Two Tips for Getting Past UFOs

In the world of art, a UFO (or UnFinished Object) is that pile of projects you started but never quite got around to finishing. You know how it begins: the class that helped you start a painting you never finished; the project you began after great inspiration only to get burned out; or the pile of supplies you purchased after buying a new book, but that didn’t work out after the early stages. While there may be external reasons as to why your art remains incomplete, the key to finishing that daunting pile lies inside your mind.

Unfortunately, many of us simply have a stack of UFOs out of procrastination. We take a wonderful class but come back home to the world of laundry, dishes and similarly unglamorous pursuits, and the passion we felt for the project diminishes. We keep thinking we’ll get back to it but we don’t make time and, eventually, the stack may grow as we try out new things.

If procrastination is the reason for your UFO stack, then consider some of these options for clearing out the UFOs in your life.

1. Organize. Clear out the clutter and really look at the project. Decide whether you really want to finish it, or if you just feel that you should because you started it. Create two piles: one to keep, and one full of projects that you’ve truly lost interest in completing. Prioritize your “keep” pile by interest, and pull out the most compelling project. Put the rest away in a tidy place. For the project you chose as most compelling, set it out on your workstation and pull out the materials you’ll need to complete it so that it’s at the ready. Make a date with yourself to finish this project. One by one, you’ll get through the rest.

2. Get inspired. Of the projects you’ve lost interest in completing, consider the following ideas: Donate the project and supplies (if you won’t use them for something else) to a local school or art group. If you belong to an art group, propose a UFO swap where everyone brings in at least one UFO and the supplies to complete it (or at least the instructions and supplies list). You may find that someone else’s UFO is just the thing to inspire you to get back to work.

Mark Gottsegen is an associate professor of art at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and chair of ASTM International’s subcommittee on artists’ materials.

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