelming to the adult, and halt a lot of exploration before it can get started. In our house, we have crayons and colored pencils easily accessible upstairs as well as downstairs. Down in the art studio, G knows that oil pastels, pencils, tape, and paint are all readily available. The easel has paint cups set up; I just need to pull down a fresh sheet of paper and gather the paintbrushes while she takes off the paint covers. She likes to put the brushes in the paint cups herself. When she’s done, she can cover the paint back up while I rinse the brushes.

If at all possible, if space at all permits, it’s worth it to have a corner where some basic supplies are handy and accessible. It makes it so much easier to say YES.

Basics: Our Studio

Don’t you love getting a peek into other folks’ creative spaces? I do. There are so many ways to solve the problem of how to create an art space in your home. We’ve only had a dedicated art/craft area for about a year. Before that, I made do, sometimes more successfully than others. When my boys were small, I didn’t provide as many creative opportunities as I’d have liked, simply because the logistics got me down. (They’re 2 1/2 years apart; many of those early days, the logistics of keeping them both fed, clothed, and clean got me down.)

Because we have a galley kitchen, our dining room table is also where we eat, which meant art projects needed to be cleaned up within a set amount of time. For a while I had a small table and an easel in our spare room/office, and the carpet tells the tale of many creative encounters with paint and play dough. When the room got too crowded for an easel, I bought a roll of cork and nailed it into the wall and pinned paper onto it. The year we homeschooled, I carved out an area in our unfinished basement and set up a table; I simply had to bring jugs and bins of water downstairs whenever we did wet-on-wet watercolor painting, which wouldn’t have been so difficult if I hadn’t been very pregnant (and then slinging a newborn).

This is all to say that the perfect studio space is probably never going to be achieved in the typical family home, but we do the best we can with what we have on hand (and we don’t feel guilty when we see other people’s wonderful-looking studios!). It’s also to say, when we decided last year it was finally time to finish the basement, which had been the plan from the time we bought the house, I made sure we got an art/craft area down there, and a utility sink. The contractor seemed a bit confused at first–he assumed the middle area would be some sort of common room, right? Couch, TV, video console type of thing? Um, no.

From the bottom up: I chose a vinyl flooring, because who cares if something spills on it? Let it get messy. The walls are bright because of the one major flaw in this space (remember, nothing is going to be perfect)–it has no natural lighting. I have four ceiling lights, and I have daylight bulbs in all of them. This is good enough to fool my camera into thinking it’s outside, and I think it’s the best we can do in a basement. (Other rooms in the basement have windows, but this area does not.)

In the bottom left you can see the easel. Behind where I’m standing is the laundry area, with my beloved utility sink and a shelf that holds drying paintbrushes along with laundry detergent. I strung some line in there with some mini-clothespins. Some days bathing suits are drying there; other days, art projects. Behind the easel, near the table, is our Learning Tower. I coveted one of these from the time I first had a toddler, and we finally bought one last year. Since our table is counter height, this is perfect for her to join us at the art table.

Speaking of our table, it’s not only tall, it’s huge.

We (meaning mostly my husband) made it ourselves. I searched online and came across a table that looked much like this and cost a fortune. I said, Hey, can we make this? And he said, Sure. The ends are the nine-cubby shelf systems you can find in Home Depot or Lowe’s. We got two of those and a huge sheet of melamine for the top and put it all together. The top is about 72″ long and 40″ wide and everything wipes off melamine. You can buy stuff at the hardware store to seal the rough edges so they don’t cut anyone or snag on anything. If we ever move, we’ll have to take the whole thing apart.

But look at all the storage I get with this! This is where I store just about all of our art supplies–paints of all kinds, markers, paper, crayons, paint brushes, collage materials, odds and ends that might be useful, anything at all I’ve collected over the years, it’s here. I also keep my sewing and knitting books in these shelves. Yes, all of this is accessible to my toddler and it has been for the past year. (The scissors are kept on the table itself, so she has to ask for those.) Yes, she’s gone on some shelf-emptying sprees, but mostly minor, and she’s learned to respect the materials and ask for what she’d like to use, for the most part.

(You can also see what we sit on while we create–stools, because the table is higher than normal. And I love the black and white floor with the black stools and white table. Just do.)

On the far wall, did you see the ledge? That comes with the basement. It’s so useful.

The permanent markers are up there, as I haven’t introduced them to my toddler yet. The boys can reach them themselves, though.

Under the table is, well, a mess.

Yikes! This is where I keep my bins of yarn and bags of fabric, the painting boards, and any pads that are too big to fit in the cubbies. On the right you can see we have a narrow shelf right under the table surface, which is under quite a bit of duress right now. Originally I planned to keep my cutting mat and large metal rulers there, but I’ve added some watercolor pads, too. You can also see some loose felt under the table, left over from a recent sewing project (troll hats!). I haven’t found a place for it yet, since I seem to have acquired an awful lot of felt, too.

So that’s our studio. It’s not perfect, but I love it, and right after we finally finished the basement I dreamed that we had to move and in my dream, I was most upset at leaving the art/craft area behind. If you have a post that features your creative space, I’d love if you left a link to it!