Sketching in the Margins: How to Stay on Top of Homework as an Art Major

College Student

Mar   2016



You know that stereotype about majoring in the arts—the one that says you won’t do any work, and you’ll just get an easy degree? Well, we art majors know that this is far from the truth!

Being in the arts means intense painting finals, three-hour studio classes, and more “field trips” to art galleries and museums than we can count. With this in mind, keeping up with all your homework and working on what you love can be a struggle. Fortunately, I’ve found these five strategies to keep myself on task with all of my homework…whether or not it involves my personal take on Art Nouveau.

1. Keep your priorities straight

I’m sure you hear this in all your college advice blogs, but it’s extremely important and so true: you need to be able to realistically estimate how much time each of your activities will take, factor that into your schedule, and ensure that you can get everything done by the due date. Figure out what assignments take the most time and try to overestimate, giving yourself more time than you’ll think you need. For example, cutting and gluing that collage might require an extra half hour just to find a spare newspaper. Personally, I like to make a physical list or a mini spreadsheet. That way, I can compare due dates, times, and the intensity of the project.

Related: Time Management and Study Skills

Prioritizing also means spending your free time wisely. Be honest with yourself: do you have time to watch that fifth episode of Parks and Rec, or should you get a head start on your paper? Consider your commitments to clubs and extracurriculars too, and make sure that you are putting what is truly valuable to you first.

2. Jam on your planner

Now that you know what you need to do, actually plan out doing it! Put it on paper or into your phone, whichever is best for you. Due to my crazy schedule, I have my school days planned down to the hour, but you might only need to create a little task list for each day. Here’s an example:

  • Monday: Create example layouts for independent study, e-mail paper to peer review group, study for ITS test
  • Tuesday: Finish reading for English, review for algebra test, PiYo
  • Wednesday: Finish independent study presentation, study for ITS test, finish logo for Leadership Club
  • Thursday: Readings for English, first draft for CollegeXpress, study for tests
  • Friday: Take quiz for art history, study for tests, send pen pal’s birthday card

See? Not too hard to arrange. I’d recommend creating your weekly plan every Sunday, and marking your overall due dates, tests, and other important events in your calendar whenever you first hear about them. On Sundays, go back over your monthly calendar and put in any events that are important for your weekly schedule.

3. Don’t go it alone

This one is straightforward: just tell someone what you really need to do and when. That way, when you've lost track of time sketching to Marina and the Diamonds, your roomie (or friend or big sister) can remind you that you have an essay due tomorrow. Oops. Of course, you don’t need to tell someone about every little assignment you need to do, but if you think that there is any chance of procrastination (or forgetfulness), let someone know. Most of the time, when I’ve told someone else that I need to study so much by a certain date, I do it on my own—just because I don’t want to admit to procrastinating!

Another great way of staying accountable is attending a serious study group. Be up front with your study buddies, and make sure that you’re all willing to be a voice of reason if one of the members spends a little too long on their Tumblr break. It’s also fun to work on your art projects with classmates or friends, because they can give you advice for how to overcome artistic block or what colors to try in your composition.

4. Stay realistic 

Unfortunately, you can't paint the Sistine Chapel in two days. While we would all love to make each and every one of our assignments worthy of the Louvre or MoMA, there is only so much that you can do on a college schedule. We’re busy people—so we will do our best, and our best is all that we can do. Definitely still challenge yourself and always aim a little higher than before, but try to set realistic goals and expectations for your projects, and keep in mind your timing and your resources. This doesn’t mean that your projects won’t turn out amazing, but simply that you won’t expect yourself to achieve far more than you can physically manage.

5. Put your skills to use

Finally, fill in those weird little gaps of time. Five minutes before Western Civilization class starts? Doodle potential layouts for your next design project in the margins of your notes. Movie night in your hall? Bring your sketchbook and start work. Art majors are fortunate to have some of the most flexible homework, at times, because it doesn't always require intent calculation. I work on assignments while listening to video homework for other classes or while catching up on a podcast. Remember, we’re in this major because we are built as creative people—so apply that mindset to the rest of your life. Search for creative solutions to your homework problems, and you’ll be well on your way to success!

Fellow art majors, we may have one of the most time-consuming schedules, but we also have the opportunity to live out our passions every single day. With that in mind, we can gather up more than enough motivation to stay on top of our homework—or, at least, keep our head above the water! With a little planning (and a lot of caffeine), we can get this degree.

Let’s chat: what’s the most creative way you’ve found to stay on top of homework?

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About Dia Huth

Dia has been writing for, roughly speaking, forever. Her first stories were about 162 imaginary ponies that “lived” in her backyard, but now she has graduated to penning sci-fi novels and tweeting like a madwoman. After a cross-country move her senior year of high school, she’s proud to be a part of Campbell University’s Class of 2019! Besides writing, she loves art, pilates, and foreign films.