Three Ways You Can Build Productivity at Work by Thinking Like a Toronto Artist
by Di Mat · 25 May 2021 · 14 min read
Let’s take a look at how artists from Toronto & the GTA have been tackling quarantine. The past year has brought more challenges than we all could've imagined. From a corporate office perspective, the change has meant no longer working in person with our teams and a myriad of other differences compared to pre-covid times.
Though it’s almost over (hopefully), the things we’ve each learned about ourselves during quarantine can still be applied post-covid stay-at-home rules. With this in mind, I decided to interview Toronto artists for their perspectives. Their advice and stories will provide insight that we can all learn from.
For professional artists, some of the covid-time challenges might be the same ones we all experience. This is because we all have a craft or project we’re trying to complete, paired with our day-to-day life at home. However, artists are known for their creativity. And creativity is the key to solving challenges. It’s also been named the top skill to have for career growth.
I had the opportunity to meet many artists who exhibited at the Artist Project TO event in February 2020 over one weekend. I know, it was just in the nick of time before lockdown hit, thankfully. Each artist had their own style. Featuring three Toronto artists for this series, we will hear from Brianne Burnell, Naz Nahidi, and Dalia Elcharbini.
Now, to help us gain insight from their journeys, we will explore their productivity tips (or, the flip-side, their perspectives on taking a rest from being productive), their negotiation & sales advice, and the technology & tools they use. Do you know a Toronto-based or Canadian artist? Please comment with your recommendation on who we could feature next.
Meet the Artists
To give you my take on each artist I saw last year, I’ll start with Brianne’s work. She creates intuitive abstract pieces that pretty much feed you with a breath of fresh air, an interesting hope and confidence in yourself, and the realization of your own creativity -- they gorgeously balance a number of colours together, especially blues, pinks, and purples.
In Naz’s work, I found there is a truly modern touch to pairing illustration and psychology together in a fresh way -- her art exposes the thoughts and real experiences we all go through but that we may have subconsciously repressed. Her artistic style is versatile to the point of even recycling an old chair by artfully painting it, turning it into a perfect fit for creativity, and dreaming big.
And finally, Dalia’s work I actually ‘discovered’ on Instagram a few years ago based on her exceptional surrealist-realistic art using gold leaf and black (graphite). Following her work since about 2018, I can say each piece will captivate you to think more deeply with its originality, mystery, and it’s beautiful and intricate detail. Her consistent gold and black colour scheme strongly trigger a sense of luxury and elegance we all crave.
It is always important to know the context of an artist’s life to truly appreciate their perspective. Here is each artist’s Artist Statement. Following that section, you also have your chance to see where each one is on the introvert vs extrovert spectrum before we jump into the interview.
Where do you see yourself on the introvert vs extrovert spectrum?
Q1: How would you describe your art? What’s your process like and what helps you stay productive?
BB: I would describe my art as process-driven, experimental, intuitive, and personal. I love trying new materials, I lean into the parts of making the work that brings me joy, for example digging through my bins of collage paper (all hand-painted, this is where I try out different techniques and materials). I try to listen to the way I feel while I make art, and if there is something that gives me a rush of joy, or something I can't stop thinking about, I do that more often. By doing this I have been able to fine-tune my unique process and make sure that the work I do is the work I want to be doing. I love colour, especially pinks, purples, and blues, so you will see a lot of that in everything I do. I also love texture and layering, I love making a mark in pencil and painting over it, seeing it pick through. I find my best paintings are actually a number of different paintings that have been layered on top of each other over time.
NN: My artwork is really based on my drawing practice. The ideas usually come from sketches that I do, and doodles are very important for finding abstract patterns that work. And I do this in an analog way in a sketchbook. Once I'm doing a lot of practice sketches, doodles, idea drawings, then I can easily produce more conceptual paintings using the imagery I've been working with, first digitally, then translate that back into physical work.
DE: Some artists create for the sake of bringing beauty to life and are more aesthetic-driven in their creative approach, whereas my practice is a little different in the sense that art is my main mean of expression. It’s always been my sole emotional outlet that allows me to vent and communicate how I feel authentically. Every piece describes a moment, a memory, an incident. What keeps me productive is my constant and natural human need to communicate.
What keeps me productive is my constant and natural human need to communicate. -- Dalia
Q2: The pressure to stay productive as a creative person can cause a lot of anxiety. Do you feel this pressure, and if so, any advice on managing it?
BB: I definitely feel this pressure and I try my best to maintain a good balance in my life, although I am not always good at it. My brain and my body are very sensitive, and I have to be really conscious of how hard I push myself, or I will just crash and burn. I work 25-40 hours a week as a freelance artist creating artwork for children's toys, and maintain my collage practice on top of that, so I am always stretched a little thin. I force myself to rest when I can, I often sacrifice social friend time so I can rest. My best advice is to take note of how you feel during a busy week and come up with an ideal amount of work for you. I try to freelance only 25 hours a week, but I am not always in control of that. I also highly recommended saying no to work if you can afford to. I turn down a lot of projects because I know it is in my best interest to rest instead, or because it isn't in line with my career goals and I would rather work on my personal art. Turning down the wrong opportunities also leaves you available for the right ones.
NN: I feel like I should really address the pressure to be productive because this is a huge issue for me internally. The pressure itself hinders creativity, if you're always focused on being productive with your art time, there's too much fear there to produce new material. But this doesn't really apply to deadlines, which are motivating to me. In general, there's a huge pressure to be productive and make time to make work, especially when you work full time. I'm not an expert on managing it, but in short, my mantra is to just do it. Don't think about it, just do. Mentally you need to employ empathy for yourself, understand that as an adult there are a lot of responsibilities and this is just a reality of life. The next thing is to really think of your work as a never-ending practice. There is no end goal, there just needs to be work done, so a daily practice without the pressure to finish is ideal, but also keep in mind, there is no perfect time to work, you just have to do it.
DE: Yes, unfortunately, I do feel this pressure once in a while. The way I try to ease myself and my anxiety out of it is to constantly remind myself that the greatest artists did not care about the pace and the frequency of producing art but rather rejoiced in the process itself and allowed time and space for each of their creations. It’s harmful to the artists' practice and self-esteem to be caught in the web of social media pressures, so it’s important to shift their creative objective from quantity-driven to quality-driven and allow themselves the space and time to do so.
Turning down the wrong opportunities also leaves you available for the right ones. -- Brianne
Negotiation & sales advice
Q3: This is a little taboo, however, we like to get real with readers as much as possible -- have you found that art sales and commissions have changed throughout the lockdown? In what ways have you had to pivot to keep business up to par with pre-covid times?
BB: I have been extremely lucky during the pandemic. The children's toy work which is really my bread and butter pay has been quite busy, and I have had some great months for art sales. I found a lot of people really considered the impact of where their money was going during the pandemic and decided to support small businesses and artists with it, especially over the holidays. I could really see that in my sales. And I think art is so important during the pandemic, people are at home, they want to feel good in their living space. I felt really honored and grateful that people were thinking of me and my business during this time.
NN: For me, art sales have changed a lot because I thrive on art fairs, deadlines, and external things like that. Nowadays for me, sales are really done on Instagram, website, and applying to shows.
DE: One thing that was unfortunate this year with the pandemic is that as an exhibiting artist who likes to take part in shows around the city, I lost all the usual opportunities to showcase my work publicly which in turn affected my sales. I started focusing more on online marketing and leveraging my email list by sending a couple of promotional/print release e-blasts that were successful in conversion. One thing that I noticed is that people, even though the world is going through a global health crisis, they still seem to have an appetite for art as if it was their only pleasant escape from reality.
Remember to always preserve the integrity of your work and that you alone set your value in the market. -- Dalia
Q4: As an artist, deciding on pricing your art is one of the most important and common questions we have to work on. How do you set your art prices?
BB: I take a really personal approach to my pricing, and again I need to mention that my main source of income is children's toy artwork, so there isn't the same kind of pressure on me to make the most money off of my personal artwork. I really want people who I know to be able to afford my art, so I am always testing out different types of pricing, running "pay what you can" sales, just getting a feel for what people in my community spend on art. I organize my prices by size, so all of my paintings that are the same size will be the same price. I'm not very rigid with my pricing honestly, I might price a painting for $1000 one day and a week later change my mind and drop it to $750 because the higher price wasn't sitting right with me. I research artists in my city who make similar work and take note of their pricing, but I often come in a bit lower. I'm not trying to lowball or undervalue my work, but I don't want to only sell paintings to rich people. I really want friends and family members to be able to buy my large pieces, and my friends and family aren't rich! Like a lot of things I do, I often make the final call by feel.
Q5: Do you find that your clients negotiate down? How do you handle negotiations? Your tips and advice may also be helpful for anyone facing a salary-related issue at work as well.
DE: Fortunately throughout my years of exhibiting I have not encountered buyers or collectors who try to negotiate down my prices. However, if I do encounter a price negotiation, I would offer incentives/discount codes for my online store. I would never decrease my price for anyone or undersell my work. Remember to always preserve the integrity of your work and that you alone set your value in the market and should always stick to it and only go up from there.
I really believe you can teach yourself almost anything if you have a base knowledge of it. -- Naz
Tech & Tools
Q6: What tools or technology do you use to either create your art or to survive lockdown? Any apps you’d recommend?
BB: The apps I've leaned on most during the pandemic are mental health-related. I have started using the Mindshift app for anxiety and meditation, and it has been a lifesaver. I've also started using an app called SkyCandy, which tells you the exact time of the sunset and predicts whether it will be a good one or not. For my children's toy work I use Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop almost every day, so when it comes to my personal practice I try to be as technology-free as I can...minus Instagram of course.
NN: As always I use procreate, and adobe programs. I google for imagery or look at sites like Behance, Pinterest, Dribble, Designpiration. Nothing much has changed there. I always Youtube how to do stuff if I don't know because I really believe you can teach yourself almost anything if you have a base knowledge of it.
DE: I like apps like AudioBooks and the Podcast app on iPhone to listen to books and interviews while I make art.
To find the key takeaways, I took the approach of highlighting three pieces of advice from each artist that anyone (even non-artists) can apply at work or in our side hustles. They are as follows:
Thank you for reading, and please share your thoughts and questions below. If you know an artist we should feature, tag them in the comments.