You're an artist and you want to concentrate on your work and live as cheaply as possible. You can't afford rent on an apartment and a studio, so there's a choice to be made. You could work in cramped quarters at home or find a studio and live there. But even cheap studio space is hard to come by unless it's fairly raw or unappealing. People with much deeper pockets than yours are vying for those 19th-century warehouses in Pioneer Square and Belltown. Redefine what constitutes good studio space. Look for buildings no one else wants, like abandoned strip malls or ugly '60s buildings. Look in areas like South Seattle or the Central District. Once you've found a studio, know this: If it's not in a residential building, it's probably illegal to live there. If you're found out, you will have to leave. So don't get found out. Welcome to stealth living. Believe it or not, a lot of people live like this---it's the only way we can live cheaply and do art in expensive cities. Here are a few pointers from our collective experience:
Don't tell people where or how you live. Your friends, if they know your situation, should know to keep quiet.
Get a post office box. You don't want personal mail coming to the building.
Make sure your studio looks like a studio: no rugs, no nice furniture. Make sure your artwork, tools, and materials are lying around, and don't clean too often. Hide your bed and your clothes.
Cooking facilities are a tip-off that you're living there. You can get away with a hot plate and maybe a little refrigerator. You could eat out a lot but this defeats the purpose of the whole exercise, which is to live cheaply. Stock up on peanut butter and canned soup.
Consider yourself lucky if the building has a shower. Do not bother wishing for a tub or a private bathroom. Make sure that you're never seen walking around in pajamas or shaving in the morning. Shower when nobody else is around or get a health club membership. You should be working out anyway, so you'll be in robust good health when winter comes and you realize that non-residential buildings aren't heated at night.
Forget domesticity entirely. Forget the comforts of home. Learn to piss in a jar. I assure you, at some point you will have to do it. While we're on the topic, baby wipes are a good thing to have on hand.
Take responsibility for your own safety. Since the fire department won't know that anyone lives in the building, they aren't going to come looking for you if there's a fire. Have smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and more than one exit.
Be aware of security issues, especially if you're female. If you're in a commercial building, there probably isn't anyone else around at night. Have at least two locked doors between you and the street. When you're in the building alone, keep your studio door locked. And have a phone.
Know that your living situation could end on very short notice. Have a contingency plan in case you have to move out within 24 hours.
Living this way isn't for everyone. It isn't comfortable and it can be isolating. But if you don't have much money, it may be the only way you can afford a studio and actually have enough time left over to do art.
Lily Constance is a pseudonym for the author/artist. She wrote a longer essay on this taboo topic for Redheaded Stepchild.