Using Evernote to stay organized (and to lessen the chance of losing art ideas)

I used to write down art ideas on various scraps of paper, in random notebooks, on to do lists, in my journal, in emails to myself, in lists of reminders on my phone, basically anywhere that was convenient to me at the moment the idea came into existence. As you can imagine, it was hell to try to make use of them since they were scattered all over the place. And, of course, they often got lost. So last year I got the smart idea to spend hours transcribing them all to a single notebook. I got a nice Moleskine and completed that fairly large task, then patted myself on the back for being uber-organized. About 6 month later, I somehow lost that notebook and no amount of digging through my studio, car, and house have unearthed it (I still go on rampages looking for it sometimes).

At that point, I decided to start experimenting with using the Evernote application as a way to not only compile my ideas but also as a way to manage my slowly growing art business. Evernote is free with limited functionality so I started there but now have a premium subscription so I can use it on my laptop, iPad, and phone - they all link to the same account. There’s also a basic subscription that allows you to use the app on up to two devices.

my evernote notebooks

In addition to Evernote, I have a couple of Rocketbook Everlast notebooks where I can sketch and handwrite notes that then get sent, via the free Rocketbook phone app, to Evernote. Rocketbook Everlasts are like having a set of small portable whiteboards with you because you can wipe the pages clean and re-use them. The have another type of notebook that you can microwave to erase every page. The Rocketbook app can send what you put on the pages to email, text, etc.

It took several months to figure out the best way to use Evernote and my method may not work well for you so be prepared to spend time experimenting. Evernote allows you to create a library of notebooks containing notes. Notes consist of text, images, videos, etc.. You can use whatever kind of organization system you like on top of that. I started out creating several different notebooks for my art notes, one for each category like “Art Planning,” “Art Ideas,” “Art Inventory,” etc. That quickly proved to not be good when I was trying to locate a note. It also created conflicts like where do I put this thing that is an idea about my art business? In Art Planning? Art Ideas? Art Business?

So I scrapped that organization scheme and decided to keep the number of notebooks very small. I currently have only two art-relate notebooks: “Art” and “Art Planning 2019.” I’ll create a new notebook for each subsequent year and hope that they will be useful to comb back through in the many years ahead. There’s also a third notebook that I use for completed tasks across all of my notebooks. I now use Evernote for more than just art-related content. You can see my notebooks in the image above (as well as a sneak peek into potential future blog post topics).

evernote tags

I can get away with only having two art notebooks because I have many tags. Tags make my inner librarian so happy. Yay controlled vocabulary!

First I made a list of tags that were succinct with little chance of cross-over in meaning so that it would be easy to apply the tags to each note. I also wanted to track my pending tasks vs my completed tasks so two tags “pending” and “completed” were necessary. Once I complete a task, I move it into the “z_archive: completed tasks” notebook so it keeps the active notebooks a bit neater. I need to track dates at a high level on some things so “2019” became a tag. And so forth. It took a while to work out the kinks in my tag list but I now only have to make a new one when I add inspiration or tips from a particular artist and want to tag the content with their name.

As I mentioned before and as you can see in my tag list, I now use Evernote for more than just art notes. It’s been of great help with tracking and managing house remodeling projects, gardening plans, my health & fitness, and other areas of life. I use a free version of Evernote for my UX consulting business (not shown here) because I strive to keep that content completely separate from my art and personal life.

One thing that I haven’t mentioned is that you can install a free browser plugin for Evernote so that capturing content from the web is quick and easy right from your browser. There are also plugins for several email applications although I haven’t tried any of them.

I can’t think of any negatives to using Evernote other than the ramp up time it will take for you to learn how to best organize your content. Feel free to use my method and let me know if it works for you or if you make tweaks to that method to improve it.

Mid-year Review

Just like with a salaried job, it’s a good practice to conduct an annual review of your art business & practice. I’ve been so-so about consistently doing that but this year decided to do both a beginning of the year planning session and a mid-year review.

In December I made a list of goals for 2019 and I re-visit that list each month to log my progression and to take note of where I’m falling behind. It has been very helpful to get into the monthly habit of doing this. So far I’m on track to meet most of my goals but not all of them.

Working at a “regular” job for 40 hours a week can make meeting your art goals challenging. It’s important to have an achievable plan so you still have time to eat, sleep, socialize, etc. One thing that I’ve not had the time to do much this year has been mountain biking. I miss it so am going to incorporate more of that into the latter half of the year. Another area where I’ve fallen behind is my continuing art education. It’s important to me to always be learning more about art making and while I have been doing that via my practice through experimentation, I’ve not been keeping up with the more formal education as I’d planned.

Hence a mid-year review. In addition to progress checking on the goals set in January, I’ve also reviewed themes such as:

  • Has anything changed since the beginning of the year that impacts the plan for the rest of the year? This year I’ll be working much more doing software design consulting than I have in the past couple of years. It has greatly cut into the time I have for making art so I’m having to be much more disciplined about scheduling time in the studio and planning my studio activities.

  • What has been successful so far about this year? Renting a shared studio space was a 2019 goal and it has impacted my creative life much more positively than I could have imagined. Simply having a dedicated space outside of my home with all of its distractions has increased my focus and productivity. Being surrounded by a community of creative women has also led to more inspiration. All good things!

  • What has been a major roadblock? Is there a way to address/remove it? I’ve had some health issues this past year, which is not typical for me. Mostly the way I’ve dealt with this is to try to be more patient with myself. I don’t always succeed in that but I’ll keep trying.

  • What strategies have I figured out that make me more productive, stress-free, creative, etc? I started using Evernote this year (future blog post!) and have continued to refine my use of bullet journaling (just the basic version, not the doodly one). Those tools plus the beginning of the year planning have helped tremendously with my productivity. I tried to set realistic goals, instead my usual over-achieving ones, so that I don’t get too stressed when I fall behind. So far it’s working well.

  • What should I let go of? I often have too much on my schedule and so I have to make a concerted effort to prioritize and remove some items from my to do list. Sometimes I put them in a holding area sort of list for picking back up someday. Sometimes I just completely remove them - gasp!

  • What have I gained the most pleasure from doing? Could I benefit from doing more of that? I’ve been making a focused effort to do more experimenting and that is starting to pay off. Plus it feels more like playing than working so in addition to learning more about materials and stylistic choices, I’m also enjoying the process.

I hope these ideas help you with your goal setting and task list making. One new thing I added to my to do list while writing this post was to post about my new year planning this December but I hope you will visit again before then.

Water soluable oils

It’s been 6 years since I’ve been able to paint with my beloved oil paints due to not having a safe environment for the fumes that happen with oils, solvents (even Gamsol smells strongly to me), and its associated mediums. My home studio is attached to my bedroom with no intervening door so I don’t want to sleep breathing fumes. And my outside-of-the-house studio space is a share space where fumes are, understandably, unwelcome.

Hence my recent tentative steps into working with water soluable oils. Whenever I start playing around with new-to-me mediums, the first things I do are color mixing studies. A lot of them. Here are some old oil painting studies to illustrate how much effort I usually put into a new medium. Each one of these panels is 8” x 16”:

oil color studies 01

So I’ve just this week begun to do this exercise with the water soluable oils. So far I’ve learned that 1) they have a different consistency from regular oils unless you add water-soluable oil to them. And 2) they dry very fast compared to oils. I’m hoping I’ll figure out the correct ratio of oil medium to paint so I can slow the drying time down to where it suits me best. I almost never paint alla prima although if I continue working with the water soluable oils, perhaps I’ll start exploring that method.

By the way, I learned of this type of color mixing exercise from the invaluable book on alla prima painting by Richard Schmid. That book has since gone out of printing and although you can find copies for high $, there’s a new edition out (that’s still pricey). I’ve not looked through the new edition but I would suspect it’s a valuable to artists as the old.

ALLA PRIMA II: Everything I Know About Painting - and More By Richard Schmid

Mounting watercolor paper to board

Lately I’ve been experimenting with mounting various types of watercolor paper onto cradled board. I like this option for a few reasons:

  • the paper is “stretched” on the board so doesn’t warp when wet with paint

  • the works don’t have to be framed (but can still be framed if desired)

  • the texture of certain thicker papers on the board is pleasing

I learned how to mount paper on board from J.A.W. Cooper’s tutorial and then have tried various papers with varying degrees of success.

Khadi Paper

I was really hoping that mounting Khadi paper would work and sometimes it does but most of the time, the paper itself is the reason for failure. Khadi paper is very inconsistent in thickness so pressing it flat against a board often reveals fairly large bumps that no amount of brayering will flatten out. The few times I’ve done it successfully have resulted in a canvas-like texture that is a dream to paint on. The failures result in much time spent carefully sanding the paper off the board so it can be reused. I’ll continue to try this paper in hopes of someday figuring out a way to consistently get it mounted successfully.

It seems that using smaller boards (9” x 12” or less) works better, I guess because there’s less area to buckle.

The texture of Khadi paper pops out nicely on a board.

The texture of Khadi paper pops out nicely on a board.

Kilimanjaro 140g White Watercolor Paper

Kilimanjaro 140g paper is a dream to mount. I’ve had 100% success each time I’ve tried up to sizes of 11” x 14” - haven’t tried anything larger yet.