How To Make Art For Surtex (Without Losing Your Sanity).

It’s that time of year when most people are in that Surtex crunch. Who should be on your mailing list? Ipad or printed portfolio? Booth decor? As much as these logistics are normal, stress-inducing considerations, I thought it would be nice to focus this post towards something that may not get a lot of attention or discussion: the actual production of art.

Of course, you’ve probably been making art all year long, but now is the time when many people are really pushing themselves to make additional portfolio pieces to wow both new and returning clients. We all probably wish we cold just hit a pause button on life and hide away in our studios until late May. However, life usually isn’t that convenient, right? There is still a pile of laundry waiting for you, piano recitals to attend, and relationships to nurture right up until that first step into the Javits Center.

So what if we took a moment to think about how we can best use the time we have to produce the best art possible? Below are some tricks on how I stay an efficient (and happy) worker bee! 

Give Yourself Flexible (And Realistic) Goals

Right off the bat this is probably my Golden Rule. One thing that I want you to remember is that most of the Surtex pre-game is about managing your stress levels and mental health. To that point, if you set unrealistic goals that you can’t uphold, you will only be feeling disappointment and negative thoughts constantly (and how are you suppose to make good work when you keep kicking yourself?). When you devise a plan, give yourself some wiggle room so that any unexpected surprises (illness, other client work) don’t send you into an emotional tailspin. For instance, a statement such as “I will create a portfolio piece a day” is probably not the most realistic goal for some people. Heck, I know it’s not for me! I don’t even have kids and I know between household responsibilities, regular client work, and my friend’s upcoming bachelorette weekend that a goal like that would be difficult.

Instead, consider goals like this:

  •  I will create at least 3 patterns/designs a week 
  • I will do something every day Monday through Friday towards Surtex

Why do I like these statements better? One, they allow you to build in bad days and days that you just can’t get into the studio for whatever reason. Two, they offer some flexibility either towards the amount of work you are doing or the type of work. Maybe you helped your kid’s class go on a field trip and totally lost that day. That evening you can still spend thirty minutes (or even just fifteen!) researching a couple of companies to add to your mailing list, or quickly compare two online companies on booth banner prices. BOOM. YOU DID SOMETHING TOWARDS YOUR SURTEX GOAL. BREAK OUT THE WINE. Even small accomplishments help to reinforce positive thoughts and make you feel like you are moving forward.

Change Your Work Location

“Art Making Fatigue” is probably the number one problem I experienced last year. I wasn’t necessarily tired of making art, I just was so BORED of the same view, the same table…the same everything. Not only was my mind getting antsy, but my body was getting achey from staying in the same position for hours and hours. Luckily my studio doubles as our guest room , so I simply took my laptop and decided to sit on the bed a few feet away. It was a small change, but it gave my body and mind the stimulation I needed. Suddenly, I was good to go for another couple of hours.

Obviously not all painting or digital situations are easily transportable, but if you can switch it up once in a while it really helps you avoid that cabin-fever feeling of hiding away in your studio too much. If you’re researching trends on your laptop or doodling in a sketchbook, it’s easy to take those tasks into a different room of the house (or a coffee shop, or your back patio) and benefit from different surroundings. In fact, even now I’m curled up in my bed enjoying a cup of tea- away from the scanner, away from the pile of notes I have scribbled for the next day. I can focus on this post and it’s a calm experience.

Switch Up What You’re Listening To

I pretty much always work with some sort of noise going on. My poison of choice is either music or a couple of beloved podcasts. I know other friends who prefer movies or binge watching TV series. Over time I have realized that I can only listen to music for so long before I have to switch over to the discussion of the podcasts, and vice-versa. Even more interesting, I notice that I prefer to listen to music when I’m actually brainstorming and sketching; the podcasts are best for when I am doing the grunt work of scanning things, digitally coloring, painting, etc. Music helps me get into a creative mindset, while the podcasts help me keep entertained during the more repetitive tasks. Knowing this has allowed me to keep a routine that maximizes my focus by making sure I don’t get numb to any one stimulus.

Give Yourself “Back Up" Tasks

Sometimes I set up a block of time to work, only to complete something and think, “Shoot, I still have 30 minutes! How can I take advantage of that?”. “Back Up” tasks to the rescue! These are the little things you can do at anytime without much hassle: Add a name or two to your mailing list. Find some color trends on Pintrest. Post a quick work-in-progress shot to your blog. In the end, all those extra minutes will add up! (these are also great tasks for awkward times, like being stuck in an airport).

Know Your Work Rhythm

The first year after I graduated, I remember friends who would gush about a day completely devoted to the studio: they would wake up and make art for hours until the sun went down and it was time to go to sleep. Naturally, I felt like I should work that way, too (because they loved it so much, why wouldn’t I?). So I picked a day to plug away until bedtime, only to find that after two or three hours I seriously needed a break. This made me feel like a complete failure! How could I already be sick of what was suppose to be a glorious day of art making? Well, the truth was that I just wasn’t built the same way as my peers. Actually, I much prefer two or three work sessions scattered through out the day separated by substantial breaks rather than one loooooooooong work session. In present day, this means working a couple of hours in the morning before breaking for lunch and a dog walk , going back to work for another 2-3 hours, stopping around early evening, and more than likely work another 1-2 hours after dinner depending on the project. As a bonus, when I switch over to studio "off" time I'm usually taking care of something around the house, running to the store, etc, so I'm still being productive.

Even though some artists could work on something until the cows come home, you should pay attention to your mind and body to figure out what your art making rhythm is. Some people prefer to work only at night once the kids have gone to bed, while others like a normal 9-5 schedule. There is no one right way, and what’s really important is just to find what works best for you.

Make Some Art Just For Fun And Not For Surtex

Yup, you read that correctly. I know you probably have your mental list of trends, holidays, and popular subject matter to help you create sellable art. Sometimes, just sometimes… you should feel free to take a detour and create some art that isn’t 100% dictated by Surtex. It might just be 30 minutes of playing around in your sketchbook with a medium you haven’t used in a while, or a subject that you think is totally random. More than likely this will recharge your creative batteries (and maybe even turn into an awesome portfolio piece you would have never considered!).

Walk Away When You’ve Hit A Wall

Let’s say you have blocked off your morning to work. Awesome! Unfortunately, after the first hour things are just going plain wrong. You’re stressed and tired. STOP. Get up and refocus your energy. Take care of an errand. Go ahead and do that thing you were putting off until the afternoon. Change gears, get away, and come back with a fresh perspective. Spinning your wheels will just waste time and can kill your creative mojo.

That Being Said, Get In The Habit Of Ending Work Sessions On A Positive Note

Truth is, most people work on something until they hit that ugly “wall” as mentioned above. I would suggest you don’t make that a habit, because in a way you are reinforcing negative feelings towards your art and the creative process. Instead of pushing, pushing, pushing yourself to that breaking point each time, try to recognize when a work session is over and walk away feeling pumped about what you’ve accomplished. Not only will this make the process more enjoyable overall, but you will take that positive feeling with you to the next part of your day, whether it be making dinner or spending time with friends and family. When you return, that previous feeling of triumph will help you start the next session with confidence. If you can keep that cycle going, it makes art creation a much more productive and pleasant experience.

Hope this helps get you into that work groove for Surtex (or whatever important project you are working on!). Thanks for reading and take care.