Tag Archives: studio space

Vacuum Attachment For Removing Dust From Small Parts

The new SPARDUSTER™ Small Parts Dust Remover looks like a simple vacuum attachment, but it is actually nothing less than a revolution in studio and workshop cleanup. With this simple tool, cleaning up a work surface covered in mosaic tile goes from 45 minutes of tedious sorting to a few minutes of casual effort. You can remove the glass dust from all your storage jars in a matter of a few seconds per jar  –without sucking up and loosing any pieces.

Sparduster small parts vacuum attachment

SPARDUSTER™  Small Parts Dust Remover Vacuum Attachment has a replaceable fiberglass mesh screen that prevents you from sucking up small pieces of tile and other parts.

SPARDUSTER™ Small Parts Dust Remover Vacuum Attachment

I had to clean up a room full of Legos and kept putting it off because it would take hours and hours to wash all the cat hair and dust out of it. I created a small prototype that eventually became the SPARDUSTER™, and with that simple tool, I was able to clean all of those boxes and boxes of Legos in less than 30 minutes and did not suck up a single piece!

Fits Most Vacuum Cleaners

This attachment works on household vacuum cleaners and shop vac with hoses 2 inches in diameter or less. The only restriction is that the attachment’s 1-inch diameter insert tube must be able to fit inside the hose.

For Tiny Parts

The openings in the mesh screen are 2mm, and the mesh is double ply, so you can clean some very small parts with this.

You can also pick up spilled containers of beads and screws and similar items quickly with this attachments.

Durable Construction / Replaceable Screen

These are made from heavy duty PVC plastic for long life. The fiberglass mesh screen is replaceable, and the unit ships with enough spare mesh to make 10 screens.

Simple Cleaning

Pet hair and lint will accumulate on the screen. To clean it off, simply pull the attachment out of your vacuum hose and vacuum it off. You will be surprised how quickly the filth builds up. The good news is that this attachment will have you living and working a lot cleaner because it takes so much of the tedious labor out of cleaning up after a studio session.

I still can’t figure out how managed to work in my mosaic studio without it. This simple attachment makes clean up so much easier!

 

 

Van Gogh Self-Portrait Mosaic

Recently Doug Harris of Elementile sent me some photos of a mosaic rendering of Vincent Van Gogh’s 1889 self-portrait, and it is definitely worth seeing. I think some of the best examples of how to use adamento in mosaic to convey a sense of motion are actually demonstrated in Van Gogh’s painting, and this self-portrait was a natural choice for mosaic interpretation. I have a photo of the painting at the end of this article.

van-gogh-mosaic-artist

Mosaic interpretation of Vincent Van Gogh’s Self Portrait oil painting. The mosaic was done by Doug Harris and family of Elementile, with most work being done by his daughter Carly.

Note how more than one hue of blue are used in the same field of color: Phthalo blues (cyans) and ultramarine blues (French blues) in multiple shades are combined in differing proportions to render both the clothing and the background. Notice how well the reddish and yellowish browns of the beard work together to create the image of a Dutchman’s red hair and how well these colors contrast the blues.

Color Contrasts And Color Mood

Van Gogh’s original oil painting on which this mosaic is based made use of more complex and subtle color fields (after all, he was working in oil paint not glass tile), but I think Carly’s choice to use more blues and more intense blues was a stroke of genius. The blues make a more striking contrast with the beard than the colors of the original painting, and the emphasis on blue is so in keeping with Van Gogh’s work as a whole and his mood and how we think of the artist. I am thinking of both the lonely genius who painted “Starry Night” and the painting itself.

van-gogh-mosaic-detail

Detail from mosaic interpretations of Van Gogh’s Self Portrait captures the artist’s wounded stare. I like the use of blue in the hair to heighten contrast.

Art Happens

The last picture Doug Harris sent me was of the work in progress, and it is my favorite because to me it says a lot about how art happens, at least for most people, including many of the great masters.

Whenever I see advertisements for art retreats and classes in places like Big Sur and Sienna, I am enticed by the idea of going to these picturesque places, but I am also perplexed by the idea of having studio sessions there. I don’t think I could spend any length of time focusing on art while I was in a place of such natural beauty unless I had at least several weeks there. Instead, I would be hiking and exploring with what little time I had available, and I would probably be too busy even to take photos. Keep in mind that someone like me has to check out the local geology, the creeks, the fossils, the artifacts, the indigenous plant life, signs of old home sites, signs of how the land has changed over the years, etc.

Not only that, my mind is already overflowing with creative ideas that I don’t have enough time to pursue. Do people really have to go to some place with over-the-top natural beauty to be inspired to create? For me, it is sometimes difficult to walk outside and check the mail and not spend the rest of the day thinking about landscape painting, especially if there are low rolling gray clouds and yellow leaves shivering in the tops of the poplars.

I like Doug’s photo of such great art being made in a crowded busy warehouse because that is where and how most of my art was made in the past decade or so, and before that it was usually on the floor or dining room table of where ever I was living, even in tiny apartments and hotels during business travel. Some people have to create. It is a need, and they will pursue it where ever and how ever they have to. No trips to Sienna or Rome are required.

van-gogh-mosaic-ip

Van Gogh Self-Portrait mosaic in progress -on a low table, in what appears to be a warehouse hallway serving as an office/storeroom. When I first saw this photo, I thought that the mosaic was actually resting on the floor itself, a situation which seemed all too familiar from some my own projects.

Best Mosaic Artist: Vincent Van Gogh

To my knowledge, Vincent Van Gogh never made a mosaic, but I think many of his paintings offer great examples of how to use andamento in mosaic to create a sense of motion and add more visual interest to the artwork. Notice how Van Gogh uses flowing brushstrokes of different colors to build the folds of fabric in the artist’s clothing and how this same technique makes the background dance.

van-gogh-self-portrait

Van Gogh’s original self-portrait oil painting from 1889 on which Doug and Carly’s mosaic was based.

Small Glass Mosaic Instructions

These instructions explain how to set up and make a small mosaic from glass mosaic tile. I use our new hardwood mosaic coaster bases with 12mm Elementile recycled glass mosaic tile as an example, and I show how to set up your studio work space in ways that control dust and sharp splinters of glass. I grew up working in a dirt-floor welding shop and have spent a lifetime thinking about ways to minimize my exposure to potentially harmful substances, especially dusts, so don’t let my emphasis on safety alarm you.

These instructions were also written for someone trying to fit the glass as close together as I did in my mosaic crab shown below. If you leave an irregular grout gap of 1/16″ or less, you will have to cut a lot less and create fewer shards and dust. (You will also be able to use nearly every piece you cut and be able to use regular sanded grout to grout it.)

mosaic coaster crab

Crab Mosaic Coaster. I used the glass mosaic tile upside down so that the embossed texture showed to make this crab. The edges of the coaster were smoothed with a marble file. Note that leaving a gap for grout instead of fitting the tile together this closely would have made the work infinitely easier. Fitting tile this closely takes more trial and error and you may end up cutting up over twice the amount of tile than you actually use. Most of these extra pieces could be eventually used on a future mosaic, but you can really take a lot of stress out of the process by leaving irregular gaps and not fitting each piece exactly. You can make the tile touch in places and still have an irregular gap.

Mosaic Studio Set Up

Mosaic Studio Set Up

Whether you are painting, soldering, sewing, engraving or doing mosaic, your workspace tends to evolve into a U-shaped station where you can reach everything you need. Note the trays made from cardboard shallow boxes holding tile in recycled yogurt containers. Keeping your materials in shallow boxes and trays allows you to set up different activities and clean up quickly. One of the most important pieces of equipment isn’t shown: a HEPA-quality vacuum for cleaning up splinters of glass and any incidental dust.

Your Vacuum Needs To Be A HEPA Vacuum

Your home vacuum should be HEPA quality, which means it removes at least 99.97% of airborne particles 0.3 micrometers (µm) in diameter. I say this for all uses including cleaning your house and not just for mosaics or other crafts. If your vacuum isn’t HEPA, then it is blowing out a lot of dust that you are breathing. Vacuuming should make the air more healthy to breath, not expose you to lots of dust. Keep in mind that the silicon dust you track in as soil can be just as bad for your lungs as most of the materials used in arts and crafts.

When you cut up glass mosaic tile, there will definitely be small vicious splinters of glass that hide unseen on surfaces until you slide your hand across it and get a nasty cut before you even know what bit you. A vacuum and a counter brush are good ways to remove these from the work surface and the surrounding floor and to pick up any dust that is created by cutting.

Cutting Towel and Spray Bottle

cutting towel for glass slivers

An old dish towel or hand towel can be used to catch tiny splinters of glass created during cutting. Be careful shaking the tile out after use because you could flick sharp pieces of glass. We do this INSIDE a large garbage can and wear safety glasses when we work with mosaic. You should also mist your towel before shaking it to make sure you are not creating airborne dust.

In addition to a vacuum, you should use an old dish towel or hand towel to contain any dust and splinters created by cutting tile. You can put the towel in a shallow box or dishpan to catch any pieces that fly off when nipped by the mosaic glass cutter. The towel and tile can be misted with a spray bottle to prevent the formation of airborne dust, but don’t be excessive. You still need to keep the moisture away from the vacuum to prevent the risk of electric shock, and moisture can cause wood backers to warp, especially thin wood such as the mosaic coaster bases.

Using Marble Files Without Creating Dust

Marble File in Bucket

Marble files are great for shaping individual tiles and smoothing the edges of finished mosaics, but they should be used in an intelligent way that doesn’t expose you to glass dust. We do this by keeping the file in a 2-gallon plastic bucket and misting with water from a spray bottle. Sure the file will rust over time, even if you rinse and dry it each night, but marble files can be replaced while new lungs are hard to get. You already breath enough silicon from pulverized sand every day merely by living on planet Earth. Don’t add to the burden through your hobbies.

Mostly you can get the pieces you need by nipping, but sometimes there are random slivers left at the edge of a cut, and the edges of the finished mosaic on a round coaster base usually requires smoothing. Now any blockhead can just grab the file and go at it, but I LIVE in my studio, so I use common sense practices such as wet sanding and wet filing to make sure I don’t create airborne dust. Use your marble file in a 2-gallon plastic bucket and mist with a spray bottle to contain the dust at the source.

Mounting Tile With Glue

Tweezers and glue

Tweezers and glue. Working with pieces of tile this small is difficult without the use of a pair of tweezers. A self-closing pair of tweezers with a needle point is shown, but these can sometime cause a tile to shoot out, and I prefer regular tweezers with a wide tip.

We use the Weldbond brand of white PVA adhesive because it is the best PVA we have used and doesn’t get as brittle in cold temperatures as some of the other brands we have tried over the years. It also seems to be very water resistant when fully cured. (Note that water resistant does not mean water proof, and we use thinset mortar on all wet mosaics and outdoor mosaics.) The white disk in the photograph is a top from a plastic yogurt container. We use these to hold a small blob of glue and dip the bottom of the tile into the glue using a pair of tweezers.

If you are fitting the tile tightly together, make sure you start at the center of the mosaic and work outwards. Otherwise, you can warp thin wood backers by squeezing tile into tight places.

Drawing Mosaic Patterns On Your Backer

Draw the cartoon (outline) of your mosaic directly on the coaster base or whatever small mosaic backer you choose. You should start with pencil and then darken the principal lines with a fine-point marker such as a Sharpie. Your pattern should look like a picture from a coloring book: just the main lines and the outline of the figures.

You can also find a pattern on paper and transfer the pattern to the backer using graphite tracing paper (carbon paper). First, print the pattern as the same size as the backer by resizing the pattern using a photo-editing program. Then tape the pattern to the backer with carbon paper in between the pattern and the backer. Then trace over the pattern firmly with a ballpoint pen.

If you cannot print the pattern the same size as the backer, you can use these instructions for enlarging and transferring a mosaic pattern.

Grouting The Mosaic

Most mosaic art is made with a grout gap of roughly 1/32 inch to 1/16 inch and is grouted with sanded grout. If your mosaic is made with fitted tile such as mosaic crab coaster above, you should use nonsanded grout or leave the mosaic ungrouted. Note that leaving a mosaic ungrouted is not practical for wet mosaics and outdoor mosaics or even mosaic counter tops. Those mosaics need grout to seal out water.

You should mix your grout according to manufacturer instructions, which usually specify roughly 1/4 pound of water per every 1 pound of sanded grout, and mix it thoroughly to make sure all the powder is thoroughly wetted. The grout is applied by smearing the wet grout across the face of the mosaic, and you should make several passes from different directions to make sure the wet grout is being forced to the bottoms of the gaps and not just superficially covering the tops. A gloved hand is good for this work, but be aware that sharp edges of cut tile pieces can sometimes cut through a glove. That is why the grouting gloves we sell are thicker than most dish washing gloves. You can cut a plastic lid in half to make a great disposable grout spreader.

Make sure you don’t allow the grout to dry out as it as curing. Concrete hardens by BINDING water not by drying. If you have to, cover the mosaic in plastic wrap or use a humidifier. Both are recommended if you are in a dry climate or the heater or AC are running excessively.

Make sure you use a damp (but not dripping) sponge or rag to remove excess grout from the face of the mosaic, but be careful not to pull the grout out from the gaps between the tile. After grout has hardened, you can buff the face of the mosaic with wet and dry rags to remove any remaining haze.

Dispose of your wet grout in the trash and not sinks or drains. Grout is concrete and can harden underwater, and even the loose sand can be a problem is pipes.

Outdoor mosaics and architectural mosaics (such as counter tops and backsplashes) need to be sealed with a tile and grout sealer such as the TileLab brand from Home Depot, but small art mosaics don’t really require it unless you expect it to be subjected to splashes and stains.

Additional tips about grouting can be found on the mosaic grout page and our page for how to avoid grouting problems.

Sealing Sides and Backs Of Wooden Backers

I like to seal the side edges and backs of wooden backers with a clear polyurethane (sometimes with varnish, sometimes without) or with acrylic artists paint such as umber or burnt umber.

This keeps the plywood from delaminating and solid wood (such as the coaster bases) from cracking or warping. This is particularly important for coasters subject to spills and condensation from glasses.

How To Make A Home Mosaic Art Studio

Avoid Studio Obsession

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.

For many years, my art was made on the floor of whatever small apartment I was living in at the time. My workspace was cramped, and often the project had to be cleaned up and put away immediately after each work session to make room for day-to-day activities like laundry or simply to be able to walk through the tiny room.

In the example below, I show rolling tables, rolling shelves and other moveable fixtures that can be rearranged to accommodate large sculptural mosaics. This is not how my home art space was set up to make mosaics back in the day, and this probably isn’t how you should set up yours (unless you live in a large warehouse with concrete floors.)

Use What You Have (And What Can Be Gotten For Little Cost)

Instead of custom-built low tables on wheels, you can use what I once did: a plastic recycling tote turned upside down and slid into position as needed. Old coffee tables and end tables from garage sales are also useful. Keep in mind that in addition to your main work surface, it really helps to have one or two auxiliary tables on the side. This arrangement of tables creates a highly efficient C-shaped manufacturing cell where the operator can reach a wide range of materials merely by pivoting.

Depending on how many different colors or materials you are working with, you may find that one of your two side tables should be an open shelf instead. An old bookshelf made for small paperbacks is an effective and cheap solution as are shelves mounted on a wall if your workspace is in a corner.

If at all possible, have your main work table set against a window so that you can have natural light and look up from time to time to rest your eyes from the intense up-close work

A C-Shaped Manufacturing Cell

mosaic-studio

This particular mosaic studio was set up for standing artist who was working intermittently between packing orders for shipment and making “last-minute” changes before grouting.

In the picture above, notice the main work surface is augmented by an open shelf to the right and a smaller lower table to the right (almost out of camera view). Notice how the small plastic containers of tile could not be reached by a seated artist. If the artist were seated, those containers of tile would be better places by arranging them on the shelf, preferably a more efficient shelf with more levels than the one shown here. The point of the C-shaped manufacturing cell is to arrange things where the artist can reach them without getting up or stretching.

Use A Low Table For Seated Artists

low-mosaic-table

I’ve built some low tables on wheels that are about knee high, which allows a seated artist to position tiles and see. The artist does not need to bend over or reach the far side of the mosaic. Instead, the mosaic can be spun on the table, or the table itself can be spun.

Mosaic is different from painting in that it is best done while the surface is lying horizontally, and this presents a problem in how step back and see the work as a whole as you are working on it. Sure, you can clean off the tools and loose pieces of tile and prop the mosaic up vertically, but this just isn’t practical.

More importantly, it’s difficult to judge how far you are spacing each tile you place if you are looking at the mosaic from a low angle. You need to be looking at it from above. Conventional desks and worktables don’t allow this because they are too high unless you are standing, and that doesn’t make sense for hours at a time. The solution is to use a work surface much lower than what you would use for most other art activities. Old coffee tables are just about the right height and make near ideal mosaic work surfaces, particularly the square ones.

Can You Tell This Picture Has Been Staged?

mosaic-studio-table

Large work surfaces allow you to lay out tools and materials and still rotate and move the mosaic to work on different areas.

Once you work on a mosaic, the above picture should make you chuckle with its artificial neatness. I’ve laid out all the nippers, palette knives, tweezers, etc. like surgical instruments. Keep in mind that surgeons have interns and nurses and even other surgeons to assist. That means you have to keep things findable yourself.

That doesn’t mean rows, but it does mean rough zones that radiate out from your current site of active work. The zone can be as simple as tools right, blues top, greens left.

How To Manage Your Immediate Work Area

The place on the mosaic where you are actively mounting tile tends to get ringed with the tools you are currently using (glue, rag, tweezer, pick) and bins of the different colors most relevant to that location. Try to keep the stuff you aren’t using most swapped toward the back of its zone.

Also if you’re like me, you will want to create a special zone where you periodically slam down something you’ve had to search for a minute or two to find. If it keeps getting lost, put it in the special zone.

Why You Can Only Be So Disorganized

You will find yourself reaching for a palette knife as quick as any surgeon reaching for a scapple when you need to do stuff like scoop runny wet mortar before it drips onto an unsealed 250 myo limestone ammonite fossil to stain it forever. You have to work carefully and deliberately and quickly when you fabricate a surface from artifacts, and you have to know what to do when things go wrong.

And things do go wrong when you work with wet concrete and stuff easily stained by concrete.

You can be in a good rhythm, but then you will drop something, and before you know it, you will  suddenly have concrete on both hands, plus the past 6 things you touched, including whatever you are currently holding, which will continue to get dirtier until you just drop it and accidentally touch you hand to your face or hair in frustration. And then you laugh like a crazy man or cuss or both and spend the next five to ten minutes bathing things and picking concrete out of your eyebrow.

Contain Your Cutting Slivers

You can’t just cut tile, especially glass tile without creating some dangerous slivers and splinters, so this means you can’t indiscriminately hold your cutting tool over your lap or work surface. Cut tile over a tray or plastic tote to help contain the slivers generated by cutting. Totes with some depth like dishpans and unused litter boxes are more effective than flat trays for catching splinters that shoot out instead of merely falling.

Why is this important? Random slivers lying invisible on surfaces cause more cuts than handling the tile. Inevitably you touch your finger, hand or forearm to the surface, and you have cut yourself before you know what is happening. The cuts are usually surprisingly deep given the size of the slivers. I’ve had one roll a deep cut all the way across my palm when I foolishly brushed a seemingly clean table with my bare ungloved hand.

Keep your shop vacuum in the cell of the workstation if possible and use if frequently with a counter brush like the kind we sell.

I have a wire mesh fitting over my vacuum hose, and it makes the vacuum a lot more useful. I use the wire mesh fitting for vacuuming the dust out of all my small part containers without having to remove the parts: mosaic tile, screws, hardware, fossils, teeth, arrowheads, artifacts. This is huge when you have a room with thousands of open-top containers of small parts.

How To Make A Mesh Vacuum Fitting

I made the mesh fitting from 3/8″ hardware cloth (galvanized steel wire mesh) folded over the end of a hose pipe salvaged from a dead shop vac. The wire mesh was folded under at the outer edges, and I spent a few minutes with with the needle nose pliers nipping and tucking under the sharp ends. Then I wrapped it about three times with duct tape.

 What Your Really Need To Know About Duct Tape

Just because you are using duct tape doesn’t mean that your work has to be “halfast” and disposable.  You can form up some useful things with duct tape. Also, the environmental cost of making duct tape  and disposing it when worn out means that it is actually a very expensive material and should not be used carelessly.

The nozzle I made was wrapped about three times with duct tape. If you leave the sharps turned out, you could wrap a whole roll on there and still get poked if you ever pressed down on it good.

Tools List

mosaic-studio-tools

Mosaic tools arranged to the right of Dorothy Stucki’s in-progress mosaic “To Begin and End With Nothing.”

In the tools laid out above, some are more clearly visible than others, so my list begins with the less than obvious and the less visible:

  • misting water bottle (not shown)
  • glue tray for dipping tiles in glue -use plastic lid  (not shown)
  • tray of cotton swabs
  • tray of assorted metal detail tools: dental picks, tweezers of different type, small pocket screwdrivers, palette knives, butter knives, spoons
  • palette knives
  • putty knives
  • pencil cup full of odd tools: scissors, toothbrushes, pencils, markers, box cutter
  • marble file
  • mosaic glass cutter
  • tile nipper

Grout Mixing Tools

I don’t mix my grout or thinset mortar up in the workstation where I actually position the tile. I prefer to mix up and wash up in a separate place, preferably where things can be hosed down without the possibility of getting concrete in any drains. For this reason, your grout and grout mixing supplies don’t have to be stored around your mosaic workstation.

mosaic-studio-grouting

Grout mixing tools for smaller batches include small digital kitchen scale, measuring cups, buckets, pails, rubber gloves and a counter brush. Note the white tray to the left is the catching tray for the mounted compound nipper above it.

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.

painting-studio-201310

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.

 

The Importance Of Repurposed Downcycling In Art Studios

In my previous article about how to cut cement board for use as a mosaic backer, I explained how I didn’t buy carbide-grit jigsaw blades for this because I re-used my worn-out wood blades for this once they became to dull for wood, and that it didn’t matter that cutting the cement board destroyed them completely. The worn-out wood blades would normally be thrown away as useless, so they are essentially free. This is an example of repurposed downcycling.

Repurposed Downcycling Versus Conventional Recycling

Recycling cans and bottles and plastics and paper usually means collecting old containers, transporting them to a plant, melting or breaking them down, re-manufacturing the raw material into new products and then transporting these finished goods to consumers. Each step of this supposedly “green” and sustainable process is actually much more energy intensive than it should be.

What this means is that conventional recycling doesn’t conserve nearly as many resources as when you can repurpose waste materials on site, even if that new purpose isn’t as important as the original purpose of the material.

For example, consider the re-use of a 32-ounce yogurt tub as a water container for rinsing paint brushes while working with acrylic paint. A container used to rinse paint brushes doesn’t need to be made from virgin plastic, which was what was required to make the yogurt tub. You could use a container to rinse brushes that was made from recycled plastics, old plastics that didn’t have to be certified to be contaminant free. However, if you can re-use the virgin plastic food container (a purpose requiring high-grade material)  for a brush rinsing container (a purpose requiring lesser-grade material) you save all the energy and other resources required to produce one from recycled plastics.

Examples Of Products Replaced By Free Repurposed Materials

Here are just a few examples from my studios and steel and woodworking shops. The free repurposed material is in parentheses () following the commercial product being replaced:

  • paper towels (old newspapers)
  • shop rags (worn-out clothing cut into pieces)
  • carbide-grit jigsaw blades (old dull blades made for cutting wood)
  • rags for cleaning up thinset (plastic grocery bags)
  • studio floor mats (flattened cardboard boxes)
  • sorting bins for nails, screws and hardware (tin cans of uniform size in a cardboard box)
  • small disposable paint containers for mixing (bottoms of milk and juice jugs cut down)
  • plastic buckets with lids (plastic paint buckets)
  • nuts, bolts, washers, screws (reclaimed hardware from old appliances)

Then there all the many different ways you can use discarded objects of metal, glass and wood as raw materials for sculpture…

Downcycling Is Different From Hording

As an artist, your most important resource is time. Your second most important resource is space. Saving large unsorted piles of mixed materials is an act of waste. It wastes your time, and it wastes your workspace, and it usually wastes the materials too eventually.

If the materials are unsorted or saved in quantities beyond what you use on a regular basis, then sooner or later it will be necessary to dispose of them all at once, even if it is after you are gone. Unused junk is unused junk. What a bizarre burden to live with. What a bizarre burden to leave for your loved ones to sort out!

Practical Tips For Downcycling

Here are some practical tips for saving materials for repurposed uses in the art studio:

  • sort materials immediately or discard them.
  • store materials in labeled containers.
  • don’t save more than you use.
  • don’t try to save everything, or even most of everything, or even some of everything.
  • don’t store anything at the expense of your workspace.
  • don’t spend more time salvaging materials than working on your art.

Repurposed Downcycling Also Saves Time, Labor and Money

Downcycling of waste materials for “lesser” purposes has other advantages than saving more resources than conventional recycling. Re-purposed materials save money because they are essentially free. Re-purposed materials also save time and labor. How? An example makes it instantly obvious: If you can cover the floor with old newspapers or flattened cardboard boxes, then you can paint the ceiling a lot faster without having to stress about every drop that falls.

Most manufacturing and maintenance processes can be done faster with sacrificial materials of some sort. Things like removable painter’s tape and paper patterns and disposable rags for cleaning up are obvious examples. When you use downcycled materials for these purposes, you can use more of them if needed without hesitation because they are free, and this allows you to  focus on minimizing time and labor costs.