Studio Tour + Set Up Tips from Uniform Natural

Today we're being treated to another studio tour from one of our participants at Poppytalk Handmade, artist Martha McQuade of Uniform Natural Known for her consciously and ethically made clothing and scarves, Martha just launched her new home collection this past week. Martha shares with us not only her amazingly organized studio but adds a few tips at the end on setting up an inexpensive workspace. Thanks Martha!

Artist Name: Martha McQuade
Shop site:
City: Minneapolis, MN

Where in your home/apartment/city is your studio located?
My studio is in the basement of my home in Minneapolis.

What equipment/tools do you use?
I mainly use a sewing machine. I dye and print fabrics so I have special pots and measuring tools for the dyes and blocks, screens, inks and rollers for the printing.

Do you have an inspiration board, and can you tell us what is inspiring you now? (if so, please include picture)
I have an inspiration board that I just keep adding to, but I mainly use a very large sketchbook to keep inspiration images in.

How do you create best (e.g. do you listen to music while you create and if so what?)
I usually listen to podcasts while I am sewing or cutting or ironing. I have so many that I listen to, but a few favorites are the Moth, the Splendid Table, Hey Brooklyn, and TED talks. Molly Wizenberg from Orangette has a new one called Spilled Milk that is very funny.

List (3) of your favorite artists (with links, list the link, then the name)

ann hamilton
uta barth

If yours isn't, what would be your perfect studio?
A large loft space with high ceilings and big industrial windows, concrete or brick walls (something textured) and a HUGGGGE worktable in the center.

Tips for setting up an inexpensive workspace:

Do one high impact thing right away
Choose something that will look like you’ve made progress, make you happy and get you motivated to continue. For me that was painting one of the dirty tan concrete block walls white. Once that wall was clean and white, the space was brighter and I could envision what it would all be like. Then I taped up some photographs so I’d have something inspirational to look at every time I entered the room.

Get everything out of the space that doesn’t have to go there
Put everything else into bins, boxes or bags. This was really important for me. It was overwhelming to think about organizing all of my fabric, supplies, books, etc. plus all of the basement items not related to my studio that needed to stay in the room. I just threw everything into plastic bins and baskets and stacked them in the middle of the room. Once the visual clutter was organized I could breathe easier. Each bin might have random stuff inside that still needed to be sorted and put away but that could happen later after the major parts of the room were organized.

Paint is transformative and white is magic.
Paint is relatively cheap and painting a space with a fresh coat will really make it feel clean, bright and new. I’m a big proponent of painting walls, woodwork, shelving, doors, ceilings and floors all the same color, preferably white. Painting over everything, especially in a basement space, will make it feel cohesive, especially when you have a bunch of disparate and not exactly great materials. I painted the concrete block walls, old wood storage shelving, existing peg board walls and dry, cracked window trim. Having it all the same color makes the space seem bigger. Now my eye doesn’t catch on all the nooks and crannies and stains and it feels fresh. Making it all white allows everything you put into the space take a front seat. I want to focus on the work I’m making and bits of art I put in the space, not the old cracked walls. Colorful art and fabric doesn’t have to compete with the background. And white bounces what little light there is around, making it brighter. To this end the tables, desks and cabinets I added are all white as well, and become part of the room.

make do and make peace with settling for less.
If I waited for exactly what I wanted in a dream studio space I’d still be waiting. So I started thinking about what I really needed, and how I could make that happen with what I could do myself, using things I had or could buy inexpensively. One of the most important things for me is light. I need the space to be bright to work and since it is in the basement that requires electric lighting. Hiring an electrician would be out of my budget but I didn’t want to take the time to learn how to wire up track lighting myself. I started poking around the hardware store and discovered that you can get an adaptor to make track lighting plug in. It took about an hour to screw 3 strips of track to the underside of the joists, attach the plug to the end and snap in the light heads. Then I just stapled the cords to the joists and ran them all to one power strip. Almost instant halogen light that is adjustable to any corner of the room.
There are several spots in the room that have exposed conduit and outlets featured prominently on the middle of walls. I draped some fabric over them and call them art:)

Prioritize and phase things
I painted all the walls but left the floor and ceiling for later. The ceiling (exposed joists, ductwork and conduit) and floor (exposed concrete) will take much longer and be more expensive. I decided that having everything that is at eye level clean and fresh would make the biggest difference.

Use what you have
A few nice items will make all the IKEA/Target/hardware store stuff look better. I shopped our storage and found a mid century chair and dresser that we weren’t using and put them in the space, and now my eye notices the beautiful danish teak first rather than the white coated particle board.
Be flexible and think creatively
There are some existing built in shelves in the space that we have filled with paint cans, tools and various other house things that we really don’t have room for anywhere else. The shelves are ugly and the stuff on them is always jumbled and random. I put up a long floor to ceiling curtain over the front and now I don’t have to see the stuff inside but it’s still easily accessible. It was cheap and easy to put up and I like the added softness and texture of the curtain in the space.

You can never have too much storage
Keeping materials off of your work surface keeps the space feeling big and open which will inspire you to want to be in it.

The BIG table.
For me the key to having the most efficient and easy to use workspace is a big center work table. If you put a large work surface in the center of a room, you have a large area to lay things out on and you can easily move around it on all sides. The wall surface can become pin up space, or if you have room can accommodate a desk, shelving or other work surface and you can easily move between the two by just turning. Visually the large surface in the center actually makes the space feel bigger. Underneath the table I can store all of those bins full of stuff that I mentioned previously, and it will be there out of sight until I can get to organizing it.
To make a large, inexpensive worktable I took two hollow core doors and added inexpensive IKEA legs. The ones I got are adjustable in height, if you don’t need that option they are even cheaper. Solid doors are more sturdy and would have been preferable, but they were triple the price. On the entrance side of the table I put an IKEA bookcase, to store books and hide all the bins behind. When I walk in I see a pretty shelf full of books, not all the junk under the table.

Some IKEA shopping tips
Of course I wish I could have all of my furniture and cabinets made by my furniture maker friends but this isn’t possible right now. So I turned to IKEA, which is a good option for simple background pieces, as long as you are careful in your selections.
Do a lot of research on their website and look at all of the categories, not just workspace or storage. I originally wanted the EFFEKTIV workspace storage cabinets, but my space was 1 inch too narrow for them to go wall to wall. I really wanted the cabinets to be wall to wall for a sleeker, more built in look. I searched through all of their furniture, and finally came up with a configuration of BESTA media cabinets that fit exactly. I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the BESTA cabinets. They seem quite sturdy and went together quickly and seamlessly.
Take advantage of IKEA’s shopping list feature. Once I found the cabinets I wanted, I just added all of the components, accessories and inserts to my shopping list and printed it out. The list tells you the price and which aisle and bin number the item is located in. It only took me an hour to go purchase everything and get back home again.

Thank you Martha!

Jan Halvarson


VivatRegina said...

WOW! That's really cool! As someone who is working on her own workspace, I really appreciate this post! :D Thanks so much and keep up the great job!


lyndsay said...

wowzers. great, bright, clean and organized space.

very inspiring!!


Annching said...

Great interview and tips, I love seeing the studio behind the artist. <3

Kristena said...

I love her workspace and her tips. Thanks for the interview!

Diane Faye Zerr said...

I love the HUUUGGGE work table in the center of the room. I really loved the Bedford Project table from Pottery Barn but it was just too expensive. So I looked to Ikea and got a desk that I loved. I'm thinking about adding another right next to it and it will be almost like that project table. I made one big mistake though, I put my iMac on that desk. Thinking back it should be on my desk along the wall so that I can focus on my hands-on drawing and paper work instead of the computer.

Yasmine said...

Wonderful workspace, very useful tips for me as I'm reorganizing my (much smaller) workspace. Thanks!

ginny said...

Fantastic studio Martha! I completely agree that painting everything white can transform a dreary space into a light, airy and inspirational studio, and that it can be achieved on a shoestring budget :D. My ceramics studio started out as a long and narrow cave of a space that had been partitioned off in our garage. It had dark brown wood walls and ceiling --- a few gallons of white paint (and primer :)), inexpensive commercial style light beige floor tiles, oodles of good lighting, and lots of low cost white laminate storage turned my ugly space into a pretty nifty studio. I am easily distracted by visual clutter, so the neutral backdrop actually allow my creativity to reign. Thanks so much for sharing your space and tips :D!