Despite having my own studio, nothing quite beats the dining room table! It’s got the best view in the house, looking out through the big patio doors to the garden. It also gets the best light in the house.

I decided a few months ago to keep a small collection of art materials at the end of the table, so I could do some sketching or doodling – something creative and mindful – whenever the mood struck, and make it less of a “thing”.

Once something becomes a “thing” I’ll do almost anything else to avoid doing it.

Don’t you just love my Mother’s Day flowers? Please ignore the desiccated yellow freesias behind…

I’ve now added to it, and it’s expanded into the two little drawers in the table as well! It’s meant that I’ve had nearly everything to hand for the sketchbook course I took earlier this month, and for my (not quite daily) sketchbook observational drawings.

I thought you may be interested in the set up, so here’s a quick guide to what I’ve got.

The bulk of the materials are held in pots and contained within this red basket. I’ve had this plastic basket for YEARS – ever since my primary school teaching days. It’s a really useful size, it’s robust, and it’s had several incarnations over the years.

It currently contains:

Kid’s colour pencils

Kid’s cheap watercolour pencils

Kid’s felt tips, including brush-tip ones.

Kid’s crayons

Chunky crayons

A variety of pencils – various degrees of softness, from HB to 6B.

A variety of pens – rollerball, biro, fine liner, gel pen

A little pot of PVA glue (in the yoghurt jar)

A glue stick

A little glass pot (it’s another French yoghurt jar) for water, and three small-ish brushes for watercolour.

A collection of various papers – ripped into small squares and rectangles, for doodling on or using as collage

A little zippy pouch for papers that are half-decorated, awaiting some more surface decoration

A tin to use when I want to go out and about – I can add a selection of pens and pencils to the tin.

There’s also a larger zippy pouch containing papers that are already decorated, that can now be used as collage.

My little observational drawing sketchbook is also in the back of the basket. Larger sketchbooks and notebooks generally flit around the house during the day, and are either found in a semi-permanent heap to the right of where I sit here, or on my studio desk.

Posca pens, posh watercolour pencils, watercolour palettes.

Then one of the drawers contains pouches of Posca pens in various colours and nib weights, some Inktense pencils, and some Koh-i-nor dyes (not seen). These are called dyes, but look more like watercolours. I have some in a palette, and also a round set that stack together. They’re wonderful for a burst of intense colour. You can see them on the table in the first picture.

In the other drawer, I have a set of cheap kid’s watercolours, some cheap oil pastels, some acrylic markers (Posca imitations, not nearly as good) and some fine liner felt tip pens, a graphite stick, an eraser and a sharpener. I also keep a posh miniature Winsor & Newton watercolour set in here, with half-pans in a small selection of colours. You can see this on the table in the first picture.

Oil crayons, posh fineliner felt tips, acrylic markers, miscellaneous graphite sticks, eraser, sharpener, small watercolour sets

The table has a PVC tablecloth on it most of the year (we only take it off for special dinners) but I also use a large sheet of white card as a protector. This is one of my favourite parts of my set up – it’s so useful for scribbling notes!

I usually have my iPad with me (propped up on its beanbag, see top picture) so I can check my emails, and do a bit of light admin if necessary. Most of the time, if I’m settling in for a sketchbook or painting/collage session, I have a podcast playing, which I listen to with my noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones – another key part of my set up! They’re wonderful for blocking out all other distractions, and getting me straight into the Zone.

What tips and tricks do you have to get you into your creative zone?

9 Thoughts to “Making making art easy”

  1. Rachel says:

    In my experience, if I am doing something I want to be doing at that moment, rather than something I feel I should, I get into the Zone almost straight aware!

    1. Isobel says:

      That would work, yes! But I am a chronic daydreamer too, I need some sort of prompt albeit a gentle one or I wouldn’t do anything other than gaze out of the window.

  2. Gina says:

    I have a tin of pens and pencils and a sketchbook on my kitchen table, which also looks out onto the garden but as soon as I bring anything else in it starts to take over! As a result I spend more time moving stuff to and fro from the studio to the house than I do drawing!

  3. Christina Chappell Birch says:

    I have a playroom, as my husband calls it, in the attic space of our bungalow, with two roof lights, which stretches the whole length of the house, but is only suitable for short people like me!
    Trouble is, I, like you, much prefer working on the dining table because of the light and views. At the moment I’m trying to be good and keep it creative, or should I say clutter free, but it’s very difficult.

    1. Isobel says:

      I love the image of you in your playroom, and nobody else being able to come up and interrupt because they’d bang their head on the rafters! It may also be that creative is synonymous with clutter, it is in my experience 😉 Thank you for reading!

  4. Joy Dreyer says:

    Hello Isobel / Gina, thank you for your lovely podcasts. I have been listening on Spotify. I just like the ease of the presentation and the topics are always interesting. I have been working at home for more than a year now (Cape Town, South Africa) and my office space is also in what was my creative space .. our spare room. Its a good, quiet place to work but not ideal with the mixing of the two. HOWEVER, there is always the diningroom table tee hee … so yes I have bits of creative stuff all over the place. Also in the evening while watching TV upstairs I am usually doing some handstitching in my comfortable chair. So much as I try to contain everything in one room I’ve realised I should just go with the flow for the meantime. I do like your idea of a basket / crate with all the art stuff in it Isobel. Thanks!!

    1. Isobel says:

      No problem, Joy! I decided not to fight it, and accept that my stuff will probably be everywhere in the house so why not make it official?! Thank you for your kind words about the podcast, too – I’ll pass them on to Gina. Thanks for listening!

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