Art Studio Planning – and a Watercolor Portrait

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Summertime Art Studio Planning

Over the past 67 days (yikes!) of quarantine, the macadamia nut tree outside my studio window has erupted in fronds of shiny, new leaves. I’ll take this as a reminder that there are plenty of good things happening if we simply look for them.

A fluffy squirrel (Mrs. Jetson) skitters up the branches, looking for nuts to shave open with her teeth so she can store them. She’s planning ahead, and it reminds me that I need a bit of art studio planning too.

macadamia nut tree
This beautiful, stately tree, with a profusion of pink blossoms in spring, is 60 years old. The scent of the flowers is sweet and heady, and the bloom period transforms the tree into an audible honey bee party.

All We Can Control

The sun is swinging around, adjusting the angle of the light on my work table to mark the season. We’re all wondering about the future. It’s a good idea to feel active, rather than passive in uncertain times. So, let’s make a summer plan.

Recognize that, sometimes, all you can control is your effort and your attitude. When you put your energy into the things you can control, you’ll be much more effective.

Amy Morin, LCSW
assorted pencils in an art studio, organized in containers
Pencils organized by type: graphite drawing (in the foreground), pastel pencils in a gift-paper wrapped juice can in the center, and wax-based colored pencils in a canvas wrap in the back.

Getting Things Done

In this hemisphere, summer is arriving, and we’re about to spend a lot more time outdoors. That’s a perfect opportunity to assemble your art supply tote bag for family barbecue sketching, sunset wine and watercolors, or outdoor garden botanical studies. Each of those art adventures can be enjoyed alone, or with your family.

art supply tote bag for spontaneous watercolor painting
You don’t need many art supplies to create a quick, get-some-painting done tote bag. With summer arriving, keeping basic supplies in a tote you can carry to your yard, take on a drive, or prop on the kitchen table may be just the trick to increase your art-making opportunities.

Be Ready to Sketch and Paint

In my mini-course Six Tips to Paint More Often, simplification of your readiness to make art is a key strategy to painting frequently. Removing mental road blocks (ie: “I’d paint, but my brushes are somewhere…”) shortens the path to creativity. If you have a small tote bag with basic supplies to sketch or paint watercolors, you can take the art studio with you.

The mobility of that bag of art-making possibilities may inspire drawing from the car, like Shari Blaukopf does. (Check out her online course.) Or sketching in your garden while sipping an afternoon beverage. Try painting small watercolor portraits of your family at the dinner table, and invite them to get in on the fun too.

On the couch at the end of the day? Pull out a lap desk (or use a sofa pillow), and open a sketchbook from your tote bag. If the television is on, use headphones to still the distractions, and focus on your creative experiments with music or an audiobook.

using a lap desk and a tote bag of supplies to make art on the couch
Twenty minutes of Tote Bag couch Sketching during breakfast

Art Supply List – Your Tote Bag for Spontaneous Sketching or Painting

Blocking in the figure and cats with Pan Pastel

Photograph Treasure Hunt

When you’re looking for ideas to create new watercolors or printmaking, it helps to have a folder on your computer with reference photos you’ve harvested during photo outings.

Plan an afternoon on a sunny day to take your phone or your camera on a photo hunt. Walk around your neighborhood in the early-morning or late afternoon for some slanted sunshine and shadow street scenes. Read this for some more tips.

If you’re planning a relief print still life, this post about linocut ideas may help. And if you want some tips on using your DSLR camera, check out these cheat sheets.

You can create a pile of beautiful reference photos for still life art by slicing an apple, and arranging the segments on a small plate in the sun.

The first loose washes of watercolor to block in warm colors in the foreground and cooler tones in the background

In Praise of Writing Lists

Sometimes, we need step by step instructions to accomplish goals that are foreign, and full of head-tilts and knit-brow expressions. Before this spring, I was overwhelmed at the thought of yeast, chemistry and kneading to bake homemade bread. I watched a few videos, made a list of steps, and I’ve baked 7 loaves, so far. I’m on a roll now. 🍞🍞🍞🍞

If you need help making an action plan for your art (or anything else on your wish list), read this post about how to write an action plan. Writing it down really helps. I’m a card-carrying, list-making doyenne, so trust me on this one. Make a list.

art studio brushes and ink stored in pretty ceramic containers
Cloth lined baskets in my studio work well for holding printmaking inks, vessels of tools, and pretty ceramic jars of paint brushes.

Productivity in Mini-Doses

Gretchen Rubin has listed some of the simplest to-do’s to tackle if you’re bored, and wish you could think of something productive to do. Read them here.

Adding watercolor glazes in thin layers of pigment to increase contrast, darken values and shift color temperatures in the painting process. (finished painting below)

Printmaking Motivation

Do you subscribe to the printmaking magazine Pressing Matters? Each issue features 100 pages of beautifully designed interviews with printmakers from around the world. Looking at the studio spaces, and the work of some far away printmakers might be just the thing to get your hands on your tools to make a new print. For a little taste of their high quality publication, check out their freebies to download here.

Making a List focused ONLY on art-related To-Do’s. Keep that list separate from your household operations, groceries and less fun tasks. And put your art-focused list on pretty paper with a brightly colored pen. With doodles in the margins.

Art Room Rehab

painting watercolors on the couch
A lap desk, a watercolor travel palette, a rinse cup, some brushes and a watercolor sketchpad. Perfect evening couch time, don’t you think?

Plan Your Work, and Work Your Plan

What Summertime activities do you have planned in your studio?

Leave some of your plans in the comments!

Thanks for stopping by and I’ll see you in the next post!

P.S. Here’s a Pinterest Board all about organizing your work space

an art studio table with a computer monitor, a camera on a tripod and a sleeping cat
Organization of my work table has to accommodate a computer, keyboard, note pad, camera tripod for art tutorial videos, and Scout the Studio cat.

Art Quote

I believe life is constantly testing us for our level of commitment, and life’s greatest rewards are reserved for those who demonstrate a never-ending commitment to act until they achieve. This level of resolve can move mountains, but it must be constant and consistent. As simplistic as this may sound, it is still the common denominator separating those who live their dreams from those who live in regret.

Anthony Robbins
mermaidstorytime18x1872 2
Mermaid Storytime 18×18 Watercolor  (Sold) (More about that in this post, the subject for this painting was a composite of four different photos, laid out to create a new, imagined scene. Have you tried doing this yet?)
making a list of art related ToDo's
A quickly scribbled list of To-Do’s written over a cup of coffee, first thing in the morning while the day is fresh and open
How to name your art
Check this out—> How to Title Your Art
a monotype ghost print with colored pencil added to enhance details of a woman floating in water with her eyes closed

Seven Questions to Help You Roll Past Creative Block

Yield: Progress
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Active Time: 30 minutes
Additional Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes

Stagnant creativity feels like a heavy fog pill slipped into your coffee when you weren’t looking. How do you get past Creative Block?

You want to make things. But there’s an invisible sludge haze blocking creative idea generation, inspiration and motivation to get something started. <---Started is the key word.

If you feel like your creativity is blocked, and inspiration eludes you, try this exercise. Sometimes, you just need a hand to hold on the Start part of making art....


  1. Secure 30 minutes, a pen, a note pad, and some quiet time. Sit in a favorite chair, in a sunny spot in a quiet corner. If home is too chaotic, go to a coffee shop and sit in a sunshiny spot. In either case, if it helps, use earbuds or headphones, and listen to instrumental (no words) music. Fill in the blanks below…
  2. If I were the King/Queen of the world, and I could sweep a magic wand to clear time and space to create a beautiful piece of art, I’d work in (fill in your medium: oil, acrylic, pastel, watercolor, pen and ink, colored pencil, graphite)._____________________________.tin watercolor palette
  3. I could make something abstract, or impressionistic, or representational – and since I have a magic skill wand, I think I’ll choose _________________________________.watercolor-sketching-landscape
  4. Since I’m in charge, when I think about size and format, I’d like to make something (small, medium large, huge)__________________________, and in a (horizontal, vertical, square)___________________________ format.using a magnifier light to paint tiny details of a face in profile
  5. I’ve got a hankering to work on (paper, yupo, aquabord, canvas, panel, gesso’d paper)_____________________________________.three hahnemuhle paper blocks
  6. I’m imagining colors that appeal to me right now, in this season of my life, so I’ll focus on a prominence of these three colors, with supporting hues around them: ______________________________________________________.watercolor test swatches for wet in wet painting experiments
  7. I know I can choose any subject that appeals to me, like figurative, portrait, still life, landscape, city scene, interiors, sky/cloudscapes, animals, ocean/shorelines and genre scenes. So, right this second, I feel like painting a __________________________________, with elements of __________________ and ____________________ included.shading a graphite drawing of roses and a bowl of apples
  8. Now, flip open to a fresh page on your notepad, and stomp on that creative block by doodling some layouts, angles, and compositions (no details, see below) that might fill the format of your paper or canvas.9 tiny pencil sketches of still life flowers and fruit arranged in different compositions


Feel free to print this, and alter the questions or add new ones that fit your style. Think about times when your art-making was more active, and jot down elements from that time (positive, encouraging) that you can visualize and pre-plan to help you get past the hump of stuckness.

You aren't alone in this. Every artist in history has felt creative block at one time or another, so we are all rooting for you. Set some time aside, and slay it. You've got this.

Have you made one of these?

Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Instagram

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4 thoughts on “Art Studio Planning – and a Watercolor Portrait”

  1. Hi May, thanks for the note and the compliments! Isn’t Shari’s work fantastic!? I’m so glad you like it too. And her Canadian landscapes are so reminiscent of New England, which makes us both feel right at home! Happy painting!

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