At this time of year lots of people start planning new routines to get themselves organised. Organisation is key to being successful in any business.
From years and years of being a teacher, where every second of our lesson time and indeed our free time was precious beyond belief, I have 20 years of time management and organisation skills honed to a tee.
There is a myth that creative thinkers are chaotic and disorganised… though I’ll admit that part of my need for planning and organisation has definitely stemmed from my years of being a teacher and now they are serving me well in my years of being an artist.
So here are my top three - I'm not altogether sure I’d be able to live without any of them!
I have a wall next to my desk with blackboard paper stuck on it.
This is much more practical than having a real blackboard of this size, which would be very heavy and could damage the wall or even damage me if it fell off the wall!
Blackboard paper is really easy to apply and you can get it in plenty of DIY shops or indeed a favourite online retailer! I love it!
It helps me map out my plans month by month. On my blackboard wall this month are the key areas for development for January 2017 they are:
a) my website
b) research and development which includes goal setting, marketing strategies and artistic experimentation,
c)painting- which includes planning my new collection, and
d) workshops- these can include workshops that I'm doing elsewhere for instance in Salisbury museum and indeed my own workshops that I'm doing in my studio.
2. A decent diary…
actually a decent diary and a planner, well a decent diary, a planner and then another diary; this is getting complicated.
I use a moleskin diary, a week to page with a notes on the side this really helps me coordinate arrangements, visits and meetings with other people. It's light enough to carry around with me and bung in my handbag and it's big enough for me to still put in a few plans and urgent reminders.
In addition to this I have another planner which doesn't leave my studio. It's big enough for me to write anything I need to. I use Janet Murray's media dairy, where I plan my blog posts for the year, my social media strategy and PR planning. This is quite a lot of work but it's not something that needs to travel so it's good to have a big fat chunky diary that can contain all the info.
I also have the brilliant “Your best year 2017” by Lisa Jacobs. I started using her strategies and YBY planners back in 2014 and I haven't stopped! I'm also a member of her online Luminaries club which has really helped me become accountable for my own business. Creating artwork, for me at least, is the easy part of my business. The difficult part is working out how to sell it ,when to sell, where to sell it, and who to sell it to!
To do all of those things you got to have a plan.
Any of my former students or colleagues will possibly be laughing out loud at this point or maybe even rolling their eyes. They will know that I am obsessed with mind mapping. I used to recommend mindmapping to my students particularly for revision and notetaking.
In my life as an artist I use mindmapping all the time to plan and to strategise my art business. It really helps me get all my ideas down on paper (or screen) really really quickly whilst leaving me with a great visual reminder of what I'm up to. I can plan almost anything with a mind map. From my holiday packing to a detailed written press release. I even mind map my blog posts!
So those are my big three take aways for how to get yourself organised. There is no doubt that the real secret to organisation is finding the strategy that happens to work for you.
For me visuals stimulus is key to my planning strategies…who knew!
Creative clutter or tidy art haven?
Last week I was talking about letting go while creating art and letting go so that you can sell it. This week I'm focusing on letting go of the creative clutter that inevitably accumulates in any artist studio!
Broadly speaking since having a professional studio in Salisbury, all to myself, I have designated spaces for office and admin, storage, painting at easels and even delivering workshops; my studio has remained relatively tidy.
I have a good fortnightly routine where I give my surfaces a deep clean to prevent the accumulation of gesso, paint, dried up oil, and other detritus that can build up in particular areas.
However I have another area that has turned into one of those dumping grounds. Everyone has a dumping ground at some point in their life. In our homes it tends to be the cupboard under the stairs where mountains of shoes that we will never wear again, hot water bottles and random bits of carpet seem to congregate without anyone claiming responsibility for putting it all there!
In my studio my dumping area isn't the cupboard under the stairs but instead of peculiar space above the stairs! It's ideal for storing canvases, upright portfolios full of drawings and any unused frames yet to find pride of place as the rim of a beautiful painting.
I've let it go.
I know I've been naughty and when my studio receives it's fortnightly clean the dumping ground remains the same with piles of things, I even found some garden lights, and an old guitar.
So this morning, bright and early, before I even did my small daily painting, before I even checked my emails I started clearing out the dreaded dumping ground. It was just one of those things I had to do. I need to clear my mind and in order to do so I have to clear out the messiest bit of my studio. It wasn't even high on my list of priorities for today, even this week but I just had to do it. So armed with a strong cup of coffee I set to.
Here's how it worked.
1.If a canvas is dented, warped, rotting, or damaged in any way throw it out! It's simply doesn't matter what's on it or how good it looks. If the canvas is damaged it's no use, its not even of any use to hang up in your own house because the dent will drive you nuts.
Chuck it out don't even think about it, don't pause for thought!
2. Papers can be precious and you have to be careful what you throw out.
I discovered a big watch of heavyweight cartridge paper that had been slightly folded, there wasn't a crisp fold fold in them but it wasn't perfect.
Some of the papers I kept.
But they are now stored in a portfolio to keep them safe from damp and further folding.
Papers are incredibly useful I run workshops and I really like using lots and lots of paper to get people going. Having paper that isn't precious encourages a great habit of experimentation when sketching (see my blog from last week for more on that). However some papers simply won't going to be good enough even for practice sketches. Some pastel papers had become so warped when they have got slightly damp that they simply had to be thrown away. This is another good reason to buy paper in good firm pads as they tend to stay in better shape even when they stored badly. Loose paper nearly always ends up crumpled and useless if you haven't got a good storage habit. In the process of clearing out my dumping ground I now have a better place to store my paper.
3. Old frames mounts and other things that you think really might be useful and you ought to keep. This is a real problem territory and you need to go carefully and I did. So I have kept three frames out of the myriad of ones that I found in my dumping ground area. The three frames I kept where clean, not warped in any way and still had true 90° corners and they're worth keeping.
However I did throw away a further four frames that were simply no good, they were either damaged or simply won't work with the kind of work that I produce now.
Now that can be quite a brave decision to make throwing out something that might be useful one day, but if I hadn't have thrown out those things I wouldn't have had the space to store the things I really need.
4. Throwing out canvases that aren't that damaged.
This is really tricky. I threw out some work that were on canvases that weren't dented so why why did I make this decision?
I'm not as arrogant as Michelangelo to get rid of every sketch or anything I've ever done! If you are a student at the start of your career I urge you with all my heart to try and keep as many things from your early days as possible. I have three portfolios rammed full of sketches, pastel drawings and watercolours that record the way my style has changed and developed over the years. I value them and occasionally look at them to see how far I've come.
But in the process of my clear out of my dumping ground area I also threw out a good for five maybe six canvases varying sizes of work. So why? How could I possibly throw away paintings that actually were pretty good!
The answer is simple- neither the canvas nor the paint was of a high enough quality that I could put them with my current work. Again this might sound arrogant but it's really not meant to be. I pride myself on only painting on the high quality canvas only using the very best paints, Michael Harding, Old Holland all of those great names find their way into my work.
The work that I threw out simply doesn't fit with my brand. Okay you might be thinking but you could've given them away that might have been a lovely gift? Well maybe but it also might devalue what I'm currently doing. This isn't about throwing out anything and everything that I can't sell, I've kept a great number of pieces that I won't ever sell that are either sentimental to me or show a real turning point in the development of my art. And I'm very happy to keep those items.
I'm confident now that all of the work on display my studio, and all of the work that I will take to future fairs or exhibitions is of a standard worthy of a professional artist.
5. Donating. There is a nice little joke tootling around on social media at the moment that goes along the lines of "I will take these clothes to the charity shop but first I'm going to put them in the boot of my car and drive around with them for six months!"
This could be true of artists donating unwanted materials.
I urge you, particularly if you have changed medium, that you donate any materials that you no longer need to your local school. There isn't a school in the land nor an art teacher in that school that doesn't want your stuff! Note, they do not want your rubbish- but they do want your brushes, they want paper, canvas, they want paint, they want pastels, they want charcoal! So get it in the car and take it to the nearest school!
So now my dumping ground has had his little clear out, how have I used the spare space?
Well for a start, newly delivered canvases can now rest there safe in the knowledge they won't get dented with a load of rubbish.
Secondly my papers won't get damp and crumpled.
And lastly it means that I've been able to move some of the things around in my studio creating more space for some workshops that I'll be doing next week!
All in all it's been a pretty successful morning and I've now stopped for a cuppa.
For the majority of my adult life I was a full time teacher, now as a full time artist I'm learning how to organise, my time, life and business, in away I've never had to do before.
As a teacher, there were a myriad of things to organise and remember, the school calendar was a bible, my teaching planner a tome of great import and before conditionally formatted spreadsheets were fashionable, my mark book too, was a work of art. To be honest, I rather liked it. For me one of the perks of teaching was the endless stationery. I love stationery. The childhood ritual of buying a new pencil case for the start of the academic year, never really left me as an adult!
Now free from all this, with only myself to organise, I had grand romantic schemes of linking my digital calendar, across devices, and thus a new age of efficiency would be be born. My scheduled blog posts, commissioned paintings deadlines, art fairs, meetings, appointments, exhibitions would sync seamlessly and this 21st century artist would embrace it.
After not very long at all, I realised I was resisting the digital calendar. Don't get me wrong, I'm fully Appled up and have devices of varying sizes and power, but I just prefer a nice paper diary.
But then, my nice dairy wasn't coming up with the goods either. Too many post-its bulging out all over. Not happy.
So I went retro. In my university days I had a filofax, the bastion of the London yuppy. I wasn't a yuppy, I was a London Art student, but I still used my filofax all the time, everything was in there, and it worked. I still have my original 1980s filofax, but it's a small one and I fancied investing in new one.
So here's my ultimate list for the best organiser I've ever created.
A purple Malden filofax A5 size. It's gorgeous.
This filofax isn't serving just as a diary. The normal diary pages simply weren't enough for me. I wanted a full on planner (just like I used to have in my teaching days) but my planner needed to be colourful, beautiful even. It had to be flexible, inspire and motivate me and be aimed at fresh entrepreneurs trying to juggle a shed load of things.
I'm delighted that I have discovered the brilliant Life is crafted planners by Arienne Gorlesh. They are beautiful, can help you focus on the big picture whilst also crafting your daily life and help you create actionable and inspiring goals.
I write everything there. All those arty appointments, the workshops I run, my social media strategy, a list of photos to upload each day, ongoing painting projects, commissions...you name it, it's in the filofax, just like it was in the 80s!
In addition I've printed out pages from Jennifer Lee's brilliant Right brain business plan. I have a huge RBBP on my wall, but I have some key pages included in my planner so that I can keep developing and growing my business organically.
Just to make things super pretty I also bought myself some pretty dividers from Atelier Days on Etsy. They are gorgeous, properly laminated and will stay beautiful for a long time.
So what have I learned from all this.
I love technology, but only in its place. I can't shake my stationary habit, I love having paper to write on, flick through and muse over.
Is it really surprising for an artist to be this way?
And if it's working? Then surely it's right.
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