Creating art can be a messy business. As an artist, I can personally vouch that we need a lot of stuff. We need stuff to paint on, stuff to paint with, objects to paint, scraping tools, masking stuff, taping supplies, drawing stuff, pencils, paper, glue, cutting tools, frames, wire, hanging supplies, books, magazines, cameras, and computers, just to name a few! Do we organize it? Rarely. Right, artists?

I went through my studio this summer, in preparation for upcoming classes and to make space for new work. I cannot tell you how much of my so-called “precious” art stuff was just trash. Okay, look. Do I REALLY need art supplies from Interior Design school circa 1988? Yellowed paper? Glue that had hardened in its container from ’05? Nope. But I had it. In spades. I pulled everything (almost…) off the shelves and out of drawers and proceeded to make an even larger mess on all available surfaces in the room. It takes making chaos to create organization, though, right? Ok, I just made that up. But I managed to fill several large bags for recycling and trash of miscellaneous items I no longer needed. My kitten, of course, was involved in all the decisions. This was her kind of day. She helped so much.;)

My cat, "helping" organize

In the drafting drawer, my cat, “helping” me organize. Hmmm…you should definitely keep this stuff…

Then I had the huge task of organizing what was left. I purchased a few plastic tubs and tried to fill them according to use or subject. Pretty difficult, given that I use many items for different end products. But organize I did, as best I could, and ended up with class tubs, greeting card supplies, and collage bins grouped and easily accessible. All my notebooks for contacts, galleries, licensing, and exhibitions line the top shelf for quick reference. Show supplies are on the bottom shelf.

Studio shelving organized. For now.

Studio shelving organized. For now. Not bad, huh?

At last, I got down to my day-to-day stuff; the supplies that I used every time I went into the studio to paint. That would be tubes of paint, paint brushes, and other supplies needed close at hand.

My boys had each taken a ceramics class in high school. I inherited their self-made vases. They make perfect holders for brushes, and remind me of their high school days. The little boots were given to me as a gift. Instead of holding flowers, I use them for brushes and pencils. The little nifty ceramic thing to the right is something my son made me to allow my brushes to dry on a slant. Pretty cool, huh? These items always sit on top of my drafting table.

Random ceramic containers for paint brushes and pencils

Random ceramic containers for paint brushes and pencils

I had been storing my tubes of paint in Safeway nut containers (handy little things) and old plastic tubs. This, I decided, just would not do. They were all different sizes and varieties. They didn’t stack, and, more importantly, didn’t look pretty. Right? Am I really that concerned with container beauty? In my studio? I guess so.

I ended up at a craft store nearby and came home with a prize for organizing my tubes of paint. It is a wooden box with four small drawers and a top lid. It feels old-fashioned, antique-like, and I cannot tell you how thrilled I am each time I reach for a tube of paint, to pull open a cute little drawer and select a tube of paint. It feels…I don’t know…somehow more rich and authentic!!

Organized paint tubes in a wooden drawer box!

Organized paint tubes in a wooden drawer box! Neat, huh?

After all this, I was curious. What did my artist friends use? Did they grab any container available? Or did they carefully select an “artsy” container that gave them joy to use? So I put out an email to them. What do you use to organize your paints?

Most of my friends were reluctant. They felt that the messiness of their studios were a stain on their beautiful paintings, I think. My friend, Janice, though, Druian Studios, was generous enough to send me a photo of her paints:

Janice's tubes of paint

Janice’s tubes of paint

Look at all those yummy tubes of paint. Just waiting for fabulous creations of landscapes by Janice! She complains that it’s messy. But it works! Here they are, in all their glory. Organized by color in plastic containers. I mean, in the throes of creativity, does it matter from which your paint tubes come? Here is her studio:

Janice's studio. Beautiful, isn't it!!

Janice’s studio. Beautiful, isn’t it!!

What a beautiful studio. Ah, Janice. Amazing.

Another artist friend, Susan Higdon, sent me this photo of her workspace:

Susan Higdon's work space

Susan Higdon’s work space

See? That’s what I’m talking about. We artists use anything and everything we can. We are usually big into recycling, and as you can see by Susie’s space, she has boxes, recycled food containers, and maybe just a couple of purchased items specific for organizing. She produces amazingly creative work in this delicious studio of art supplies. It begs to be used. There is no fear here. As are her paintings: Fearless and beautiful.

My friend Cindy Briggs,, an accomplished watercolor artist and instructor, has a special way of organizing her watercolor tubes. I first noticed it when we had a workshop together. The small mesh plastic bags provide an easy-to-see, organized method for traveling with your paints. Out of these plain, unpretentious and simple plastic bags of paint arise Cindy’s gorgeous watercolors.

Cindy Briggs organizes her paint tubes in plastic bags

Cindy Briggs organizes her paint tubes in plastic bags

Does it make a difference to have a beautiful organizer for tubes of paint? I can assure you that it does not, as far as painting creatively. Reaching for that tube and squeezing out the juicy color for a luscious application of pigment on a canvas is all that matters. But there is a little something that goes “ping!!” when I have depleted cobalt blue on my palette, reach for it, but instead, pull open a cute little drawer full of blues (hah…pun), and select my cobalt. It’s pleasure, people. Pleasure for beauty.

What do you use? Does it make a diffence how you store your tubes or other supplies? Have you recently changed or organized? Does it work? Do you hate it/love it? I’d love to hear about your system.

In the end, it seems I wore out my little cat. Next time, little one? My clothes closet, I promise.

Exhausted from all the organizing.

Exhausted from all the organizing.

Cheers, everyone! Keep creating to Feed the Beast! And thank you so much to the artists who sent me photos of their studio paints.

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