No Space? No Problem!

If you think you have no space in your home to set up a designated area to make art – think again! You could use any of the following locations:

  • An area in the garage, attic or basement.
  • A corner of a spare bedroom or, if available, the entire room.
  • Or turn a closet into a mini-studio.

If none of these suggestions work for you, maybe you can borrow an idea from my situation. Let me tell you my story…

For ten years, my husband and I lived in a home with lovely views of a small lake. In this home I had turned the spare bedroom into a highly functional studio space. I had a large north-facing window that looked out over the lake. I also had a corner in the basement where I was able to cut mats and glass and frame my artwork. I was able to work in large sizes and save money by framing my own work. It was an artist’s dream.

Summer lake scene surrounded by evergreen forest.
Lake
In Susan's home studio with easel and large selection of colourful. pastels.
Studio interior
Susan's framing area.
Framing area

Two years ago, we sold our lake home and bought an Airstream travel trailer. We sold or gave away almost all of our possessions and became full-time RVers. Our plan was to travel throughout the United States. When COVID hit, our plans changed a bit. We are now spending about five months in Wisconsin, two months traveling, and five months in Gulf Shores, Alabama. As you might expect, this lifestyle has changed the way I make, store, and market my art.

Susan's stainless steel American RV trailer sitting amongst the trees.
Airstream trailer

Though it was hard for me to give up my studio space and the ability to frame my art, I have found ways to make it work. Pastels are great for traveling. I don’t have to worry about carrying solvents or wondering where to put wet panels until dry, and there are no brushes to clean. I was never very good at cleaning brushes, so I have a selection of hardened brushes that are great for brushing off mistakes from pastel paintings. I have some small storage boxes for storing the completed smaller works that I create while on the road. These boxes are lightweight and take up very little space, which is great, since space is at a premium and weight is always a concern when living the RV lifestyle.

Here are four set-ups that I am currently using to make art:

1. We spend the summer months in Wisconsin on a quiet and beautiful wooded lot where we have a 10′ x 12′ storage building that my husband and I share. I have set up a studio space complete with easel and table. My entire inventory of pastel sticks is stored here. I am able to work in larger sizes in this space, comfortably up to 24″ x 30″.

Susan's homely grey painted garden shed.
Shed exterior
Inside Susan's shed studio.
Shed interior

2. While in Gulf Shores, we stay in an RV Park. I use a 6′ x 6′ pop-up screen house, in which I set up an easel and keep two covered tote boxes filled with my materials. I usually work in sizes ranging from 6″ x 8″ to 12″ x 16″.

A gazebo style tent with mesh sides.
Tent ‘studio’

3. For plein air painting, all my supplies fit into a 13″ wide x 17″ high x 6″ deep laptop backpack that weighs 13 pounds when loaded with my supplies. With this set-up, I am able to work in sizes up to 12″ x 16″.

Susan's large tray of soft pastels and easel out in the countryside.
Plein-air set-up

4. When I go out walking, I often take a mini box of pastels and small sheets (3″ x 5″) of pastel paper to make quick sketches. This box fits in my pocket; it’s just a small tin box with a hinged lid that measures 2.4″ x 3.75″.

Susan's small plein air set up comprising of a small sketchbook and a tin of pastels.
Mini mint tin box

Completed art work is inserted into a clear plastic sleeve and stored in acrylic document boxes. The boxes work well to protect the paintings from damage and moisture.

Susan's filing system using clear plastic folder boxes.
Plastic file box
Close up of one of the folder boxes.
Latched document box

There are many things that we can use as excuses to avoid making art. Please, don’t let space be an excuse. All you need is an empty mint tin, a few small pastel pieces and some small pieces of pastel paper – and of course, the inspiration to make art.

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23 Responses

  1. I loved reading this and seeing how creative you have been to make it work for you and your husband too. I have been living in a one bedroom flat and successfully used a corner of my bedroom for my pastel painting. I have now moved into a one bedroom flat with my partner and we are both artists so use different parts of the living room. Much to our surprise it works!

    1. Hello Julie, It was so nice of you to take time to comment. With the support and and mutual encouragement of another ‘creative’ you will always be able to find a way to make art. Do you have an Instagram account or another place I can look at your art?
      Keep on making,
      Susan

  2. I loved your imaginative ways of finding space for your art. I am at the experimental stage & love using Pastels as well as other mediums. I find my Art supplies are growing but my house gets smaller! I love the idea of the pop up tent studio & will have to look into whether these are available in uk. Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful ideas on working in small spaces 😊❣️🖼

    1. HI Elaine,
      Thank you for your kind comments. One can never have too many art supplies (unless you ask my husband ;).
      I bought my tent through Amazon. There are many brands available. Mine is a Clam. They pop up rather quickly, but are not very stable in high winds.
      I hope you will be able to hold on to the experimental stage, in other words, I hope you will always approach your art with a childlike wonder.
      Happy creating,
      Susan

    1. Hi Sheri,
      My son and daughter-in-law live in Colorado, so we visit as often as we can. I am assuming you are in southern Colorado? (RV’s aren’t known for their insulation) I would be interested in hearing about how you handle winter.
      Colorado is a very inspiring place – enjoy!
      Susan

  3. I too have made adjustments for my pastel art. We moved from our Florida home, where I had a wonderful “Lanai” studio, to Ohio and a two bedroom condo. My husband and I share the second bedroom where I have a double window corner for painting. And a large closet for storage. You can make “lack of space” work if you try!

    1. Hello Sandra,
      There must be quite a bit more to the story of your move from Florida to Ohio 😉
      Good to hear that you are making the available space work for you and your husband. The essential thing is to do it! No matter what!
      Keep on making!
      Susan

  4. Hi Susan I thoroughly enjoyed your post. I have a whole bedroom filled with art supplies I love. I have taken workshops and come home filled with excitement. Somehow after a week or so I allow life interfere and quit painting for months and months. I’ve set many goals but don’t keep them. I never seem to finish anything. I know this is the reverse of everyone’s situation but . . .

  5. Hello Jo Ann,
    Thanks for your comments. Yea! a full bedroom full of supplies!
    I think you would be surprised at how many people have a hard time with the follow through. My life is often filled with the details of living that keep me from my goals. I would like to paint daily, but days go by…and it seems hard to get started again. I think one of the things that stops us is those voices in our heads that tell us what we make is not ‘good’ enough. Just do it for yourself, with no expectations; do it for the process not the outcome.
    Here are some of the things I like to do to get re-inspired, or stay inspired.
    ~ Daily – I follow other artists on Instagram, Musero etc. I find looking at art inspires me, and I learn from other artists by just looking at their work.
    ~ I pull out some art supplies and with no intentions of making a painting or finished work I just begin to play.
    ~ I work on making ‘timed’ sketches. Set a timer for a predetermined amount of time and sketch or paint until the timer goes off. STOP! If you don’t want to stop that’s a good thing! You’re now in the groove. (I’ll be writing more about this in a future article)
    ~ Read art books, on-line tutorials, watch art instruction videos, etc. I can’t help but be inspired when I learn new things.
    ~ Join a local art group or critique group. Being with other artists that are eager to support each other and share ideas is very encouraging.
    `~ Keep a sketch book handy. When you have a spare minute, sketch instead of pulling out your cell phone. Moleskine makes handy little 3.5″ x 5.5″ Cahier journals, they work great as mini-sketchbooks.
    I think every opportunity we have to do something creative will get the juices flowing.
    Don’t give up, making art will feed your soul!
    Happy painting!
    Susan

  6. This was very helpful. In Florida I have just set up a north/east window space in our kitchen eating area, with a portable easel I can move around along with a I rolling small cart a that folds open on the top so I can keep the colors I’m using in one spot, close when not using and open and can see values..
    I like how you’ve adapted to plein air too with the sketch box and 2 x4 tin box..

    1. Hello Patricia,
      Thank you for your comments. Sounds like you have worked out a nice spot for making art. I like the idea of having a space to work in that is a place you can often catch a glimpse of what is on your easel.
      You might want to do a search of the issues with pastel dust near eating areas. Years ago I did quite a bit of reading about that and there were many precautions about dust. Even suggesting that one not have an open water bottle near the easel and to thoroughly clean hands before eating. These precautions may have changed, so you might want to read current articles on that. Perhaps someone from Unison will add a comment about that.
      Susan

  7. This was a great article. Lots of helpful ideas for plein air painting and just storage in general. Thank you so much. I’m wondering what type of plastic sleeves you use to store art. Are these the plastic sleeves you would buy for documents to put in a three ring binder or something else?

    1. Hello Debbie,
      Thanks for your comments.
      For smaller art I use the document sleeves available from office supplies stores. Yes, these can even be stored in a three ring binder for safe keeping and as a mini portfolio. The larger pieces I store in sleeves I buy from Clearbags.com. They come in a variety of sizes. Watercolor artists often use these to display/sell unframed works. With the larger pieces I often place behind the art a foam core board cut the same size to protect it from bending.
      Caution: The dust does lift and adhere to plastic so it is important to be careful when removing from the sleeve that you don’t drag it through the dust particles. I don’t find this to be too much of a problem because I use a sanded pastel surface that grips and holds the particles well. But there is still a ghost image on the plastic so it is a good idea when removing the piece to be aware and maybe even slit the side of the plastic so that it can be lifted off from the art. I hope that makes sense. Please don’t hesitate to ask if you have more questions.
      Susan

  8. Thank you for your inspiring post. I have lived in a housetruck for the last eight years, traveling New Zealand. Housetruck are our local version of self built RV. Along with my husband, three growing girls and a dog, two cats and two rabbits we somehow make it work. I mainly paint in my Luton bedroom these days.
    Now we are selling the truck and possibly buying a sailboat. Back to adjusting and figuring stuff out … It’s hard not be jealous of those with a table and lots of room!
    Greetings from New Zealand

    1. Hello Serena! Wow! What an exciting life you lead. And I know that it is a lot of work, too. People often envy the “free and easy” lifestyle of not owning a home and all the stuff…but there are trade offs, right?? Your lifestyle leads to resourcefulness, so I am sure you will figure out how to be creative. Your life itself leads to creativity. Do you have an Instagram account? or anyplace I can follow along on your adventures? And maybe see some of your art work?
      Happy travels and happy painting.
      Susan

  9. Thanks Susan, Your arctic was interesting. I have a very small room with three doors in to the room. One door I blocked off. There is a sliding door to outside , it lets the air and light in the other is from the house to my art room . So many times I have change this room around. Used other rooms and put the bed in here which seem to take two days to rearrange both rooms. After all that I end up back in the art room . Sleeping in a room with pastels is not a good idea.

    1. Thank you, Pamela for commenting. I do hope you settle in and begin enjoying your space. I’m glad to hear you are making the effort to make art. Keep on painting!
      Susan

  10. It’s not so much the space but the dust that soft pastels create. A lovely medium but lots to consider when choosing an area in the house.

    1. Yes, that is an issue. That is why I work outside either in the pop up screen tent or just outdoors with the easel or mini box. There are some great articles written about the safety issues of pastel dust.
      Susan

  11. REALLY helpful and encouraging! Gosh, if you can do this under such conditions, then surely I can manage in my basement studio…or my office….. From this moment I officially cease to complain about my lack of space.

    I was especially interested in how you work on the go–the portable greenhouse, and the little tin box of pastels. YES!! I can do this!!

    Thank you!

  12. Hello Serena! Wow! What an exciting life you lead. And I know that it is a lot of work, too. People often envy the “free and easy” lifestyle of not owning a home and all the stuff…but there are trade offs, right?? Your lifestyle leads to resourcefulness, so I am sure you will figure out how to be creative. Your life itself leads to creativity. Do you have an Instagram account? or anyplace I can follow along on your adventures? And maybe see some of your art work?
    Happy travels and happy painting.
    Susan

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