How I use My Garden Part 1: Creating a Portable Studio

A friend recently mentioned she was curious about how I use my garden and the things I grow in it. Her question got me thinking.

She's right, it's interesting to learn how other people use their outdoor spaces. And I love seeing garden bouquets that combine unusual plants and flowers and reading garden-fresh recipes.

I talk a lot about the fact that my garden inspires my art, but I don't really explain how that happens. So I'm planning a series of posts along those lines. If there's anything in particular that you're interested about, please leave a comment or send me an email.

Morning View in the Garden of Botanical Watercolor Artist Anne Butera

Oh, and while I'm mentioning comments, have you had any trouble leaving one? I had an email last weekend from someone who did. I tried to troubleshoot it and I did a lot of tests, but couldn't recreate her problem. I'd love to know if it's an isolated event or if others are having trouble, too. If you've had trouble leaving a comment can you let me know?

Now back to the garden!

A Gardenia Flower Unfurling in the Garden of Botanical Watercolor Artist Anne Butera

Today I want to talk about using my garden as an extension of my studio and specifically, how I've created a portable studio I can take with me when I want to make art outside.

In truth I don't usually paint outdoors -- I find it difficult -- but I do work in my sketchbooks, write and read in the garden. And I'm often photographing plants, flowers or wildlife as possible reference for future paintings, too.

Simply being present in the garden gives me a chance to slow down, to pay attention and to observe what's going on around me. It's the only way to notice things like the caterpillars growing in the parsley, the hummingbirds visiting the runner bean flowers, the toad hiding beneath the fence or the hummingbird moth hovering around the scented geraniums.

A Garden Toad

I've read that for a gardener a bench in the garden is never really for sitting down because gardeners are always too busy. Perhaps I'm a lazy gardener, but I always make a point of having time to savor my space, not just work in it. The weeds aren't going anywhere, but the perfect days of blue skies and puffy clouds won't last.

I usually drag out piles of books, my computer, sketchbook and other "necessities" when I'm spending time in the garden, even if I don't end up using them. Sometimes I get more from simply sitting still and tuning all my senses to what's around me than from drawing or writing about it. 

An Impromptu Outdoor Workspace in the Garden of Watercolor Artist Anne Butera

But I do like to be prepared. For being able to capture the curve of a flower stem or the ruffles of a petal or the pattern made by overlapping leaves. I like to have books handy for inspiration or just for the joy of escaping into stories. If there's computer work I need to catch up on, like sending emails or writing blog posts, why do it inside if I can do it sitting on the patio with my laptop instead?

Over the years I've created and re-created portable studios. Bags or baskets to carry my stuff outside and in. Boxes of essentials at the ready so I don't have to keep running up to my second-floor studio for something I've forgotten.

I recently found a wicker picnic basket at the thrift store that is perfect as my portable studio.

A Wicker Picnic Basket Makes the Perfect Traveling Studio in the Garden of Botanical Watercolor Artist Anne Butera

Here are some ideas of what you might want to include in your portable studio:

  • a sketchbook or sketchbooks
  • a journal or notebook
  • a pencil and pens for writing and drawing (Microns are my favorite to draw with)
  • colored pencils
  • markers
  • a travel set of watercolors and a water brush
  • watercolor or Inktense pencils (these are NOT my favorite, but I've been playing and experimenting with them lately) and a water brush
  • books and/or magazines
  • a camera or smartphone*
  • a laptop*

*being outside is also a good time to unplug. If I don't bring these things with me, I won't be distracted by them. The choice is entirely up to you.

Of course, you don't need a basket to hold your traveling studio. A backpack, messenger bag, tote or suitcase would work just as well, or better, depending on how far you need to carry it.

Outdoor Marker Sketches in the Sketchbook of Botanical Watercolor Artist Anne Butera

Even if you don't plan on creating in your garden, a portable studio is useful for when you're traveling or if you don't have a dedicated art-making space in your home. It's also great to take with you on a hike or a visit to a nature center or botanical garden.

My Instagram friend and fellow artist (and gardener) Eva Shorey recently shared the bag she made for nature walks. I think I'll have to do some searching around the internet for other artists' portable studio ideas, too.

What about you? Do you take creative supplies with you when you're out and about? I'd love to hear about your version of the "portable studio".