Studio Mojo: The Potential Power of a Home Studio

Meet Nancee Jean Busse

My friend, the wonderful artist Nancee Jean Busse, dug into the pros and cons of establishing a home studio. I love Nancee’s wry sense of humor and candor. In Studio Mojo: the Potential for Power in a Home Studio, Nancee addresses some of the practical needs–more space and ways to organize–along with the mental side of carving out solitude.

For more about Nancee, click here.

Studio Mojo: the potential for power in your home studio

By Nancee Jean Busse

Nancee Busse studio

I’ve been either an illustrator or a painter for almost 50 years. During those decades I’ve created art in wildly varying spaces, most of which were problematic. I worked in an office for some of those years, but when my son was born in 1984 I decided it would be a swell idea to work from home; a very small, very humble home.

So let’s have a little chit-chat about some of the home-studio issues that came up over the years for me and how I solved (or attempted to solve) them. Here’s a list of studio problems and how to solve them.

Issue: I don’t have a spare room for a studio.

Yes, that sucks. For years I painted at the dining room table. Whenever the cat was unhappy he would jump up on the table and vomit on what I was working on. I was also fair game for every family member to unload their problems on. That was fun. If you have to work in your home’s family space, get a compact, folding table easel and work at the kitchen/dining room table. Store your art supplies in plastic tubs. In order to keep from driving yourself mad with clutter, put that stuff away when you’re not actively painting. Your sense of space and privacy will be greatly compromised, but I found headphones to be helpful…and ignoring the sound of breaking crockery.

Issue: I can use the spare bedroom, but it’s tiny!

Not ideal, but a step up from wiping someone’s dinner off of your work!  Minimize everything and keep your creative sanctuary as uncluttered as you possibly can. One easel, good lighting, a cabinet with drawers or shelves for paint, and storage for supplies that you don’t use daily are all you really need.

If you have the space, a bookshelf for your reference materials, instructional books, and any other print material that inspires you to jump into your creative endeavors with both feet.

Busse storage unit idea

Issue: I don’t feel the sense of privacy I need.

To a great degree, this is inner work. Requesting alone time and setting boundaries is, for some people,  one of life’s greatest challenges. My completely dysfunctional style was to be kind and polite with every interruption until I reached my limit of tolerance and then became a screeching bitch. I hope you are better at this than I was! From a practical perspective, having a door that closes is helpful. Letting others know when you’re unavailable is another helpful tactic, but I realize that even mentioning the fact that you’re “unavailable” is offensive to some people. This whole “I need to be alone” thing is icky tricky and I’ve been helped along its path by reading books on setting boundaries and co-dependency issues. 

Issue: I have a studio, but it’s a cluttered mess.

Clutter impedes creativity. If your beautiful paintings are piled in with a bunch of clutter it will diminish them in your eyes and the eyes of others. Marie Kondo the hell out of your studio and give yourself room to breathe and think. Get rid of old, ugly paintings, dry paint tubes, broken or useless brushes, old magazines, etc. Be ruthless.  Try to avoid letting family members use your studio as a place to store their excess possessions. If there’s anything in your creative space that depresses you or makes you feel anxious, get it out of there. 

Issue: Well crap, my studio is full of unsold paintings.

Hoo-boy, that one totally sucks. There are solutions, but none as good as actually selling the work. First, take a look at your work with a critical eye. If the painting is just so-so, take it out of the frame and store it that way. If it’s really an embarrassment (I have some of those), gesso over it and breathe a sigh of relief that no one will ever see it. If you can find a local restaurant, doctor’s office, or business who would like some art on loan, then you can place them where they will have visibility. Document the agreement and get a receipt for your pieces. Set a specific time frame for your art to be displayed. If all else fails, you can start foisting them off on relatives in the form of gifts. They’ll either be thrilled or appalled, but either way they’ll probably smile and be nice about it.

Issue: I can’t feel creative when I know how much I need to do around the house.

I’m so familiar with this one. Remember the old Peggy Lee song, where she sang that she could bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan, then wash up 44 pairs of socks and be ready to boogie by nine? Well, I ain’t that broad, and you probably aren’t either. 

Make a quiet and solemn agreement with yourself to be in your studio at a certain time each day. If you’re going through a time in your life when chaos reigns and it’s all you can do to get through the day, then I believe your Muse will not only understand, but will wait patiently and lovingly in the wings for the chance to be with you again at the easel. 

Issue: I get bummed when I go to my studio and can’t think of what to paint.

Have a comfortable chair in your studio. Make a cup of tea, put your feet up, and know that it happens to every artist. Flip through some art magazines or art books. Watch a YouTube painting demo. Light a candle. Play some music that has creative substance, nothing that is as familiar as an old pair of shoes. This “time out” is a gestational period.  Have total confidence that your creative juices will flow again soon, because they will. You can’t stop them, even if you tried. 

Issue: There are so many artists who are better than I am. Why would I need or deserve an art studio when I’m just mediocre?

First of all, don’t judge yourself. There are plenty of people out there who will be happy to do that for you.

Know that the cocktail of creativity, desire, time, repetition, and passion is a powerful one. When you have your own dedicated space, rituals, and consistent work habits, you WILL grow as an artist and your work will improve. When I look back on some of the paintings and illustrations I did 20 years ago, I cringe.

I would also suggest that you find some art books, magazines, and references that inspire you. Absorb them. Watch YouTube tutorials, artists’ biographies, and art history videos. There’s bucketloads of wonderful, inspiring content on YouTube and other sources. 

You don’t have to muster up a bunch of self-esteem that isn’t there yet, just trust the process and watch your progress over time for affirmation of your growth.

My studio has become an extension of myself. It holds my favorite toys (art supplies), the representations of hours and hours of time, care, devotion, frustration, victories, and losses. Along with the usual furnishings, my studio has an old sofa, a small espresso machine, an electric teakettle, and a jar of chocolate chips. I say good morning when I enter, and tell all my favorite things goodnight when I leave. My studio is a comforting constant in my life. No matter what is happening outside my studio, when I’m there I only have one job to do: CREATE!

Let Nancee and others know about your favorite studio tips, tricks, and stories. We all appreciate the quest for a place to add beauty to the world. Add your brilliant advice in the comments section.

And to see Nancee’s work and read more of her blog posts, visit https://www.nanceejean.com.

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Curator, writer, and strategist for artists and non-profits, Rose Fredrick has spent the last three decades producing exhibitions that have not only raised considerable funds for scholarships and education, but have also launched artists’ careers. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications and her essays and interviews have been used in workshops, college courses, and museum exhibitions. She has won the National Endowment for the Arts grant, Rock West Curator of the Year, Denver’s The Big Read, Best Multicultural Book from the New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards, and was a finalist for the Colorado Book Awards.

2 thoughts on “Studio Mojo: The Potential Power of a Home Studio

  1. Hi Nancee (& Rose!)-
    This was a GREAT post! You touched on so many relatable topics…the tiny studio, working around family and the ever-present self-judgement. Thank you for sharing this with the rest of us!

    Sincerely,
    Tammy Liu-Haller

    • Thanks, Tammy. I’ll be sure Nancee sees your message. I agree and really responded to Nancee’s ways of making your studio a kind of personal sanctuary. So glad you enjoyed the article!! -Rose

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