How To Lay Out A Home Art Studio

You have to build the factory before you can make the product, and that includes when you work sitting on the floor of a hotel room while on business travel like I did for years. Your factory can be as simple as a small plastic tote or gym bag with all your materials and tools packed inside.

However, the key to maximizing the amount of time you spend working on art is minimizing how much time you waste laying out and putting away materials when you are done. A designated desk or worktable can make all the difference in the world as far as productivity, especially if you lay out your tools and materials in an efficient way and keep things organized so you aren’t constantly cleaning up messes or clutter.

I wanted to talk about art studios in general first before how to configure a studio for mosaic work. My acrylic painting studio is a better example of basic principles for organizing the home art studio because my mosaic studio is at the warehouse and the tables and racks are larger and on wheels and are made for working on larger sculptural mosaic. However, I do have some mosaic-specific points at the bottom of this article.

In my painting studio, I have things where I am surrounded on three sides by brushes and palette tools and paints and rags all arranged in the order I reach for them with minimal travel distance to the canvas at the right. Note that the totes of brushes and tools and rags and paints are all positioned about knee high so that I can reach them easily while seated. Note that there are other easels and nails on walls for displaying works in progress and color studies. Note there are open shelves just out of camera view to the left and right.

An Efficient Home Art Studio Is Similar To A Factory Workstation

Factories that have workers doing complicated assembly tasks by hand usually have them doing this work at stationary tables called workstations and not on moving assembly lines or conveyors.

The layout of these workstations have been optimized to shave seconds off of each step in the process and minimize the total floorspace used. Bins of parts and tools are arranged in order at just the right height so that the worker has to reach a minimal distance. Often the workstation is C-shaped with the worker in the middle. There is adequate lighting and a plan for how parts flow into the workstation and finished products out without the operator having to take a step.

Few professional artists have had the first course in Industrial Engineering, but their studios often  look like workstations professionally designed for a factory. Maybe that shouldn’t be surprising. If you work in a place day in and day out, and you are clever enough to create art, your tools and materials tend to get arranged in an efficient layout over the years merely by trial and error.

But as a trained engineer, I can see at a glance the extent to which these studios are ergonomically efficient, and it is remarkable just how honed some artist’s work spaces are, especially when laid out for one specific activity like sewing or painting or assembling small sculptures.

Multiple Creative Tasks Sharing One Space

The more difficult question is how do you lay out your limited space at home when you use it for incompatible processes like sewing and mosaic making, which requires mixing up grout and cutting and gluing tile, all processes that are inherently messy and could easily contaminate fabrics.

Modular Totes, Boxes or Trays

The solution is to using the same space is to use plastic totes or open boxes to minimize the amount of time you spend getting things out and putting them away:

  1. Make a basic layout that maximizes work surfaces and open shelves where you can see and reach different materials.
  2. Keep tools and materials for a specific media or process in plastic totes or open-top boxes.
  3. Move the totes in and out of the workstation based on which process you are using.
  4. Have a separate shelf where totes of specific materials stay when not in use.
  5. Subdivide each tote with smaller containers that organize tools and materials as needed.
  6. When possible, do you work on trays or boards or shallow totes that can be moved with everything on it as a work in progress.

Separate Out The Dirty Processes

You must also divide processes into clean processes versus messy processes, and this is sometimes relative.

For example, attaching tiles by thinset mortar involves handling a sticky variety of concrete and using a bucket of water to rinse you hands and loose concrete and grit will contaminate the work surface around you mosaic. However, an artist with a little bit of experience can easily contain the mess by using a plastic drop cloth on the table and being neat with rags and a vacuum. This is a relatively clean process that could be done inside in your studio.

On the other hand, mixing up grout or thinset can create dust, and washing up the buckets and tools are best done using a water hose. Note that these tasks are usually shorter in duration and are not the actual implementation of the design, so they are best done outside of the workstation you are using for your clean processes. Locations like driveways, patios, back porches and garages are more appropriate for these dirtier processes.

This exterior space or space(s) should also be used for any sawing, sanding or drilling, although avoid using power tools and hoses at the same time or using power tools on damp surfaces.

Don’t Squat On The Ground, Even For Dirty Work

A folding plastic table with locking legs is a great thing that can save a lot of strain on your knees and back. Don’t bend over or squat to mix up grout or wash out buckets like most people are tempted to do whenever they work with a garden hose. Suddenly they are 8 years old again even though their lower back isn’t. What happens is you get into what you are doing and don’t realize you are getting stiff and need to change positions. Something as simple as an overturned plastic milk crate can be used as a seat for working close to the ground with a hose, but you are better off with a seat with lumbar support or standing at a table. You always end up bent over longer than you had planned to be.

General Principles For Designing Home Art Studios

An art studio’s specific needs depend on the size of the art being created and the processes used, but there are some general principles

  • adequate light
  • work surfaces, preferably adjustable height, preferably more than one
  • shelves and open storage areas that display materials in a visible and accessible way.
  • an arrangement that puts the artist at the center of work surfaces and shelves.
  • an arrangement that doesn’t require to bend over or hold awkward poses.
  • a seat, preferably with lumbar support, that can be quickly rolled out of the way.
  • an easy way to move materials in and out of the workstation.
  • use plastic storage totes to store everything for a particular process.
  • move these totes in and out of the workstation when changing processes.
  • don’t use your workstation to store totes for processes not in use.

 Specific Principles For Designing Mosaic Studios

Mosaic work that is simply attaching sheets of mesh-mounted tile to a surface can be done in an area for messy processes or on site. The workstation used to create the sheets of mesh-mounted tile could also be used to create small and medium-sized mosaic plaques and sculptures, no matter if Weldbond adhesive or thinset mortar is used. The only difference being is that you have to go to you “messy process” area to mix up your thinset and wash out the buckets and tools at the end of the session.

  • a comfortable seat with lumber support.
  • a main work surface as large as practical to accommodate a mosaic plaque lying flat while surrounded by tools and containers of different materials
  • adjacent tables or open shelving
  • plastic totes that can be rinsed, not cardboard boxes
  • plastic containers such as yogurt and butter tubs for holding tile pieces.
  • shallow trays for catching and holding pieces of tile while being cut.
  • rags
  • mosaic glass cutter, tile nipper, tweezers, pick-up tools, dental picks
  • safety glasses

I also wrote a page for specifically setting up a workstation for using thinset mortar.

For most processes, especially mosaic, it helps to have a vacuum handy within reach.








5 responses to “How To Lay Out A Home Art Studio”

  1. Sandi Cummings Avatar
    Sandi Cummings

    Thank you for this information. It is exactly what I needed and the information covered more than what I had in mind for setting up shop.
    My area is very small and used for woodworking as well as mosaic projects of varying sizes. I will send you a before and after picture when it is completed. Now, that the weather here in Phoenix, Arizona is pleasant, I want to get started ASAP. That is also a concern, the weather. The shop must be a comfortable place to work. I need to put in an evap cooler and air conditioning, maybe a little heater on the side. 🙂

    Thanks again.


  2. How To Make A Home Mosaic Art Studio | How To Mosaic Avatar

    […] Setting up and organizing your studio or corner workspace can become an end unto itself and just one more thing that keeps you from working on your art. Keep in mind that great works of art have been created under terrible working conditions and with minimal tools and equipment. The most important thing you can do for your studio is to make sure you work on your art often and frequently. Incremental improvements will be made over time on an as-needed basis as you notice problems with inadequate lighting, incorrect work surface heights and the other general principles of laying out an art studio. […]

  3. Michael Kim Avatar
    Michael Kim

    I live in the desert southwest and have set-up my studio outdoors on the cement apron of our backyard patio. I bought a table about desk height from Goodwill to work on, with a separate table nearby with tesserae. I sit on a weather-worn rolling desk chair. My tools are kept in a wooden wine box I take inside with me and my grouting supplies are kept in a large plastic bin under the table. Water is supplied by an outdoor hose. I sweep the patio after each session into the gravel backyard & hose down as necessary. My work is protected between sessions with Dollar Store plastic table cloths held down by rocks, which I also use to protect my table during grouting. This set-up allows me to work year-round since the winter daytime highs get no lower than the 60’s. Thanks for all the great advice!

  4. Richard Hawkins Avatar
    Richard Hawkins

    Great ideas. We are going to re-purpose a bedroom for the studio. What do you recommend for flooring? Hardwood would seem to be a bad choice as would carpet. Tile? Vinyl Tile? Sheet Vinyl? Other

    1. Joe Moorman Avatar
      Joe Moorman

      Hi Richard,
      The best thing I have found for studios for cost and ease of clean up is the self-adhering vinyl tile. It’s quick and simple to install, and you can buy a few extra or save what you have left over for piecemeal repairs.
      I hope this helps!

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