Be Smart About Art

The simplest way to get things done

written by: Susan Mumford April 16, 2017 1) RECOMMENDED-> Susan Mumford + Chris King's Blog 3264 views

The simplest way to get things done

from our Sunday reading series - a weekly blog post (subscribe here

I’m going to travel back in time, to the early days of starting my first business in the art world.

The year was 2004, and had been made redundant from my management job at Whole Foods Market UK (following a buy-out), submitted my Masters of Art dissertation, and the little sculpture gallery along the River Thames where I’d been working changed ownership, resulting in me… being made redundant.

It seemed as good a time as any to strike out on my own, which was the general long-term plan anyway. The initial accountant and lawyer were brought on board to provide advice in starting the company, the bank account was opened, a university friend set up the initial website, and I set to bringing artists on board and learning how to use Photoshop to edit promotional images.

In the 9 months that followed, I visited the Armory Show in New York City, staged an international group exhibition in my home state of Arkansas, participated in a local Open House in which a salon-style show was presented and took a market stall at an arts festival. About half way into the first year of business, only a few weeks before setting off for the Arkansas show, the fledgling enterprise started ‘trading’. Interestingly, that first sale was to a friend (noting that early clients are typically family and friends) in London who didn’t want anyone to beat her to it, with the knowledge of forthcoming events.

Looking back to that time, it’s clear that I set various markers throughout the year ahead. Without a boss to give steer, and to not endlessly spend the days editing images, I gave myself self-imposed deadlines, whether or not I realised it.

Fast forward to the present day, to a recent Q+A with a group of sixty artists. A painter asked how she could stay productive and motivated, as it’s so easy for the days and weeks to slip away without much progress.

I explained that the simplest way to get things done is to place markers throughout the year. These are occasions to which you need to work, as they require completion of projects, however big or small.

In my experience, artists, like all professionals, are most productive when working to deadlines. Examples of self-imposed deadlines for artists include art prize entries, open house / studio events, exhibitions, studio visits with art dealers, and so on.

Here’s an exercise to try:
Pull out a calendar and reflect upon your own projects. Pop in the ones that have deadlines (if you haven’t already done so). Now think about other ongoing projects and add those to the calendar with realistic completion dates, too. Consider opportunities and ideas that you have in the year ahead, and plot those into the calendar.

Now with self-imposed deadlines, consider sharing them with others (including your email database and social media followers, not to mention by word of mouth) so that you create social accountability*.

One last point: It’s easy to be unnecessarily hard on yourself for not doing enough and not being good enough. Be sure to make a conscious effort to recognize how far you’ve come. To do this, I recommend recording achievements as the months and years pass**.

As for my most immediate self-imposed deadline? Eating a chocolate dinosaur before the long Easter weekend comes to a close! 

* See this related blog post: Work for yourself? Devise ways to hold yourself accountable.

** See these related blog posts:

How do you know if you’re making progress in your art career?

How to reflect upon how far you’ve come without even trying


Create Your Business Model Canvas - with Deborah Henry-Pollard, BSAA Creative Specialist
Friday 28th April, 2.15-4.45pm 
Central London 
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> Speaking of setting markers in the coming year, how about Defining Your Vision? Watch this 1-hr webinar with BSAA Creative Specialist Deborah Henry-Pollard, 'Defining Your Vision'.

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Posted by : Janet 19/04/2017 19:51

Remember one of your early shows in Crawford Street. Well done you!