Updated November 10, 2022 in advance of a Visiting Artist lecture at CSUMB.
I’m doing an Instagram Live studio tour/artist’s talk/Q&A with the San Francisco Center for the Book today at 3pm Pacific/6pm Eastern. Some question’s I’ve received in advance are:
- How do you keep motivated?
- Please share admin/organization/project management skills.
I’m posting some notes with links here.
Journaling helps me be resilient.
There can be a perception that journaling is for self-obsessed, angst-ridden teens. I do not only write in my journal when I feel shitty. In fact, I limit how much I write when I’m distressed, because venting or “processing” can actually be rumination, which decreases mood and prolongs pain (Guy Winch, Emotional First Aid).
Journaling provides space for self-reflection—space for me to listen to myself. When I listen to myself, I can celebrate my wins, so I can need less external validation. I can be grateful by recognizing the good in my life and in other people. I name my feelings (which itself can bring relief) and sort out my needs, priorities, goals, and action steps. When I properly reframe an event, and when I find meaning, it makes me feel energized and purposeful.
There are many ways to keep a gratitude journal. A great introduction to a simple practice can be found at “The Science of Happiness, Episode 1: Three Good Things.” This podcast is produced by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, so it is a legit, science-backed, positive psychology podcast.
I have been using a “what went well and why” method described by Martin E.P. Seligman. It’s easy: just write about what went well in your day, and why you think it happened. Sometimes I’ll keep asking “why,” drilling down deeper, or expanding wider. This has helped me recognize my own agency in situations, or the kindness of others, or the conditions or privileges broader than my immediate reality. I’ve also used this practice on great days, and it’s helped me identify particularities and savor them, multiplying my joy. A caveat: I’m careful not to mindlessly re-list my day’s to-do items.
Goal-setting, Habit Tracking, & Purpose
It’s easier to stay motivated when your actions and goals feel aligned with your values and life’s purpose.
Informed by Creative Capital’s Professional Development workshops, I set three professional goals, each with three action steps, for myself as an artist every year. I schedule weekly and quarterly check-ins.
I sometimes use an app to log my physical therapy and cardio. This is helpful for reinforcing good habits and holding myself accountable. It helps me see the connections with how my body feels. You can use a plain notebook or a habit-tracking notebook, too—whatever works.
If you’re dealing with an injury or health side effects, tracking the frequency and intensity of different dimensions of your experiences can help you can recognize the process you’re making over time. It can give you reasons to celebrate, instead of only seeing loss. Not to mention that it can give you more data to discuss with your doctor.
No one else can give you a sense of life purpose, only you can. In Grit by Angela Duckworth, you can learn exercises to identify what your life purpose might be, and how your small and medium goals relate to your purpose. When you are able to see your short-term actions in concordance with your values and your purpose, it feels integrated, which is very powerful.
I loved this episode of On Being with Krista Tippett, interview with Pauline Boss, “Navigating Loss Without Closure.” Here are some of my key take-aways:
- Closure is a myth. Americans are too focused on problem-solving negative emotions.
- Expectations or time limits on sadness, grief, or loss can be harmful. Humans can and do live with sadness, oscillating over time. That’s OK!
- Find meaning. When nonsensical events happen, and you can’t make sense of that event, you can find “good enough” meaning in another area of your life.
While I’ve been very fortunate to have not been directly affected by coronavirus, the pandemic has entailed coping with fear, loss, grief, uncertainty, and stress in a drawn-out, fatiguing way (I liked my friend KQB’s phrase: “low-key horrified”). It found it helpful to recognize that Americans and the media love predictable narrative arcs (beginning, middle, end) and that’s cognitively dissonant from the realities of the pandemic (no end in sight). It’s good practices to let go of perfectionism and the urge to fix everything now, to get more comfortable with holding opposing ideas, and to find meaning where you can.
This episode is also really great: On Being with Krista Tippett, interview with Resmaa Menakem, “‘Notice the Rage; Notice the Silence.’” I especially loved this:
“..all adults need to learn how to soothe and anchor themselves rather than expect or demand that others soothe them. And all adults need to heal and grow up.”
A great way to self-soothe is through grounding practices—being in your body, focusing on your breath, or your feet’s connection to the ground, or visually on the room around you. The idea is to practice this, even on your good days, until it becomes second nature, so that it’s easy to implement on your bad days. Often, emotional distress is tied up with physiological stress reactions, and grounding helps regulate those physiological reactions, which can shorten the duration and decrease the pain of emotional distress.
I think this idea of practice is helpful across all these resilience strategies. I think these practices are how you incrementally increase your subjective wellbeing over years, so that your happiness set-point gets a little higher, and your ability to bounce back becomes stronger.
This is going to be super nerdy and ‘brass tacks.’ Well, artists wear a lot of hats outside of making art—administrators, bookkeepers, registrars, archivists, art handlers, fund raisers, marketers and PR people, etc. Administration is legit labor. It could be a time-suck or you can try to be more effective where you can. Since the pandemic started, I’ve spent a lot more time on the computer, and I realized that there are some basic things we do everyday—such as email and managing files—which everyone sort of figures out on their own. These are some best practices I’ve found.
I like to use Mac Mail (even with my Gmail), and I try to reserve my inbox for items that require follow-up. I try to keep folders to a minimum with a hybrid system:
- project-specific folders (for important art projects, exhibitions, and freelance gigs, etc.)
- time-delimited folders (the time stamp indicates when it’s safe to delete emails. It’s like the principle of cleaning out your closet—if you haven’t worn it in a year, get rid of it):
- Deep storage (this is for stuff like taxes)
- 1-year keep
- 3-month keep
- hold/1-month keep (for temporary things like shipping notifications)
Receipts go into a folder such as “2022” or “To be entered” which means yet to be entered into a bookkeeping software. More on that below.
I like to keep two Finder windows in Mac’s column view, stacked one on top of each other. This allows me to find a file and file it in its destination folder more quickly. This is super helpful when resizing images for my website, for example.
Three navigational shortcuts:
- For switching between studio, professional practices, and day-job work: I keep multiple tabs in each Finder window open. This helps me switch quickly and pick up where I left off. It’s a little like the beauty of having a studio (or a dedicated studio table) where you can leave your messy work-in-progress, as opposed to clearing the table for dinner and then setting up your art project again.
- For quickly accessing active projects: I also put folders for active projects in the sidebar. For example, when I’m working on an application for an art competition, I’ll put the folder there, even if it’s just for a few days.
- For quickly accessing current projects: Alternatively, I make aliases of current project folders, and put them in a folder called “_Current Projects.” (I use an underscore at the start of names for folders I want to keep at the top of a list.)
Naming conventions for files and folders
I use multiple strategies to make sense of all my files:
- Project code. I try to assign every project a name or code, and then start the file name of every digital art file with that. This makes it much easier when searching for files.
- Iteration number-letter system. When I work on digital art files, I iterate a lot. Saving lots of versions forces me to save often, keep earlier options, and have recent back-ups in case a file gets corrupted (especially true when working on large PSDs!). To make sense of all of these, I use a number followed by a letter, (“1a,” “1b,” “2a,” etc.) The number usually refers to the design round, the letter usually refers to a variation, like the same design in different colors.
- I never name anything “final.” When you use that system, if you have to change that file, and then have to name it “final-final,” or “final-2,” and then what’s the point?
- I just keep every previous version in a “_Drafts” folder, and the one most recent file outside of that drafts folder. That, plus the iteration code, means it’s always clear what’s the most recent file.
- Pixel dimensions. For any file saved for the web, I append the pixel dimensions, width x height (example: ACB8j-AnnieYee-p3-01a-889×1080) to the end of the file name. This is much more descriptive and useful than “-web” or “-small.” In web design, dimensions are always width first, then height (though it’s reversed in art handling).
- YYYYMMDD. Starting names with the date in an 8-digit code keeps files or folders chronological and easier to search. I use this for folders for exhibitions, for example, for receipt PDFs, Google Drive folders, etc.
- 01, 02, 03. Another way to keep folders tidy is to start the name of sub-folders with numbers, so they stay in the order of a process. For example, if you have different files from different stages in a process, you might have folders named “01 Text content,” “02 Image references,” “03 Digital mock-ups,” “04 Scans,” “05 Composite PSDs,” “06 JPGs.”
For my photo documentation, I keep the source/raw files in a projects folder. Then after I make my selections, I copy and rename them, and place them in nesting folders that looks basically like this:
Documentation > Projects > YYYY Project name > Artwork Name--[pixel-dimensions].[file extension]
The code can indicate different shots of the same artwork. I've found this is a nice way to manage lots of installation views (as opposed to "detail of X" and "detail of Y"). After these are renamed consistently, then I'll do the resizing.
I generally keep three to four resolutions of files:
- high-res (source res at 300 dpi)
- medium-res files for screen display for competitions (these files are usually 1-2 MB JPGs, I'd say 1920x1080 is a good new standard nowadays)
- two sizes of web-res (which is specific to my own website, but obviously at 72 DPI).
I use Photoshop actions to batch process resizing. I've set up different destination folders for different sized images. I use the Finder renaming tool to update the file names as needed.
Artist's Inventory Software & Estate Planning
It's important to manage your inventory: to track inventory numbers, framed and unframed dimensions, prices, where the actual artwork is (whether on loan or in storage), etc.
There are lots of options for inventory software. I don't know what's good out there as I don't have time to test and review them. Many of the options now are cloud-based. I don't love the software I currently use, so I'm not going to name it here. The reason I use it is because it's a desktop version, and I like the permanence of that for reasons I'll explain below.
Artist's inventory software is for your own studio management, but more importantly, it's also part of your estate planning. Each of us will die. Making plans and putting systems into place are act of care for our loved ones, to make it easier for them to deal with our stuff after we're gone.
If you need to start or improve your digital or physical artist's inventory, I recommend the Joan Mitchell Foundation's Creating Artist's Living Legacy "Career Documentation for the Visual Artist: An Archive Planning Workbook and Resource Guide." It's free.
While we're on the subject, I also recommend:
- Everyone should write a will. I found Nolo Press' Online Will to be an easy and cheap way to draft one. Note: Print it out and take it to a notary public to make it legally binding.
- It's a good idea to discuss your end-of-life wishes with your loved ones, and to fill out an advanced health care directive. Kaiser Permanente offers info and forms in multiple languages—you don't have to be a patient to access them. You'll also need to print this out and take it to a notary public to make it legally binding.
- CALL also has an Estate Planning Workbook.
As an artist I usually get paid as an independent contractor (by 1099-MISC and 1099-NEC forms), so there's no withholding (such as if you're paid as an employee on a W-2 form). As a result, I usually pay a lot of taxes for the whole year. Artists can write off certain expenses, but then you must also file a Schedule C (not just a 1040). My taxes are complicated enough to warrant paying an accountant to help me file.
I've used Quickbooks Desktop for years to track deductible expenses, invoices, and payments. It makes reporting my expenses for the tax accountant a breeze. It's also easier to create requests for reimbursements if you track billable expenses per project and client. It's a little bit of labor to do all this, but it's less painful than doing a year's worth of bookkeeping in the spring before taxes are due.
Unfortunately Quickbooks Desktop is no longer supported, and currently (2022) the cheapest cloud version of Quickbooks is $50/month, which doesn't seem worth it, so I'll be moving to another cloud-based software, maybe Wave, which seems highly recommended.
I've also started using a mileage app called DriversNote to track my business mileage for tax purposes. Currently (2022) there's a free plan that allows 20 tracked journeys per month, and then the basic plan is $15/month.
How did I learn this admin stuff?
- From working at no- or low-paid office positions in non-profit art organizations.
- From working as a freelance graphic designer/sole proprietor.
- From co-workers, partners, colleagues, mentors.
- From trying different things and evolving over time.