I’ve been feeling restless the last week or so whilst recovering from surgery, partly because I’m banned from doing a lot of things I’d normally be doing, and admittedly I’m somewhat of a control freak at home. I’m itching to spring clean my home (even though it’s still the middle of winter): I feel like a good tidy and clear out will help set my mind up for a new year and new goals (no, not resolutions), but for now, no stretching, heavy lifting or strenuous activity, so I just have to wait.
So I’ve been thinking instead about what it means to spring clean your art space, and why we should do this regularly to keep our creative and mental health in check. I’m a hoarder of many pointless scraps of material, paper and magazines for ‘future projects’, but is this really productive? When you’re not feeling at your most productive, can spring cleaning your art space really help?
Well, I believe it can.
It’s believed that spring cleaning originated with the Iranian Nowruz, the Persian new year. This falls on the first day of spring, and is the day many Iranians practice khooneh tekouni, where the house is thoroughly cleaned from top to bottom. That includes curtains, soft furnishings and many things that we tend to forget about.
We’ve all heard the saying that a tidy house is a tidy mind. I swear to myself every morning that the first thing I’ll do is get up and paint, but every day I end up putting away the dishes, doing the laundry or sweeping the floor before I get to the easel. I feel like once I’ve got my house under control, I can reward myself by painting. But chances are, I’ll have to re-arrange the studio before I start painting, too. Then before you know it, the day’s almost gone.
So, having a thorough spring clean of your art studio can increase your productivity in the long run, and it can save you loads of time looking for materials, or simply freeing up enough space to paint/sketch comfortably. You’ll also be able to see your supplies at a glance, avoiding that mad-dash-panic when you need to go to the art shop but aren’t even sure which colours you need.
So here are my top suggestions for how you can spring-clean your own little art space, whether you’ve got a massive studio or a little creative sanctuary.
1. Get Everything Out
This might not seem like a great idea at first, but getting everything out in front of you is the only way for you to truly see what you have. Don’t be overwhelmed by the massive pile of mess: there’s a method to going through it which will make the job ten times easier.
2. Keep, Throw, Sell or Give Away
Now you can see everything in front of you, start organising it into piles. Make one pile for things you want to keep (new pencils, good brushes, finished works etc) and another for things that you can throw away (in my case this could be traced outlines for long-finished paintings, scraps of paper that really aren’t any use, and way too much bubble wrap). Paintbrushes that you let get stiff and beyond saving? Bin them!
If you’ve got some art supplies that are in good condition or have never been used, consider if you really want to use them. If you haven’t for a while, or you haven’t opened them, chances are you won’t. It might be worth passing them on to someone else, whether you’re selling brand new unused items on eBay, or giving away some pastels you never use to a friend or even your local school.
The same is true of old paintings. While some artists keep every scrap or sketch they’ve ever made, others don’t. I have difficulty letting go, but I also don’t want old paintings and drawings going yellow in drawers either. Saying goodbye to old works can be freeing, allowing you to throw off old tensions and old ideas that might be holding you back.
Once you’ve (hopefully) cut down your supplies, you can organise them. Invest in some plastic boxes, drawers, shelving or any storage solution that works for you, and keep your mediums together. Anything watercolour related in one box, all your oil paints in another. You’ll find you can locate all your wonderful colours much easier! Get all your art books on one shelf, all your sketchbooks in another and if you’re a dedicated note taker like myself, find a folder/binder or box and get them all contained too.
4. Create/Update Your Archive
When it comes to your artworks, this is a great opportunity to archive them. You can update your digital archive by taking new photos of all your best works and even getting your online folders organised (thank you, Google Drive!). Take this chance to update your website too, or maybe create some new Etsy listings while you’re at it.
As for the physical paintings, I find that I tend to work in collections, so I’ll organise my works on paper by year, by collection or even by theme so I can easily find what I’m looking for the next time I need them. If you have paintings on canvas on racks or stored elsewhere, you can perhaps get these better organised or even hung on some empty wall space for a harmonious space.
5. Refresh Your Paintings
Before you get those paintings hanging, why not give them a once-over? Are there some oil paintings finally dry enough to varnish? What about some edges that need painting, or some tweaks that you’d like to fix that you never got around to?
6. Furnish, Freshen Up
Re-paint those bits of furniture, get some new frames/candles/potted plants or whatever it is that you enjoy and create a space that pleases you but that’s clutter free. Whether you prefer to keep things on display or tucked away, simply re-arranging your space to better use natural light can make all the difference.
7. Rotate Seasonally
So I’ve been talking about a spring clean, where here on earth spring happens once a year. But why not consider a smaller, seasonal ‘spring clean’? Swap out those fresh flowers depending on the season, or simply replace the artworks hung to highlight your latest series or an older season of works? Giving your studio a refresh as the seasons change can transform the way you view your space, and you’ll be surprised about the new ideas you’ll get as you do so. It might just help shake off those winter blues, too.
Spring cleaning your art space will help improve your focus: you’ll spend less time fumbling around in mess and more time painting with a free mind: even having more space to simply move around your easel. It’s also a great opportunity for a trip down memory lane: something I personally love. There’s no better feeling than browsing through your painting journey, re-discovering your ten-years-younger self, or uncovering that lost bit of magic inspiration that you finally know what to do with.
Do you use any of these tips? What’s your personal method for spring cleaning your studio? Let me know in the comments!
(You might be wondering why I didn’t include any photos of my own spring cleaning? Well I confess, I haven’t started it yet 😊 When I have, I’ll be sure to create another blog post and let you in on how it went…)
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