Monday, February 13, 2023

To See or Not to See...Your Art Supplies

To See or Not to See...Your Art Supplies

Hello! I am Kristin Williams and, like you, I have too many #$@^ art supplies. 


Recently I culled through, gifted, sold, tossed, and essentially liquidated the contents of my 2.500 s.f. shop & studio, Ephemera Paducah. For about 3 months I felt like I did nothing but make 87,532 micro-decisions each day. 

  • Do I toss it? 
  • Do I keep it? 
  • Does it work?
  • Does someone else want this?
  • Where will I put it? 
  • What will it go with? 
  • Am I ever going to touch it again? 
  • Do I want to touch it? 
  • Will I remember where I put it? 
  • Don’t I have another one of these?
  • Is this the good one??
  • Repeat. 

At the end of the days in December and November when my husband and I would have the dreaded “what do YOU want for dinner conversation,” I would be in the fetal position in the corner mumbling, “you pick you pick you pick you pick.” Actually, I was probably yelling, "A MANHATTAN!” but the incoherent mumbling makes for a better story. 

I survived and am on the other side. 

Thankfully I had great helpers, and wonderful customers who enjoyed a heck of a sale, and, just in time, two enterprising folks appeared out of the woodwork and purchased what was left lock, stock, and barrel. By early December the place was cleared out except for what I kept for personal use. 

Yeah, more micro-decisions. Where to put all the supplies I wanted to keep?

I ignored the piles as long as I could, but when my big dog TeeJay decided to snack on a tray of Acrylic Inks and took the title “Blue Dog” to a realistic level. I had to get busy. 

Sidebar — I don’t know about you, but I have to have something mindless going on in the background while working in my studio. A TV is an art supply for me. I am not ashamed. And, thankfully, as I was doing the business of integrating a gazillion supplies into my home studio in December, I was incredibly thankful for Hallmark Christmas movies. They got me through sorting pens and pencils by color and lifelessness because you can tune out and pick up in the next movie but not miss a thing.  

At first, I thought I needed either everything either out of sight, shoving bins into existing furniture and closets, or arranged in cute carts I could rotate as I needed. Since TeeJay is head level with the top of the carts, and art supplies are so delicious, I had to scrap that concept. 

Also, I know myself. If I can’t see it when I am working, I am not going to use it. Having all the acrylic paints boxed up in a piece of furniture across the room from my desk was not going to work for me. 

Mary Beth Shaw to the rescue! She had gone through the exact same mental exercise of “to see or not see” her Art supplies (prior to the horrible incident of frozen pipes bursting in her studio in December). I hopped in the truck and ran up to St. Louis to see her organizational methods for myself, and fell in love. 

Off to The Container Store we went for clear stackable drawers, (which she reported to me post studio flooding, stayed dry inside). Once home I rearranged the existing furniture in my home studio and created a nest around my desk where I can twist in my chair and grab 90% of what I will use for mixed media — art crayons, paints, pens, brushes, etc. all at hand in a cozy, well-lit space.

I set up my sewing machine in a separate area and moved another piece of storage furniture to house everything fiber. — fabric, thread, notions, and tools. Sorting fabric is my next big thing but I am happy to report that I am still in love with my thread sorting system incorporating the Target felt baskets. 

Using the 12” x 12” clamshells always on sale at Micheals or clear zippered pouches, I have my “specialty” packs together stored in furniture rather than out. For instance, I keep all the items needed to carve stamps together. And, I incorporated my favorite re-use of big cans of tomatoes for quick-grab or stuff items on my desk. One of these cans is a fabulous choice for those paper bits you can’t bear to throw away. 

I am more compact in my Tennessee Studio. I love looking at this piece and have diligently labeled the drawers with a Signo Uni-ball and blue tape. It obviously is the opposite of “to see” but I can read what’s in each drawer. I also try to limit the number of supplies there as the space is so much smaller. I end up packing what I am working on back and forth to the two locations.

As for stencil storage, I do what works for me which is a giant drawer in Kentucky and a clamshell box in Tennessee. I swear the process of culling through them with my hands is part of my creative process. I love it when I sort through them and trip across the perfect stencil -- something that happens every time. I keep a ratty baggie of my favorite ATCs, Minis, and 6x6s together for travel and couch art journaling. 

Other than some of the obvious things like keeping ‘Likes with Likes,” gifting or tossing something as soon as you realize you are not going to use it, having a place for all categories of supplies to live, and labeling as you need to, I don’t have any other words of wisdom other than "to thine own self be true!" I wish I could be creative in a beautifully curated studio, but that intimidates me more than inspires me. 

Thanks for reading! If you’ve got a favorite Art Supply Storage tip please add it in the comments!!


  1. My advice…always keep a crafty friend that will take your unwanted items off your hands! You both feel great when you purge items!

  2. What a job - both fun and frustrating, I'm certain. Does this mean that Paducah Kentucky is no more? I'm sorry if that's the case. I never had a chance to get there, but clearly you had not only a wonderful shop, but you held amazing workshops. Good luck with what comes next.


If you are entering a GIVEAWAY, please add your email address in the event we need to contact you.

To avoid SPAM, please write it like this:

marybeth (at) stencilgirltalk (dot com)

Thank You!