Put Your Anxious Energy to Work for You: 9 Art Admin Tasks You Can Do Right Now

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Stockists in Quarantine

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School’s Out Forever (?)

As we near a month of quarantine in major urban centers, we’re witnessing a range of reactions from artists. Photographers are venturing out to capture city landscapes empty and foreign, or perhaps their subjects are first responders, essential workers, and the occasional group bucking social distancing protocols. On social media scores of artists are diligently creating and sharing new work, some of them under new hashtags like #coronaresidency, #quarantineartclub, and #quaratineartchallenge. Some of us finally have extra time to dig deep into long-delayed projects, while others are inspired to develop bodies of work about life in quarantine. If any of these are you, please (safely) continue your work. In times of such upheaval and stress it’s vital that artists document, create, communicate, and connect to their audiences. The joy, beauty, and normalcy of your practice are a guiding light not only to you but to your community. You never know who you are inspiring in this dark time.

However, there are also the artists among us who do not find ourselves in a position to produce. The same upheaval that may offer some artists inspiration can conjure the opposite for others. If you’re sick or find yourself under extreme duress, rest and healing should be your guilt-free priority. Perhaps you lost access to your studio or are unable to acquire supplies. Maybe your living dynamic is entirely new and draining. A lot of creatives have lost or live in fear of losing their income-generating jobs. Whatever the reason, if right now is not the time for you to be developing work, trust yourself and do your best to stay healthy by whatever means are available to you.

This brings us to a third group of artists—those that want to do something but feel utterly uninspired. If you are motivated to get some work done but don’t know exactly how to channel that energy, we’ve compiled a list of ideas specifically for you. These ideas can help you freshen your space, organize your work, think through your long-term goals, and overall professionalize your practice. 

We are mindful that in this moment, many artists have time but no extra money. A majority of this list comprises administrative tasks that require a computer. Several suggestions rely on a good internet connection, and some may require a monetary subscription. But if these resources are not presently available to you, below you will also find suggestions that only require a pen and paper, or access to your studio or makeshift art-making space. 

Mary Fissell’s studio, photo by Justin Tsucalas for BmoreArt

Art Admin Tasks You Can Do Right Now from Home

1. Clean, Rearrange, and Stock Your Physical Home Studio

You’re much more likely to get something done if you feel good about your workspace. Before you begin, visualize how you want your space to look, and think through the area’s functions. Some questions to ask yourself could include: Is this space your permanent studio or your quarantine retreat? Is it a multi-purpose area of your home? Can you rearrange the furniture or change up the layout of the room? If it’s your permanent studio space, you may have specific furniture—is it all serving you? Take a look at what you already have: Can you source items from another part of your home, or will you need to make a few purchases? Perhaps simply swapping what is hanging on the walls will provide a welcome new energy to your space. 

You can go further and think of this time as a hard reset of your workspace. Take a day or a few to go through every single box of materials and old artwork in your home. There is no need to rush, but idling too long down memory lane or heavily weighing the pros and cons of each and every item can be counterproductive. If you need a bad cop to your good cop, enlist a friend via video chat or speakerphone to coach you through your sorting. Organizational guru Marie Kondo says you shouldn’t listen to music or a podcast while cleaning because it can be distracting from the main task of really looking at your stuff, but if that feels draconian to you, put on an old favorite so you feel happy but also like you can tune out a little. 

Take inventory and, if it’s financially feasible for you right now, order any supplies you need. If it’s not possible to buy anything, pull out some materials you already have and leave them out. Just having raw material in sight is a way to start thinking about what you can do with it.

In addition to cleaning and organizing your space to serve you best, create a give-away pile for any supplies you don’t have a plan to use. You can give these away to a number of area charities once the stay-at-home order is lifted, or make a plan to trade with friends. 

Lou Joseph's studio, photo by Justin Tsucalas for BmoreArt

2. Clean Your Online Studio Space: Phone, Desktop Folders, Email, Cloud Storage, etc.

In 2020, many artist studios exist largely or entirely online. While you might be pretty organized on your laptop, are you a total mess when it comes to the camera roll on your phone? You have time now to actually go through what you’re paying to store in the cloud. Bonus: maybe you’ll be able to reduce what you have and pay less for storage! Take inventory of what apps you’re paying for and which ones you’re using and which ones you don’t need to have at your disposal all the time. Clearing your home screen or desktop has a similar effect as clearing a table off: a sense of calm with less to look at. Make sure your computer filing system works for you and consider using tags for files to improve the searchability of your documents. Go through your email and unsubscribe from any unwanted lists. Do your 2019 taxes, or if those are already done, get organized for 2020 taxes.

3. Shop Your Studio for Inspiration

In Step 1, you cleaned your space and perhaps left out a material to inspire you. Is that material a familiar one or something you rediscovered in the cleaning process? Artists often acquire materials and neglect to use them for years because they are unfamiliar with all their properties. Think about if you are doing that with anything and if you could use this time to try out a new process or explore a new material. Do you have some new paint that you got at a convention and haven’t played with? Did someone give you a box of charcoal from their garage? Or did you buy something a while ago and not press it into service because it required some training? Trends we’re seeing artists exploring right now including tufting, weaving and Procreate. What have you wanted to try out but couldn’t make time for before? If you are unable to get all the supplies you need to start learning something new, consider researching what the medium is capable of and do some dreaming about how you could use it in the future.

Lou Joseph's studio, photo by Justin Tsucalas for BmoreArt

4. Pack, Store, and Protect Any Finished Artwork You Have Lying Around

Artwork seems to be precious to everyone except the person who made it! Be honest with yourself, have you properly packed, stored, and cared for all the finished work in your studio? If you have the equipment and materials to build crates, frames, or presentation apparatuses, this is a great time to do that support work so when a show or sale comes up all you have to do is organize delivery. If your practice consists of works on paper, are you storing everything in a folder or flat file with archival material like Mylar between each drawing? Have you wrapped up and built a box for every painting and sculpture you’re storing in your studio? Part of protecting your work also entails labeling it, so make sure to adhere clear labels to anything you pack. For insurance and shipping later you should photograph the work you pack, as well as how you packed it and with what materials.

5. Maintain or Create an Inventory of Your Work
Every professional artist needs to have an archive of their work. This should include work that you have in your possession that is available for sale as well as work you have sold. Many artists maintain a simple spreadsheet that includes titles, year made, actual and framed dimensions, materials, suggested price, and location. Other information you can keep about your work is exhibition history and collector information. You should pick an organizational system that you can maintain; it need not be fancy. If you had a system but got too busy and forgot to update it, take an afternoon to measure artwork, generate pricing, and note where everything is in your space. 

In the last few years a number of programs have emerged to make this work simpler for artists. Artwork Archive, an online subscription service, is one great example. In addition to organizing basic artwork information, Artwork Archive allows you to store multiple images of the same artwork, offers multiple ways to manage and sort your inventory, generates checklists, tracks sales and print editions, and much more. Artwork Archive provides customer support and even offers resources like lists of upcoming artist opportunities. While setup can be tedious and time consuming, you’ll come away with a tidy, flexible system that makes your life easier down the road. 

Artwork Archive. Screenshot courtesy Mary Negro
Artwork Archive. Screenshot courtesy Mary Negro

6. Update Your Artist Packet and Clean Up Your Online Presence
It’s likely you already have an artist packet (bio, general artist statement, CV, and website) so take a few minutes to make sure it’s up to date with everything you’ve been up to. Then google yourself and update all the online places where parts of your artist packet have been posted. This includes city and state directories of artists, residencies, galleries and nonprofits or collectives you are a part of that have posted your information. All this upkeep relays to your audience that you are engaged in your practice. When people discover an artist online who hasn’t updated a CV in two years, it is a turn-off from buying work or reaching out about exhibition opportunities. Make sure you’re presenting yourself as a professional everywhere. If you have a LinkedIn, update it! Swap out the image on the homepage of your website and take down any really old work.

7. Create or Edit Documentation and Freshen Up Your Website

Did you hire a photographer to document a show last spring and then never go through the images or get them up on your website? Hey, it happens to everyone, it’s sort of like hiring a photographer to photograph your wedding and then never making an album or printing the pictures—you did the marriage part and the paying-someone-for-their-work part, and it feels unbelievable you have to still do something with the photos! But now is the time to catch up. If you have documentation, make sure it’s presented everywhere it should be. And if you don’t have documentation, tsk tsk! Hope for a sunny day and do it yourself or make a plan to hire a photographer after quarantine. Digitize any work you have lying around that you can scan or any sketchbooks you’ve wanted to upload if you have a scanner. If you only have a smartphone, there are a number of pretty good scanning apps, both paid and unpaid.

The place you are most often publishing images of your work is your artist website so if you don’t have one, it’s a pretty great quarantine distraction to get that delayed project up and running. Squarespace and Wix are popular template options for building and maintaining a website of your own. A good place to start is to simply browse the websites of other artists and see what you like. As you do this, you can think through the purpose of the site: Is it primarily a place for visitors to get a sense of your work? Would you like to be able to sell art directly from your site? Will it focus on your artwork alone or do you have other projects and hobbies that make sense to have in the same digital space? A website is a continual work in progress that can be updated as your needs change, so don’t fret if you don’t have definitive answers for yourself. Another idea for how to use your quarantine computer time is to try out a new technology for showing or sharing your work that previously intimidated you. Many artists put together simple time-lapse videos of their work as a way to share their process with their audience. If video seems like too much for you, consider taking before and after photos of different stages of your work. Always had an interest in memes or gifs? Give it a go! Do you have a space for sharing these new gems? Your website, newsletter, and favorite social media platforms are all good options. If you’ve been mulling over starting an Instagram account or just doing more/better social media, why not now?  

Rosa Leff's studio, photo by Justin Tsucalas for BmoreArt
Rosa Leff's studio, photo by Justin Tsucalas for BmoreArt
Mary Fissell's studio, photo by Justin Tsucalas for BmoreArt

8. Research Opportunities
Another task we all should be doing all the time that falls by the wayside when we are busy is research to support our practices. If you’re bedridden or totally uninspired, it can be nice to daydream about better times. For example, have you always wanted to do a residency abroad? Do some online sleuthing to figure out which programs provide stipends for international travel. Look at artists who have done the residency before, is their work like yours? Are you at a similar place in your career as they were when they did the residency? (Tip: track down the resumes of artists who have completed the opportunity of interest and compare to yours). Is the residency super remote? Say, how much does it cost to rent a car in Paris and drive to Provence? It can take several hours to properly research a residency program or grant, so make a list of a few that you’re interested in and thoroughly research when you would want to go (and thus, when you would need to apply by) and how much it would cost with funding and without. Look at the application process and note if you need recommendations. If it isn’t the right time to apply or you’re not in the right headspace to work on an application, just making a spreadsheet of everything you learned with links to the application portal will save you hours and lots of stress later.

9. Do an Online Studio Visit
You can do a studio visit with someone who knows you and your work with very little extra effort. We don’t recommend doing a studio visit with someone who doesn’t know you already or hasn’t seen any of your work before unless you make digital work or have excellent documentation. Make your space and yourself presentable and hop on Zoom, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, or your preferred platform. All the standard etiquette for an in-person studio visit applies here: prepare specific questions for your visitor, and if necessary, lead the conversation with your list of questions but make sure to let your guest do the majority of the talking. Studio visits are an opportunity to listen to feedback from someone else about your work and they can be very helpful in getting back into your practice if you’ve been feeling uninspired.

If you don’t want to do a video conference, you can have a studio visit over email by sending files of work ahead of time with a short list of questions. Make sure that anyone you ask to do a studio visit with you is being compensated in some way for their time—maybe you’ll also do a visit with them, maybe you can offer them a modest stipend, maybe you’re making them a loaf of sourdough bread. Whatever the case, this kind of studio visit might be more work for your visitor so make sure to acknowledge and thank them profusely for their labor and give them up to two weeks to get back to you over email.


What NOT to Do Right Now

  1. Feel bad that you aren’t “getting anything done.” It’s a weird time and even if you aren’t sick, you may just feel like shit or be stressed out.
  2. Start a really big, really ambitious project. Maybe you can do it, but probably, this is a time better used for finishing tasks, starting some small ones and trying ideas out. The pressure of a big project along with the pressure of everything else right now is unlikely to be what you need right now.
  3. Force yourself to stick to your regular schedule. Sure, routine is great and necessary but for some of us time is endless right now. So if you are able to spend a whole Saturday in the studio and you want to, you should.


Suzy Kopf and Mary Negro will be presenting this article as a Zoom meeting on April 25th from 1-2 p.m. in conjunction with the three-person exhibition, Nature Contained at The Old Stone House. (The gallery exhibition of Nature Contained has been delayed until spring 2021 due to park closures made necessary by COVID-19.) The meeting is free and open to the public, Meeting ID: 862 4749 2745, Password: 805850. 

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