Creative Insights: Lesley Riley

Finding Space Outside the Box

In a survey that I conducted last year of over 1500 artists, SPACE, or rather the lack of it, was the second most common problem artists face. Space to work, space to store supplies, and, especially in my case, space to think.  Some of you are blessed with lovely, large studios, a place for everything, and everything in its place, but after talking to you lucky ones, I know that you, too, desire more space.

A studio is like a closet, the more you have the more you fill. And I’ve heard more often than once that no matter how much studio space you may have, your actual working area can be as small as 2’x2′ due to the piles and piles of materials and works-in-progress camped out on your work table. So, whether you work on the corner of the kitchen table or have a 2400 sq.ft. loft with a view, this article’s for you.

First off, I want to make one thing very clear. The amount of space you have to create in has nothing to do with the quality or quantity of the art you can produce. Granted, it does place a limit on the size of your work, like humongous canvasses or Michelangelo-sized sculpture, but, let me repeat, it does not effect the quality or quantity of your art.

I know this, because for the last 10+ years, I have created art for countless magazine articles, class samples, shows and 4 books working in my bedroom, until recently, working on a makeshift table – a board placed on my bed. I learned early on that waiting until I had a dedicated space to create was really just an excuse. The drive to create was so strong, it overpowered any considerations I had over a lack of space. So I made do with what I had and never looked back.

Even getting a new king-size but lower bed that made working on the bed a big pain in the back didn’t stop me. I took a good hard look at how I was using the space in my bedroom and decided that I had a lot of wasted space on the top of my dresser. It was only accumulating knick-knacks and dust. A 30”x80” hollowcore closet door became my new worktable when placed upon the dresser top. The serendipity of the doorknob hole was the perfect place for electric cords to gather on their way to the outlet below.

You see, it’s not about the space or lack of it, it’s about how you use the space you have. Finding and using space is as creative an act as the mixed media collage you just completed. It involves thinking outside the box, looking at the world with new eyes and that quintessential question, “What if?”

We tend to view our homes from a traditional frame of mind. The living room should be kept clean and neat in case guests stop by. The dining room must be ever-ready for dinner even though you eat in the kitchen. A family room is for family and the bedroom is for sleeping. Well I say, whose house (apartment, room) is this anyway? It’s as much your space to use as it is anyone else’s who may live under the same roof. If art is important to you, then make, take, space for it.

Here are a few creative solutions to get you started thinking outside the box:

  • Years ago I scored an old metal Vogue pattern cabinet at an estate sale for $10. It’s now the home for all my class samples, supplies and more.
  • Do you have space in the closet between the shoes and hanging clothes? Hang a shoebag on the door and replace the space with clear plastic storage drawers on wheels.
  • On second thought, use shoebags for fabric, paint, mediums, or found object storage on the back of every door.
  • Speaking of found objects – why store them? Create an artful, ever-changing arrangement out in the open. Still life at its best.
  • I know an artist who creates on her kitchen counter and stores her paints and supplies in her dishwasher! Makes sense if you do more art than dishes.
  • I used a large piece of wood for a solid worktable on my bed. At night I just picked it up and slid it under the bed. A piece of foam core is a lighter alternative.
  • Who’s living in your living room? Guests would be so entertained to see an actual working artists studio space set up in the corner, or better yet, the whole room.

Now here’s your assignment: Grab pen and paper and take a walk though your home. Find at least three new creative solutions to creating more working or storage space for your art. Happy hunting!

Lesley Riley is an internationally known artist, teacher and author with a passion for spreading the magic of art. Though her company, Artist Success, Lesley provides resources, coaching and mentoring to artists, enabling them to achieve their vision of success. For more information and resources, visit


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