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Readers Respond: Share Your Tips for Painting in a Small Space

Responses: 13


Do you paint in a small space or corner of a room? Do you have to tidy away your art supplies after each painting session because you've limited space? Share your tips for how to paint in when you haven't much room.

Here are the Tips!

The space, size and type of painting we choose will depend on our needs and priorities. Decide an area of the room to work that is more ventilated and closer to natural light. If you will need a table and do not have one in the area that you have chosen, consider buying a small and practical folding table. Choose the appropriate size for your paintings and for the space you have available to work. I met an Spanish artists who painted landscapes on memo sticks. He posted them on the walls of his tiny room and, later, for his collective exhibition. Choose the type of painting to achieve your goals, and if possible, that is more comfortable to you to work with. Consider your health and the ones that live with you. Decide the most basic materials you will need and carry them in a portable easel to the working area. Enjoy!

Small Spaces Tend to Focus the Mind

Most artists are problem solvers. Using a small space efficiently can be a creative challenge. I have a drawing table set up by a north facing window with small bedroom side chest of drawers as taborettes, and a metal Italian folding easel for painting upright work. I can also paint out on the deck, or try a little plein air painting outside when the mood strikes. I work there and at my computer desk to view stored photos on screen or print them for more detailed study, and have reduced my painting image sizes. I no longer paint 4" square paintings. I work on 8"x10" or 11" x 14" canvasboard and 12" x 16" watercolor blocks. Small spaces and painting surfaces force me to prepare images that read larger than they are, and to paint with moderately larger brushes. My compositions are tighter and color plays a larger role and detail becomes less important. For me smaller is better.

Dining Room Corner for Painting

I take up a corner of the dining room, and I have a small nightstand/dresser that I keep supplies in, and I can spread all over the dining room table when I'm painting. I keep my current work in progress on the easel in the corner, so our art always changes! I store extra canvases under the buffet table.

A Portable Studio

I live in a condo, my "stuido" is one end of our dining table. My wife uses the other end as her business office. When I want to paint I have to assemble the items. There is just enough space for either a watercolor block or a small board with a sheet of paper taped, a small palette and or a Winsor & Newton paint set, a few brushes a bucket of water and roll of towels and a few extras. I know that it sounds like a standard work space, but when I set or clean up everything comes or gos elsewhere. I took notes from artist Cathy Johnson on being compact. She is in the process of converting a shed into a studio. When I mess with my Bob Ross stuff it becomes more difficult because of no easel. My sole easel is a Winsor & Newton watercolor easel and requires standing. So actually my oil painting is done with a canvas sheet taped to a board laying almost down instead of upright, and I don't bang my brushes to clean them. Yes I know about his brush rack. There is still spatter.

I have the same problems...

...plus 3 kids and 4 pets, all of us in 1600 sq feet. The only space available to me is a corner of the living room. I have a small kitchen table with a gathered skirt (so the top is bare, but the legs are hidden). I keep an antique tackle box on the table to hold small supplies--it's a nice box so it looks good when I've got the area cleaned up--and a beat up old end table with 2 roomy drawers hidden under the table for larger stuff. I keep unused canvas panels stored flat on top of the end table-there's about 6"space. Instead of a tarp, I use a vinyl tablecloth with a felt back, felt side up. It absorbs spills so they don't run off the side. I keep the tablecloth in the bottom drawer of the end table. The only thing that doesn't store away is my floor easel, which I keep set up next to the table with my latest work in progress on it. There's also a potted plant and bowl of fish on the table next to the box. If you didn't already know, you couldn't tell by looking that it's a studio!

No space to paint

I have my studio in a tiny space right off the kitchen. One day after painting all night, I found I could breathe in fine but had a difficult time breathing out. I use damar crystals dissolved in turps. I put a fan in there, but it caused my medium to become tacky. Now I hang the paintings on the wall in the dining room and paint with the windows open and the ceiling fan on and no more problems with the fumes. I also am able to move away from the painting and see what I'm doing. Much better results. I got a mat from Office Depot for the carpet and no problem w/ spilled paint. Now every space of wall is a potential easel.

Easier solution for your spills

Everyone's situation is unique... but if you have an opportunity to try this you may be pleased. Go to Office Max and buy one of those clear plastic rolled up mats that executives use to roll their chairs over while sitting at a desk. It will be a permanent solution, flat, cleanable, and easy to walk around -even blending into your current floor color because it is clear! Beat's cleaning up all your supplies every time... just clean up the spills!
—Guest jennifer phillips

Room to paint

I too live in an apartment.I am lucky because there is a small bar sink with running water.I use it to clean brushes and change water etc. Since I use primarily acrylics,the paint is sat on the counter and the base is used as a sort of easel and my chair is right in front.there is also a light over the sink, so it was basically built for me & my margueritas as well as my western paintings.
—Guest sonny2009

Great ideas

I love watercolour for many reasons, but partly for the ease of cleanup. Does your building have a communal room of any kind where you could paint? You might inspire others to join you. The other thing I wonder about is if you could set up in your kitchen--a tile floor is easy to clean for the occasional spill (presuming you're not Jackson Pollack) and counter height is really good for painting. In reference to the good advice you've already received I have a very good old desk of my grandfather's with a tilt-top, and I taped clear plastic down on the work surface so that I don't really ruin it. Good luck, and keep painting!
—Guest Joan Shouldice

Small space

I live in a retirement apartment also.I use a card table set up permanently in a small kitchen so no carpet problem but the small cheap carpet sounds good. I have a small plastic set of drawers (from Walmart) for supplies. I use acrylics so clean-up is easy. I paint with canvas board no bigger than 11x14 and lay it flat on the table so no easel.
—Guest jbqdgq

Ask around

I know it can be disappointing to have to move to smaller digs and think you have to give up art. But ask around. Is there a community room you can use to paint in? Most of these building will have some kind of meeting or activity room, and that might be an option for you. Your painting things can be fitted into a rolling cart, which will make transportation easier. Ask, there might be a space in the building or complex you can use. While it might not have occured to those running the building, if you find a spot, campaign for it. Find out if there are other seniors in your building who either paint or need space for someother hobby or craft. If this is a largest complex, even an unused apartment would be good for a community center for everyone. People need a place to play!

Small space painting idea

How about a suitcase? Utilised as a container for all art supplies and you can prop the lid open at suitable angles for make-do easel. For drips etc. why not cut open a plastic shopper and place down in front of suitcase when painting - you can throw this away each time - collect a few and keep them inside your 'art case' which could also be portable if you wished to paint outside or at a friends. It would be easy to have on the bed for a very relaxing painting session. You could store your 'art case - come easel' on a cupboard or under the bed. Suitcases come in all sizes and with compartments, have a look for a suitable size for your needs, some have a big flap in the lid, you could keep you paper in this. Keep everything inside tidy with snap on lid containers - I'm sure you could have fun inventing your own. Good Luck.

How to paint when space it tight

I use a Winsor Newton/Cotman travel kit. It is small but everything is there; all you need to add is a small container of water, a small spray bottle of water to moisten the paint pans, and some favorite brushes. It came with 14 Cottman paint 1/2 pans (about 1/2" by 3/8") and as they get used up I replace them with Winsor Newton 1/2 pans because that paint is better quality. I also make my own watercolor blocks from 90lb. watercolor tablets I got on sale (not knowing how bad the paper would buckle). I used thick white craft glue and a popsickle stick to spread glue on the open edges of the tablet (except an area about 1/2 wide so a knife could be slid in later to cut the dried glue so the finished sheet could be removed), clamped the whole tablet (except the cover) tightly together with clothespins until dry. The glue did not soak into the pad very far and the only sheet I had to throw away was the top one. This could all be easily stored in a drawer and brought for use.

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