Where women *don’t* create

This is what my work table looks like right now:

work in progress; my messy work table. need an intervention.

There is an entire lovely magazine devoted to the subject of where women create, chock full of nicely organized and equipped studio spaces. I’m not likely to be featured, unless chaos is welcome in the pages.

It’s tempting to tell you this is what the table looks like when I’m really disorganized, but this is pretty much the permanent state of my work surfaces.

The tables look worse when I’m working on multiple projects and traveling, better when I clear the decks and just work on one thing at a time.

Work in progress: who says it’s tidy, anyway?

I still haven’t unpacked the DIY postcards I made or finished up the travel  journal I started in Portland last month.

What is *finally* finished is the memoir book filled with excerpts of my journals, Sketchbooks.

Which means my two writing tables (one for digital work, one for analog) are in similar stages of disarray.

Eventually, (everyone has their own tolerance level for table surface chaos, mine is clearly high) this makes working… difficult.

At this point you’ll find me hiding out somewhere with my nose in a book.

There are worse forms of escapism, like, when I bring a bag of gluten-free chocolate chip cookies along to the reading binge. But I digress.

The dilemma of visual thinkers goes along the lines of:

Out of sight, out of mind: If I can’t see it, I can’t find it. Or I forget I have it.


In sight, out of my mind: Seeing all of this stuff all over the place clouds my thinking. It gets overwhelming.

Here are a couple of ways I’ve found that help me bridge the tension of these two opposites and lessen the overwhelm:

1. Limit the materials I have out based on what I’m working on right now.

2. Group like things together and then either display in a nice container, or else put them out of sight.

turquoise tackle box beautifully contains art supplies I use every day for visual journaling

The vintage metal tackle box holds an array of supplies that I both like to look at and want to keep handy for working in my sketchbooks and visual journals. Get my sketchbook/visual journal supply list here.

This tackle box is heavy and doesn’t latch properly, but when I saw it in the back of a junk shop in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, I swooned. It was already painted turquoise, so love at first sight.

I have a thing for metal containers. Don’t even get me started on Bento Boxes. Or the lunch tins used in India.

how I store my paper

Rolls of kraft paper, used to cover my work tables, make sketches, map out strategic plans, brainstorm, and then, incorporate into mixed-media paintings. These papers never get thrown out, I just keep using them until they get recycled into a painting.

Sections of paper on my work table get photographed when it is full of paint and notes. These make quick visual references to what I was working on. The photos and sections of the pages themselves end up in my project journals.

These rolls were stacked horizontally through the top cubby my shelving unit, but they kept hitting me in the head when I walked by, so now that is solved.

Decorative papers are similarly rolled up and displayed in tall vases and buckets. Pretty to look at, yet contained. And not in danger of poking anyone’s eye out.

Now that the memoir project has shipped, I’m recalibrating my energies to face other projects (and…the laundry).

But first, here’s what I’m looking forward to now:

this post is best enjoyed with a nice cup of tea (or your beverage of choice) which will help you get into the mood to go make art today and feel better.

A strong cup of tea to steady me as I tidy up the work tables.

After which: I’ll make some visual art today and feel better. There are some new mixed media books here that have me itching to rip up paper and glue shit down.

Nothing like tea and art-making to set the world aright. And inspire a bit of table clutter clearing to make it happen.

Always a work in progress here, just like the work itself.

If you’re inspired by this virtual visit to my studio today, then you might enjoy peeking in on my minimalist art studio space in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Which is also not-so-much glossy magazine-ready.

It might fit into a magazine called: Where Women Run Away With A Backpack To Get In The Mood To Create.

And while you’re virtually visiting me in Mexico, I’ll take you over to one of my favorite places in one of my favorite cities in the world: Frida Kahlo’s studio in Mexico City with lots of photos of things that other visitors say they didn’t notice.

The tea kettle is on.

Oh, and if you have figured out how to manage the surfaces of your work table while actually getting work done, please share your secrets here.

Pretty please?

17 Responses to Where women *don’t* create

  1. teresa September 1, 2013 at 3:37 pm #

    That magazine was interesting to me at first, then I came to the conclusion it isn’t really about workspaces at all, just photo styling. No one I know has a workspace/studio like those. It’s messy being creative and actually making stuff yourself. Since my little work area is more for hobby (even though it is related to my job) and in my apartment, it has gotta be contained and at least appear orderly on the outside. I love the idea of flea market-style but I’ve learned that it isn’t for me, apart from a hand-me-down table and child’s wardrobe.

    • Lisa Sonora September 2, 2013 at 8:53 am #

      🙂 well that makes me feel a whole lot better!

  2. Gloria August 30, 2013 at 3:24 pm #

    Glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t keep my space nice and neat and pretty. As much as I try, it ends up like a hurricane with a torrent of more ideas spinning senselessly out of my mind through my eyes, ears, mouth and every pore of my body. I’m trying to get it a lot more organized now but I don’t think it will ever look like any of those studios or work spaces in that magazine. One time, I did have a nice studio space with lots of room and everything had a place. No more. Need to be more resourceful. Ikea helps a lot. Flea markets and thrift store treasure hunting for even more affordable, unusual and fun containers are a big help.

  3. Laura August 13, 2013 at 11:37 pm #

    Ooh, flat files. Love the wheels idea, too.

    In the meantime, I have Ikea drawers, some cardboard ones from an office supply store (waiting to be painted), and an old machinist’s toolbox.

  4. Laura August 13, 2013 at 9:41 pm #

    I just bought one of those turquoise carts after coveting it for ages! It’s pretty fabulous. I am still reasonably certain that despite the cart, my table will continue to look like Lisa’s. 🙂

    My favorite storage is drawers, esp. shallow drawers so that I can’t completely bury things. Ideally they would be within arm’s reach when I’m at my table.

    I have mugs and jars for pens, scissors, paintbrushes, and other tools, and a few trays and shallow baskets–those tend to mainly gather embroidery bits, and are pretty easy to stash elsewhere, if I haven’t completely filled all flat surfaces within arm’s reach. I have some correspondence trays on a shelf (in effect, a mini shelf subdivision), and the little baskets fit there nicely. Pending paper projects fit well, too.

    I can tolerate a fair amount of entropy on my table if I’m working on stuff, but eventually it becomes static; I’m trying to get better at noticing when that happens, because it is a sign to clean everything up and start over.

    • Lisa Sonora August 13, 2013 at 9:46 pm #

      congrats, Laura! Speaking of shallow drawers, I am coveting an old Steelcase flat file. Which I would use as a coffee table. And add metal wheels to. I like my furniture to move around.

      I love to hear how you and others organize their stuff of creating. Possible magazine spoof:

      (Not) Real Simple: Unstaged Workspaces of Real People (not just models!) who are Really Working.

      Or something like that.

      • teresa September 1, 2013 at 3:51 pm #

        Unstaged spaces like the cold semi-finished basement in my friend’s house where we made very expensive costumes (for theater, not fantasy conventions). Or the wall of big plastic tubs of stuff and sewing machine tables made from tabletops on filing cabinets (with old cast iron Singers) at another friend’s studio. There is actual work happening in those spaces. Someone else I knew had an old bathtub for dye work.

        Does this sound more real?

  5. Susan August 12, 2013 at 1:01 pm #

    Lisa! Look at this! An awesome trolley and it’s TURQUOISE! I want. You might too.
    It’ll be great for my paint!


    • Lisa Sonora August 12, 2013 at 1:55 pm #

      thanks for sharing this, Susan! I saw these in Kelly Rae Roberts’ new studio in Portland, and I forgot to ask where they came from. They have a vintage flavor to them. Much nicer in person than in the photo. Yes. Definitely WANT. NEED?!

    • Monica Freire January 23, 2016 at 8:52 am #

      I have one of those and love it! IKEA has a lot of great and relatively inexpensive solutions for storage. I also use some old largish teacups/mugs that I have been given or collected over time to store things – actually, many of my kitchen items slowly make their way over to my desk or my plant area in my apartment. I also started saving plastic wrapping/coverings for magazines and paper I buy (like plastic sleeves) to put between journal pages to prevent them sticking together.

  6. Nela August 7, 2013 at 12:40 am #

    I’m working on a tilted (homemade) drawing board, so there’s not much that can be on my working surface! A paper or a sketchbook, a box of pencils or watercolor paint and that’s it.
    Everything else has to be on the side – containers with pencils, pens, markers & other tools, water bottles & glasses, ink bottles, brushes, glue…

    I usually combine up to 3 different media in a single picture, but it feels very cluttered nonetheless. However at least the center of my workspace is somewhat clean.

    I have my tools organized by mediums in shoe boxes, so when I need to go back an forth on different mediums that don’t fit on my desk, I keep the entire boxes on standby on a coffee table.

  7. Susan August 6, 2013 at 5:57 pm #

    I love wooden boxes. Also baskets or trays with high sides. I think no matter what kind of container you choose, you must have containers on your desk/work table. At the end of your work time or project, even if you are in a crazy hurry, you can toss your stuff into the baskets or trays and it looks SEMI ORGANIZED and clears away clutter. Even better if your baskets or trays have lids. Pop them on while you have people over and between work frenzies, to hide the ‘clutter’ inside and keep things dust free. It works like a charm for me, otherwise I would go mad, not to mention getting paint or glue on everything!

    • Lisa Sonora August 9, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

      Great ideas, Susan. I’m experimenting again as we speak, with organizing some boxes on the shelf under my table, which you can’t see in the photo.

      BTW, the “table” is a portable stainless steel kitchen counter from IKEA. Very sturdy, affordable, and easy to move around.

      I used to have an rolling baker’s rack, that fits stainless steel trays – great for sorting collage stuff and working on jewelry projects. I still have the trays so looking at how I can fit them inside one of my kitchen cabinets.

      Hadn’t thought of this before: but I sure use a lot of kitchen supply stuff for art supplies…and much less for cooking…LOL.

  8. Max Daniels August 6, 2013 at 2:43 pm #

    Your secret is also my secret: lots of tea tins. I corral them on little vintage Couroc trays. (California thrift shops are still full of these beauties.)

    That, and I just clean up when I’m “done.” 🙂

    • Lisa Sonora August 9, 2013 at 1:46 pm #

      uh, oh. I’m afraid to google “couroc trays”.

      Also, cleaning up when done is quite revolutionary. A friend of mine (a mom, of course) always encouraged me to build clean-up time into my work time. Why didn’t I think of that?


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