Table of Contents » Chapter 5 : Studio » Chapter 5 : Setting Up A Studio

Chapter 5 : Setting Up A Studio

Justin Donofrio’s Colorado Studio

After school one of the most difficult tasks is setting up a studio with facilities to make your work. There are all kinds of decisions to make – what kind of studio? How much space do I need? What can I afford? How long will I be here? What about leases and zoning? What about studio health and safety? These are very personal decisions and a little information can go a long way.

Emily Schroeder Willis has excellent suggestions:
“My biggest piece of advice was stay with a group! Get a group of artist friends together and stick together to share the costs.

Also, living now in Chicago, I feel like I see more clearly why certain places are better to live than others as a potter. Things to consider are: cost of living, quantity of schools in the area that support ceramics (to help find future jobs and studio mates, Chicago is very low on this and I think it effects shows), quality of galleries in the area, quantity of arts grants available, access to cheap studio space, variety of different art activities occurring in the area, non-academic ceramics facilities in the area.

I think the most effective way to be a successful artist in your “neighborhood” is to educate and share with as many people what you do. Sarah Jaeger told me once that is takes 10 years of living in the same place to really develop an audience. I think more and more how true that is. The more you move around, the more you have to rebuild a group of collectors in your area. Some times it can be just as helpful to sit still and make work as it can be to travel to a bunch of places and do several residencies.”

Suggested Book Read on Studio Set-up:
Scotchie,Virginia. Setting Up Your Ceramic Studio : Ideas & Plans from Working Artists (A Lark Ceramics Book). New York: Lark, 2003.

Tool lending library

Tool-lending libraries allow patrons to borrow tools, equipment and “how-to” instructional materials, functioning either as a rental shop, with a charge for borrowing the tools, or more commonly free of charge as a form of community sharing.


There is often old ceramic studio equipment for sale on Craig’s list, posted at colleges, art centers, and ceramic retailers. Sometimes this stuff is a great deal, sometimes not. Do some research about the equipment before the purchase so you’re not buying a money pit. This is especially true for used kilns; replacing coils, switches, and relays on kilns can really add up. Very often used equipment has been in someone’s grandmother’s basement for a long time, and the seller may not have any idea what they have. If you purchase or accept old materials – test them before using them. Old materials often are a bit different than new materials even if they have the same name and same-looking bag.


Zoning is the process of planning for land use by a locality to allocate certain kinds of structures in certain areas. Zoning also includes restrictions in different zoning areas, such as the height of buildings, use of green space, density (number of structures in a certain area), use of lots, and types of businesses. When setting up a studio, keep in mind the different types of zoning you may encounter. Have a list of your needs ready, ie: ventilation and exhaust, selling work, parking, can you live on the property and have a business on the property.More...

  • Residential
    Residential zoning is for individual family units or groups. It includes single-family homes, duplexes, condominiums, trailer parks, and apartments. If the building you want to use for your business is zoned “residential” you will need to get a variance to use the property for business purposes.
  • Commercial
    Commercial property includes almost everything that is not residential, from offices to retail stores, to shopping malls and strip malls, to bars and nightclubs. Most professional offices are zoned commercial.
  • Industrial
    Industrial zoning is for manufacturing and warehousing operations.
  • Historic
    Historic zoning is used for buildings with areas that have historic value. Many of these properties are designated as “historic landmarks” by the National Register of Historic Places. If you want to use one of these properties for a business, you will have to adhere to the requirements for changing and using these properties.
  • Agricultural and Rural
    These two zoning types regulate land used for farms and ranches, limiting the non-farm use.

To find out how a property is zoned go to the local zoning office, city hall, or some other local planning board and ask for a copy of your local ordinance. The zoning ordinance is a public record, so any property owner may get a copy by making a request. In addition to the zoning ordinance, most communities will provide zoning maps showing not only what the zoning ordinance is, but the overall zoning plan. Many communities will also have this information available online, so it is a good idea to visit your city’s homepage and see if they have the zoning ordinance and zoning map posted on the internet.

Very often artists will rent a commercial loft space and live in it. If a building is not zoned as a combination work / live space, I would not recommend it. Educate yourself about zoning in your area, ask for help.

Books for Crafting a Business 

Studio Safety

A.C.T.S. (Arts, Crafts and Theater Safety) is a not-for-profit corporation that provides health, safety, industrial hygiene, technical services, and safety publications to the arts, crafts, museums, and theater communities. A part of the fees from our consulting services goes to support our free and low-cost services for artists. We gratefully accept donations but do not solicit them from the artists who call here for help and advice. We recognize that artists and performers are among the least affluent groups in society.

Studio Setup Assistance

If you need fabrication support for wood, metal/welding, mold-making, and much more, fill out an Art Studio Services Request Form. We will get you in contact with a GYST Fabrication Services Specialist that’s just right for you.