Ask Melanie: How Do I Reduce My Books and Art Supplies?

Desk closeup in Airstream

Today’s question is from Grazia. She wants to know some tips and tricks for reducing books and art supplies. Today I’ve got George, my husband, helping me out. He’s the artist in the family. Take it away, Grazia!

Hi Melanie, happy to see you go on with your blog and thanks for doing it, it’s always a good reading. I know it’s hard to do it with a full time job and a life, thanks so much! I’ve read all your last posts this morning (it’s 5:30 am here in Italy, my time for reading peacefully) and want to thank you for your commitment in telling this life choice of living simply and small…

I’ve two questions for “Ask Melanie” – ok, I’m pretentious! But they aren’t anything urgent, I hope only to inspire one of your good articles.

1) You’re a reader and I’ve read you use library and ebooks. But is it enough to reduce the number of books? I’ve this trouble in living small… I’m a writer and a painter, so I have a lot of books that I need for my jobs. I tried to reduce them, especially huge art books, but I still have a full big bookshelf. I can’t find them at the local library and they do not exist as ebooks (in example Taschen art books). How do you manage this in the Airstream? I’d like to hear all your “techniques” to reduce the books space!

2) This question is mainly for George: how does he work in a so small table? I’m really impressed! 😀 He has a secret, I’m sure! I’ve a table for Mac and 2 monitors, another table for painting, a shelf for all the ‘minimum’ I need for painting, a big bookshelf and a big, old bedroom 4-drawer dresser to store my paintings and papers, with the printers on it. May he share his “tips and tricks” in working from home in a small space? Thanks!


I am a big book lover and a big reader, but when I was weeding my book collection, I knew that I would only have a small space for books. I also knew that I could get 99% of the books that I wanted at my local library or as e-books on my Kindle. I know that not everything is available as an e-book, but it sounds like some of the art and photos that you need can be referenced online.

Letting yourself keep a certain amount of books might help to reduce the size. I now only have 3 physical books. If I buy one or receive it for free, after reading, I donate it to the library. The books that I now keep in my collection are irreplaceable because they were gifts from my grandmother who is now deceased. She has written in them and I truly cherish them. I use this as a merit for keeping the book: is it irreplaceable? If the answer is no, after reading, I donate it. Knowing that other people will have the chance to use and enjoy my books helps to ease the pain.

From George: “It has been a struggle since I worked on such a large scale when I was in art school. Out of necessity, I have started working really small these days. I used to only paint larger than life portraits that would be in excess of 6 feet tall, but now when it comes to paintings, my body of work has gone through a “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” experiment. I only work on 12″ x 12″ or 11″ x 14″ pieces at the largest. Most of my design work is all done on my MacBook Pro with an Wacom Intuos Pen and Touch Medium Tablet (CTH680). When the project permits a more human approach, the smaller brush and ink illustrations I create for clients require very few supplies. A few brushes, a bottle of ink and a tiny watercolor palette. I also have a 17″ x 24″ Artograph LED light box that is always on my desk which is my main work surface. All of those supplies along with the brushes I use for my acrylic paintings live in a couple of jars on my desk.

That’s another thing, I only work in acrylics now due to the ease of clean-up and the small amount of supplies necessary. I have never been a painter that uses out-of-the-tube colors so I have a tube of white, black, red, blue and yellow and mix all of the colors in my work on paper plates that can easily be discarded. I do however have a small, white Corelle plate I keep around for mixing my watercolors on. And my same rule applies for watercolors as well. Lamp black, red, blue and yellow are the only tubes of color I have. My few tubes of paint, a lot of my drawing pencils and conte crayons are kept in a small tackle box under the desk and I have a basic assortment of drawing tools in another jar on my desk. A ruler, assorted hardness drawing pencils, Micron markers of different sizes, a few Sharpies, pencil sharpener and erasers. I have found that large jars keep things nice and neat and keep all of my tools from spreading all over my work space.

Finally, as for art storage, when I built the shelves and drawers for the entertainment center I made sure to have plenty of space at the bottom for records and one large drawer to store sketch books, keep papers less than 11″ x 17″ flat, and house all of my small canvases and framed ink drawings.

I think that pretty much sums up my work space and storage. As an artist I know it goes against every cell’s natural hoarder’s primal urge to get rid of something that may someday be useful in a project that you have yet to conceive but I challenge all artists to see what is really necessary and chuck the rest. It will create a much cleaner work space with less of a visual burden to overcome when sitting down to get to work. At least for me it has.”

I hope that answered your questions, Grazia!

If you all have more questions feel free to shoot them my way.


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