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Studio Space

Last week the Pencil Factory—the studio space that I work from—launched a new website, which has micro-portfolios of all of the members of our collective on it. It’s a great website and you should check it out. (And I don’t just say that because I spearheaded and designed it.) This got me thinking about studio space in general and some of the benefits that come from having one.

I’ve been working from the Pencil Factory for the last seven or so years. Before then, I was working from home full-time and, before then, working a day job and working from home in the evenings and weekends. Working from home can be great—you save money, everything you need is there—but it can be isolating and depressing, especially if that’s your only base of operations. You find yourself talking to art directors on the phone way too long. You welcome telemarketers’ calls. Do you have time to take a brief survey? Absolutely.

Getting a studio space changed all of that and opened up a whole other world. It has many advantages:

  • Socialization. You now have people to talk to every day. You make new friends. And you make friends with their friends. Socialization is a huge benefit to sharing studio space and adds a much-needed conversational component to your life.
  • Separating work from home. When your studio is in your home you never stop working. It’s not uncommon to stay up until 4:00am working on an assignment because, well, why not? With a studio space, everything is delineated—work is for work, home is for rest and relaxation. This makes for a far happier work/life balance.
  • Space. People elsewhere may not have this problem, but, living in New York, there is very little space. So, when you work out of your home, everything becomes a work area. Files and paperwork pile up on your bed. Paintings dry in your bathtub. Your kitchen becomes the “packing station.” Once I got a studio space, my apartment became what it was meant to be—a place to live in.
  • Knowledge. Working in a studio alongside other people also increases your knowledge. Anytime a pricing issue comes up, you can turn to one of your studiomates and ask for their input. You see the way they work and pick up some of their process. It’s mind-expanding.

That being said, there are certainly disadvantages to having a studio. For one, you have to motivate yourself to leave your apartment every day—it can feel more like a job. You also have to deal with other people, which is great if your studiomates are awesome (mine are), but not so great if you share space with people you don’t get along with. More than anything, though, the biggest issue is the cost. Keeping up a studio is expensive. And, if you’re in a cosmopolitain area like New York, it’s even more challenging—especially when artists are increasingly being pushed out of their spaces by greedy landlords. The added expense can be a very real danger.

I’m thrilled to be working in a studio setting and to be around so many talented people in the Pencil Factory. It’s definitely helped my career—and my sanity. I would recommend it to any illustrator out there. However, only if you can afford it. It might not be in the cards in the early stages of your career and that’s OK—it’s far better to have financial stability. But, if you can swing the extra bucks, go for it without hesitation. Your life and career will be vastly improved.

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Neil Swaab is a freelance illustrator, art director, author, and educator based in Brooklyn, NY. He's an instructor at Parsons the New School for Design and the illustrator of the New York Times bestselling book Middle School: My Brother is a Big, Fat Liar by James Patterson and Lisa Papademetriou. His new authored and illustrated book, The Secrets to Ruling School: Class Election, comes out this September from Amulet Books.

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