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About studio storage…

June 29, 2010

A few days of repainting the home office, upstairs bathroom, and stairwell, which of course included emptying the office into the studio, then moving it all back again, have taken time from painting and posting.  The office is now reorganized and the studio is usable again.

This seems like a good time to talk about storage.

We live in a two story townhouse, with limited storage.  My studio is in a spare bedroom which, on occasion, has to be converted into sleeping and play space for grandchildren.  That can create storage and logistical issues.

The largest single storage problem is frames.  Because I maintain a fair sized inventory for art festivals, I try to buy the best I can, but there are budget limitations.  I have way too many at the moment, because when I see one or two I like at a decent price, I can’t resist buying them.  My original intent was to hang them in the garage, on large nails, or on pegboard like they do at frame shops, but, of course, I never got around to it.  Since we are now within two years or less of selling the house to live and travel in an RV, seeing the country and painting the countryside, I don’t want to start attaching things now.  But I still have to store all the artwork and frames.

Large plastic tubs have become a staple around our house.  They come in all sizes and shapes, and, for an artist who works on paper, they are a godsend.

In these big tubs, I can store frames from the smallest up to most 11×14 sizes.  I place them in the tub back-to-back and front-to-front.  That way, if wire and eyescrews are already attached, they don’t scratch the front of the adjoining frame.  I normally don’t attach the wire and eyescrews until I frame a piece for a show.  However, I do quite often “retire” pieces as my work moves forward, so I remove them from the frame and store them separately.  That way, I always have a decent inventory of frames for new work.  (That’s just to explain why many of the frames currently in the tub above have wire.)

As I frame work that I know is going with us to a show, it goes into tubs, this time, separated with bubble wrap.  These pieces do a lot of travelling.  At shows, they are taken out quickly and hung on the booth walls, and taken down just as quickly and put back in the tubs.  Finding absolutely pristine frames in the booth of a travelling artist is an unrealisitc expectation.  They travel.  They get handled a lot.  We do our best to handle them carefully.  But when setting up or tearing down a booth, with time constrainsts or in rain or wind, one tends to move as fast as possible.

When we were doing art festivals twenty years ago, we stood them up in cardboard boxes, with mat board separators.  Every time we sped up or slowed down, we could hear them shifting and clacking against one another.  Now, we transport them in these tubs, separated by bubble wrap, and they don’t move.

But, you may ask, what about storing unframed art?

Here they are again, those wonderful plastic tubs.  They come in tall shapes and flat, wide shapes.  Remember, I work on Crescent illustration board, so finished pieces can lie flat or stand up and take very little space.  They could be stored in cardboard boxes, of course, and I have done that.  But I still have a memory, many years ago, of a bathroom leak that ran under the wall into a closet where I had artwork on paper stored on the floor.  Lost completely.  All gone.  Ruined.  They make these things so you can slide them under a bed, and they come in some pretty large widths.

Of course, some frames are just too large to store in tubs.  There is no choice but to lean them against the wall.  When grandkids come, these go into a closet.  I need to get a couple of metal brackets of some kind to keep them off the floor.  Wood boards would do, but wood does wick up water.  I haven’t done a lot at larger sizes yet (the largest here is 18×22), but will do more occasionally, so storing them is still an issue.  Nell is going to make some “pillowcases” for the larger ones, using a fleece material.  It’s an idea shared with us from another artist at a show, and we really like it.  She’s going to sew handles on them as well.  This way, they can be stored safely at home, and trasported without banging against one another to and from shows.

Here’s a shot of the studio:

I mentioned that the studio must occasionally be used for sleeping space for grandkids.  That explains the large amount of empty floor space.  When we convert it for that purpose, the legs on the small work table are folded up, and the table leans against the wall as a “headboard” covered with a heavy quilt to avoid hurting little heads.  We then roll out a queen size inflatable mattress, cover it with bedding, throw a couple of pillows down, and voila… temporary bed.

The easel gets folded flat and put in a closet.  The plastic lid is put on the palette dish, and placed on a closet shelf with the jars and brushes.  Unframed art and work in progress gets put in a tub and stored.  I’ve got the breakdown and restoration to a studio down to a science.  In this shot, the tubs are out, but that’s because I’m in the process of getting things organized for an upcoming festival.  The tubs will go into a walk-in closet.  The walls are a bit bare here because I’ve removed almost everything as part of the office re-do this past weekend.  Two of my most prized possessions are a framed poster of Howard Terpning’s “The Long Shot” from the Cowboy Artists of America Museum, and a signed, numbered limited edition of Robert “Shufly” Shufelt’s “1000 Mile Checkup”.  They were gifts from Nell on our first and second anniversaries.  These two pieces have been moved from the studio to a more visible place of honor in the newly redone office.  I now have to decide what to do with my other treasures: a collection of replica American Indian clubs by Joseph Skywolf.  They’ll probably just be moved to a different wall.  About twenty years ago, we did a huge show in Houston, and were just a few booths away from Skywolf.  We spent some time admiring each other’s work.  I eventually bought a couple of the clubs, and he traded me three more for one of my  graphite pencil renderings of an old Mexican saddle.  These clubs have hung somewhere in every studio space I’ve had since.

My “taboret”, the black cabinet next to the window, is a Craftsman tool chest.  With its flat drawers, it’s perfect for storing illustration board, foamcore board, paint, and all the other stuff an artist has to have handy.  When we eventually move into an RV, I’ll probably have to cut the top off the easel.  That’s assuming there will even be a space for it.  Living in an RV will require a whole new mindset, and some pretty creative storage solutions, especially since we’ll be carrying our entire show booth with us.  One thing’s for sure: I won’t be able to have quite as many frames on hand.

(Yes, that’s a keyboard just inside the room.  I tend to be pretty focused on my art these days, and don’t have many “toys”.  The keyboard is one them.  I don’t play piano, but with a good jazz or blues rhythm going, I can make some pretty decent right hand sounds.  After all, a guy’s got to take a break every now and then.)

I don’t know if this has been helpful to anyone, but it just seemed like the right time to share how I deal with some of my storage issues.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 29, 2010 3:01 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing. I really like the “pillowcase” idea. Is there glass in the frames or do you varnish your work? The artwork looks good even in the plastic bins! I love to use the plastic bins for storing also. An artist of your caliber should have their own studio though.

  2. Peggy Linden permalink
    July 6, 2010 9:43 am

    Thanks, Ralph, that was very helpful! I, too, have become a plastic bin junkie of late. Looking forward to seeing you at Peach festival!

  3. July 18, 2010 9:18 am

    Thanks so much for sharing your storage ideas – storage for an artist is always a problem.

    I have admired your work (seen on Wet Canvas) for a long time and it was you and Deborah Secor who got me to explore gouache.

    I did want to mention that I had stored some framed watercolor paintings (with glass) in bubble wrap and ended up with a permanent imprint of the wrap on the glass. I know you varnish your paintings so that may not be an issue for you though.

    • July 18, 2010 4:32 pm

      You make a good point, Jan. Maybe I shouldn’t leave the wrapped paintings in the trailer in the garage during the summer heat. Thanks so much for the visit and for the comments!

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