Gather 'round kids, and let me impart some wisdom that I wish I knew when I started design school. These are all things you should be thinking about now, at the beginning of the year, so that future you won't be overwhelmed and stretched too thin...
Write Your Name on Everything You Own
This is obvious for things like drills and expensive items people might want to steal, but don't forget about your glue, scissors, tape, and rulers. Especially tape.
Studio spaces have a big borrowing culture, which is great for when you need a small piece of sandpaper or to "use that pen for one sec". But it also means that at 3am, your buddy is going to be desperate and will "borrow" your glue. They will forget to put it back, and it will get lost under a mountain of blue foam and chipboard for weeks. By then, no one is going to know whose glue it is, and you've already bought a new bottle thinking yours was stolen.
Case Study: My friend Jon Notine has a rather extreme but effective hack for this. Instead of writing his name on everything he owns, he sprayed green paint on his tools. Everyone knows which tools are his, and it's easy to spot them on someone else's desk if they forget to put it back.
He did a quick photo tutorial on his process for anyone who wants to try it out.
Organize Your Desk Early, and Clean Up Before You Go Home
I always try to set up a desk system, but then suddenly it's midterms, 100 things have piled up (literally and figuratively), and I have no time to organize anything. Here's what I've learned from three years of failure:
1. Use the first weeks of the semester to plan your attack. This sounds obvious, but it's harder than it sounds. It's going to be pretty outside, your friends will want to hang out when they don't have homework, and you will feel like you have all the time in the world. You don't. Start now.
2. Put as few things on your desk as possible. The emptier the desk, the more inviting it is to work on. Slap a big cutting board down first thing, and keep it clear. This means you have to tidy the surface of your desk every time you go home.
3. Nothing sucks more than coming to work in the studio and having to clean before you start. Even it's it's really late, and you just want to sleep, take 3 minutes and clean up that cutting board space before you fade into the abyss.
4. Make the most out of the space between the floor and your desk. Use all the vertical space to store big things like spray cans, adhesives, materials, and tools. This area can quickly get out of hand, so check in on it once a week and reorganize/ purge trash. You can also build your own custom desk organizing systems out of cardboard boxes:
5. If your desk has a wall, slap some shelves on it. Buy them if you want, but you can always make your own using foam core in a pinch.
As the year goes on, you are going to need a place to keep models safe, and communal shelves are a risk.
Case study: I left a clay model on a communal shelf the day before it was due, and a classmate smashed it because he thought someone stole his clay to make it. His clay was in his room the whole time, and I had to remake the model an hour before class.
To-Do Lists Are Life, but Don't Forget Food Breaks and Free Time
One of the best things I did for myself last year was visit my school's Time Management Counselors where I learned how to write out what I needed to do, gauge how much time I think I needed for each task and plop that information into a blank weekly calendar.
My counselor also made sure I added in lunch and dinner time slots and left some hours open for free time. Burnout is real, and you need to make sure you take real breaks.
My friend Eugene has some great advice on how to combat the Depression Slow Down:
"Prioritize self care along with your work, because without it, you soon won't be working as well as you could. If you're feeling 20% today, don't give yourself a 100% To-Do list. None of that shit will get done, and then you're going to feel guilty for being unproductive. For example, if I'm feeling 20%, my To-Do list is going to have things like sit up, get out of bed, wash your face, eat, go outside. By the time I get to studio I've checked off 5 things and can feel proud that I've done the things I needed to do to be ready to work. Then, I continue with small steps for my projects. Of course if you're feeling better, maybe basic stuff isn't as hard, and you don't need them on your list. It depends on the day, but set realistic challenges for yourself."
Set a Cut-Off Time, and Stick To It
Repeat after me: All-nighters are for amateurs. I say this not from a place of judgment but as someone who has pulled and will continue to pull many all-nighters. I know sometimes the day just doesn't have enough hours. I am asking you to change your attitude towards the idea of staying up all night working. Don't get sucked into the game of "Who Got the Least Sleep" that plagues art students.
My work and health improved once I realized my body had a cut-off time that I needed to respect as much as I could. Once you stop telling yourself you have all night to work you will be forced to plan your time better and get done at a more reasonable hour.
I start working with the goal of getting as much done by 2 am as I can. After that, I stop working, tidy my desk a little and go home. I know that after my cut off time, any work I do will get exponentially worse and will take 3 times as long. You're more likely to make a dumb mistake, break something or hurt yourself when you're constantly staying up too late.
Case Study: One time I sliced my pinky finger down to the subcutaneous tissue while working on no sleep. I ended up needing 5 stitches and missing the class I was working for. Not. Worth. It.
Go. To. Class.
College is all about learning time management, and while you're learning, sometimes you will mess up and the work won't get finished. Deal with it. You didn't start early enough or plan enough time, and you have to face the consequences. Do not, I repeat DO NOT skip class because you didn't finish the homework. Not only will that make you fall more behind, but it is also a huge waste of money.
Email your professors before class, or just talk to them in person and explain that you came today because you value the class and unfortunately didn't get all of the work done. If you got stuck somewhere, use your time to ask for advice and explain why you are having trouble moving forward.
My Professor Kate Hixon told us something on the first day of this semester that is worth repeating:
"You can never say you don't have any work to bring in to class because the critique is the work."
Just because you aren't as prepared as you want to be doesn't mean you won't get anything from being in class. Engaging in classmates' crit is a really important part of the process. It's like a snack for your brain to chew on and points that are brought up to others might also apply to you.
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I too had all these same issues. But I would like to add a few more. The studio space was Supposed to be for the students taking that class. Sometimes it would turn into a makeshift party space. Students all over drinking and hanging out. Thought to get work done that way. So I would wake up super early and go to studio around 4 or 5am. Class wasn’t until 1 pm. I would work alone with my music on and when 1pm came around I had 6-7 hours worth of hard work completed, hung up and ready for class. When class was over 4 hours later I had close to 10 straight hours of work completed. I also did a lot of work in my apt. There I could work without any of the headache that comes with studio.