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  • Writer's pictureMckenzie Kvalsten

How to Paint Without a Studio

Have you ever spilled paint on your dining room table? Dropped a wet brush onto the carpet? Had a teetering stack of art supplies slide off of a surface and collapse in a pile at your feet? This is happening in homes all across the world!

Creativity does not wait for us to be ready. It arrives when we are not fed and not rested. It barges in on a busy evening when the house is not clean and there is no open surface to work. I can't count the number of times I shoved those little piles of paper/books/clutter to the far corner of my desk and balanced a canvas on the edge of that tiny open space.

Pinterest would have you believe that an artists' studio has a 20-foot ceiling, giant windows, and billowy white curtains. That is certainly *one* kind of studio. But we can make art in any space if we allow ourselves to embrace it. Granted it isn't always beautiful, but it is worth it.

watercolor sketching urban illustration

Exhibit A! I took a makeup bag and filled it with watercolor supplies to take with me on trips. You don't have to wait for that perfect setup or perfect time- just start. A watercolor sketchbook is a really wonderful way to stay portable and it all packs up very small. Try this if you are at a point where this is all the space you have!

Painting of a beach

But what about oils and acrylics? I found a little table-top easel at a craft store that folds up very small. It was pretty unstable but it got the job done! Here I am painting on the little corner of my desk! For a pallet I used a piece of plastic garbage (I think it was a wrapper for some watercolor paper I bought). I've also been known to use saran wrap-covered books and garbage bags as painting pallets! You can see my water bucket is an old laundry detergent bottle that's been cut down.

crab on desk

Here's another desk scene, this time with oils. That piece of glass is one that I took out of a picture frame! I set it on top of a square of cardboard and voilà, a fancy glass pallet.


Eventually I decided I needed a bigger space, so I moved my art to the garage! If you look really close you can see a stack of tires with a broken cardboard box on top- that was my pallet stand for my paint! It was as wobbly as it looks.

I used to set up my still-life on the back of a car. On more than one occasion the car had to leave, and I had to move the veggies and stack up some boxes to set them on. I eventually got wise and started using the garbage can instead!

still life, artist, still life art, mckenzie kvalsten
The best part about painting in the winter is the veggies stay crisp!

From there I began upgrading. As you can see I refined the space with a geometric shower curtain and my brand new wooden easel.

And then, suddenly, I didn't have a garage anymore. But this time I was ready with a brand new pochade painting box! At this point in my life I was painting a lot outside because there was no where else to do it. My new living space was the smallest yet and I had to keep my canvas to a tiny size, which was perfect for plein air painting in the outdoors. (Before I got my pochade box I used a pizza box! Click here to read that adventure.)

plein air painting, artist, painting outside, inspiring art
My glass and wood pochade box for painting outside

After years of many less-than-ideal setups my ultimate dream came true: I have almost an entire room to myself as my studio! It's bright, it's clean, it's beautiful. I spent a lot of years painting in the dark, or bent at odd angles and even having my paint freeze while I was using it in the garage! But the thing I want every artist to know is that *nothing* can keep you from creating. You will make some of your most fulfilling work in the most unglamorous conditions. Don't be discouraged. The only thing that is certain is change, and if you can change with it, you will never be without. I don't know how long I'll have this lovely studio space, so all I can do is paint, paint, paint and enjoy every second! And I know that wherever I end up going, there will always be room for painting. Even if it's just a little bit of room.

oil painting studio, studio setup, studio tour, workspace, artist studios
My current studio! I love it so much

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