Renting an artist studio

,  23 February 2012

Working as an artist can be isolating and moving into a dynamic studio group can offer much needed support. But what are the issues, costs and considerations of finding an artist space?

Jack Hutchinson is a a freelance artist, journalist and educator.
Jack Hutchinson is a a freelance artist, journalist and educator.

Jack Hutchinson, artist and member of Bow Arts Trust, explores the issue of finding the right space to work.

Reasons to rent an artist studio

One of the first questions people ask me when I say I have a studio is: do you really need it?

My life is incredibly fast-paced, with my energy distributed across a variety of demanding roles. I survive as an artist through a portfolio career working as a freelance journalist, lecturer and educator. I am also Online Editor for AIR: Artists Interaction and Representation, the UK’s largest ever membership body for visual artists. The thing I value most is time and space to focus on my drawing.

I have rented a variety of different studios, and one of the first things I ask myself when choosing a space is: will it enhance my networks? Too many artists find their practice quite isolating and moving into a dynamic studio group can offer much needed support.

Open studios are a great opportunity to meet new people, receive feedback and potentially sell work.

One of the best moves I made was joining Cor Blimey Arts in 2010. I met so many like-minded and passionate individuals that encouraged me and helped push my practice in new, exciting directions. It also led to opportunities to exhibit, as well as paid work in education and the media.

When I made the move to Bow Arts I applied the same logic. Bow has a superb reputation for its flagship education work, offering training to artists and teachers to help enhance engagement with art in schools, colleges and community groups.

Bow also has the Nunnery art gallery, so there are also opportunities to exhibit alongside other studio members. In addition, every June Bow holds open studios, which in my experience are a great opportunity to meet new people, receive feedback and potentially sell work.

Not every studio group offers such a fantastic all-round package, certain elements of which are not purely within the visual arts.

The cost of renting a studio

Shop around. AIR’s research shows that monthly costs inclusive of rates and services vary vastly, ranging from around £25 to £1,400 pcm.

I’m currently paying £116 pcm at Bow, including bills. It is actually the cheapest studio I have rented, and the largest. One of the best resources for finding a studio is Artist Studio Finder, which helps artists locate available and affordable studios in London. You can also check out a-n’s guide to studios.

Before signing anything, clarify with the owner of the studio every single cost you are liable to pay. Ask if you can sublet the space. You might get a two-month residency abroad but still want your studio when you return.

In addition, if you anticipate struggling to pay your rent and want to share with another artist, your landlord may issue you with a ‘joint tenancy’ agreement. However, be aware that this means you will be liable for the whole rent if the other person fails to pay.

The golden rule is read your contract and seek legal advice if you are unsure of anything. One artist I know failed to read her contract thoroughly and later found out the studio provider required her to pay business rates on the space.

Work out any additional costs. How much extra will you pay for things such as travel costs? Is the extra cost worth it? Can you walk or cycle to the space? I pay around £20 per week to commute to my studio which is fairly reasonable, plus I avoid getting distracted by the temptation to pop home. However, ideally I would be paying nothing.

What are the alternatives?

Almost a third of UK-based artists do not pay for studio space.

Finances are a major issue for artists, and the thought of paying for a studio on top of their living costs can be off-putting.

Recent research conducted by AIR showed that almost a third of UK-based artists do not pay for studio space. In fact 14 percent of artists surveyed who currently rent a space said they will cease to rent a studio in the next 12 months.

If your mind is set on having a separate live/work space and you can’t afford the extra outlay, try being creative. Stephen Palmer (in his excellent article ‘Artists and studios') points to the example of artist Neil Walton, who purchased a self-assembly shed for £750 and converted it into his studio.

Positioned at the bottom of his garden, the ‘shedio’ helped Neil achieve his aim of having a separate workspace, whilst also saving on travel costs. This wouldn’t suit me as I would find it too isolating, but it suited Neil’s needs perfectly.

Choosing the right studio for you

Here is a checklist of questions to ask yourself when establishing the right studio for you:

  • Do you prefer working alone or with other people?
  • Can you work from home?
  • What type of art do you make?
  • Would you like to work where you can also exhibit?
  • How much can you realistically afford to spend?
  • Have you researched the studio?
  • What do other people say?
  • Is the landlord flexible about when rent is due?
  • Can you sublet the space?

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