Create a Dorm Room Studio
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.)
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!
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.
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?)
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.
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!
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.
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.)
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.
Tough enough for almost anything... yet soft and warm underfoot.
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.
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
This should hold somewhat larger canvases.
I have one of these handy traveling and tabletop boards. Works great.
The whole kit n' caboodle in a nice small size.
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.)
Coolo folding/tilting craft table.
Like a Seat With That?
So much more comfy than that standard college chair.
Adjustable lights are fantastic.
Civilize That Standard Chair!
Why suffer through hours of work and study? Add easy comfort.
For your back.
NOT for your back.
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?
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:
Mainly pictures of clever art and craft storage.
Having efficient storage is vital!
handy rolly storage.
Classic artist's helper.
I swear by these for organizing projects.
Useful bin storage.
Clear is sometimes very handy.
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.
- Nevada Sage Brush: "Dorm Room Doubles for Studio, Store"
Here's an article about one student who runs a art/craft business from her dorm room. (No decorating advice though.)
- Art Studio Secrets blog
Tips on what you need for a dorm room studio.
- The Wire "Studio Envy"
Photos of Music studios. Inspirational!
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.
General Dorm Decorating Advice
- Power to Change - Dorm Decorating Advice
Some useful tips.
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.