From the Artist Tribe - Medieval Inspired Art Quilt
Mixed Media with Relics & Artifacts

Top 10 Most Unexpected Must-Have Tools in my Studio

A while ago, I realized that many of the tools I reach for most frequently when working in my studio are not the ones you'd expect to find on a most-used tool list for an artist. Sure - stencils, paint brushes, canvases, etc... are all at the top of that list, but I've found that there are a few more unusual items that I have to have, so I've compiled them here:

10. Respirator & Particulate Masks


The respirator was a Christmas gift this last year, and one I was super excited to receive! Why? If you've followed me for more than a few months, you know that I like to make things melt and bubble, and this frequently creates fumes and smells that seem like they're probably not healthy to breathe. A respirator is also great for using with spray paint, certain varnishes, and anything else with fumes. I also do some sanding and working with wood and foam, and the particulate mask is great for helping to keep me from breathing in any of that nastiness.

9. Clamps & Table-Top Vice


I have all kinds of things that clamp and lock in different ways - the table-top vice was an especially great addition to my studio, since it's perfect for acting as a third hand when I'm using a Dremel or hack saw to cut anything down. Other clips are great for hanging things to dry or holding them in place while adhesives set up, and the binder clips are integral for when I'm doing bookbinding since they hold everything in place when I'm punching holes in the signatures for my book blocks.

8. Ball Peen Hammer, Bench Block, and Safety Glasses


So the safety glasses could kind of go with almost any of the tools in this post - you can get these for just a few dollars, but they're a must-have if you do anything where something could fly into your eyes (sawdust, metal particles, etc...) The ball peen hammer is fabulous for eyelets (which I use a lot in my handmade artist books,) or for jewelry making, and just the occasional application of brute force. And of course, a bench block is the perfect surface to put below whatever you're hammering.

7. Protractor & Compass


Who says you don't need geometry in real life? I use my compass all the time for marking circles in my work, and the protractor is super helpful for getting angles right, especially if I'm designing something with a repeating pattern. These are always in my desk drawer for easy access.

6. Bench Scraper


I raided my kitchen drawers for this one... a bench scraper works great for getting dough off of counters and also for getting glue and paint off of your craft mat (of course, once you use it in the studio, you shouldn't use it with food anymore.) I also have a little mini scraper that came in a kit of some kind years ago. These get plenty of use helping me clean up quickly in between projects.

5. Copper Tongs


Remember how I said I like to melt and bubble stuff? These copper tongs are crucial when I'm doing anything with heat since they allow me to hold the items I'm heating without conducting that heat up to my fingers. The length also means that my hands stay out of harms way. I use these when I'm heat-priming metal, doing any soldering, and to manipulate any bits and pieces involved in heat embossing. Another tool that goes into my desk drawer so that I have instant access.

4. Tin Snips, Wire Cutters, and Pliers


My tin snips are used all.the.time. Most all of my light-weight metal cutting happens with these, including everything from metal findings to rhinestone chains. Of course, wire cutters for any wire I'm using, and various sizes and types of pliers for manipulating metal pieces for both jewelry and artwork.

3. Files, Rasps, and Sandpaper


I love my files - as you can tell, since I have multiple sets in different sizes. These are fabulous for wood, metal, paper, chipboard, clay, foam... you name it! Anything that needs to be smoothed or shaped, I whip out my files. I also keep a nice stock of sandpaper on hand, and of course sanding drums to use with my Dremel for larger projects that would take too long to sand and / or shape with just files or sandpaper. The rasps are also great for shaping foam if I'm using it as an armature for any sculpted elements.

2. Hat Pins


I picked up several beautiful vintage hat pins at an antique mall several years ago, just because I liked the beading on the ends. They got put into the pincushion in my studio and before I knew it, I was reaching for them to poke holes, open the tips of tubes and nozzles, and my number one use for these babies... placing seed beads when I'm doing any kind of intricate beading in my artwork. These sit on the shelf right next to my desk so I can grab them without taking a single step.

1. Music

Must-Have-Studio-Tool-1---Music - Gwen-Lafleur






Music is a huge part of my life. When I was four years old, my parents bought an antique upright grand piano for $25 and put me in piano lessons, which continued all through high school. In fact, I still lug that same piano around the country with me so that I can play - it's great for stress relief and as another means of creative expression. (That piano also weighs in at 600 pounds! It made my move in and out of my 3rd floor walk-up in Chicago... interesting, to say the least. lol.) Also, a little known fact, there is always music playing inside my head. Always. Even while I'm sleeping. Sometimes it actually gets too loud and wakes me up!

Given how integral music is to my life, it probably comes as no surprise that this is the number one must-have tool in my studio. I have several different playlists that I put on when I'm working, and I've found that I can influence or vary the feeling or direction of my work by changing the music I'm listening to. So with that said, I give you a list within a list! Here are the top ten artists / composers currently featured on my studio playlists. (These are in no particular order, except for number one.)

10. Linkin Park

9. Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns (especially the piano concertos, which are divine)

8. Depeche Mode (I've been a huge fan since People are People was released in 1984 and I don't really see that changing any time soon.)

7. Frank Sinatra

6. ODESZA (a relatively recent find, and I'm kind of addicted - I really dig their global vibe.)

5. The Mongolian Grand National Orchestra (I picked up one of their CDs after a concert in Ulan Bataar - I put this on and close my eyes and I'm standing outside my ger - yurt - in the Mongolian Steppes, looking at at some of the most unspoiled, beautiful scenery I've ever seen.)

4. Luciano Pavarotti (I can't listen to him sing Puccini's Nessun Dorma without getting emotional. It's sublime.)

3. The Black Keys

2. Muse

1. Hector Berlioz (I first fell in love with his music when we played part of la simfonie fantastique in my high school orchestra - I was a 1st violin, and that's still my favorite of his compositions. The 5th movement - ronde du sabbat, is especially incredible. Just plug in your subwoofer, crank up the volume, and sit back and let it wash over you. It gives me chills every time.)


That's it for my top 10 most unexpected must-have studio tool... what's on your list? Any overlap?