This article was written for students who are sick of leaving their art projects to the last minute. It is for those who are tired of nagging teachers and parents who glare at them with disappointed eyes. It is for the chronic underperformer: for whom detentions, reprimands, phone calls home, referrals to Dean, quiet chats in the hallway, sticker charts, bribery (rewards from parents for passing), withdrawal of privileges, begging, snide sarcasm and attempts at reason seldom work. It is for those who slide under the radar: who manage to complete things to a satisfactory – but rarely brilliant – standard. It is for those who avoid homework for as long as possible, only gaining feverish, panic-driven momentum in the days or hours before the project is finally due.
The strategies contained within this blog post are practical, straight forward suggestions that have been compiled with the sole purpose of quashing procrastination in a high school Art student. Some strategies are based on the natural behaviours of high performing students; others are techniques that I have trialled and refined with my students over the years.
How to get your Art homework done: a no-nonsense guide
1. Get a wall planner
Not a calendar, diary, smartphone app, or a dog-eared handout tucked at the back of your sketchbook. A clear wall planner that is the first thing you see when you wake and the last thing you see before you fall asleep at night. In bold marker pen – highlight your project due dates and cross off the days that have gone.
2. Tidy your bedroom
To make great art you need an inspiring, well lit place to work, where you can spread out art supplies, tools and mess. If your bedroom is unsuitable, use a spare room, or stay late at school and work in the school art room instead. (Your teachers won’t mind. They will be deliriously happy).
3. Rid your workspace of all distraction
Turn off the internet; turn off the TV; put your phone on silent and put it out of sight. Forget about reading articles about how to avoid procrastination (like this one) and turn the music on instead. Crank it right up and let it fill your soul.
4. Pin blank sheets of paper onto the wall to represent the quantity of work that you have to complete
For example, if you are aiming to complete six A1 sheets of Coursework preparation, pin six A1 sheets up on your wall (NOTE: ten is the maximum for CIE Art & Design A Level students – it is perfectly acceptable to submit less). These sheets can be scrappy bits of paper or card: they should not the final presentation sheets, as they will get tattered and messy. Pin all of the work that you have done onto the sheets – including pieces that are incomplete and barely begun. (If you are working in a sketchbook, blutack all of your work-in-progress into the book). This allows you to get an immediate snapshot of how much you have done and how much you still have to go. In all my years of teaching, this visual representation of progress is the single thing that motivates students the most.
5. Look hard at what you have done…and work out what to do next
For some, this might be improving an existing artwork; for others it might be beginning something new. For many it should involve working in series (working on several works concurrently). This avoids the need to wait for paint to dry and allows similar colours and materials to be used in several works at once. When selecting which piece/s to work on, remember that you should:
- Focus on the things that will get you the most marks. In other words, not page headings or borders. Not sharpening pencils or carefully premixing colours of paint. Don’t spend time writing tonnes of notes if the drawings are barely complete. Work instead on the gutsy, important pieces and work on these until they are done.
- Decide quickly. If you are unsure what to work on, just pick something. Then, when you next have class, ask your teacher.
- Don’t write a checklist or obsessively chart your goals. In almost all cases, lists and their endless variations are just procrastination measures. The time you spend on writing a list and organising what you should do, would be better spent actually doing it. (NOTE: Any thinking you need to do can be done while you are creating. This is the perfect time to be planning how to improve / develop / extend your project. If you want to record your thoughts, just grab a sketchbook page and scribble the idea down when it comes to you).
6. And lastly, most importantly, pick up your pencil or paintbrush and START!
Even if you are disheartened at the amount of work that is required and feel that Art homework is taking over your life, remember that there is something inherently wondrous about putting marks on paper (or sculpting or composing three-dimensional form or whatever it is that you do). Unlike other high school subjects, where you have to commit facts to memory and regurgitate these in various contexts to demonstrate your understanding, in Art you get to play. Forget about everything else and concentrate instead on the joy of making: the thrill of smearing line and colour and texture about a page. Even if your teacher has instructed you to draw the most heinous still life imaginable, pour your teenage angst and heartache into it the work and turn it into something that really matters (i.e. explore the still life in a way that makes it personal to you). Take a deep breath and start. And after a little while, you’ll realise something awesome. The motivation you have been looking for all of this time comes with the doing. It is not some magical quality that you need to find before you begin: in starting, the motivation finds you. It snowballs, wraps you up in enthusiasm and builds momentum. To eliminate procrastination you just have to do something simple. You have to put down this article and begin.
Note: If you are not procrastinating, but are struggling to get your Art projects done, you may benefit from reading How to Draw and Paint Faster: 15 tips for high school Art students.