a tour of my minimalist art studio in Oaxaca, Mexico

This is the view from my work table, facing the street.

While I’ve been in Oaxaca for five months now in three different temporary apartments, I was lucky enough to find an affordable little commercial space to use as my studio workshop.

My studio is next door to one of my favorite coffee houses, Cafe Nuevo Mundo, on Calle M. Bravo in the historic center of Oaxaca. I’m sharing the space with a used book shop. The book shop is downstairs on street level, and my studio is upstairs in the loft.


My sketchbooks and basic supplies that I use in my creative practice.

While I admire minimalist travelers who wander the world with only the contents of a backpack, I’m not a minimalist in that sense.

I’m a girl who likes fashion and has learned the hard (expensive) way that it is not feasible for me to travel with only one pair of shoes.

Remind me to tell you about my experience in Paris, (when I was traveling with only a backpack and one pair of shoes) where I had to spend big euros on the ugliest pair of French Mephistos ever. Because my feet were really messed up from my one pair of shoes.

Being a mixed-media visual artist as well as a writer means that I’ve got art supplies to wrangle if I want to work while traveling.

Right now I’m experimenting with whatever my own middle way looks like in terms of being a global nomad and a working artist.

For now: a tiny studio in Oaxaca that I’m experimenting with as a home base for my work and a place to keep my supplies when I travel further afield.

The first day I arrived at my studio and got to work, I pulled out this quote by Finnish Artist and Architect, Sami Rintala, from my collage stash.


“Maybe this is how we are meant to be, with few possessions and a small space around us.”

I stuck the quote up on the blank white wall in front of my work table and felt the idea resonate with me in this new chapter of my life.

In the months leading up to moving to Mexico, I let go of so much stuff.

It’s been on ongoing process for me. An experiment to see how little stuff can take up space in my life.

Over the years, I’ve found that the less I have, the better I feel. The easier it is for me to focus.

I’m not naturally good at organizing, so my simple solution is to just have less to organize.

For me, it wasn’t about having a bigger closet, or more organizing solutions.

A lot of my organizational issues have been solved by subtraction.

For some time I’ve been clipping photos of simple dwellings. Huts, tents, small rooms. Beds draped with mosquito netting.

Almost as soon as I followed the impulse to collect these images, I found myself living and working in such places. East Africa, Southern Mexico.

Places where mosquito nets are not just dramatic decorating accents, as it turns out. There are moments when the phrase “be careful what you wish for” has crossed my mind. Getting out the tea tree oil to dab a fresh bite.

Tea tree oil rocks as both a bite soother and a natural repellent.


My loft studio has three skylights and this ladder on the back wall leads up to the roof.

I had this table made for me by an artist friend in Oaxaca. I like to stand when I work, so it is stool height, with shelves below for storage.

Not a great shot (yes, that’s my finger covering the view finder), this wall next to the staircase. The brick wall was already painted this color, a deep terra cotta, or rojo oxido as they call it here in Spanish. I like it.


I like to paint on wood panels, not paper or canvas. Here are a couple of bundles of wood panels awaiting my attention. It’s hard to see, but above the wood panels, you can see the blurb of the quote mentioned above.

I kept thinking I would add a bunch of images up here as an inspiration wall, but so far, no.

I am loving the blank space. It helps me think.

I know a lot of people would find this terribly uninspiring, even boring. But not me. Clean lines help me focus.

Maybe it’s from all that time in the zendo, starting at a white wall, or the empty space in front of me.

A lot of times when I look at photos of other artist’s studios, I feel a sense of claustrophobia. Drowning in so much stuff to keep organized and looking pretty. Or else a terrible mess of utter chaos.

I’m experimenting with how to work with less. Not easy, but so compelling.

I finally taped up just one image above the quote on my wall.

And it’s all the visual inspiration I need when I look up from my work table.



I’m curious. Are you doing any experiments in making room for less? With your definition of minimalism? How do you make your physical environment conducive to doing your work?


25 Responses to a tour of my minimalist art studio in Oaxaca, Mexico

  1. Max Daniels June 23, 2012 at 5:33 pm #

    Yes, also experimenting here! Noticing a shift away from *trying* to want-gather-buy less to actually truly wanting less. Less wanting. Liking that.

    Also, serendipitously, right now it is the June piece of the Discardia holiday cycle: http://www.metagrrrl.com/discardia/

    • Lisa Sonora June 23, 2012 at 5:46 pm #

      @Max – LOVE that link from Discardia. Love the idea of being a Discardian! thanks for sharing that…

      I find that the more I let go…the shift toward wanting more stuff naturally fell away.

      Kind of like detoxing from sugar. When I eat it, I want more. When I don’t eat it, I don’t crave it.

  2. Andrea June 23, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

    I love this post Lisa and I’ve been doing the same experiments as I am settling into my Dream Loft (my new ubercool modern sustainably-built loft condo).

    I got rid of 1/2 of all of my stuff before I left my old house and I’m still paring down here as I unpack.

    What I am really surprised about is how I don’t want to fill up this new space with inspiration and decoration and colour like I always did in my houses and apartments.

    At first I thought it was because I never lived in a brand new, thoughtfully designed space like this (the architects have been winning awards for this building all around the world).

    But now I am realising because I like how I feel more open and spacious on the inside when there is less stuff around me. It’s awakening a whole new depth of creativity.

    Instead of calling it “minimalism” I’m calling it “maximum simplicity” which I like. Yay simplicity!

    • Lisa Sonora June 23, 2012 at 6:22 pm #

      Hi Andrea! so wonderful to hear from you. Do have any links to your own process of moving in to your Dream Loft? Would love to catch up…

    • Lisa Sonora June 23, 2012 at 6:23 pm #

      p.s. @Andrea – I love Maximum Simplicity. Is that’s the work of the creative entrepreneur? To constantly define and re-define our version of reality, as there are often labels that don’t quite fit.

    • Susan August 6, 2013 at 5:39 pm #

      Andrea, I love that — “maximum simplicity”. I’ve been going through what I call “zenning” my space and releasing things for quite some time now.

      Lisa, I quoted you in a recent blog post – I hope that is ok with you. It was a post on collage on my arts blog http://www.wildheartmanifesto.blogspot.com

      And two questions: I’ve asked you once before, but can’t find the reply: What brand are the kraft notebooks you use? I love them, but couldn’t find them before. I live in Canada, so maybe an online resource?

      I also have an opportunity to spend time/live in Mexico and I’m wondering about the logistics of it all. It would be cool to see a post from you on the challenges and things to think about, making such a life change. There will be more ‘zenning’ going on, that’s for sure!!

      • Lisa Sonora August 9, 2013 at 1:44 pm #

        The kraft paper notebooks are from Paperchase, a UK company. They have a website and ship, but I don’t know if they ship outside UK, I think so.

        Last time I was in Amsterdam, I picked them up in the stationary section of the big department store, whose name escapes me.

        I seem to always need to be buying books when I’m abroad…which only makes me a light traveler on the way there. I’ve learned the art of shipping things home. 🙂

  3. Jennifer June 23, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

    Hi sis,
    I wish I could be there to take the tour in person. I love the terra cotta wall – it’s almost the same color as my accent wall in my family room.

    xoxo, baby sis

    • Lisa Sonora June 24, 2012 at 12:06 am #

      @Jen aka Baby Sis! oh I wish you could be here in person, too. one day….you and Lori will visit!

  4. Leah June 24, 2012 at 5:05 pm #

    I loved this glimpse inside your working space (and all the white space, clean lines, font, and all around fresh simplicity of your new online working space, too).

    I have been craving, craving simplicity and clean, clear, fresh spaces myself. And maybe it’s not so much a “careful what you wish for” as “life gives you what you really need” – because I was wishing for all these things and got it in the last month after a knee injury and surgery. Much of my calendar/to-do lists were wiped clean. Aside from the obvious (pain, inconvenience), it has felt deeply good to rest and do more of nothing.

    As for my own studio/work space, I will be looking for you for inspiration on how to be a minimalist artist (or somewhere in between) – when my paintings and writing are really anything but. But I do aspire to more elegant simplicity in both of those areas. For me I know it is going to greatly be an exercise in trust and commitment. Not being afraid to choose one direction, focus, and let go of other possibilities.

    Look forward to continuing to follow you, Lisa.
    Best wishes to you!


  5. Angel June 24, 2012 at 7:30 pm #

    Lisa, so cool to see this…. I *LOVE* to get up-close and personal with others processes, including (and especially!) their space…

    what’s so interesting here to me, is that this is the third or fourth pointer toward minimalism (or Andrea’s ‘Maximum Simplicity’ – even better!) i’ve gotten within as many days. Suddenly it’s everywhere, and i’m feeling a need to release release release!

    it’s a whole different process when there are others involved who want to hold on to things, but i figure i have plenty of my own that can be released…

    so excited for you & all the adventures you’re having. thanks for sharing them along the way!

  6. Michelle June 24, 2012 at 7:46 pm #

    Hi Lisa!

    I love your pictures and what you shared. I moved about six weeks ago to a place that is about a 1/3 of the size and continue to purge and let go. I love it. I had no idea how much energy all the “stuff” took. I am excited to see how eventually it all plays out and I bet my creativity will be on the up and up.
    It’s so fun to hear about your adventures. I love your long hair!!!


  7. Jan June 25, 2012 at 4:15 am #

    Lisa, I get so excited when i see an email from you in between Mondays classes. I was just wondering what your art space looked like. Thanks for sharing. I am a bit of a hoarder with art stuff but! (there’s the but!) if i can’t see my stuff i don’t get inspired. I have also heard that when we get rid of stuff we’re making room for new. Really, energetically things will start coming to you. Is your hair long? I can’t tell on any of our class videos.
    Yay!!!! Monday is almost here! See you tomorrow! Jan

  8. Linda Grimes July 5, 2012 at 2:35 pm #

    Hi Lisa – For my 50th birthday celebration, I rented a tent cabin at Big Basin Redwoods State Park in the Santa Cruz mountains. Because it was November, the park was empty. I was alone and it was quiet. Heaven! I loved the tent cabin. It had everything I needed – a bed, a table, a bench and a wood stove. (Toilet and shower were within walking distance. I only stayed 5 days so I didn’t reach the point where I had to think about laundry.) Through the windows, which were netting and not glass, I could see only redwood trees. Anyway, I wanted to live in this tent cabin for the rest of my life! It was all I needed. So, I do understand your desire and approach to minimalism. Letting go of possessions frees up energy, a precious resource. XO

    • Lisa Sonora July 5, 2012 at 4:49 pm #

      Hi Linda! Happy 50th girl! Thanks so much for sharing this story, I just love that State Park and have camped there alone, too! I hope to see you in July, will be in SF last part of the month.

  9. Marci November 9, 2012 at 10:25 am #

    Hi Lisa! I’m new to your blog and I was so taken with this particular post. I have been on the road to minimalism for the past 3 years and I have to agree with you that I love blank white walls to look at from my art table – no distractions. When my husband passed away almost 3 years ago, I decided to rid myself of 30 years of stuff, stuff that was holding me and the kids back. Everyday I take one more item out of the house. It feels wonderful.
    I didn’t realize you lived in Oaxaca. How wonderful is that! I had planned to be there for Christmas with my two kids, but things worked out differently. Maybe for Spring Break.
    Hugs to you.

    • Lisa Sonora November 9, 2012 at 12:54 pm #

      @Marci: Oh! I’m so glad to hear that you love blank, white walls, too! Letting go of stuff is so liberating. Good for you! If you visit Oaxaca, please let me know. I travel a lot, too – so our paths may or may not cross.

  10. Helen August 7, 2013 at 2:46 am #

    I love this post Lisa! Thanks for sharing your studio space.

    My tendancy is towards clutter (knick knacks and kids’ belongings mainly) but this has been changing. Moving long distance twice in five years has meant leaving a lot behind, and giving a lot away…my experience has been that when those crates are finally shipped on arrival, supposedly full of things we ‘couldn’t leave behind or live without’, we have been doing just fine without them for several weeks or months. This time, on moving back to my permanent home, I’ve left many walls deliberately bare, or have been decorating with simple things, like plants or flowers.

    Living in a rented/temporary space can be challenging but also there’s less temptation to change/embellish it, perhaps? Thinking like a nomad keeps it simpler.

    • Lisa Sonora August 9, 2013 at 1:37 pm #

      ah…thinking like a nomad…

      My fantasy is to have a studio made of a custom shipping container, with small built-in cases of supplies that can pop out and go with me.

  11. Virginia August 8, 2013 at 4:37 pm #

    Lisa — Just loved both your e-letter (old tackle box storage GREAT) and this peak into your Oaxacan dream studio in the making! Confession time — I’m still into STUFF! And i use it to inspire me — I like seeing as much of it out as possible As a result I always seem to end up creating in a space that is as big as a dinner plate. However for me the clean up and put away is just as important and balances out the clutter. The act of putting away almost becomes a “moving meditation” and then the space is cleared for me to start the creative making process again! One day I may get tired of it all and then start to clean out, give away, throw away! But not right now! PS And love the image of the tent with the light coming through and the branches forming the headboard — Yummy!

    • Lisa Sonora August 9, 2013 at 1:49 pm #

      This reminds me to post some photos sometime of how the tables look in workshops…we basically just have the space in front of us for our sketchbooks…surrounded by piles. And then we put everything in order in the evening.

  12. Lois/Loyie Weber August 12, 2013 at 10:20 am #

    Your email and extra link about your space is inspiring and so were the many rich sharings.
    My husband and I have a large acreage home on the market and I’ve been in quite the purge
    for quite awhile and still am finding thing to just say no to! There is more and more freedom
    and I believe more space for creativity as we choose a much smaller space. Thanks everyone.
    I remain fueled to keep on letting go and even to consider some blank walls to experience!!!

  13. Helen Bastian January 20, 2015 at 3:24 pm #

    This was a great find while I was looking for a place to buy art supplies in Oaxaca. I keep trying to simplify my life in so many ways – but 75 years and an 1890s home keep getting in the way. Maybe when I get back home, I’ll be inspired to make a studio for myself in my unattached garage.

    • Lisa Sonora January 20, 2015 at 6:17 pm #

      @Helen – wonderful! I’m so glad you found me – and art supplies in Oaxaca!

      p.s. I have a brand new studio space under construction since I wrote that post (nearly 3 years ago!). I wrote about that here.


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