10 Steps to Getting Your Sh*t Together

by Karen Atkinson

Making things happen for you is an important part of being an artist who is interested in participating in the art world. Sitting in your studio and waiting to be discovered is NOT a strategy. Here are ten basic steps to Getting Your Sh*t Together in order to position yourself to make your work, get the work out and get organized. Be prepared in order to take advantage of opportunities and jump starting your art career. Whether you are a gallery-driven or artist-driven artist (a DIY kind of artist), these steps will go a long way to solving some key issues for getting organized.

We believe the best place to start on the road to getting your shit together is to check out the GYST-Ink software. It was created specifically for this purpose, to help you get organized so you have more time to make your work and handle your art career.

STEP ONE: Plan Ahead

Life Goals: Know what you want to do with your life. In a Harvard Study, those who planned ahead made three times more money than those who did not. Those who wrote down their goals, made even ten times above the average. If you don’t know where you want to go, then how are you going to make decisions about how to get there? Consider writing your own obituary as a way to begin thinking about what you want to have accomplished by the end of your life. Then make plans to get there. If that freaks you out, write a roast or a speech touting your accomplishments for an awards ceremony. Envision yourself in the future and what that future looks like.

Being an artist is a lot of work, so planning ahead is important. In order to reach certain goals, there are steps you need to take to get to those goals. If you want a solo show in an important gallery, chances are there are many steps you will need to take to get there. Starting your own mailing list might be another goal that has many fewer steps, but will help you get to where you want to be.

STEP TWO: Make the Work

Make sure that you schedule time for:

Making Your Artwork: If you like structure, schedule a specific time every week where you spend time in the studio, i.e. every Wednesday evening, every Sunday afternoon, etc. Don’t put it off until tomorrow. If money is an issue, plan ahead to see what kinds of things you can get donated to your project. Learn the fine art of bartering and use it often.

If you can’t afford a separate studio from your living space, get an apartment with two bedrooms and turn one into a studio. You’re not the first person to have your bed in the kitchen and your artwork in the living room. Getting the work made is the most important part of having a career. Everything else revolves around the work.

STEP THREE: Manage Your Time

Staff Meetings: Just like any other company, you should consider putting your lists into some kind of order, as well as coordinate the time it will take you to accomplish tasks. If this is not working well, consider having a staff meeting every Monday morning with yourself. If you have collaborators, meet with them as well. Put your most pressing deadlines at the head of the list and plan ahead for things you need to complete in order to meet future deadlines. Figure out what you are going to get accomplished on what day.

Use online software to keep track of multiple projects with collaborators or others.

If you find yourself with extra time (after your deadlines are completed) schedule some time to work on your To Do List, or to work on your planning tasks, such as update your mailing list, or work on a proposal description or a budget, or create file folders for papers you need to find in the future. Schedule time to call your mom.

Find time for:

• Keeping your financial books in order
• Spend a little time each week entering receipts or checks into your financial software.
• Keeping your resume up to date
• Adding contacts and updating your mailing list and press lists
• Keeping organized so you don’t miss deadlines
• Reading the Artists* At Work Blog (www.gyst-ink.com/blog)
• Keeping up with relevant information
• Reading your e-mail and organizing to do items

STEP FOUR: Get Organized

Things you have to keep track of:

• Proposals (who you sent them to and when, and when you expect to hear back from them).
• Deadlines (for grants, proposals, grant reporting, press releases, gallery checklists, etc.).
• Expenses (for each artwork, exhibition, and production, bills in general).
• Mileage, in order to deduct it from your taxes if applicable.
• Income (from jobs, artwork or earned income from lectures, etc.)
• Calendar Items: Exhibitions, Lectures, Deadlines, Meetings.
• Business Papers (business license, resale license, taxes, sales tax, self-employment issues, contracts, agreements, release forms, insurance information).

There are a number of resources available online for keeping your art life in order. In addition, check out software and basic programs. Collaborative projects can be tracked by using BaseCamp or other management software, which is free for simple projects.

GYST-Ink has software for visual artists (many others use it) that will help you keep track of all things in your art life. It’s chock full of information on professional practices for artists. Check it out at www.gyst-ink.com.

If you have multiple web sites and social networks, consider using an aggregation site such at NetVibes where you can have everything in one place.

Calendars: Deadlines can be a real hassle to keep track of. Use an online calendar, or find a big one to hang on your wall, but use it! Missing deadlines only compound the problems encountered by practicing artists.

Come up with a strategy for keeping track of art and grant deadlines. Keeping track of grant deadlines can be important so you are not writing a proposal at the last minute. Many grants are rejected because the questions were not answered correctly, or the information was not informative because the grant was written in haste.

STEP FIVE: Know the Business

An art career is a business: Whether you like it or not, an art career is a business if you want to sell your work, or become part of a public dialog. 10 years ago, there were very few venues to learn about how the system works, but now there are multiple organizations like GYST-Ink that provide information through workshops, classes or online learning. Seek out websites which have specific information about how things work. Check out our website and our links on this blog for services and sites we recommend.

Share resources with your peers. Keeping everything you know a secret is not a good strategy. If you tell other artists about a deadline that is perfect for their work, you will get the same courtesy more often than not. Don’t apply for things in which your work does not fit. And don’t tailor your work to fit an opportunity if it is a stretch.

Buy a book, read publications, and ask your peers and your mentors. If something has you confused or you just can’t find the information, ask a mentor or someone you trust. Most artists with experience will share information with you. Offer to buy them a cup of coffee or lunch in exchange.

STEP SIX: Network

Studio Visits: Seek out and schedule studio visits on a regular basis. This not only introduces your work to others, but is good practice in learning how to articulate your practice and what you are doing. Start with friends and family if you are shy or uneasy. You can invite other artists, writers or former teachers as well as curators and gallery dealers. The more you get comfortable with talking about your work the better.

Go to Events and Openings: Schedule time to go to openings and events of your peers. Don’t hound curators or dealers at an event as they are busy conducting their own business (or trying to have a good time at a party and NOT work for a change). If you go to enough openings, eventually you will meet people who may be interested in your work. The artworld is small, and your reputation can spread pretty fast, so consider your actions before implementing them. Never stand at the front door of another artists’ opening and hand out your own exhibition announcements. Never try to show your work to someone at an event. If someone you meet shows interest, give them a business card and follow up to schedule a studio visit.

Remember: History is made by those that show up.

Take a workshop. Workshops are a great way to meet many artists just starting out in their career. Use these events to form bonds and share ideas. The GYST-Ink workshop taught twice a year at Sidestreet Projects is a great place to start!

STEP SEVEN: Seek and Propose

Things you should have ready at all times: If you find out about a show or an opportunity for your work, you should be ready to get a proposal out to the person or venue within three days. Starting from scratch every time is going to drain you of time and resources.

• A full resume (you can cut and paste specific resumes from this (i.e. public art, curatorial etc.).
• A current artists’ statement
• Work samples’
• Work sample descriptions
• Project Proposals (when applying)
• Project Budgets (when applying)
• Current Mailing List
• Everything you need to create a portfolio and a proposal.
• A list of those people you have keep in touch with that can write a letter of recommendation.

Create a network of information that keeps you informed of deadlines and activities. Get yourself on mailing lists, subscribe to blogs and join local organizations.

STEP EIGHT: Get Rejected

Rejection: If you are not getting rejected, you are not applying for enough. Rejection is going to happen a lot as it is the process of how you find your place in the art context. Apply for things that make sense to your work. Never apply for something because of just money, or tailor a grant application to a project that does not fit your work just to get cash in your pocket.

Rejection happens to even famous artists, so keep applying. It is important to know that many funders have a panel that changes every year, so new people are making decisions all the time. When you are rejected, find out why if at all possible. It could be something simple like they didn’t understand an answer to a question, or the gallery has had too many painting shows recently, but would consider your work at another time.
When you find out why you were rejected, make the necessary changes. Learn from your mistakes and move forward. Most people learn a lot more from mistakes than they do from their successes.

STEP NINE: Follow-through

Don’t drop the ball: Following through is an important part of one’s practice. If you find an opportunity, it will not be available to you unless you follow through with it. If you meet a curator who is interested in your work, make sure you follow through on either sending them a link to your website, or arranging a studio visit. Don’t try to do everything, but follow through on things that could be important to your goals.

STEP TEN: Document

Keep good records: Documenting your practice, whether it is a non-sanctioned guerilla type activity or a commercial gallery exhibition is important if you want to retain a presence. Having good images will allow you to get grants, propose exhibitions and meet with others about your work.


Getting Your Sh*t Together (software for artists, professional practices workshops for artists)

Side Street Projects (grant writing and other professional practices workshops for artists, support services) www.sidestreet.org

New York Foundation for the Arts (lots of information for artists)

Gottlieb Foundation

Creative Capital Foundation

Creative Capital Interview

Arts Opportunities

Cultural Affairs Department (city of your choice)

Foundation Center
Fundraising library and resources for nonprofits and individuals, including a proposal writing “how to” and both free and paid database searches.

Grantmakers in the Arts
Provides links for arts funders nationwide and access to research papers.

Posts IRS 990 forms for all nonprofits that include complete lists of every grant they make, which are valuable when deciding if they might be receptive to your proposal. Requires free registration to access this information.

California Arts Council

Center for Cultural Innovation (CCI)

World Wide Web Arts Source

Stumble it!

One Response to “10 Steps to Getting Your Sh*t Together”

  1. the Diva Platform » Blog Archive » Staring at June Says:

    [...] year I’d been pretty good at following some of the advice from Getting Your Shit Together, but I can’t remember the last time I’ve looked at my goals and objectives and really [...]

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    * ARTIST*s AT WORK: a dynamic blog dedicated to providing readers with up-to-date information on the business of being an artist. This blog replaces our successful bi-monthly newsletter, which is archived on our website: gyst-ink.com.

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