A Bedroom Becomes a Small Art Studio

When we first bought the house, I claimed one of the bedrooms as my home office. Decades of working at home, writing books, listening to music, messing around with making art, organizing my thoughts, creating pencil roadmaps for my company, and much more. Recently, another bedroom became free and I decided to build myself a modest art studio. Admittedly, the idea is pretentious and perhaps unnecessary–at best, I am a weekend artist–but I absolutely love the separation of art from my other business. And I am spending more and more time in this luxurious 10 foot by 12 foot getaway.

The room was a boys’ bedroom, and I just finished the job by removing the curtains with the baseball team logos. I’m still scraping the Mystery Science Theater logos off the window. But otherwise, the place is mine. Perhaps my process will be useful to others.

I started by creating as much open desk space as possible. IKEA to the rescue: a pair of white Limmnon 79-inch long, 23 inch deep desktops, each costing $45. One for each long wall, plus an ALEX 9-drawer white cabinet for storage, and a variety of old storage cubes recaptured from the basement and from other rooms. So far, I have not found the perfect roll-around task chair–a future project. The bookcases remained in place–the white Billy shelf units that are both inexpensive and look great.

Most larger art supply stores and websites carry BEST easels. I found mine at Rochester Art Supply, which does business online at http://www.fineartstore.com

So far, I’ve managed to spend time and money on pastel painting, drawing, and watercolor painting. Pastels are best done on a substantial easel, and that became the room’s centerpiece. I wanted something sturdy that would, hopefully, last for years. I always needed a special sort of easel that would allow me to lean the artwork forward so the dust would fall from the pastel painting. Options were limited, and ultimately the decision came down to two easels, both made in the U.S.A. by BEST and distributed by Jack Richeson (of Wisconsin). I like the simplicity and lightweight design, and the price, of the Deluxe Lobo (over $200), but I wanted something more substantial, perhaps with some additional control. The answer: the Halley Easel (over $450), far sturdier and more versatile, too. If I intended to stow the easel between sessions, the Lobo would have been just fine, but the Halley seems to raise my own expectations for myself, as high-quality tools often do.

Next issue: lighting. There were two bedroom windows, north-facing, but they didn’t provide much light for work during the day (and, of course, they were useless at night). For a larger pastel work, I needed substantial illumination from above and behind me. It was worth thinking this through. I started by clamping old inexpensive photography lights–the kind used by every student because they’re inexpensive, onto the top shelf of the bookcase. I replaced them with smaller versions of the same thing, and spent about $40, including daylight bulbs (once quite hard to find and expensive, they’re now common and cheap).

The flood lights were wonderful for work at the easel, but far too bright for every day room lighting, and totally useless for watercolor and drawing at the desk, I researched task lights–somewhat unfamiliar to me–and found a very cool company called Daylight. They make lights for all sorts of very specific tasks–that is, lights that can focus illumination on close-up jobs like sewing and applying make-up–jobs that require odd angles, or a lot of light in a very small space.For watercolor and drawing, I want a concentrated pool of light in the work area, but I don’t want to light up the whole room (which can be distracting).

The new Luminos ($350) updates the old architect’s fluorescent tube lamp with daylight bulbs, three levels of illumination (including a high-output setting that’s too bright for normal use but a wonder for very close work), and a strong but flexible arm with a long reach (long enough for me to swing it from the desk to the easel). The demo video is instructive. Daylight also makes a nice assortment of desk and floor lamps, and I decided to try the Slimline table lamp ($150) for the second desk–the throw is smaller, and perfect for the smaller work I tend to do at the second desk. Admittedly, these lamps cost more than the typical desk lamp, but they are extremely well-built, durable, and most important, they provide the kind of high-quality illumination that’s necessary to do your best work. I learned a lot about lighting through experimentation with these instruments–initially, I admit to being skeptical of the need for sophisticated task lighting, but I am now thoroughly converted and would prefer not to work any other way.

Next up: keeping the place clean. Watercolors are easy–I make a mess on the surface of the IKEA desktops, and I just wipe up with a paper towel. Pastels are a constant challenge–the dust circulates throughout the room and ends up everywhere. Since the room is carpeted (probably foolish, but I couldn’t justify the expense of new flooring). I bought a desk chair pad–a big piece of plastic–from IKEA and placed it under the easel. I also attached some double-sided tape just beneath the pastel painting area, and that picks up the dust. I bought two inexpensive mini-screens so I could prop open the two windows, at least during the warmer seasons. But there was still dust, participles that are not especially healthy if they are in abundance. I considered wearing some sort of mask, but that’s not the best way to encourage leisure-time painting. Then, I started to learn about air purifiers. Good solution!

Learning about these devices is not something you can do quickly. Typically, an air filtration system draws the unwanted particles into a filter, which must be replaced from time to time. U.S. Government Department of Energy standards require a HEPA filter to 99.97% of all 0.3 micron particles from the air that passes through the filter. (From Rabbit Air: “Although companies do not claim anything beyond 0.3 microns due to the difficulty of measuring/testing for particles under that size, it is generally assumed that any HEPA filter is more efficient at trapping smaller or larger particulates than 0.3 microns due to filtration research.”You must also be concerned about how quietly the filtering system does its work–some can be quite noisy. And you must consider the size of the space to be filtered. All of this is explained in various articles, worth reading.

Initially, I thought I wanted the a filtering system in the Artist Series (from $520) from Rabbit Air. They’re well-built and they look great. A closer look at my specific needs told me that I’d found the right company, but the BioGS (from $370) was a better fit. Here’s a look at both of them (click on the picture for a link to each web page.)

There is a lot of useful information on the Rabbit Air pages–it’s worth an hour to understand everything.

What else? Plenty of time to organize too many art supplies. The need for pleasant music (mission accomplished thanks to some forgotten stereo equipment in the basement). And–big discovery, however obvious it may seem–once a painting is complete, it needs to live somewhere. When I kept all of the finished work in a box flat box, this was not a problem. Now, I felt the need to display recent work, if for no reason except my own assessments. Once again, IKEA provided a solution: 45-inch long Mosslandia “picture ledges” (just reduced: now just $9.99– and I hope they’re not being discontinued).

The conversion from boy’s bedroom to small art studio took about a year. Why so long? I’ve never done this before, so I allowed plenty of time for experimentation, bad ideas and failed attempts. Seems to me, this is sort of thing you’ve got to grow into–find what’s comfortable for you and the way you prefer to work. Keep the expenses as low as possible for most everything–but allow time and money to investigate and invest in proper lighting, proper work surfaces (the easel was a terrific decision), and expect the unexpected (I never would have considered an air purifier, but it’s a wise addition). Of course, it’s easy to become obsessed with the space and never actually get any work done (I’ll confess to some of that), but once the space is complete, what a pleasure to have someplace to go do what I enjoy. A place for grow. A child’s room. For an adult.


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