New Old Studio

Jen Hewett's studio

Jen Hewett's studio

I wrote tangentially about what I’m calling my “new old studio” before I’d fully moved into it last week. It’s mostly set up now, and it’s the cleanest it will be for the next six months, so here are a few photos.

Jen Hewett's studio

Jen Hewett's studio

Jen Hewett's studio

After printing in a much tinier space, cutting fabric on the floor, and using whatever table was available in other rooms to sew and write, having one room where I can block print, write and sew (and separate tables for each) feels like such a luxury.

And now it’s time for me to write a book.




When I moved to San Francisco in 1996, I hadn’t planned to settle down here. The city was merely a stop on my way to something else – law school, a Fulbright, maybe a few years in New York or Paris or London. I had moved here because it was an affordable, walkable city in California that was decidedly not Los Angeles, where I’d grown up, and which I’d worked so hard to leave.

But with some distance from school, my plans for my life disappeared. And San Francisco in the late 90s was a very good place to be a broke 20-something. My friends and I worked for nonprofit organizations or taught or had entry-level administrative jobs. We did all the things you do when you’re young and broke – drink cheap wine at picnics in the park, bike to the beach, go on weeklong backpacking trips (piling into the car of the one friend who owned a car). We went to a friend’s favorite dive bar on $1 can night, pooling our leftover laundry money until the bartender, sick of our quarters and dimes (laundromats still took dimes in those days), cut us off.


San Francisco allowed me time to grow up, evolve. I worked in nonprofits and education, started and closed a business, fell in and out of love, got a corporate job, adopted a dog, was laid off, became a working artist.

But I’ve changed, and so has the city.


I was walking Gus the other morning, and a neighbor who I’d never before spoken with stopped me and said, “You’ve been here a long time.”

“Yes, 20 years,” I replied.

“Me, too. Do you have rent control?” she asked.

“Yes. I want to move, but having a rent controlled apartment holds me back.”

“Yes, I’m in the same boat. There’s a whole world out there, but once you leave SF, you can never come back.”


Minutes later, I turned the corner, and ran into one of my few black neighbors. When she saw me, she laughed and said, “We’re still here!”

“Yes, but just barely!” I laughed in return.

“Ain’t that the truth?”


This month, I move out of my 54 square foot studio on my service porch, and into a larger art studio – which is the second bedroom of my two-bedroom apartment. It had been my drawing studio and my sewing room in previous years (I used my dining room for printing), back before I had the kind of art practice I have now. The decision to get a roommate again a couple of years ago, after almost ten years of living alone, was a largely financial one: I’d wanted to reduce my day job hours to focus more on my art work, and having a roommate to split rent and expenses would allow me to do this. I reasoned that, if my practice grew, I’d get a studio someplace else.

My practice grew far more quickly than I’d imagined, and my tiny studio became too small for me to print yardage comfortably, or to produce projects for my upcoming book. But studios in San Francisco are no longer as affordable – or as plentiful – as they were two years ago, and commuting to a studio outside the city would mean spending hours driving, and a lot of money on gas and tolls. I realized that the most cost-effective studio space would be my second bedroom.


So I asked my roommate, a public service employee in her mid-twenties, to move out, knowing that I was displacing someone who would now need to find another apartment among San Francisco’s very tiny affordable housing stock*. I did not take this lightly; my own fear the past ten years has been that I myself would be evicted from my rent-controlled apartment to make room for a new occupant. I had a lot of empathy for her. But I also knew it was a decision I had to make.

(*Because of the type of lease I have, I’m the “master tenant” and legally have the right to select and evict roommates who are not on the master lease, as long as I create a sublease with them. And it ended up working out for my roommate, who got her dream job organizing for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and who is relocating to the Midwest through the election.)


I write all of this because I’ve been thinking a lot about change and place lately. I’ve lived in San Francisco – in the same apartment – for my entire adult life. Having a stable place to live has allowed me to experiment, to change careers, to grow as an artist. But there *is* a whole world out there, a world where a mortgage on a house would cost half my monthly rent, a world that is diverse both ethnically and socio-economically, a world where I can continue this next phase of my creative life without having to worry about being priced (or forced) out.

And so I move into my new studio this week, knowing that it’s just temporary, that there is another studio in another place in my near future. I don’t know exactly when yet, though I do have some idea of where. What I do know is that I’m incredibly grateful for the life I’ve had in San Francisco, but so ready for the gifts this change will bring.

A Life Organized Visually

A life organized visually by Jen Hewett

As you’ve probably figured out. I’m a highly visual and a very tactile person. I’m also fairly busy, juggling a lot of projects and tasks at any given time. But I’m not naturally organized, which means that I’ve had to create organizational systems that work with my, um, creative nature in order to stay on top of things. I have never found a digital system that works for me, so I rely (mostly) on a few, very Luddite, paper-based systems.

I posted a photo of my studio the other day, and received a number of comments about the to-do list that hangs on my studio wall. And my most popular blog post ever is not about my work (I don’t take it personally), but about how I kept myself organized when I was working a number of day jobs, as well as keeping a studio practice.

So, I thought I’d write a post about how I’ve been keeping myself organized and motivating myself to get my work done.

Jen Hewett's to-do list

This is how I structure my to-do list these days. It’s pretty straightforward – I hang two sheets of paper on my wall, dividing each sheet into two sections. One sheet is for tasks/projects that need to be done either that day or that week; the other sheet is for tasks/projects that aren’t pressing, but which are on the horizon, as well as projects I’d like to work on someday.

I write everything out on post-it notes (I have a color key for different projects and different aspects of my work), and then move them around as I complete tasks, or as deadlines change. This system keeps me super focused on a daily and weekly basis, while still allowing me space to think about the long term. I always have a bunch of dream projects hanging in my “Someday” quadrant. And I do have a lot more tasks/projects on my plate right now; I’m just not willing to share them publicly yet!


Three-month calendar to schedule projects by Jen Hewett

Ah, my Paper Source calendar. I hang three months at a time on the back of my studio door. I’d hang the whole year up if I had that kind of wall space! I note important dates – classes, launch dates, photo shoots, due dates, etc. – on here (using post-it notes for things that are flexible, and writing directly on the calendar for confirmed dates). I’m often working on more than one project at a time, and I need to be able to get a big picture view of my schedule each month. I do copy everything into my Google Calendar so I can refer to it on the go, but I rely mainly on my wall calendars.


Calendar by Lisa Congdon

This is my workout calendar (a gift from my friend Lisa; now sold out), and yes, working out is related to my work. I injured my neck and upper back (from poor desk ergonomics at my first job after college) when I was in my early twenties. That injury is mostly healed, but printmaking is very physical work. In order to prevent flare ups of the old injury, and to maintain the stamina needed to print regularly, I have to keep myself physically strong. I go to the gym at least five days a week, crossing off each day that I work out on my calendar. It’s a great motivator – I don’t like seeing many unchecked days on my calendar, and I often challenge myself to see how many days in a row I work out (my record is 21 days in October 2015).

By the way, Jerry Seinfeld uses a similar system to motivate himself to write every day. It’s a great way to build any type of habit.

And with that, I’m off to the gym. Happy organizing!