Those of us in the “neurodiverse” category know all too well that existing in spaces designed for neurotypical brains (read: just about everywhere) can often feel like swimming against a current. Meet Spoonflower Artist Katie Hayes. She’s a printmaker and surface pattern designer based in Hillsborough, North Carolina. In early childhood, Katie was diagnosed with hyperactive-type ADHD. Knowing the unique way her creative, curious brain works, Katie did something amazing—she applied the strategies she uses to manage her ADHD to design an artist studio that works with her brain instead of against it.
Whether you also have ADHD or just need some advice on how to level up your organization, read on to learn Katie’s tips for how to design an artist studio or workspace that’s perfectly suited to your needs.
Katie: I’m obsessed with the biodiversity of my region, my handsome bearded husband, and my two brilliantly creative children. I have a dog, a small business, and 10 acres full of wild, rambling woods, so basically it’s the best life you can imagine. I also have ADHD.
If you have ADHD yourself, you’ll probably understand what I mean when I say that growing up, I was constantly occupying spaces and systems that weren’t meant for brains like mine. Grade school was torture for wriggly little kids like me, college was full of hurdles, and Corporate America was—let’s just say expense reports were not my thing. I learned to function the best I could in those spaces, but I never really thrived.
A Space For Katie
I started as many creatives do—carving block prints on my kitchen table, and making patterns on my laptop after my kids went to bed. Over the next few years, my work went from hobby to side hustle, to full-time gig and the kitchen table wasn’t cutting it anymore. Neither was the combination craft room/office/kids toy room that I had colonized as my business demands expanded.
I needed to build out a studio, and for the first time in my life, I got to build a space that was meant for me. I designed my studio with my ADHD in mind, and today Spoonflower has asked me to show you around my space and share with you some tips for other neurodivergent creatives who want to do the same.
A Tour of Katie’s Studio
As you walk into my studio—a converted room over a free-standing garage—you’ll notice I’ve got good light coming in on one end of the space, and that’s where I decided to locate my two main creative work zones.
The Administrative Station
On one side of the room, you’ll see a computer with a large monitor and an L-shaped desk with several printers for proofing designs, storage for office supplies, and a file cabinet all within arms reach. This is where I make my surface patterns, do my bookkeeping, write my newsletter, and complete other administrative tasks for my business.
“I needed to build out a studio, and for the first time in my life, I got to build a space that was meant for me. I designed my studio with my ADHD in mind.”
The Creative Workspace
On the opposite wall, you’ll see an L-shaped workstation with labeled racks of carved blocks, flat storage for blank paper, and two adjustable height workbenches, topped with pegboards full of rollers and NC-made inks. This is where I create my block prints.
As we walk through the studio, you’ll notice my entire space is set up with a zone for each function of my business, and everything I need to complete those tasks is exactly where I need them, usually prominently displayed on a pegboard, shelf, or other easy-to-access surface. Trash/recycling cans sit near every station where it’s needed. There are task lights at each spot, and chairs already in place. All I need to do is walk up and get to work. Let me tell y’all. My brain loves it here.
The Fine, Functional Details
As we go deeper into each workstation, you’ll notice other little details: the bullet journal I have always at the ready in my studio corner, or the cell phone charger near my printmaking set up so I can record process videos even if I forgot to charge my phone earlier. I keep a little iPad holder at my print packing station so I can watch Skillshare videos or listen to podcasts as I get orders prepared—because I’ll stay on task longer if I’m not getting bored. I think of these as my “ADHD productivity boosters.” They may seem small, but these strategies, when coupled with my physical space setup, have made an enormous difference in my productivity and decreased my stress exponentially.
“All I need to do is walk up and get to work. Let me tell y’all. My brain loves it here.“
Tips for Personally Organizing Your Studio
My space is exactly what I need, but I know each person with ADHD has a different experience, so your ideal studio will inevitably look different from mine. I’ve put together some tips for you to utilize (with bullet points, because I know all you ADHD-ers are just scanning this post anyway.) I’ll also share how each of these helped me as I was going through this process, and hopefully support you as you think through what a studio space built for your brain would look like.
Katie’s Tips for the Studio of your ADHD dreams:
- The three questions you need to answer first
- List out your zones by function
- Stop to purge
- Build out your work stations
- Anticipate imposter syndrome
- Tweak your systems
1. There are three questions you need to answer before you start this process and they are;
- What function do you need this space to fill?
- What are your ADHD Strengths?
- What are your ADHD Obstacles?
What function do you need this space to fill?
This is maybe the most important question for you to answer as you get started. For me, I’ve often had a craft room, but this is my first ever studio. My craft rooms were always mostly storage spaces—mausoleums of past creative hobbies with maybe a work table and, because space was limited, a guest bed or office. But here’s the thing, I was giving prime real estate to my yarn hoard, or my soap-making supplies, or my oil paints, and not really utilizing my space for my current projects.
For an ADHD-friendly studio, I needed to narrow down the function first so I could build systems for my brain. In my case, I chose to design a space that functioned for printmaking, surface pattern design and met my studio-admin needs.
What are your ADHD Strengths, and what are your ADHD Obstacles?
My next step was to self-reflect on how my ADHD affects me—both the good and the bad. On the positive side, I know that my ADHD allows me to generate prolific amounts of art especially when I’m getting dopamine hits and getting into my hyper-focus. On the negative side of things, I get off track easily—especially if a task is already boring me, or I’ll put off a task if there are too many slight obstacles. A few examples of this from my business were delaying taking product photos because I only had one table and I already had it set up for inking my prints, or going into my closet where my shipping boxes were stored, and coming out 30 minutes later with an armload of laundry instead.
2. List out your zones by functions
Once I understood my ADHD obstacles, I set out to design a space that would make my most frequent tasks as easy as possible. I started with a gigantic list in my bullet journal of regularly occurring tasks. For example: Pulling prints, packing orders, uploading patterns to Spoonflower, carving blocks, writing my newsletter, product photography, etc. From there I grouped these tasks into “zones” based on what supplies I needed in order to accomplish them. So for example, I grouped all the tasks involved with prepping prints (signing the editions, matboard and backing board, clear protective sleeves, etc.) into a single “Print Packing” station. Once I had my zones, I was almost ready to build out my space but first I had to do something super hard—stop to purge.
3. Stop to Purge
I KNOW. This is a hard one. It was SUPER hard for me—especially if you’ve invested money and time into tooling up for a creative hobby and don’t want to let go of your lifelong dream of being a (pick one) lamp maker/knitting pattern creator/oil painter/professional Christmas ornament decorator. But, I want you to refer back to the first question: What function do you need this space to fill?
You’re creating a workspace—not a storage closet—and your brain needs this space to function. So if you have art supplies that don’t align with the function you’ve identified in question one, it’s time to either find a different space to store them or let them go. Trust me, I know from experience, that some lady in your local Buy Nothing group is going to be stoked to get all your old lamp-making supplies.
4.Build out your work stations
Okay now comes the fun part—designing your space! You’ll need a dedicated workstation for each of your zones. Think about what you need in each space and don’t forget to utilize vertical space. Your goal here is that everything you need for each of your major tasks should be within arms reach (or close), and that everything should have a place. Don’t strive for a space that’s constantly clean, that’s not realistic. Instead, strive for a space that’s easy to clean up.
You’re probably going to need some furniture. Of course, a lot of this will also depend on your budget. In my space, I dedicated most of my budget to a couple of adjustable-height workbenches with sliding drawers for flat storage. Because printmaking involves so much bending over, this felt important to invest in the long-term health of my back. I was able to thrift several great desks and storage units and also discovered that peg boards attached to metal utility racks with zip ties made for great room partitions that I could easily move if my needs changed. One bit of advice here, is to build in some flex space if you can. I like to leave a few shelves empty to accommodate incoming supply shipments, etc.
5. Anticipate imposter syndrome
Oh, Imposter syndrome. As artists, most of us know it well. As folks with ADHD, many of us are especially sensitive to rejection. I have several visual reminders placed throughout my studio that I am a real artist. When I start to feel discouraged, these always give me a boost. For you, these can be artwork you made that you feel proud of, swatches of your designs, press clippings, awards, supportive cards from your best friend, or anything that will give you a visual pep-talk when imposter syndrome rears its ugly head.
6. Tweak your systems
The last step is the one I’m in now, and this will be a life-long process. Once you’ve been in your space for a while, evaluate how it’s going. As your interests change, your space will, too. Is there anything you thought you needed that actually needs to go into storage? What functions are you finding yourself doing that you need to add a zone for? Do you need more trashcans? Do you need some lamp-making supplies?
Above all, remember that you deserve to be in a space that is built for you, where the wriggly little kid of your childhood can finally be the powerhouse that you were meant to be, where you can create and hyper-focus and—maybe for the first time ever—really thrive.