ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Create a Dorm Room Studio

Updated on August 2, 2013

How to Turn Your Dorm Room into a Studio

Art, Architecture, and Design students can make tough demands on their dorm rooms.

Sure, there's the official Studio where you'll do the bulk of your artistic work...

But sometimes you need to hide away from the chaos that is Studio in order to hear yourself think.

Sometimes you want to do preliminary designs without anyone looking over your shoulder - especially the professor. And sometimes inclement weather makes your little dorm room seem especially comfy... and the long walk on campus too cold, too hot, or too nasty wet!

Sometimes you need your dorm room to double as a private studio.

This Lens gives some tips from a former architecture student on practical ways to studioize your dorm room.

Lists of suggested items follow, but please take them with some salt! - some items will be vital to one one kind of study, but not applicable to another. For instance, a painting student needs an easel, but an architecture student seldom does. These are just suggestions of what you may need in your dorm room studio.

(This picture is courtesy of Publicdomainpictures.net All others are public domain images, unless otherwise noted.)

Manet painting in his floating studio, as painted by Monet (from his own boat? or from the riverbank?)
Manet painting in his floating studio, as painted by Monet (from his own boat? or from the riverbank?)

Room Basics

If you're organized, you can paint ANYWHERE.

Compared to Manet's boat here, a dorm room is actually kinda comfy. Here's what you may need:

BIG DESK - you want the biggest work surface you can squeeze into your dorm room, whatever your major. The standard dorm desk is often barely adequate for book learnin'... ridiculously inadequate for graphics. (See the section on "Expanding Your Desk")

COMFY CHAIR - Standard dorm desk chairs are usually really sturdy and only so-so comfortable. If you'll have a drafting board, you may want a swiveling/rolling drafting chair. A chair with adjustable tilt and back can increase comfort for long work sessions. If you do use the provided chair, consider adding a seat or back cushion.

DESK LAMP - It's important for art work that you have good lighting: abundant, controlled, and of good color. Invest in a good desk lamp (and maybe a couple more lamps) and make sure desk lighting has color-corrected or "daylight" bulbs. Be sure to take advantage of windows.

TACK BOARD - Or magnet board or whatever... You'll want some vertical surface to put up visual images etc. where you can see 'em, without ruining the dorm room walls. A layer or two of cardboard works fine; wrap with fabric for a neater look. (Though you'll soon cover the entire surface, so looks won't matter long.) Again, the bigger the better. Of similar utility is WHITE BOARD which can be useful in brainstorming and list making, as can a roll of BROWN PAPER.

TRASH CAN - Big and Water Resistant! A big ol' plastic bucket with a handle might be perfect. Not stylish, maybe, but imagine the convenience of being able to carry those mountains of crumpled sketches away easily... plus the wet paper towels, damp paint-y scraps, loose pencil shavings or graphite, wood scraps, clay lumps, shards, bent wire, and all the other weird and awkward scraps of the art studio.

WATER - Not so important for architects, but vital for painters. If your room has a nearby bathroom you're set, but if the nearest tap is a long hike away, you may want your own private supply. Instead of buying water, recycle water bottles (especially the big tank style with the tap) by refilling them. Or invest in a thrift store sun-tea jar with a tap. Place that waterproof bucket/trash can underneath to catch drips.

(Manet, you notice, solved his water supply problem.)

VENTILATION - If you work with any even mildly smelly or toxic materials you want to be sure your work space is well ventilated. Open your window!

Artist's Lamp

There are fancier, more expensive options, but if you put a "daylight" bulb into this classic, it'll do everything you need.

Since it's cheap, buy several and be sure of plenty of light and complete control of shadows.

A small (unused?) dorm room desk
A small (unused?) dorm room desk

Expanding Your Desk

Standard dorm room desks are often pitifully small for the sort of work you do.

And, as this photo shows, it's possible to clutter even that little surface - or the floor - so that the desk is unusable or unused! (You'd never do that, right?)

Anyway.

Standard desk = too small.

But you can super-size it!

First of all, place your desk where it gets the best light from any windows (daylight is precious).

Now, evaluate the space available.

Can you add a table or desk, either in-line with the official desk or at an angle to it? Having layout space to the side of your main work surface is perfect for setting out brushes, tools, supplies, or reference drawings.

The pictured desk, for instance, could shift slightly toward the window, then (removing the cases of beer, darn!) there'd be plenty of room for a long thin table to the left with a cork-board above it. Remove the sneakers from that top shelf to make room for clip-on lamps, and voila! a working studio.

It's nice if you can sit with your legs under this side-kick desk, but a chest of drawers will work. Additional layout space can be ANY horizontal surface: dresser, shelf, table, folding table, desk, plywood box, cart or taboret, plywood or door on legs... anything at all. Inexpensive stores like Target or Walmart will have desks and tables. Thrift stores may have even cheaper furniture.

Can you add a larger top to the existing desk? The local home handiman store will have plywood, MDF, plastic laminate countertops, and doors which can all make good work surfaces. Store staff can cut materials to size for a small fee. (I've worked on a couple hollow core doors as desks for decades - light, cheap, and obviously durable!)

It may be that you need (or like) a sloping work surface, then what you want is a drafting board. These can be reasonably priced (starting at about $ 100) as a stand-alone table, or they can be a tabletop model., in which case you need a table too.

Case Studies: What to Do With This Dorm Room?

A few photos of actual real-life dorm rooms follow... along with suggestions for how an art, design, or architecture student could adapt it to their needs.

Cramped

Cramped
Cramped

Living (and creating) in Crowded Quarters

Dorm rooms aren't exactly celebrated for the personal space they provide.

So you have to get clever.

For instance: arrive to your new room FIRST so that you get first dibs on the desk by the window. You can be polite when your laggard roommate shows up... but first come, first served, right? So the desk in this picture is yours!

Now, look at that prime but wasted space under the window.

If the bed can shift an inch or two - or even if it can't - you could lay a wide plank, shelf, or piece of plywood on top of the dresser, weight that left end with something heavy like a marble bust of Shakespeare, and cantilever this new surface out under the window all the way back to the room's corner. Wedge a leg under the far right end (a 2x4 works) and maybe lash it to the bed's leg for extra support and stability. Now you've got a wonderful side layout surface with knee space. This might even become your main work area if you like a view.

Underneath this new counter top, between the bed and the wall, would be a great place for vertical storage of cardboard or canvases. Or you could find a narrow, deep plastic drawer unit to store art supplies.

Clip on a bunch of color-correct lamps to the bed frame, then, please, clip off those tags on the chair's seat cushion (or buy another of your own that you can)... and your dorm studio is done!

Awkward

Awkward
Awkward

Weird Room Plans

Now this is an awkwardly planned room! The valuable window (clearly an attic dormer) is waaaay over there - wasted - there's a stupid heating unit at the corner, and the bed is, like, huge.

What to do?

Well, if at all possible, try moving the bed to where the desk presently is and move the desk where the bed was. Flipping these two large objects frees you to extend the desk top (with added tables etc.) into the dormer window - move into the light!

Because the dresser is taller than the desk, it might work best at the far right of your new desk setup, at the room's corner (guessing here, since it's out of view). The dresser top can still hold art and study supplies. Next, the official desk, then, to its left, your new folding table or other surface filling the wall from the desk to the window. Those shelves underneath it are a great idea, though if they were white they'd amplify the daylight.

Add lamps.

Roomy(ish)

Roomy(ish)
Roomy(ish)

"Ish" Anyway

This room (decorated by the college to attract parents) seems to have more open floor space... yet it's still awkward to use.

But here's a desk that looks like it could be easily expanded by laying the classic door-as-desk top on it, under those shelves. If this cantilevers out to the right about a foot and a half, you could roll a small file cabinet, cart, or artist's taboret underneath that cantilever... and still manage to get into the bathroom! When you're working, this cart could get pulled out for extra side layout space, then pushed back under to clear living space.

There seems to be room for shallow shelves under the window too. Plus, of course, extra lighting clamped to the desk shelves.

Look at all the space at the foot of the bed! This patch of wall might be perfect for a tall, thin shelving unit or cabinet. (Sometimes doors to hide the clutter can be nice.)

The Artist's Studio, by Vermeer (note the scrubbable floor).
The Artist's Studio, by Vermeer (note the scrubbable floor).

Mess Protection!

Even the tidiest of artists can drop something and others (like me) are never tidy.

Protect your security deposit! Cover stuff up!

You notice that even in the very grand artist's studio that Vermeer shows us (was his this nice?), the artist is working over a hard-wearing, easily-scrubbable marble floor. And the dorm room above has a nice wipeable terrazzo floor. But others have - gasp! - carpet.

FLOOR COVERING - If your dorm room has carpet and you'll be doing messy stuff like paint or clay (or wild model gluing), then you may want to lay down something to protect both the carpet and your deposit. Options include roll-out bamboo floor mats, indoor-outdoor rugs, a drop cloth, or plastic sheeting. But instead of the usual painter's plastic drop cloth, consider using an old shower curtain - they're generally easy to handle and quite waterproof, and can actually be decorative!

CUTTING SURFACE - for model making. There are spiffy self-healing cutting mats (kinda expensive) but any somewhat yielding-yet-flat surface will work. You DO need something to protect your desk top and it's best if this is a surface you can cheaply replace once it gets too scarred up.

WET WORK SURFACE - Just as you protect the school's desk from cuts, you need to protect it from wet media like paint or clay. A top surface of plywood or a tablecloth of plastic, oil cloth, or shower curtain will do this. This is one of the advantages of topping the official dorm desk with a larger top, like a door, of your own.

Floor Protection... and Good Looks

This is a little pricey, but then it's also gorgeous!

Think how this roll-up bamboo floor mat will kill the soullessness of the average dorm room... while giving you a hard-wearing, chair-rolling, paint-catching studio floor. You can protect the college's carpet in style from a moderate amount of paint or other artistic mess and - if you're really sloppy - you can lay it over plastic sheeting and that won't slither around in the nasty, wrinkly way it usually does.

Perfect!

Indoor/Outdoor Rugs

Tough enough for almost anything... yet soft and warm underfoot.

A drafting board... that won't fit in your dorm.
A drafting board... that won't fit in your dorm.

Specialized Equipment

DESK EASEL - or pochade box for painting. "Desk easel" is self-explanatory. Pochade boxes are designed primarily for plein air style painting outdoors, but if you have more floor space than desk space, one might make an easily packed-up temporary-studio-easel for your dorm room that has a secret identity as picnic companion. And years later, you'll still use it in the field.

Choose the right easel

Artbistro's discussion of selecting easels.

DRAFTING BOARD - Will you do any hand drafting? (CAD has taken over most drafting duties.) Or will you do other work where you prefer a sloping work surface? Drafting boards range from small tabletop boards to large free-standing drafting tables. An adjacent flat surface is useful for drafting tools etc. if you will do much drafting, consider equipping your board with a parallel bar, which is much easier and faster to use than a T-square.

Desk Top Easel

This is a nice, basic, inexpensive tabletop model easel that ought to fit on most dorm room desks. Very practical.

More Boards and Easels

American Easel Solid Oak Table Top Easel-Golden Finish
American Easel Solid Oak Table Top Easel-Golden Finish

This should hold somewhat larger canvases.

 
Alvin PXB36 Portable Parallel Straightedge Board 24" x 36"
Alvin PXB36 Portable Parallel Straightedge Board 24" x 36"

I have one of these handy traveling and tabletop boards. Works great.

 
Blick's folding craft table
Blick's folding craft table

Handiest Board Ever!

I just found this FOLDING craft table at Blick Art Supplies. (Don't know why this wouldn't work as a drafting board too.)

Blick

Coolo folding/tilting craft table.

Flash Furniture Mid-Back Black Mesh Swivel Task Chair with Arms
Flash Furniture Mid-Back Black Mesh Swivel Task Chair with Arms

So much more comfy than that standard college chair.

 

Civilize That Standard Chair!

Why suffer through hours of work and study? Add easy comfort.

Big enough?
Big enough?

Studio Computers

As with anything else in your studio, it's best to start out cheap and basic until you discover what exactly you need for your particular work. The Basic-Freshman-College-Kit-Computer (whatever that is this year) will be just fine at first.

But here are a few questions to consider as you tweak your set-up:

COMPUTER - Remember that you'll need this for both written work and graphics. If you're doing heavy CAD or Photoshop etc. you may want a PC to maximize processing speed and file storage, but a laptop or tablet for portability in research, note-taking in class, and working away from your dorm. Some types of studio classes provide computers. Think through your needs and budget. You may end up with several devices to do what you need done.

MONITOR- If you'll be doing Photoshop or CAD work, you'll want a BIG monitor (or three). This can supplement a laptop's built-in screen.

PRINTER - Colleges usually have shared printers... But do you want to wait in line on turn-in-your-paper day? Will the printer be working? Having your own small, cheap printer can be handy, even if you still print important work on the better university printers and plotters.

SCANNER - If you'll use many scanned images in your art, convenience may suggest you want your own small one, though the college will have nice, big-format ones you can use.

PROTECTION - Use virus check software! Take the time to engrave some ID on your equipment - just in case. (I've seen bicycle chains attached to pricey computer gear!) Be sure to use surge protectors. And do be sure to separate your electronics from any wet art processes in your studio, right?

Studio clutter - deal with it!
Studio clutter - deal with it!

Storage

Artists and Designers need Stuff!

And places to store the Stuff.

Storage - especially in as small a space as a dorm room - becomes very important.

Think through your storage needs: Art supplies? Sketchbooks? Do you have a lot of paper stock or other materials that need flat storage? Cardboard or canvases or other vertical-storage materials? Wet stuff? Toxic or flammable stuff? (And do you really REALLY want that in your dorm room?)

What types of storage do you need?

Here are few other sites with studio storage suggestions:

Pintrest - Art Studio Ideas

Mainly pictures of clever art and craft storage.

Art Storage

Having efficient storage is vital!

Links to More on Studio Design

And when you're decorating... remember that an artist can NEVER have enough wall display space. Don't forget cork board for pinning up work and white board for working on work.

Setting Up a Painting Studio

Painter Rod Moore explains how he set up his tiny art studio. There are lessons on use-of-space here for dorm based artists!

Examples of Home Studios

A few inspiring photos.

Film Student?

This enterprising film student wants to cram a FILM studio into his dorm room... and has made a charming video to explain how.

Love the can-do attitude! It adds a whole new level to the art of dumpster-diving decor.

Have You Solved the Dorm/Studio Issue? - Please share your answers and questions HERE.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 4 years ago

      @shellys-space: Thank you! And thanks for visiting.

    • shellys-space profile image

      Shelly Sellers 4 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

      Wow! What great ideas for students to make a studio in a small dorm room!

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 5 years ago

      @caketech: You can never have too much room... but you can get by with surprisingly little space if you organize it. My own studio is a funny long narrow porch, but works pretty well for me. Thanks for visiting!

    • caketech profile image

      caketech 5 years ago

      Angel blessings to you! I love art studios! I am working on mine in our house. We have very limited space here, but one day hope to have enough room to expand it a bit.

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 5 years ago

      @Joy Neasley: Yeah. Sigh. I'm waiting for when technology advances until monitors are printed on fabric (with keyboards) and we all wear 'em round our necks like Scout kerchiefs - always prepared! Thanks for visiting.

    • Joy Neasley profile image

      Joy Neasley 5 years ago from Nashville, TN

      I love the monitors...I use just my laptop and it gets a bit cumbersome. However I have to stay mobile, and three monitors just don't fit into that.

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 5 years ago

      @fugeecat lm: I love mine. With a handle at the top, it's easy to carry with me and small enough to store out of the way.

    • fugeecat lm profile image

      fugeecat lm 5 years ago

      That table top easel looks so handy!

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 5 years ago

      @Gypzeerose: I sympathize completely! Artists are very important... and much needed. Thanks for visiting.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 5 years ago

      With tears in my eyes, I just sent my kid off to art school today. Aren't we glad there are artists in the world?

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 5 years ago

      @Snowsprite: Thank you!

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 5 years ago

      @flycatcherrr: Thanks! Living/working in a dorm room is like living/working on a boat... you can always translate the storage ideas to bigger "real" houses.

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 5 years ago

      @ohcaroline: Thank you.

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 5 years ago

      @Teapixie LM: Yeah, I'm always short on space myself... though if I have it, I instantly fill it! Thanks for visiting.

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 5 years ago

      @bushaex: Thank you!

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 5 years ago

      @dellgirl: Thank you so much!

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Thanks! Thanks for visiting.

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 5 years ago

      @Gypzeerose: Best of luck to your son! I'm awed by anyone who can truly create art - teeny dorm room or not.

    • kiwi66 profile image

      kiwi66 5 years ago

      i don't understand all, but seems good

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 5 years ago

      @Lee Hansen: Tiny is a challenge. Don't you envy those artists with huge studio-lofts? I sure do! Thanks for visiting.

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 5 years ago

      @SheGetsCreative: Thank you!

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 5 years ago

      @Gayle Dowell: Maximizing space is the key. My own studio is only about 5' wide... but it works. Thanks for visiting.

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 5 years ago

      @chezchazz: Thank you - you're very kind.

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 5 years ago

      @JoshK47: Thank you!

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 5 years ago

      @randomthings lm: Best of luck to him! Thanks for visiting.

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 5 years ago

      @Elyn MacInnis: Thank you - and thanks for visiting!

    • profile image

      ohcaroline 5 years ago

      Well thought out plans.

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 5 years ago

      @nicks44: Good luck with it! Thanks for visiting.

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Thank you! I'm so messy when I work that i have to come up with ideas like buckets.

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 5 years ago

      @VeseliDan: Thank you!

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 5 years ago

      @kburns421 lm: Thank you! It IS a challenge to do art work in a tight dorm room. Luckily floors are big n' flat! Thanks for visiting.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Amazing ideas!

      Great lens

    • profile image

      clerk1993 5 years ago

      interesting

    • profile image

      ohcaroline 5 years ago

      Living at home and trying to do artwork requires the same principles. Good work on this lens.

    • Teapixie LM profile image

      Tea Pixie 5 years ago

      Great ideas and useful in small spaces like apartments! I am always struggling with creating a specific space to work. Thank you so much for the work on this topic.

    • bushaex profile image

      Stephen Bush 5 years ago from Ohio

      SquidAngel blessings. An excellent and unique lens.

    • profile image

      dellgirl 5 years ago

      Congratulations on making Popular Pages - Featured Lenses and on getting the Purple Star for this lens. Way-To-Go! This is really a great lens, lots of helpful information. ~~Blessed by a SquidAngel~~

    • Nanciajohnson profile image

      Nancy Johnson 5 years ago from Mesa, Arizona

      I even like these ideas for my home.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Nice use of theme and awesome collection.

    • GreenfireWiseWo profile image

      GreenfireWiseWo 5 years ago

      Love the ideas!

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 5 years ago

      What a terrific lens. Since I have a son who is started as an art design major at California College of the Arts on Sunday -ask me if I am proud :) I read this with special interest and sent it over to him. Great instructions, very nice indeed. Blessed.

    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 5 years ago from Vermont

      I actually used many of your suggestions for my own room/studio when I was living in a tiny apartment a few years ago. Gotta make room to make art!

    • LaurisB LM profile image

      LaurisB LM 5 years ago

      Good ideas for those who must work in small spaces, wherever they are!

    • SheGetsCreative profile image

      Angela F 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Great topic - you gave a lot of solutions for creative dorm residents. *blessed

    • Gayle Dowell profile image

      Gayle Dowell 5 years ago from Kansas

      Great ideas. I do not have a dorm space, but a small odd shaped bedroom. I work in several different painting media and design and make hand made jewelry. I never have enough room, but that will change soon as I seek to maximize my space. Thanks for the tips. Blessed~

    • chezchazz profile image

      Chazz 5 years ago from New York

      An(other) incredibly thorough and smart lens. Blessed and featured on "Still Wing-ing it on Squidoo."

    • profile image

      kgdunst 5 years ago

      Those organisers must have done a great job. Good pick!

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      Great guide! Thanks for sharing - blessed by a SuqidAngel!

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 5 years ago

      *Absolutely fascinating* lens! Now, never mind a dorm room, I'm inspired to scrutinize my whole house, with an eye to better use of light and space! Love the coinage "studioize," by the way: I'll be borrowing that word. ;)

    • randomthings lm profile image

      randomthings lm 5 years ago

      just moved my son into his dorm this weekend! Don't know how he will decorate! Your intro picture captured my attention...The Girl With The Golden Earring!

    • Elyn MacInnis profile image

      Elyn MacInnis 5 years ago from Shanghai, China

      I think you can solve LOTS of issues here. You have given so many clever solutions to all sorts of problems. Brilliant. And blessed!

    • nicks44 profile image

      nicks44 5 years ago

      Not yet, but I am planning to do so pretty soon. Now that I have some ideas from you this might be even easier than I previously thought of ...

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Very impressive ideas for creating a dorm room studio and I like your practical approach to getting the most out of a space as in a big bucket is a great garbage container...and it could be prettied up even by the artist!

    • VeseliDan profile image

      VeseliDan 5 years ago

      Great ideas! That make me think abou my room :) Blessed.

    • thememorybooksh1 profile image

      thememorybooksh1 5 years ago

      great lens, i like your lens

    • Snowsprite profile image

      Fay 5 years ago from Cornwall, UK

      Some very useful advice for artists and not only those in dorms but other who live in small spaces. Congratulations on your Purple star. Blessed.

    • sconnelly711 profile image

      sconnelly711 5 years ago

      I like the style of this lens, very nice :)

    • kburns421 lm profile image

      kburns421 lm 5 years ago

      I love this lens. I know what it was like working on art in high school, so I can imagine the difficulty of working in a small dorm. My roommate was a theater design major and was always having to use the floor since that's where there was the most space.

    • Deadicated LM profile image

      Deadicated LM 5 years ago

      Great ideas!

    • fireauthor profile image

      fireauthor 5 years ago

      very nice ,thank you