Notes from the Studio

The Compact Art Studio, Part 3

Shelves for picture frames

Frame storage should be designed to allow frames to set on end, not stacked.  I built shelving in the studio closet, which has 2’ of inaccessible space at one end.  Were it being used as a bedroom, that is where you would stuff your off-season clothes.


  • Two 1x12”x5’ pine boards
  • Four 6’ standards
  • Clips for the standards (four for each shelf)
  • Enough 1x12” pine to make as many shelves as you need
  • Wood block (scrap) the same thickness as your floor molding—use the block as a spacer between the wall and the board at the top, so it stands vertically.

I went cheap on these shelves, using materials left over from another home.  It would be a more useful system had I purchased plywood and made the system two feet deep, completely filling the available space.

One nice thing about these shelves is that they fit in their space by pressure.  Nothing is attached to the walls, so if you rent your home you can install this without damage.  In a different home we used this same system running the width of a 5-6’ closet—that held lots of stuff!

I specialize in paintings 8x10” and smaller.  12” deep shelves accommodate frames this size.  If you work larger you will require deeper shelves made of plywood.

While on shelves, keep your frames padded.  I sew old bath towels into bags, and while you cannot see which frame is inside, that frame will never get scuffed.  If the frames are new, the corner protectors are sufficient.

Many artists will frown on this, however I currently paint in only two sizes.  This is very economical in both space and money:  My frame inventory never needs to be as large as my painting inventory.  Paintings can be shifted in and out of frames as needed for exhibit.  During good economic times, and when I had a grand studio, I worked in more sizes.  That just doesn’t fit my life now.

Next week:  While I wrote this series on the “Compact Studio” I thought of other ways artists could make extremely limited spaces work.  I’ll write about those in case you find them useful.

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The Compact Art Studio, Part 2

Behind-the-door drying rack

In my last blog I wrote about the choice of easel and furniture in a small art studio.  Today is about “the drying rack”, which serves several purposes.  In many ways it is the nerve center of my studio, and it really helps me stay organized.  In this studio the shelves are on the wall behind the door.  In a prior studio (when I was young and willing to climb ladders) I had one long shelf near the ceiling.  Behind the door is much more accessible.

What the shelves do:

  • They keep the oil paintings fully visible/accessible, making it easier to determine needed adjustments
  • They offer a clean and safe place for paintings to dry
  • They provide a sorting area for paintings that need to be photographed, varnished, or selected for exhibit.
  • It is handy storage space  for unframed paintings.


Behind the door on that otherwise wasted expanse of wall with 4” of available depth.


  • 4” brackets (not available in any of the big-box hardware stores.  I found these online at     4” brackets are a little pricey, but they allow the shelves to be adjustable.
  • Two 6’ standards from Lowes or Home Depot.  Brackets and standards are usually interchangeable between brands, so buying standards from Lowes or Home Depot saved a lot of money.
  • A doorstop in the door hinge guarantees the door cannot bash the shelves and paintings.
  • 1x4”x5’ oak was used for the shelves.  Oak is expensive, but it does not warp like pine does.
  • ½ x1” cheap trim was glued and tacked to the front of each shelf to keep things from sliding off.

Prior to installing these shelves, I stored my small paintings in little plastic letter organizers from Office Depot.  It worked well as an extremely compact drying/storage device, but I could never see the paintings.

I cannot concentrate in a cluttered environment.  However, I know many artists who would go nuts unless they could have all their artsy stuff scattered about, exuding creative energy.  How you design your compact studio has to be determined by how you work best.  Google “art studio design” and you will find sites that offer many more ideas.

Next week:  Frame storage in the closet.

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The Compact Efficient Art Studio

Easel with small footprint, mobile "taborets", steel compact bookcases.

 We live in an era of downsizing and doubling-up.  For many, studio space is getting squeezed.   My next three blog entries will show you how I’ve dealt with creating an efficient painting studio out of a fraction of the space I used to enjoy.

I am fortunate.  I have a whole room (a smallish second bedroom sans bed) for office, sewing, and art.  Multi-purposing an art studio provides many distractions from creativity.  The trick is to make it efficient enough to move from one activity to another with little hassle.

One side of the room contains a high-boy dresser, a large L-shaped secretary’s desk and the fold-out sewing machine cabinet.  You don’t need to see photos of those.  It is the studio side you want to see.

Cornerstone of the studio wall is the Maybef Lyre easel, a sturdy beechwood tripod that has a small footprint.   I wrote an article in my enewsletter, The Palette Keeper, about the easels in my life—you might enjoy itThe easel is flanked by three microwave stands on wheels, which can easily be reconfigured for framing projects.  These “taborets” hold a tremendous amount of painting paraphernalia plus a paper cutter and a box of mini-frames.  They roll easiest on hard floors or low-pile carpeting with no padding.  The Persian rug is very thick wool and provides cushion while standing at the easel.

Beautiful oak bookcases had to be replaced with something more space efficient.  We had two vintage 1970’s olive green steel bookcases in a storage room that fit the bill.  You can’t get more compact and sturdy—or ugly.  We shortened one of them.  Together, they contain my much reduced library, as well as framing materials and a compact HEPA filter.

The ceilings are 9’ high.  A tall person could make good use of high wall space with cabinets and shelves, but I am short and have retired from climbing ladders and step-stools.

A four-tube flourescent fixture in the center of the ceiling lights the entire room.  No auxiliary lamps are needed, saving lots of surface space.

This is not the perfect art studio.  Working in a compact setting requires a certain amount of self-discipline:  You must keep art supplies limited to those you actually use.   I finally had to admit to a downside:  By defining myself exclusively as a painter of small works my brushwork and compositions become continually tighter.  I need the expressive space of larger panels, once in a while, to maintain looser brushwork in the small paintings.  I'll find a way to accomodate the occassional larger paintings and frames, but it does introduce a complication into my tidy studio plan.  In designing your studio space, allow yourself to change and improve it as you discover ways in which it constricts you.

Next week:  The coup de grace:  A drying, sorting and storage rack for oil paintings!

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