Space efficiency for oil painting in a mixed-use room?
February 9, 2017 7:56 PM   Subscribe

I've taken up oil painting in the last few months, and I'm trying to work out how to best carve out space in my home office for things like workspace and storing wet, work-in-progress canvases.

My office isn't the only place in the house I could paint, but it's comfortable and convenient: there's decent natural lighting from a couple large windows and reasonably bright overhead lighting when needed, and it's out of the main flow of the house so I can easily leave my easel in one place and my paint supplies on a small table. And any mess happens on a floor that won't stain easily in a room where only my stuff will get mussed up. For literally working on any given painting it's a totally solid workspace.

The main issue is, as I'm making the effort recently to work on multiple pieces as a time, I'm ending up with a collection of wet canvases and no particularly good place to store them safely.

For now I'm just leaning them against walls/furniture or on a hook/nail in the office closet, which is good enough so long as my natural clumsiness or the cats' curiosity keeps out of the picture, but that's not a reliable long term plan, so I'm looking for ideas for more sanely storing up to maybe a dozen wet 16*20 or so canvases in a compact way.

Are there storage tools that a lot of artists use that I just don't know about yet? Is tall skinny shelving a good idea? Should I just suck it up and march canvases around the house to another room where there's more wall space to hang wet stuff and pray I don't trip and make an oil paint disaster? Any other general tips for making the most of a small, not-totally-dedicated workspace?
posted by cortex to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Googleable term that I would be looking at is "Drying rack" You can see which ones will work best for your particular space needs. Pinterest offers options. Maybe something like this that could go in a closet? Otherwise have you thought about getting a picture rail and just hanging them temporarily? It's a thing you see in New England, not so much in the PacNW. But hey, eventually they will be finished and you'll need to hang them!
posted by jessamyn at 8:14 PM on February 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Plein air painters have these clever little cases to schlep their work about. If you are painting on illustration board you can use a dish divider or cabinet baking-sheet-organizer insert as a drying rack.
posted by janell at 8:40 PM on February 9, 2017

Oh and I have some leftover picture rail if you want a length of it for Jessamyn's approach.
posted by janell at 8:41 PM on February 9, 2017

I took art classes in a studio where they had holders that were wooden easels without the stand, attached to the wall. The bottom was fixed in place, the top just slid down and stopped when it hit the canvas. Like this, but with a wider base and top to hold the canvas firm, and you didnt need to turn any knobs. And there were several spaced along the wall.

Maybe a bit too permanent for your needs ... but on the other hand you could work on more than one at one time!!
posted by chapps at 10:49 PM on February 9, 2017

In my studio I've built a drying rack, but I use the STAS Mini Rail way more often.
The metal Zippers are genius.
Here's a video for explanation.
posted by artdrectr at 11:18 PM on February 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yeah, tall skinny shelving is basically what we use in academia; you can buy premade expensive ones if you google terms like "painting rack" but assembling your own is often a much cheaper alternative. Completely contained ones exist but most of the ones used for drying (as opposed to storage) have some open spaces to allow for more air circulation.

I'm concerned about if you've got good ventilation in place, though - oil paint and its various accoutrements like turpenoid can really give off some toxic fumes to you (and to your cats) if you're just letting it all build up indoors, whether that's in your active art-making space or wherever you're storing a dozen wet canvases. If you're ventilating well (have an exhaust fan in a window and/or several large open doors/windows when there's any active painting or paint-drying going on) then carry on.

Otherwise I'd consider switching to acrylics (which frankly still can be bad for the local air quality but are not nearly as strong outgassers as oils are). I used to hate acrylics with a passion (and still hate normal acrylics, frankly) but ever since I discovered Golden Open Acrylics I've become a convert. To me they're the best of both oils and acrylics (slow drying time, ease of clean up, not as much set-up or precautions like ventilation required).

Also please don't rinse out your brushes by rubbing them into your hands as you clean them, particularly if you're using oils. You end up gently abrading the surface of your skin while driving the oil, pigment, solvent, soap mixture into that abrasion. It's convenient so people often do it but it regularly ends in rashes. Rinse brushes out on the sink bottom or get some handheld tool like a plastic lid or something to press against.
posted by vegartanipla at 11:21 PM on February 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

You could hack together a gesso rack. It's basically a peg board with dowels that you can lean canvases against in an upright, space-efficient filing solution. The advantage of this solution is that it doesn't constrain canvas size in any dimension and can be re-jiggered on the fly to handle whatever you're working on.
posted by xyzzy at 11:34 PM on February 9, 2017

Dick Blick has this corner rack.
posted by sarajane at 5:47 AM on February 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Mentioned above, I've been using carrier clips for almost two decades. They're dirt cheap and take up no space. You can stack canvases easily, and even cover them with a rag to keep cat/dog fur, dust, and stray detritus from lodging in the wet surface.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:58 AM on February 10, 2017

If there is a ventilation issue, you can get water based oil paints that are much better for small spaces
posted by KateViolet at 8:00 PM on February 10, 2017

Bunch of good suggestions, thanks everybody. I've got some more vocabulary to work with now and it's nice to see some variations on the ideas I'd already been clumsily mulling. Something in the vein of large stacking trays like some of the things that show up in jessamyn's pinterest link is closest to what I was originally imagining, but I can see a few possible ways to go. And the whole world of carrier clips and sandwiching canvases together on double-ended pushpins is new to me since I haven't tried to move wet paintings anywhere, but if I get around to trying to paint outside once the whether improves that seems like a big sanity saver.

As far as ventilation, the room has a large open double doorway into the rest of the house and air circulation and I've been deliberately avoiding the more odiferous/toxic materials—no turp for me even if it's what the masters rely on, etc.—so no big worries there, but it's a really good thing to call out.

Likewise, vegartanipla, right there with you on the brush-washing. I found myself trying to palm-scrub brushes a couple times early on and decided that that was just probably not a great idea, even if I'm opting for safer "cadminum hue" paints and other not-so-much-with-the-heavy-metals alternatives.
posted by cortex at 8:50 AM on February 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Fyi, here's my method for washing oil brushes, no turp:

- Wipe off excess paint from brush with paper towel.
- With one of those long black chemical-resistant gloves, gently palm-scrub brush with straight Dawn dishwashing soap, then rinse in warm water. Repeat.
Only need the glove on my left hand, while the right hand works the handle of the brush.
One of these gloves should last you a couple of years.

Air dry brushes, laying them flat on a towel.
posted by artdrectr at 11:51 AM on February 11, 2017

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