6 Visual Planning Tools for Visual Artists

By Aletta de Wal in Art Business Advice > General Art Advice

I love talking to Jose, one of the cashiers at the grocery store. I wish I could tell you all of the stories I’ve heard this proud father tell me about his three year old son—they are funny, heartwarming and sometimes amazing.

Recently Jose’s little guy became student of the month for his preschool class, and now he has to make a 15-minute presentation on a topic of his choosing. He found out a month ago, so he’s already preparing and has been using a calendar on the wall in his room to mark off the days with a big check mark until he’s on stage. The date of his presentation has a big star on it.

A wall calendar is a simple and common visual planning tool. Sure, it lacks a ringtone and it’s not as portable as your mobile phone, but it’s cheap and it works. There’s also a great level of satisfaction in making that mark once you have completed a task.

As your art career develops, you will have more and more to do. You will juggle making art, marketing art and handling all those pesky administrative details involved in making a living.

I’ve worked with artists who use their pre-show setup time to let that one last painting dry. Some of them claim they work better under pressure, and they might be right. I’ve also worked with artists who plan out a whole year of exhibitions so they can produce and promote on a more leisurely schedule. Neither approach is necessarily better. The only right approach to planning is the one that gets you to your goals.

Since you are a visual artist, my suggestion is to use a one or more visual systems to schedule your actions and monitor your progress. You will be much more likely to stick with a plan if you can SEE it, than if it’s just words written down on paper.

Here are six visual tools that I use to stay on track and teach my artist clients:

Vision board

Create a poster of your ideal life as an artist. Use magazines, images from the internet, or draw the way you want to feel and the results you want to get. You can choose a time frame that feels right, and create new vision boards as often as you want.

Then, post the vision board in your studio where you will see it every day. As a constant reminder, a vision board is a great way to stay focused and keep yourself on track toward your goals.

Erasable wall calendar

Get an oversize wall calendar with large squares for each month. Mark all of your events for the year in one color marker so you can see at a glance when you have goal or event deadlines. Use capital letters so they are obvious. Then work backwards from each deadline and, in another color, mark down any tasks that you’ll need to complete prior to that goal.

(HINT: Sometimes I like to use Post-It Flags instead of markers so I can more easily move things around if the date of the goal or event changes.)

You can also use stickers to denote other events. When I have travel scheduled, for example, I use little plane stickers so that I can quickly see when I will be away.

Whiteboard mind map

When I start a new project, I don’t always know what steps are involved, what sequence I need to do tasks, or what materials I will need. A whiteboard is perfect for solving these questions.

Usually I’ll create a mind map on my whiteboard with the things I DO know, and leave lots of white space to add branches later on. Then I use Post-It notes for various tasks, moving them around as needed until the correct sequence becomes clear.

You’ll want to use different colors of Post-It notes or markers for people, materials, and events. This makes it easy to see at a glace what’s happening.

Transparent file holders

I keep clear plastic file holders on my desktop which are labeled with daily, weekly or monthly deadlines for key projects. They have multiple pockets, so I can separate different aspects of each project, like people, places, tasks, and communications.

I also put work-in-progress drafts and correspondence from project partners in here. This way I can instantly refer to the latest update when I get a call or e-mail about a project.

Color-coded binders

I converted a closet with shelving units for ongoing projects. I use binders with index dividers to store key documents for each project. If I run out of index tabs, I use Post-It flags to mark each section and also label each binder. Again, I color code each one for quick and easy scanning.

Invisible (AKA, out-of-the-way) file cabinets

Occasionally I need things NOT to be visible. I have a large filing cabinet and additional shelving for archived files, but I chose to put them in the laundry room so they do not distract me visually when I’m in my office area.

The only drawback? Sometimes go in there to retrieve something and get distracted by the pile of laundry that needs doing!

If you travel a lot, you may also want to use an online calendar and task list in addition to the methods listed above. To make my online version visual, l color-code entries so that I can instantly recognize deadlines, tasks and contacts.

(And, just to be safe, I print 3 months ahead on paper, so that I can still access it if my computer goes down. I keep that on my desk along with a printout of my marketing plans for each project.)

Of course you don’t have to use all of the tools mentioned above, but hopefully some of them will appeal to you. Use my list as a menu and take what you need, then add your own creative touches!

Good luck!


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