HANOVER ARTS Project: outside, grim yellow brick, barred windows, rundown neighborhood at North Capitol and O. Looks like junior-size prison. Inside, bustling hive of artists.Creativity everywhere. Old warehouse, now warren of studios. Cubicles of Masonite, 2-by-4s nailed into concrete floor. Floor slopes every wich way. Ceiling too, sometimes 14 feet, sometimes 16.

"We have nine studios here and 18 in the building next door," says Charles Sleichter, artist who rents whole place from founder Bob Lennon, sublets for $70 to $140 a month. Incredible. Pay three times that much in most Washington lofts. After two years, waiting list long as your arm.

"They're all different sizes. Got a pair of L-shaped ones shared by a couple of artists. They all built their own, put up the walls and everything."

Each space has own character. Some neat, most messy. Forty-six cans of paint on table. Table looks like Joseph's overcoat. So does floor. Ancient jacket hung on nail. Snaky canvas strips hung on nail. Tangled wires, radios, drills, hats, sketches, strings of beads, towels, feather boas hung on nails. Everyone has portable lamps with rubber clamps attached to 2-by-4s or backs of chairs. Thick red wires meander across floors.

"We put in the basic fluorescent lighting here. In the other building they had to do their own lights."

Several artists at work. Stan Sporny touching up huge oil of Grand Canyon. So huge, is on pulley so can paint lower part at eye level. Next door Walter Kravitz. Graying long hair, lean intelligent face. Stringing curly bits of acetate, paper, feathers, beads on cords. To be backlit so will cast interesting shadows on dead-white wall. Exciting.

Told his sketches resemble Mervyn Peake. Compliment. Told Peake went insane. Says: "Give me a break."

Radios on, everywhere, quietly. Beethoven's Fourth. A Bach partita. Grace Jones. Lanelle Newell wearing giant yellow earphones. Sits spraddled on oriental rug making tiny paper model of room installation. Her art.

Signs: "Ceci N'est Pas Une Sink," above washbasin. On wall, printed notice taken from somewhere: "Beware of Aquaduct." Mysterious. Misspelled. Glass-paned office door: "Optometrist. Closed Thursdays."

Atmosphere quiet, serene, absorbed. Brownies' workshop. Painters, sculptors seem enjoy operating this way. In clumps. Bees swarming on branch. Renaissance Florence. Venice. Left Bank. Bauhaus. Greenwich Village. Draw energy from each other. Ideas. Techniques. Doesn't work for writers.

Learn seven Hanover people in recent WPA show, young Washington artists curated Gene Davis, Mary Swift. All work here very individual, yet sense common impulses. Thinking big. Found-beauty. Great torn swatches of tar paper on white wall. Gorgeous. Energetic. (Not all big, now that think of it. Sleichter does miniature doorways, wife Suzanne makes little dioramas populated by flamingoes. Fascinated by flamingoes. Switched from swans.)

Amenities: built-in parking garage, loading dock. Roof vents welded shut: no more burglars. Nothing much to take anyway. But: no windows, few bathrooms.

Other building, across Hanover Place, 81-year-old former heating firm warehouse, 57 NW St., has windows, skylights. But: not much heat. Everyone froze last year. Steam-heat blowers now installed where wall radiators were. Chunks of cotton stuffed into window frame. "That's Aubrey's quilt, innit?"

More variety here: Fine Line Actor's Theatre, rehearsal hall, office. Three women blocking out scene from Noel Coward's "Private Lives." Given flier. Opens Nov. 13, benefit at YWCA. Given more fliers. Raves for "Getting Out," prison play. Next door, film distributor Billy Hall, organizing movie project, also famous annual Halloween party. Upstairs, somebody building darkroom.

Meet John Van Alstine: massive stone chunks and iron bars. Block and tackle. Acetylene torch. Think: lucky he not on second floor.

"I get the granite from an old quarry in Vinalhaven, Maine. The other is Colorado flagstone. Real problem getting things level here. The floor goes every which way."

Neighbor Charles Bessant (cast Plexiglas, metals) has built-in hood, fume vent. Used to be kitchen for Aunt Nellie's Cannery. He next to old elevator shaft, now rather high-ceilinged garage.

Just noticed: bikes. Everywhere. Lots of them. Wonder why.

Walk over to New York Avenue to find cab. Takes 20 minutes. See why.