Sunday Mailbag

July 1st, 2012 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: I’m going to be getting married soon, and moving into a two bedroom apartment. This means that for the first time in my life, I’ll have a studio that isn’t also my bedroom. So I’m thinking about the best way to organize and layout my new studio, and also how to keep it neat and tidy, so I’m wondering what thoughts you put into your studio, and how you keep it clean (I’m thinking particularly about all those tiny figurines and batman memorabilia you have on shelves). Do you have a cleaning system or schedule? Or do you simply Photoshop out all the mess whenever you show a neat-o picture of your studio?

A: One thing I absolutely love to do is visit an artist’s studio…it is always fascinating to see where someone does their work. Invariably, they create an environment that is conducive to their own, unique creative process, and it is interesting to see what that environment entails. Every artist is different, of course, but it’s surprising how often you will see similarities in both the decor and how their work spaces are set up.

I can’t really advise you on how to set up your studio, other than to say you should take some time to think about how you work, and what you could to do make it easier to do that work. For myself, I knew I needed a lot of flat surfaces within easy reach because I often have dozens of sheets of photo reference I am working from, and I need to spread them out so I can easily find the one I am looking for, plus I needed an area to set my ink and pens for easy access. So, built a cabinet on one side and a desk surface on the other, with room in between to nestle my drawing board:

You just need to think about your process and how you can set up your area to help with that process. Budget is always a concern, of course, but there are many ways to get cheap furniture and things to create the right work area. Visiting a Salvation Army or Goodwill store is great. You can get pieces of furniture like dressers, desks, book shelves, end tables, etc. that might be too beat up or odd-looking for anyone to want in their living area, but would be perfect for a studio.

One common thread I see, at least with cartoonists, are lots of shelves with lots of toys. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a cartoonist’s studio that did not have a number of toys displayed, and many of them are crammed full with toys. Most of mine, of course, are Batman toys:

I guess cartoonists are still kids at heart, and maybe the presence of toys keeps us in a kid frame-of-mind when we are doing cartoons. For me, I just like to look around and see things I enjoy looking at. It makes my area very comfortable and, since I spend many hours in the studio, makes me like being there. More accurately, it makes my becoming sick of being in there harder to have happen (although it does happen).

Keeping it clean? Some people hate clean studios, and cannot work in an environment that is not cluttered. The creative mind seems to often thrive on clutter and chaos, and I have seen many a studio that reflects this. I am sort of half way between a chaotic and orderly personality. When I am working, my area becomes more and more cluttered and disorganized, and I do not care as I am absorbed in the work. This is especially true of a big project that is taking a long time to do. Once I am done with that project, however, I usually do a ritual cleaning of the studio. It’s a kind of way to bring closure to the project, and reset for the next job. If I do not have time to do that following something like a MAD parody or a book illustration project, I get very irritable and unfocused on the next assignment. How clean you keep your area depends on your own tastes and tolerance. If you are a neatnik who has to have an orderly area, just follow my mom’s advice in the kitchen and “clean as you go.”

By the way, I just got a new “toy” for the studio which required a little reorganizing of one area. I am going to try and do a little review of said toy this week if I can.

Thanks to¬¨‚ĆSeth Wilks for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


  1. Great Layout Tom 🙂

  2. Michael says:

    Interesting! Where’s the cintiq?

  3. When I read the question, my first reaction was, “Hey! That’s my situation, too!”.
    My studio is currently in my room, but in a month or so I’m moving to a house with a metal building in the back yard that kinda looks like an aircraft hangar(size of a large shed), and I plan on turning that into my studio. It already has electricity & heat, too! It’s such an improvement to have a studio in its own space.

    As soon as I got to the section about the toys, I realized that the toys in my studio/bedroom are completely normal, and I should definitely include those in my planning.


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