Organizing a Small Studio on a Budget

From 2001-2006 I lived in a special bubble called Art School. We were given our own studio spaces, had access to amazing equipment and had professionals on hand to critique us during every stage of our artistic process. Now I need to do it all myself, in a small apartment. Not only is it a space to make art, but a business space where I need to keep track of paperwork and packaging for my Etsy business. Here's some tips to help you swing it like I have.

my new, tiny creation corner
  • In tight space? Build up. High shelves, peg boards, even old silverware dividers from dishwashers work to keep your clutter off your table space or the floor.
  • About tables. Get something sturdy and mobile. Wheels make it easy to move one in-progress projects out of the way and the open spaces of most folding tables leave room for storage or smaller pull-out tables.
  • Get a storage system. I personally do a lot of mixed media and need to know where all of my random crap is. I recommend clear containers as the easiest solution. Another option is to color coordinate. Fabric stored this way looks beautiful.
  • Create stations. Everything needs to have a place and artists in the middle of work are notoriously chaotic. I have one area just for packaging, weighing and printing labels. All of my materials are kept on moving shelf carts and my table is left for in-progress projects only.
  • How about equipment? I had to find a small, portable way to photograph my items. See the tutorial here. I keep my larger tools, like a sewing machine and a table loom under my work table unless I use them. For even bigger stuff, consider renting from a local art gallery/museum, an art community center that offers classes or a guild in your area. Many times you can rent their space or tools for a single project.
  • Tailor your space to your palette and aesthetic. I can't paint my rented walls, but I can tape up my favorite paint samples for free from the hardware store. I try to find dishes and trays at flea markets to organize projects and materials with a retro sensibility. Surround yourself with inspiration!
  • Finally, do weekly weeding. Try to find one day a week to get rid of junk you aren't using or don't need. Put away what you aren't using and mail out sold orders to make room for new.
Leave me your ideas and creative solutions :)


Moving to the Country...

I am moving to Geneseo, NY. The halfway point between Rochester and my new job. Actually I am sitting in a cafe on Main Street in Geneseo right now among SUNY Geneseo students, until the internet is installed in my apartment. If I had a genie grant me three wishes right now, this is what they would be:

  1. Don't let my street team kick me off for technically living 25 minutes south of Rochester.
  2. Please help me find crafty friends over the age of 25 here.
  3. Find me a sushi place within 10 miles.


Gifts from the Vintage Gods

I am dead in the middle of moving. Into a new apartment and into a new classroom in a new school district. It's exciting, scary and stressful, but every now and again something awesome happens to make it all worthwhile. The teacher before me taught for over 35 years in this particular classroom and literally threw nothing out. She also left everything she had accumulated over the years behind. Over the next three weeks it is my job to bring this room back to order and choose what to keep or chuck. At the same time I feel like I am learning about this woman, like an archeologist studies buried cities. Here are this weeks finds:

Stacks of Cigar Afficianado magazine, including this Tom Selleck edition. Hottie's going in a frame for my mom.

This Native Funk & Flash DIY clothing how-to. Love the butt shot on the cover! Although there's nothing native about this that I can see, it is definitely full of funk and flash.

A Kodak Instamatic 100 film camera in the original box from the 1960's. I'm going to have to ebay the film for it.

BOXES of buttons!My personal favorite is the button with the uncomfortable prune that says 'start a movement. eat a prune'. She also left the button maker, hundreds of unused buttons and a catalog of ready to use button pictures from 1984.

Stacks of ads and illustrations from magazines for use in collages, from the early 1900's on. The black and white undergarment ads are especially nice.

I can't to see what else I dig up!


Long Burning Embers

Sometimes my art students ask how I learned to draw. Figure drawing and observed nature studies? Constant sketching? Wild conceptual experiments in art school perhaps?

Sometimes, to surprise them, I say: tracing and how-to draw books!

OK, not exactly. I was drawing all the time as a youngster. Between the ages of 5 and 10 though, I do have to give a lot of credit to tracing my favorite children's illustrations and a few choice how-to books. Now don't call me a copycat yet. Within that there was also a lot of pure creative exploration, but tracing professional work definitely gave me a tactile sense of what this line and that shape does on a page.

One of my favorites to learn from was Ed Emberley. It seems so elementary now, but there's still something I like about it. The pages covered with multiple steps, in bright (now retro) colors. The simple shapes with tiny details of dot eyes or whiskers or scales. The bold lettering. I think that aesthetic is in my etsy work and personal artwork still.

*The pictures above come from a recent exhibition in L.A. called "Ed Emberley and Friends" curated by Caleb Neelon, at the Scion Installaion Gallery.


Research Your Demographic

Yesterday was my third art market of the year, A Midsummer ARTfest (more on that later). Throughout the last three shows I have kept a reciept book, a.) to look legit b.) to keep my accounts in order and c.) to take notes on my buyers. I want to know who likes the buenahelena brand? Last fall I made a list of the audience I wanted buenahelena to aim for. It went something like this:

"Cooky feminist girls, who are smart and fun, with a taste for retro and vintage color and pattern, who love all things strange, funny and unorthodox, and who love a good party."

Although I don't have the faces and stories of my buyers on Etsy, they do tend to be female. Seeing particular people's eyes light up in person is much more telling. Here's who's been buying at the markets so far:
  • Babies. Ok not babies, but little girls age 3-5 LOVE my button rings....because they think they're candy.
  • Pre-teen girls. They want the upcycled jewelry too.....a sale hinges on how much influence she can win over mom/dad by making puppy eyes over an expectant smile.... truly suspenseful.
  • A lot of women ages 20-50, dig my 'In Bed' and 'Pin Up's with Pit Hair' art cards/editions. First they look, then they laugh, then they search all of them and then they say "Oh this one is perfect for (fill in awesomely quirky friend's name)". However, I have a fabulous repeat customer who bought 2 for herself at separate shows. Love you!
  • My cocktail napkin coasters go by and large to two seemingly distant demographics. Mom's buying humorous dorm gifts for college bound children and gay male couples. Go figure?
  • Tea cup candles have the most sales to young urban singles. Many others love the idea and openly ponder doing it themselves. Sales lost...but creativity spread.
  • Button rings have been weak online, but sell like hot cakes at the markets. Maybe it is the ability for customers to try them on and hold them up to their outfits, which for whatever reason always magically match.
  • Matchbook notepads are hot sellers for guys and girls of all ages. Always, always have a little, inexpensive item at your table that catches the eye.
  • My new matchstick/spool paintings are going fast to settled home owners. One wanted them in a triptych for his living room. Another for her dining room. For something I just came up with in July and haven't even gotten to list on Etsy yet, they've found a niche I never accounted for.
Photo by my table buddy Robert Frank (thanks!)

So back to a Midsummer ARTfest...what a wonderful event! It was produced by Marisa Krol, an artist who I met and traded with at Boulderfest. Always ready for strange connections, I discovered that we both participated in a rare art program in high school with local artist Loree Harpole. This was her first self created event and was my most successful this year in terms of the ratio of hours/sales/good crowd/fun vendors.