Mise en Place

Violet Surrender
Violet Surrender • 16.5″ x 15″ • Textile Painting • Private Collection

Like many people, I usually spend the 4th of July holiday weekend participating in outdoor activities and attending gatherings with friends and family. This year I decided to do something different. For the last three months I’ve packed and unpacked, organized treasures and purged until it hurts. I managed to pass the most convoluted driving test ever invented—seriously who writes these things and what do they have to do with driving?—and spent countless hours researching the necessary doctors, dentists and candlestick makers. It feels like a small miracle that both studio and home are about 95 percent settled. It felt so good in fact, that this fourth of July holiday I went to the studio and made art.

My new studio is much smaller than the others I’ve had and that limitation requires me to think more specifically about the things I’m going to keep and things I can let go. I feel most comfortable with a “mise en place” studio system, so to speak. If I know exactly where my tools and supplies are and that knowing is repeatable and dependable, I can relax into the making. My most often used tools are within easy reach. Everything has its place: scissors on the tall shelf, thread in the blue box, and so on. Any time spent looking for a crucial object I know I possess but can’t find is not only annoying, the act of having to look for it breaks my concentration and my creative momentum is interrupted, something I try very hard to avoid.

I’ve found the best way to figure where things belong in a new studio is to just start working, if this sort of organization is important to you—and it isn’t for everyone, your body will tell you where things go. It takes time…and perseverance, but eventually things start to find their own home. It may look chaotic to others, don’t worry about that, you’ll know what feels right.

Mark Drive Studio 11 (1)
Studio Shelves • Mark Drive • San Rafael, California • 2013 Jennifer Libby Fay

On the 4th of July, I’d been drawing and stitching for a few hours. It was hot and I was hungry so I sat down to eat an apple and check my Facebook feed. Fireworks, picnics, beaches, flags, parades, people were apparently having fun. Fun? Wait. Fun?

It’s true, moving, even when you want to move where you’re moving to, can be no fun. I’d adopted a head down, get ‘er done type of attitude in order to get through the grind. Now here it was, the fourth of July, one of my favorite holidays, and I had no photos to share.

I decided to change that.

Choosing a piece of 10 x 10 cloth, I rifled through my box of small dyed papers for some blue and red— Stars, I thought, yes, I need a star, I’ll cut a mask. I lifted my hand toward the shelf and the sheet of plain white paper was exactly where I knew it would be. I smiled. Now this is fun!

Happy 4th of July • 10" x 10" • dye, cloth • ©2013 Jennifer Libby Fay
Happy 4th of July • 10″ x 10″ • Textile Painting • ©2013 Jennifer Libby Fay


How do you organize your studio/work space? I’d love to know. Please leave a comment below or write to me here. Stay updated with news and photos from my studio by liking my Facebook page and signing up for my newsletter.

4 Replies to “Mise en Place”

  1. Great post! I always like it when you blog, I like your writing style. 95% settled in home and studio is amazing! I am glad you had a little fun.

    I like to keep my studio pretty spare but I also like to make sure I have enough of the things I use the most. Scissors, paint, brushes, glue, gesso, raw materials (like maps and vintage paper) at arms reach. It depends on the project. The less clutter the better, I like my brain to be as free as possible from chaos and be able to focus on the work at hand. When I really get going on a piece and a little chaos invades. I have to stop and clean it all up again before I leave for the day. That’s one of my rules. Thanks again for your post! xo

    1. Thank you for the insight into your studio practice, Megan. I wish I could visit your space in Edinburgh! I’m curious, did you take any tools or supplies with you? A favorite brush, or something? Or did you start anew in Scotland?

  2. Great post. I think you’re absolutely right – it depends entirely on the individual as to how they organise themselves. I’m not an artist (in the same way as you at least – I’m an actor) but I do use an office as a space to run my websites, blogs and business. I personally like to start the working day with a clear, tidy space which will inevitably descend into chaos by around 3 in the afternoon. I’m also terrible for starting with a clear list of objectives and getting distracted or carried away with a certain job and giving it more time and effort than is entirely necessary to the detriment of the remainder of my list! Oh well – as you say, we all work differently!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Joe, I am a HUGE fan of textileartist.org . I am interested to know when you clear your space again? At 3pm when you notice the chaos, or later? Like you, I struggling with lists as well, currently I seem to make them and then fail to look at them again until the next morning when it starts all over again…sigh.

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