Setting Up an Illustration Studio

I posted about setting up a studio for my students on the RISD-CE blog, Drawing Together, but I thought it might be of interest to those who read this blog as well. So here is a little advice, and some pix and links to working illustration studios.

My own workspace is in tight quarters... a sun room.

My own workspace is in tight quarters... a sun room.


1. Create your own dedicated space.

When you need to clear your work off the dining room table before you can feed the family, you're wasting precious time. Get your own space... a place that's yours, and yours alone... even if it's a small desk tucked into a corner.

CE's children's book writing instructor, Marlo Garnsworthy, set up her own art space recently. It only takes a corner of one room, but is practical and inviting.    

Marlo's newly created workspace

Marlo's space hard at work!

2. Get good light.

Illustration comes from the Latin word that means "to light up." Follow that advice! 

Traditionally, north light is supposed to be best for artists, but I like any and all the natural light I can get. You also need at least one of those adjustable neck lights so you can pull it exactly to where you want. Fluorescent or incandescent can be debated for days... your choice. The fluorescent lights with a magnifying glass are great for those little details.

RISD CE-instructor Judith Moffatt has a wonderful studio. The L-shaped configuration of desk and worktable is an especially efficient set-up, and accommodates her computer as well. And check out the lighting!!! Heaven!

Judith Moffatt's well-lit workspace

3. Get comfortable.

If you're hunched over with no back support, you're going to have neck and back problems down the road. Get a chair with an adjustable seat and have place to rest your feet. Many artists prefer desks that can be tilted. Some folks use high desks, and stand instead of sitting.

Illustrator Don Tate works standing up, and shows us that messy can work, too!

link to Illustrator Don Tate's studio

Artists often suffer from repetitive motion injuries, too. Pay attention as you work to creeping aches and stiffness. Even with good seating, stand up and walk around at least every hour. Do a few stretches, gently roll your shoulders and neck, or stand with your back against the wall and do a few pelvic tilts. 

4. Have your tools handy.

Set up hooks for rulers, T-squares, etc. Use lazy-susans or other tabletop organizers. Office, art, and scrapbook supply stores offer many options. Mobile taborets are popular, although I've never gotten mine to function that usefully. Drawers, shelves, racks... you get the picture.

I love this double lazy-Susan from kitchen storage at Target.

Specialized containers can be useful.

5. Create adequate storage.

You need a place for materials that you only use occasionally, such as papers, reference books, specialized tools, and finished art. If your space is limited, you can put these in a separate room. My basement is dry, so it works well for storage, but attics and basements can be problematic because of heat, cold, damp and pests.

Deep, professional quality legal size file cabinets are useful, and flat files are fabulous, but they can cost an arm and a leg. I was fortunate to get many of my storage containers from used office supply stores for more reasonable prices. Cheap file cabinets aren't cost-effective if they stop opening when fully loaded, and I don't mind the few dings in my high-quality used file cabinets with overloaded drawers that roll with the push of a finger.

Flat files in my cool, dry basement.

Don't forget a place for the peripherals... close enough so they can get wired up properly. Printer, scanner, computer, back-up hard-drive. A place to do cutting is good too. And a self-healing mat.

Judith Moffatt's flat files, printers, and reference books.

Judith's studio. You can never have too much storage space, light and decorative touches (or purple). 

5. Create a place to display your work in process.

Ideally, you'll have a place to view reference materials, inspiration boards, sketches, etc while you're working. Try to have a bulletin board or open wall space nearby. If you checked out Don Tate's link above, you'll see that even the floor can work.  Pin or prop up your work, and stand back to view it from a distance from time to time.

For a few peeks at spaces to aspire to, here are some links.

Illustrator Susan Kathleen Hartung's studio tour. 

click here

Blog tour of the ultra charming studio of Jenny B. Harris, "illustrator, designer and generally artsy crafty person."

click here

No matter how little space you have, you can make it work for you!