Small Space, Big Ideas: Where Chris Echtner’s imagination soars

By Katy Macek | Photographed by Hillary Schave and Shanna Wolf

Tucked upstairs in the front-left corner of Chris Echtner’s two-story West Side Madison home is the small studio where all of her big ideas come together for her mixed-media paintings, a medium she’s been doing since college.

Echtner’s paintings play with scale and incorporate newsprint and magazine cutouts, which she has collected and organized into labeled bins that sit prominently on one shelf of her studio (with labels such as “furniture,” “patterns” (cool and warm), “architecture,” and—her favorite—“oddmans,” or everything that defies a category.

“I like when you can’t discern between the real thing and the paint; that line kind of excites me,” she says. “I like to play with actual pattern or actual chairs.”

Where does she find inspiration for her pieces? Right upstairs in her studio, typically, with the materials she’s collected over the years. “It’s a lot of rifling,” she says.

When using so many materials, organization has been key to her small space. Two tall shelves on parallel walls hold bins of materials and piles of magazines and books. Alongside one wall sits a desk below her paints, which are neatly organized and hanging from nails on a corkboard.

“I found the paint board on Pinterest, and it’s been a huge help,” she says. “Now I can see exactly what I want.”

To the left of the board hangs an inspiration board with various magazine cutouts and phrases tacked up to it.

The space may be small, but it’s just what Echtner needs for her big ideas.

“I like looking out the window, and that it’s just at the top of the stairs, not with the other bedrooms,” she says. “It’s my own space, and it can be messy.”

Being able to pick up and put down projects without having to “restart” is important, she thinks. And, if she ever does feel a little cooped up, she says she takes her dog for a walk or works on some of her smaller pieces downstairs at the dining room table—a perk of working at a studio in her own home.

Echtner’s tips for creating your own space:

  • Storage and organization: “It depends what you do, but having your materials readily available is important.”
  • “Don’t be too tidy.” It’s your space. She’s got an old indoor/out- door carpet to save the floor a little bit.
  • Don’t feel bad about leaving it every once in a while. There’s nothing wrong with going for a walk or needing to take a break, especially if it’s a small space.


Read more about local artists’ creative spaces.

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