Studio Essentials: Finding the Sweet Spot



After three months in Chapala with  (very) limited supplies, I found my home studio more than a bit overwhelming. With several decades worth of art supplies on hand, it’s a miracle I get anything done! It’s time to remove the distractions and get down to a smaller set of Studio Essentials.

Rather than just “thinking” about doing this (which has got me nowhere the past couple of years!), I’m committing here, in public, to putting my studio on a serious diet. If it does not fall into the realm of my five Studio Essentials, it needs a new home. Now!



Silhouette Cutting Machine

It should come as no surprise that my Number 1 Studio Essential is a Silhouette cutting machine. The software gives me the design freedom I crave, and the machine gives me a way to turn my designs into practical tools for my art. No, I would Not Go Back to art without a cutting machine.



“Plain” fabric to use as a canvas

Number 2 on my list is “Plain” fabric to use as a canvas. It may be solid, it may be hand dyed. For that matter, it may be a subtle batik. What it won’t be (very often) is a bold commercial print.



Shiva Artist’s Paintstiks (of course!)

The only reason that Shiva Artist’s Paintstiks are my Number 3 Studio Essential is that they are used in that order. Design/Tools, Fabric, Paint, and so on. Having spent the last 18 years working with the Paintstiks in my art and my business, I can’t imagine my art (or my life) without them.



Embroidery threads

Embroidery Threads are a recent addition to my studio supplies. I took up hand stitching about four years ago and never looked back. Adding stitching to my painted fabric brings it to life. Better yet, stitching adds quiet time to my sometimes hectic life and joy to my heart.




I’m not sure if Beads are the oldest or newest item in my Studio Essentials. I started collecting beads BP (Before Paintstiks) and resumed in the past year or two. I expect that the beads will come and go depending on my projects, but for now, they make me happy, and have a safe space on my short list.

Sweet Spot, Not Austerity

Given the huge variety of tools in my studio (and probably in yours!), a “short list” of Five Studio Essentials may feel like serious austerity. But I don’t think so – and here’s why:

I’m NOT talking about getting rid of EVERYTHING. I’m not talking about never adding (or deleting) anything from this list. I’m not even saying this is the entire list. Of course, I will keep a other tools that are essential to my art. Sewing machine(s), an iron or two, studio furniture, embroidery stand and interfacings all have a place.

What I AM talking about is releasing the things that no longer serve me – and allowing them to find a home where they will bring joy and inspiration to someone else. I “know” there is someone just dying to have a collection of sequins, a box of fabric dyes, a gazillion yards of cording, a felting/embellishing machine, textile spray paints, a collection of buttons, a bundle of lino blocks (with cutter, of course), and… Well, you get the picture!

By removing all the excess – all the distractions – I’m saying YES to the things I love, the things that bring me great joy. By releasing the extras, I’m giving my creative spirit free reign to explore the multitude of possibilities waiting in this smaller range of supplies.

Your Turn

So, what’s your strategy for taming the “stuff” in your studio? Do you periodically purge? Save it all? Do tell – I’d love to know how you keep it under control!


  1. Stef Greener on May 25, 2017 at 10:24 am

    Odd that you bring up this subject. Just this week I was looking for a specific tool, and had a drawer completely come out and spill it’s contents on the floor. I left it there until I found the tool I wanted, but decided that I needed to sort through the mess and purge what I didn’t want instead of simply putting it all back into the drawer. I plan on scheduling a few hours to go through all my supplies, purging those I no longer wish to keep. Those tools & supplies will sit in a box until I decide to finally put together an artist swap meet, or simply donate them to another studio.

    • ShellyStokes on May 26, 2017 at 1:05 pm

      That’s great, Stef. I know I’m not alone in my studio mess. It really feels good to (finally) make this a priority.

  2. Elizabeth A. Franck on May 25, 2017 at 11:07 am

    I, too, have been working on reducing my total possessions to make a move to Florida in 2018. My garage is getting fuller with things to be redistributed. This summer, I will be dropping off some donations to the library, churches and women’s centers. I will check to see if women’s center might be interested in some needlework kits, etc. as well as books to read in addition to clothing and household items.

    “Fly Lady” – online has wonderful suggestions about reducing “clutter”, in general. Use the power of “three” containers, bags, etc.: one for keeping; one for redistributing and one for discarding. She also suggestions doing it in small increments 15 to 30 min. then give yourself a reward….. spacing it out over time. It works for everything accumulated – I have been reducing in layers. The longer I am removed from using or wearing something, the easier it is to remove it. Of course, I have all the teaching materials that I have accumulated over many decades. Slowly but surely they have been reduced significantly.

    It is a lot of work – and not nearly as exciting as creating but will free me up mentally and physically when my mind, living and studio spaces are all free of clutter and useless items!
    It will make marketing my condo much easier, too.

    • ShellyStokes on May 26, 2017 at 1:06 pm

      You hit the nail on the head, Elizabeth. Removing unneeded supplies will free up mental and physical energy — that can be put to good creative use. Not to mention that it’s easier to fit in a smaller space. 😉

  3. judy stowell on May 25, 2017 at 11:28 am

    How timely!! We live in Wisconsin, but are going to be spending winters in Arizona. I admit I am “craft ADD” – I collect all kinds of craft tools & supplies. (I could open a JoAnn’s with what I have). We are heading back to WI in a couple of weeks, and the task I’m facing is what to get rid of, and what to bring back to AZ in the fall. Thanks, Shelly, for your inspiration on getting me started on this “journey”. Good luck to you, too!!!

    • ShellyStokes on May 26, 2017 at 1:08 pm

      You’re so welcome, Judy. I love that I have company on my “less is more” path. Good luck with your project!

  4. Mary Gillette on May 25, 2017 at 1:20 pm

    Periodically I go through my quilt room (and rest of the house) and do a radical “decluttering”. Everything in my quilt room is touched and I choose whether it’s a “Keeper”, a “Donater” or goes immediately into a large trash bag. If I can’t make a decision it goes into a pile to hold until I’ve finished the rest, and then I MUST decide if it stays or goes. I usually keep far less than I donate or throw away if I’m being honest with myself when deciding. The stuff being donated gets taken with me to my quilt guild meetings and ultimately are given to anyone who wants it. A few of the items stay in our guild’s tools and supplies, some go to our charity projects, and all the rest go to people who want and will use them. It’s not austerity, but given me a freedom not only of more space for the things that I will actually use, but a freedom to shift my focus creatively to grow.

    • ShellyStokes on May 26, 2017 at 1:09 pm

      Well said, Mary. Your strategy echoes the advice of many thought leaders in the minimalist living world. Touch each thing. Decide if it brings you joy. No joy, out it goes!

      • Mary Gillette on June 5, 2017 at 11:16 am

        Thanks! Minimalism is a goal of mine, especially when it comes to my quilting space because things accumulate so fast! I just finished painting (Inktense this time) a couple of small pieces for an upcoming guild project at the end of this month.

        After packing up my supplies and equipment, I went through the stuff on my large work table, messy cutting table, and computer/paperwork table to declutter and re-organize. With 1 + guild projects and 4 guild challenges due over the course of the next 8 months, I focused on organizing, batching and updating my “game plan” for each of them as well. The first priority is on getting things prepped the one at the end of this month. It’s SO much easier to work with my projects “staged” and ready in the queue.

  5. Dorothy Bisek on May 25, 2017 at 7:48 pm

    You might want to consider having a table of items available for sale at the LakesArea Quilters rummage sale in June. You can work your own table or donate to the guild and it will be included in the larger sale. Just sayin’…

    • ShellyStokes on May 26, 2017 at 1:10 pm

      Thanks, Dorothy! Jean B let me know about the LAQ sale next month. I will definitely take advantage of the opportunity!

  6. Anne Voss on May 30, 2017 at 11:51 am

    Please consider–
    Instead of throwing away(discards)-consider using Freecycle, or a “for free” Craig’s list posting. Even your throw-aways can be gold to someone else, and it keeps it out of landfills.

    • ShellyStokes on May 30, 2017 at 1:06 pm

      You’re absolutely right, Anne. It’s not a matter of filling up landfills. It’s about releasing the goodies to find a new home – with someone who will make good use of them. 🙂