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.