The 10 most important steps you can take for ace high school Art

1. Dream of success

Most people spend their days fretting about the past or worrying about the future. They carry around an inner critic that belittles their skill, intellect, appearance, decisions, actions and worth as a person. The human capacity for anticipating the future based on the events of the past has resulted in us dominating the planet; it is also the leading of cause of misery. If you are depressed, worried or anxious, read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle (Amazon affiliate link). He will remind you that what has already happened has gone and will only ever exist as a memory experienced in your mind now. Similarly, the future is an imaginary concept that can only be considered in this moment: now.

Worry shackles you. It leaves you paralysed with fear. Instead of contemplating negative outcomes – transform your inner critic into an advocate. Treat yourself with the wisdom and kindness that you would show a child, sibling or friend. Imagine an outcome so awesome that your parents, teachers and friends are filled with pride. When you realise that achieving something great is entirely possible, every facet of your brain begins to work together and your feet begin to move towards this goal.

Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right. – Henry Ford

The mind is everything. What you think you become. – Buddha

It is never too late to be what you might have been. – George Eliot

Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve. – Napoleon Hill

2. Get enough sleep

80% of the teenage population is estimated to be suffering from a lack of sleep according to a 2006 poll by the American National Sleep Foundation. Even worse, we don’t know it. As sleep deprivation increases, the body adjusts in order to cope and we don’t register the feeling of tiredness – especially if we try to stimulate alertness with caffeine, junk food, artificial lights or digital screens. Average sleep hours are estimated to have decreased by two hours per night over the last fifty years; primarily the direct result of electronic devices disrupting our circadian rhythm – the natural cycles that prompt us to wake and sleep.

Chronic sleep deprivation causes a dramatic reduction in performance in just about all areas of life. An article published by The Indiana University School of Medicine titledNeurocognitive Consequences of Sleep Deprivation, by authors Jeffrey S. Durmer and David F. Dinges states that:

…profound neurocognitive deficits accumulate over time in the face of subjective adaptation to the sensation of sleepiness.

In other words, the longer we suffer from sleep deprivation, the worse our brain becomes, but we don’t realise this.

…the mean functional level of any sleep-deprived individual is estimated to be comparable to the 9th percentile of non–sleep-deprived subjects.

In the Beginner Guide to Overcoming Sleep Deprivation James Clear explains that:

…if you get 6 hours of sleep per night for two weeks straight, your mental and physical performance declines to the same level as if you had stayed awake for 48 hours straight.

Sleep deprivation – even mild sleep deprivation – reduces your performance, alertness, memory, ability to retain and process information and affects motivation and mood. It makes you slower, less efficient – and worse at making decisions. If you think that you can even remotely perform to your potential in a high school Art subject (let alone anything else) while gaining insufficient sleep, you are mistaken. Stop texting, Facebooking, chatting online and surfing the net at night. Get a free blue-light blocker app on your cell phone and use it after darkness falls. At bedtime, turn off all lights and electronic devices (don’t sleep with these near you) and sleep in total darkness.

Prioritise sleep, for your own sake. Make it a challenge, and measure the effect it has on your Art projects and your life.

3. Eat well (and stop dieting)

Like the rest of the world, teenagers are image and health conscious. This often leads to restrictive dieting, excessive hunger and other ongoing eating issues such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder (conditions estimated to be rampant in modern society).

Recent Canadian data demonstrate that nearly one-half of Ontario teenagers attending public school feel unhappy about their weight…[]… It is not surprising, therefore, that strategies aimed at changing one’s weight and shape are also extremely prevalent. Canadian cross-sectional data suggest that more than one in five teenage girls are ‘on a diet’ at any given time. American, Australian and British data also suggest similar high rates of attempted weight loss among adolescents. – from a study published by the Canadian Paediatric Society

Dieting has – at best – a 98% failure rate. Restricting calories mutes your brainpower, makes you tired, erodes willpower, ruins your mood and is the leading cause of eating disorders. Eat like a normal person: satisfy your appetite with a combination of nourishing food and easily absorbed energy. Never, ever starve yourself. (If in doubt – or if you need saving from some part of the dieting/bingeing cycle – watch this YouTubevideo by Bree and read Brain over Binge – a genius book by a woman who cured herself of Bulimia and binge eating instantly, after years of struggle – Amazon affiliate link).

To perform your best in any high school subject, your body and brain need to be well fed (you might not believe it, but this is also the way to achieve an optimal physique). Please. Do it now.

4. Stop poisoning yourself with addictive substances

You might be surprised how many teenagers compromise their high school performance as a direct result of taking drugs or engaging in other harmful behaviours. Many countries have a crazy youth culture that involves experimenting with alcohol and other addictive substances (those which – by their very definition – offer the fleeting illusion of pleasure in exchange for long term pain). These cause the deterioration of physical health and a depression of your mental state. Very often this is compounded by foggy memories, social embarrassment, regret and a lack of sleep.

If you can’t convince yourself of the detrimental nature of such substances, remind yourself that have the rest of your life to destroy your brain and cripple your productivity. Don’t destroy your chance of getting into a good university and throw your life plan off-course right now. At the very least, save partying for end-of-year vacations, when the damage is less likely to directly impact an assessment of your academic ability that you will have to live with forever.

5. Get some sunshine

Sunshine exposure triggers the development of vitamin D in your skin; helps with bone strength and resistance against diseases. It has been linked to higher levels of serotonin – a neurotransmitter that promotes a good mood and regulates appetite, sleep and memory.

Humans are not designed to be trapped inside, under artificial lights, for hours on end. Kick a ball outside. Lie in the sunshine for 10 minutes and see how this changes your mood, your outlook and your approach.

6. Make your workspace beautiful

Art students often become allured by the notion of beautiful chaos, but, in the context of your workspace, mess usually begets more mess.

Nine in ten (90%) Americans admit that unorganized clutter at home or at work has a negative impact on their life. Their productivity (77%), state of mind (65%), motivation (53%) and happiness (40%) are affected when there is disorder. – from a study by OfficeMax

Organising your room and desk makes you feel accomplished, confident, motivated, relaxed and in control. Studies show that, in most people, tidy work spaces increase work capacity and strengthen willpower. When too many things are present in an environment, we are less able to focus.
These photos show an organised art space designed for a young, pre-teen artist. Equipment has been stored in glass mason jars attached to a strip of recycled wood above the desk. This leaves items easily accessible, while the work surface remains clear. Photo credit: Philip Harvey

This doesn’t mean that you need to create a sterile environment, or organise things at the expense of working. Art students benefit from being surrounded by images, materials, artwork and inspiring subject matter. You should also remember that, according to the New York Times, a study by Ajilon Professional Staffing has linked messier desks to higher salaries. You don’t need to be extreme or obsessive, but if the mess has got out of control or your environment doesn’t stimulate creation, a change can be highly beneficial.
When he was seventeen, Seth was loaned a historic 1850s style grocery store building, with bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling. He hung discarded metal objects on the walls, welding these together and sculpting other objects from the pieces. This building creates a huge and inspiring environment to create art. Photo credit: Jessica Salmond

If your space feels claustrophobic or you are drowning in clutter, read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A simple, effective way to banish clutter forever by Marie Kondo (Amazon affiliate link).

Note: Recruit someone to help you with this step if necessary. Whatever you do, don’t use this as an excuse to put off actually getting your work done.

7. Every day, do the most important thing first

A surprising number of highly successful individuals practise the habit of waking early and doing the most important task of the day first. The first few hours after you awake are deemed to be the most productive, because you are alert and able to summons high levels of focus and willpower. Hal Elrod, author of The Miracle Morning (Amazon affiliate link) shares the notion that a great life is made up of a series of great days…and that the best way to create a great day is to start with a great morning. If you are in the habit of staying up late to work on assignments, try waking up early instead. This will improve your sleep quality and lead to a productive before-school routine (allowing you to get work done at a much faster rate than you did while exhausted at night – even for self diagnosed ‘night owls’). This sets your day up as you intend to continue and primes you for success.

…both success and failure are largely the results of habit! – Napoleon Hill

Either you run the day, or the day runs you. – Jim Rohn

8. Don’t wait for motivation. Get your homework done

Once you have established a regular routine for working on your art, and learned how to paint and draw quickly, you will find that it is possible to steadily complete homework tasks and never get behind. If you have lost control of your Art homework – read how to stop procrastinating and get your Art homework done.

9. Make art about something that matters to you

Interpreting a topic in a way that has relevance and meaning for you – and allows you to tell your own story – can be the difference between muddling along with boredom and disinterest and racing through a project with excitement and joy.

Use first-hand resources. Aim for powerful, emotive artwork, even if the subject matter itself is set by your teacher and describes the most mundane objects you can imagine. Focus on the message and the ideas: express a tiny (or huge) part of your world.

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. – Arthur Ashe

If you need help coming up with a great topic, read Art Project Ideas: a guide to subject matter selection.

10: Understand every word of the marking criteria

If you don’t understand how your work is assessed, you are fighting blind. Don’t be so naïve as to assume that great work deserves great marks. You might write the most amazing essay in an English Language class, but if this doesn’t answer the question, you will fail. To achieve full marks in Art, you must meet the marking criteria completely. In most cases, this involves a combination of technical skill; competent handling of media; a range of artistic processes and techniques; development of ideas towards well-balanced, resolved compositions (read more about development here); and the expression of personal ideas.

If you don’t understand the terminology that is used within your assessment criteria, ask your Art teacher to explain and keep asking until the meaning is clear.