How do you make pottery when you live in an apartment? Isn’t it kind of messy? Aren’t you in a rental? How did you set your studio space up? And do you have any tips for maintaining a safe home studio space?
Phew, that’s a lot of questions! Settle in for a long one guys, I’m going to do my best answer these.
But first, a disclaimer.
I am not a health and safety expert – I can only share what I have learned from research and personal experience setting up my space. It’s also worth noting that these opinions apply to small-scale making in a rental apartment, without serious equipment.
For those looking to set up a pottery studio outside of the home or at a larger self-contained scale (kiln, glazes, pugmill), Ceramic Arts Network is a treasure trove of information and should have the answers to your queries (like this great article on essentials of a healthy studio).
So, with that out of the way – why set up a home studio rather than working in a community studio?
Like any decision, opting for a home studio over a community space has its pros and cons.
- Convenience The commute is a dream!
- Lower travel costs Those five steps from the bed to the studio are remarkably cheap.
- Greater freedom of method and use of space Scale that pot up! Throw that slip on! smack your vessel with a rolling pin! Go crazy without judgement!
- Personalised space On the subject of which – why are posters of 1980’s Agatha Christie’s Poirot so hard to find??
- Leaving work out overnight Especially great for large scale pieces you’re too scared to move.
- No cleaning up after other ‘less tidy’ artists or dealing with dirty bats. Such a drag when you just want to make!
- …. or no one complaining about how you’re ‘less tidy’ and leaving dirty bats.
- Cost It may be cheaper overall – this absolutely depends on your style of making and how expensive your local community space is, but if you’re as slow as I am paying by the hour isn’t a great deal. As such this is more likely to apply to the slow world of handbuilders.
- Health and safety The only kind of dust that should be in your home space is fairy dust, and even that’s up for debate considering how many people hate glitter. Keep silica out of your (and your loved ones’) lungs.
Health and safety is the number one challenge of a home workspace. Pretty much everything involved in the physical setting up and maintaining of a studio is founded on this (or should be)!
- Work life balance Why yes, I was in the studio for five hours on both of the two weekend evenings.
- Rent That price hike for an extra room… yikes. Especially relevant in steeper rental markets like New Zealand (this surprises people, but yes) and Singapore.
- Greenware risk Moving fragile greenware to firing locations is the bane of my life.
- Scale limitations How much space do you have? Are you planning on making giant sculptures, pots and platters? What will fit on that single desk? Is it really practical for you to work in a small space?
If you do go for a shared space, I recommend asking these questions before settling on a studio.
Righto! If you’re thinking a home studio is for you, here are some thoughts and tips that might make setting up a little easier…
Choosing a space
Plan where your space will be and how you will access water. Laundry? Bathroom? We chose our current apartment knowing one room would be a studio for me. Our apartment doesn’t have a laundry, however the bathroom is conveniently directly across the tiled hall.
Be aware that clay can block older pipes. Don’t wash clay down the drain (watery slip should be okay) and run hot water after cleaning any tools.
If you’re fortunate enough to own your space, you might like to look at installing a purpose-built sink with clay separator.
- Decide how you will access water
- Don’t wash clay down the drain
- Consider installing a purpose-built sink
Do you need to take images for social media marketing? Do you need natural light to work without getting a migraine? Do you want sun in the morning or afternoon?
Think about what direction the space faces and what will that mean for the light quality. Personally I try and stick to bright natural or warm light, both for taking images and for comfort while working.
On the subject of windows, don’t forget to address your window furnishings. The first thing I did when I moved into my studio was to take down the dark curtains. With only the (washable) net curtains left for shade, it felt like the light and room size had doubled.
This applies to anything new you introduce too – the closer it is to your window the more light is being obstructed from reaching into the furthest areas of your studio.
- Be aware of location light quality
- Remove window furnishings
- Avoid obstruction
Setting up your studio
Do your homework
So you decided on a space! Before you get excited and shell out the pennies, collect your thoughts.
As soon as I knew I was committing to a studio space I made a board on Pinterest and started linking furniture. This works for both new and secondhand items – if you’re thrifting a firm idea of what you want will help you focus your search.
After several culls I was ready to invest in the basics that I really needed and worked well together. This is one of the best and most simple design tips I can give to help you build a cohesive space. I think they call it ‘planning’ (!).
Not only does it guide you in building a space that works for you, but thorough planning also allows you to get an idea of how it might line up with your budget. What equipment should you sacrifice, and is anything worth a splurge at this point?
- Make a design plan
- Focus your search
- Figure out your budget
Keep it minimal
… for now. I heard a conversation between some parents saying that they didn’t really know what equipment they needed for a baby until they’d already had one. At risk of being that person who compares her cat to your child – your pottery children will tell you what they need over the first few weeks of working.
Seven months since setting up and I’ve only just doubled my shelf space. On the other hand it turns out the one desk I chose has been plenty for my current (s)low-production practice.
Try not to collect more than you need, you might regret getting that extra bench when you can’t turn around without tripping over it.
- Only the essentials
- Reassess after using the space
Easy clean surfaces
When you’re choosing a ceramics workspace, first look down.
How many times do I mop in a regular day? On average about four times. If i’m working with a fine clay like porcelain, that jumps up to around seven times. Mopping is one of the easiest, most effective and fastest ways to minimise the risk of getting dust in the air and suffering from silicosis. If you work with clay and haven’t heard of silicosis or inhalation risks before, read this post from Princeton University ASAP.
Clean-up is easier if you choose a space with an easy-mop surface – for example tile, wood, lino, or polished concrete.
Keep soft furnishings to a minimum. I see images of ceramists with couches in their workspace and it makes me hyperventilate a little. Have you seen the dust that comes out of a regular couch?? Let alone one that’s had slip spilled on it!
Let’s all say it together one more time: s i l i c o s i s.
- Easy-mop floor
- Minimise soft furnishings and textiles
- Educate yourself on inhalation illnesses
Toxic and dangerous materials
Avoid having anything hazardous in a small home space that isn’t absolutely 100% necessary.
Mixing glazes can float a bunch of nasties, and unless you have the money to install an industrial extractor fan in your studio it’s incredibly hard to prevent it spreading throughout a home. You and your family are going to be breathing this air for all 24 hours remember! Consider this carefully and prepare your space well before you introduce glaze mixing into a home studio.
I currently do all of my glazing at my local firing studio.
On the same note, if you choose to sand your ware, do it outside and wear a rated respirator. I prefer to sponge imperfections in the green stage to avoid the bulk of sanding – if it’s still needed for details I go over fired pots with wet sandpaper.
- Consider glazing off-site
- Sand outside & wear a respirator
- Hand-sand with wet sandpaper
Storage and Furniture
Going vertical makes the best use of space without shrinking your working area. Choosing a tall and narrow (as in, depth) shelf unit is the best option for a small space like an apartment studio. Make sure your unit is secure, if you own your space or have a flexible landlord protect your work (and your head!) by fixing it to the wall.
Be smart about condensing greenware of a similar size to the same shelf. Look for shelving units that you can customise to the exact size you need, and scale these for your work.
If you can’t find a set with movable shelves, I have also found sturdy stackable storage boxes to be useful on a larger shelf. Make sure the boxes slot into one another so you don’t have anything fall and smash work below, and of course that they are made of an easy – wipe material (safety, safety, safety).
I have a couple of these wooden KNAGGLIG ones which are great for holding coilpot paddles, cutting wires and other tools.
When my work is finished, I add it to my glazed section on the bottom shelves. I chose this close-to-the-ground spot because the finished stage is when my work is at the most valuable. It survived all the way to being complete! I really don’t want it to be knocked off a shelf from a height.
If you have a smaller area than me to work with, pack glazed ware in sturdy boxes and store in the wardrobe.
- Stack up and secure furniture
- Condense greenware
- Customise furniture – scale to your work
- Easy-clean surfaces
- Keep glazed ware safe
I choose to keep colours light or within a limited palette. A cohesive colour palette makes a space seem larger than it is, and a light and bright colour palette makes it feel MUCH larger than it is.
Light tones reflect more light too – so you get the most out of the natural daylight hours in your space.
If you go for a similar range of tones, reduce furniture to make the most of it. I repeat, keep everything minimal. Less furniture means:
- Less surfaces for dust to settle
- A brighter room (less natural light being blocked)
- Easier to mop
- The space feels larger
- Keep it light and cohesive
- Reduce furniture
…and while I’m at it, some more tips on keeping your house clean when you have a home studio
Wear an apron
They’re not just for chefs. I have a beautiful linen apron from Citta Design (pictured below) that my mother gave me, and putting it on immediately puts me in a making headspace.
Etsy also hosts a fantastic selection of handmade aprons if you’re looking for something to inspire you. I’m currently coveting this luxe charcoal number from LinenCloud (splurge) and this rustic green apron from LINENFOX.
Consider a pair of studio shoes. Usually I stick to bare feet in the studio – it’s easy to rinse them in the bathroom if needed. I’ve heard of people having a doormat to help catch pieces at the door threshold before you tread them out, but i’d be wary of any unecessary soft textiles that you can’t hose down.
Breaking for snacks? Wipe down arms (check your elbows – clay is sneaky) and take off your apron. I also make a habit of taking this moment to scan the floor and whip the mop over if necessary.
Don’t forget to wash your apron regularly, on a cycle with enough water for a thorough rinse out. It might be helpful to set an alarm until you build the habit. If you’re in a drought use a bucket of shower/waste water and give it a good bashing with a dowel. I usually express machine wash mine 1-2 times per week, or more if it’s been a particularly clumsy making period.
- Wear an apron
- Consider studio shoes or a doormat
- Wash your studio textiles regularly
Air your space
Daily / Bi-daily+. Another great example of why it’s a good idea to have your workspace in a separate room.
Silica dust from clay hangs around in the air for hours and hours. It’s ~30C (86 Fahrenheit) pretty much every day of the year here in Singapore, and wedging clay in that heat is a bit hard going for my Ang Mo body!
Instead I often throw open the windows for an hour or two at night after mopping, and/or while i’m next door eating breakfast before starting for the day. Don’t forget to shut the door to keep that clay dust going out of the window and not into your home.
In more temperate locations you could open up the space while you’re working in there – but be careful of wind stirring up any dry particles (I’m looking at you, Pōneke / Windy Wellington).
- Air your space daily
- Shut the studio door
- Be aware of wind gusts
Water & dust
Always start your day by filling your mop bucket, that way you won’t need to go through your apartment / house (trailing clay) to get that water for mopping up.
Leave the doors to your water source/ laundry / bathroom with the handles open (just pull the door to if you don’t like leaving it wide open) so that it’s easier to get around when clay covered.
Wet wash everything. Wipe everything down with a damp cloth or sponge. Avoid leaving dirty benches, slip spattered walls or caked clay bats to sit overnight.
Don’t blow dust from shelves – even if your eyes can’t sense the dust you just scattered in the air, your lungs sure can.
- Prep for mopping
- Leave water access handles open
- Wet wash everything
- Don’t blow dust from work or equipment
When it comes to safety in the studio this can all be a little overwhelming. It helps to remember this: don’t be scared – just be smart, and be safe.
So, what do you think? Is the home studio on the horizon? Why not experiment with both options first and find what making environment you are most comfortable with?
If there’s anything I missed go right ahead and post any questions you might have in the comments – I’ll address them in a follow up.
If you’re about to set up your studio, good luck! I’d love it if you’d tag me in your Instagram posts (@carragh_amos) so I can see how you’ve made these tips work for you.