Finding Space & Time for Making Art (Without Having Space or Time)

When I was in college, it was stressed constantly and emphatically by professors that after graduating, you had to make time every day to create artwork. EVERY DAY. The lasting impression was that I would end up a total failure if I dropped this ball. I did, of course, drop that ball. For me, painting everyday has felt like it requires a studio, a fancy easel, and a nanny.

I think, though, I'm changing things - and not feeling particularly like a failure. There are ways to find space, time, and resources for creating art regularly when you're facing challenges and constraints. Let's break down each challenge...


Where to work.

The internet is full of gorgeous pictures of artist's studios - Design*Sponge even has an entire series dedicated to it. That is not even faintly realistic for me, and I'm sure isn't for a lot of people. The advice I usually read is to just "carve out a nook" from a guest room, under a staircase, a spare bedroom, a finished basement, etc. Are there other people out there with too many kids for an empty guest room, and a basement that looks more like a dungeon?

Ideally, you find somewhere quiet enough you can concentrate (unless, like me, you actually work better with sitcoms on in the background) and somewhere you are comfortable. If you're painting in an unheated space and live in a cold climate, it may become an issue. Consider lighting - if you want to paint a bright still-life, a windowless basement might be out - but maybe a corner of your living room would work in a pinch!

Find a place you can work, even if it isn't perfect or beautiful or Pinterest-worthy. Someday, you will have all of that! For now, set up that still-life on your coffee table and start sketching! Do you have to spread your supplies out on your kitchen floor? No shame in that game! (Check out this teeny tiny portable art kit on Pinterest!) Lots of awesome artists have created beautiful work in not so fancy places. Really, talented people paint on city buses - Let go of preconceived notions about where "real artists" paint.

I googled a whole bunch, and put together a few set-up options in case you have a corner to squish a little studio set-up into:

  1. This all-purpose fold-down table has so many little cubbies built into it, and if you have a spot with some wall-space sounds great.
  2. The Ikea Norden table has storage drawers and TWO sides that fold down. That's right, TWO.
  3. A rolling metal cart like this one looks so clean & sturdy, and I love how they made use of every inch in this example from Pinterest.
  4. If you want something a little more formal looking, a skinny standing easel like this one looks very professional.
  5. The ever-popular Ikea Raskog Utility Cart is an obvious choice, and you can't beat the price at less than $30!

sketchbook / watercolor paints / watercolor brushes

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When to work.

Everyone needs to find the right time for them. I work full-time during regular business hours, so my logical options are late at night after the kids are in bed, weekends, or very early in the morning. Okay, very early in the morning does not actually feel realistic - so scratch that from the list. Be realistic about yourself and your patterns - are you exhausted at 7pm every night? Do you tend to sleep in late on the weekends, and would feel bitter about giving that up? Do you concentrate best in the afternoon?

Perhaps more importantly is what you feel up to doing. For me, there is no simple answer as to what time of day I work best. Late at night, I love to edit photos with a glass of wine, or write. It's also a great time to brainstorm sketch ideas. To sit and paint, I need better lighting and a clear head, so quiet weekend afternoons or a vacation day off work are just the ticket - this is also the best time for me to photograph works. Just make sure you plan in advance, so you have the supplies you need and the mindset to jump into it.


artist pens / compressed chalk sticks / water brushes / graphite pencils / retractable erasers / watercolor pencils

How to work.

This is where things get trickier. There are so many styles, mediums, sizes, and strategies to creating fine art: everything from wall-sized oil paintings to digital graphic designs. Each artist has not only preferences, but skills and talent to consider when they make these choices. Depending on your circumstance, you may also have to throw practical considerations into the mix.

If someone truly thrives on large-scale oil painting, they are going to have very different and specific needs than someone who enjoys small-scale watercolor paintings. For many artists, you will do whatever you have to do to work in your chosen medium. I don't think it has to be that way for everyone, though - for me, adjusting to using materials that are smaller and easier to clean up makes it much more likely I get around to working at all.

Make some tough choices; trying out different materials and styles may benefit your creative process. Consider watercolors vs. oils, and small paper and sketchbooks vs. massive canvasses. If you have to work quickly, use a hair dryer on watercolor to move between layers quickly. Pencil and pen may be easier to deal with than charcoal dust and pastels. Are there places you can go digital to enhance paintings, connect with others online, or curate inspiration? A Pinterest board takes up a lot less space than a big heavy coffee table book.


mixed media pad / wood sketchbox and easel / watercolor palette tray

Setting up & cleaning up.

Keep your supplies near the spaces you most often work in; and I mean actually most often work in, not where you want to work in. If you picture yourself set up in front of big picture windows looking over your garden, but actually end up painting in bed watching old episodes of Grey's Anatomy... keep the supplies near the bed. If you move around a lot, make supplies mobile such as a rolling cart like those shown above, or by making them portable. I use a wooden sketchbox that makes a little easel when it's open (the link is right above) and I love it. It's small enough to tuck into a corner or behind a piece of furniture, but big enough to hold all of my supplies.

Need more storage? Tuck a portfolio case under your bed or in a closet, to hold flat supplies and finished work (I have one similar to this one). Supplies can be hidden away in the drawer of a nightstand or console, or on a shelf. Anywhere that is convenient, go for it!


Staying motivated.

This is the most important of all - if you're not in the right mindset to create work, it is infinitely more difficult. Don't beat yourself up! Some days you will be more focused than others. Choose that kid's soccer game, or lunch with friends, or walk out in the nice weather. You can make fine art a priority, but if you feel guilty every time you do anything else, you aren't likely to really relax and enjoy it. Do a little everyday that you can. Get others involved - set your kids up with a cheap paint set nearby while you work. Ask for support! Let people know that this is something you're working hard on and care about, and they are much more likely to understand when you need time and resources to work.

Whew, that was a LOT of words. Where do you work? Anyone else painting at the kitchen table? Other suggestions on how to stay motivated and organized without a full-scale studio to work in?