Learning how I best work as an artist took some time. As an undergraduate student, I only experienced working in a communal workspace. As a graduate student, I shared a studio with one other maker for two years and had a private studio during my third year. After graduate school, I rented a 20×30-foot space in an industrial building with high ceilings. Now, my studio space is located in my home on one side of a walkout basement with approximately 300 square feet of workspace plus some additional storage space elsewhere. My studio has two sets of windows, just above ground level, and a standard exterior door. I don’t have running water in my space, but there is access to running water on the same level and outside through a garden hose in the summer months.
While in my first solo studio outside of an academic setting, I learned that I only like to work on one side of a table and not all around the table. Every now and again, I test this out and come to the same conclusion. With this in mind, I set up my current rectangular-shaped studio with tables against the walls and an aisle through the middle of the space. I have three clay working tables (two for wet work, one for surface/glaze work) and a large drafting table on wheels for drawing, painting, and other non-clay work.
New Studio Work Table
My original work-table design was simple: a full 4×8-foot sheet of ¾-inch plywood and a combination of 2×4 and 2×6 lumber to make the legs and structural support. A lower shelf with a support grid of 2×4s was constructed from leftover 5/8-inch OSB subflooring.
This basic table provided a large work surface that could have several large in-progress coil vessels on it with off-the-ground clay storage below. Off-the-ground clay storage really helps with maintaining your clay supply if you’re like me and have a ground-level floor, such as a basement or garage; the cold floor makes the clay less appealing to work with during the winter months.
Modified Studio Work Table
Being in a basement means that three sides of my studio walls are poured concrete, and not the easiest to drill into to hang things up. To make better use of the wall space behind my table, I added a wooden structural support system to the back side of the table, which adds more usable spaces within my reach (A). I also modified the lower portion of the table to include sections that assist in organizing items used in the making process. The new upper portion of the work table is 16 inches deep and spans the entire 8-foot length of the table. Because I enjoy asymmetry, I split the upper portion into 58- and 38-inch sections.
The left side, which is 58 inches wide and 16 inches deep, houses a Homasote bulletin board that I painted white to brighten up the space and an L-shaped pegboard on the right interior space. The pegboard has hooks to hang various work tools, such as ribs, rasps, trimming tools, wire tools, etcetera. In front of this pegboard, but still within the 16 inches of depth, is where I keep other work tools: wooden tools, paddles, slab sticks, more ribs, wooden stamps, and other miscellaneous tools that I like to have accessible while working.
The right side has 3 shelves that are each 34½ inches wide and 16 inches deep. On this side of the table, I keep smaller bisque molds on the highest shelf; my stereo (which includes a tape deck, a necessity), a basket of paper patterns, a digital clock, and a device charging station on the second highest shelf; and rolling pins, banding wheels, and a large bisque mold on the lowest shelf. Medium-sized and readily used bisque molds, sponges, slip cups, handbuilding tools, and my hot pot for boiling water for washes (not drinking water) are kept on the lowest area, which is between the table top and the lowest shelf.
Below the tabletop surface is an additional storage area (A, B), which is elevated and supported off the floor by a 2×4 structural support grid. This grid structure provides load-bearing support as I store my boxes of clay on the left side of this area, which can be upward of 900 pounds when full.
On the right side of this area is a two-section cubby structure, each 15 inches wide × 18¾ inches high × 36 inches deep. One cubby holds foam and the other holds plastic, 1-mil clear rolled poly all-purpose plastic sheeting that I use to wrap in-progress works. On top of these cubbies is another storage space specifically designed for my long, narrow bisque molds. This area only has a 6½-inch opening, but there is additional height available behind the opening. Because the storage cubbies extend the full depth of the table, there is ample surface to hold the long molds and some additional items used during the making process.
I’ve now worked with this newer table design for almost two years. I’ve added nails in various places to hang additional tools. My Leach-style treadle wheel sits to the right of the table, and I hang my trimming tools on that side of the work table and rest ware boards along the side for easy reaching. It has proven to be a design that meets my needs and maybe it will meet yours or inspire your next work-table design.
Rhonda Willers is the author of Terra Sigillata: Contemporary Techniques, which was published by The American Ceramic Society and is available from the Ceramic Arts Network Shop at https://ceramicartsnetwork.org/shop/terra-sigillata.