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Art Studio Build: Converting a 40ft shipping container

It has been almost two years since I officially moved into my studio – a 40ft HC shipping container converted into an art studio (with a little 20ft for storage). The perfect time to document the journey from giant mental box to my favourite space on earth! I have many photos and videos of the process, so this is going to be a photo journey broken up by months. So here we go…

Prior to November 2018 This was my studio. I worked from our double garage in our home in Warner, Brisbane. It was nice. I did find it difficult to separate work and home-time and all of my scissors would go missing! When we made the decision to move to the Sunshine Coast, I took the opportunity to look for a new space for my studio. My father-in-law, Neil offered his front yard to plonk a studio.

November 2018 I spent months researching art studios. Should I drop a slab and build a shed? Should I build something temporary, as we didn’t own the land? I spoke to my accountant and she suggested a movable building. Do I get a tiny home? A box on wheels? A shipping container? The most cost effective option was a shipping container (mind you I blew the budget out…). I wanted to keep the project under $15k.

I found a 20ft container at East Coast Containers. They had a shortage of 40ft containers at the time. So I organised Claytons Towing to pick it up and drop it off at Neil’s property at Ninderry (Sunshine Coast). I needed the container on-site by early December 2018, as that was our moving day from Brisbane to Sunshine Coast. We would have my studio packed in the moving van and we had to unload everything to the 20ft container.

Before the move though, the seemingly flat ground needed to be levelled. So we had a local earth mover pop out with a little dingo to move things around. I have no photos of this because moving dirt is boring.

December 2018 We made the move! We filled the 20ft container with all the studio supplies and art. I found two huge sliding doors for sale on Facebook Marketplace. We hired a trailer, picked them up and my handy husband tied them up safely next to the 20ft container. Koda helped by painting on the outside of the container. Good job Koda.

January 2019 The 40ft high cube container (B-grade) was ordered and delivered to site. Again, I used Claytons towing. The container was delivered by a large truck and then a little tipper (the fella across the road actually) took the container across the bridge and popped it on the concrete bricks I had set up. There was a little moving of the containers needed, so a chain was used and the truck pulled the containers into place. The whole thing took about 10 mintues. For the first month the container was mainly used to pop my large paintings in for the courier to pick up and deliver.

I ordered steel to frame the sliding doors. It was delivered to site. I dragged it up to Neil’s shed as I didn't have power down at the studio yet. I cut the steel to size and then stick welded the frame together. Thanks Jeff (my step-dad) for giving me tips and letting me weld all the scrap bits in his work shed. And of course, thanks Neil for lending me the stick welder, and your mask and for putting up with me shorting the power up at the shed several times. Oh, and thanks Charlie the dog for all the kisses.

Once the frames for the sliding doors were ready, I cut the holes for the doors. Yes, I cut them too small. I was nervous. So it took a few goes to get the hole big enough. Adam (brother-in-law) leaned on the wall while I cut it to make sure it didn’t fall in on top of me. The other half-naked man photo bombing my ‘I’m a champion’ photo - thanks Cam. I’m also wearing basketball shorts (which I don’t recommend) because this weekend was the Australia Day basketball tournament – so I did this work in between games. And subsequently burnt and bruised my legs.

February 2019 My welding skills are questionable. So I chose to drill the door frames with ‘L’ brackets rather than welding. Good move Sarah. Koda continued painting the studio. Good work Koda. Michael (my husband) cut the hole bigger… and then bigger again. Then eventually we got the first door in! You can tell from the photos we are very proud.

I started framing the inside of the container to be able to insulate it. I do not like insulation. I was itchy for about two months. I am thankful I did this though as it makes a huge difference. Then I went pre-maturely shopping at Ikea for shelves and a couch – because that’s the priority right? A studio couch for all the naps… ??

I then cut the second hole for the second door. I did this on a weekend. My husband was across the creek doing, I don’t know what. Neil was up at the shed doing something else. I had my ear covers on (safety first) and was happily cutting away. The final little cut on the base of the door caused it to pop in towards me. It didn’t hit me, but it scared me. I thought I let out a little squeak. Apparently it was a bit louder. My husband comes flying down the gully and across the creek and Neil comes flying down from the shed, only to find me happily admiring my amazing work. Ooops.

There were some gaps between the door and the hole, so I got busy with the sealant and gap fill. Oh I love gap fill. I rolled my ankle and smashed my knee. Just walking from point A to point B. I don’t always roll a joint, but when I do, it’s always an ankle. The two massive doors certainly brought much needed light into the space. Good planning Sarah!

March 2019 Koda continued painting the outside of the studio. Good work Koda. I kept framing the inside of the container. I actually really enjoyed it. I like working with wood. I glued and drilled the studs in, then sealed the screws from the outside. I called in a local handy man, Paul who helped me with the gyprock. It was too big and awkward to do by myself an it was really nice having company. Pauls a good egg and we made a good team.

March was a slow month as Koda and I headed off to Hong Kong for an adventure (and a sneaky trip to Disneyland!).

April 2019 I bought a window from the Nambour Demolition Yard and built a frame for the end of the container based on the window size. I was very proud to build the frame all by myself. When I posted the finished frame photos to social media, a builder mate suggested it needed more studs. Ahem… so we pulled it down and added more!

I had our trusty dingo-guy back out to dig the electrical trench. You know how spending money on things like socks is really boring? This is the same. Money to build a trench is so boring – but it had to be done.

Paul, the handyman and I put up the ceiling. I chose to use wood instead of gyprock because I did not like putting it up on the walls. It seemed so flimsy. So I pivoted and grabbed wood instead. I like it. Good choice Sarah.

I put plastic on the outside of the end wall, ready for external cladding. Neil collected fallen sticks and made a fire. He and his partner, Madonna made a cool fire pit right near the studio too. This would be washed away in the 2022 floods. Boo. Also, I burnt myself. I stood near the fire and an ember landed on me. Hardcore! Studio insulation tested against the fire. All good!

May 2019

May is Brisbane Street Art Festival month. So very little gets done in the month of May because I tend to be busy doing art stuff. I did manage to get a sparky in – thanks Jake from DarkSpace. I painted the 20ft container black. I did this because it was very orange and my brother-in-law was getting married across the creek and I was paranoid all their wedding photos would have a neon orange shipping container in the background. The wedding was great by the way. Look how fabulous my hair looked! Michael and I must have done something amazing with the end wall because we look proud. The gyprocking and ceiling was completd.

June 2019 The power is on! I did the joins in the gyprock. Now, this is a skill that I do not posess. It’s the one part of the build I look at and roll my eyes. Oh well. At least it’s fixable and not structural. I just hang another painting to cover it. I managed to organise the 20ft container a bit better. And why not have a photoshoot in the no where near finished studio? Sure! Thanks Sunshine Coast Daily!

July 2019 I am back at Ikea. Why not hey? I’m also at bunnings choosing flooring. Yes. I went with the cheapest flooring as I know it will be covered in paint. I also made sure that it would be easy to purchase again to replace if needed. I changed the locks on the sliding doors. Cut the frame for the window down. I struggled with this and had to bring in the big guns – thanks Michael. I got excited and smashed my water bottle. Why would I even own a glass water bottle?

And in my very sexy outfit, I painted the interior of the studio. I used my grayco cordless gun and british paints interior. This was probably my favorite part. I felt confident with this.

I bought wood for shelving and a desk and brackets. Again, I really enjoyed this as I had been planning it for ages and knew exactly what I wanted. I enjoy working with wood.