Artistic Productivity | Cornerstone of a Successful Art Career

Having spent over 20 years in the gallery business, I’ve noticed a key common trait of financially successful artists: they are constantly in the studio, hard at work. I would describe these artists as productive and prolific.

The realities of the art market today are such, that in order to generate regular sales and establish a strong collector base for your work, you have to have significant inventory. To a certain degree it’s a numbers game. You have to have enough work available so that you can show the work in a variety of venues and get the work in front of enough people to reach the buyers.

My research has shown that, on average, successful painters are creating nearly 80 pieces per year. Successful sculptors are sculpting 55 pieces per year. No matter what your media, you should be working to increase your productivity and boost the number of pieces you are creating.

 

Source: Xanadu Gallery's 2009 State of the Art Survey

Simple Suggestions to Become More Productive

Dedicate consistent time daily to your art

Even if you can only carve out an hour or two, set aside fixed time daily that will be devoted to creating.

Focus

Try and keep studio distractions to a minimum. Turn off your computer and phone while you are working. You will be far more effective and productive if you aren’t constantly being pulled away from your art by the constant stream of distractions that plague our lives.

Set Production Goals

By setting goals about how many works you are going to create, you will push yourself to work harder to reach those goals. I suggest setting a weekly production goal. It doesn’t matter what that goal is, (and it can vary widely depending on medium and style) you  will create more work when you have a production goal.

Quality

Of course, productivity isn’t the only factor – successful artists also create high-quality work. Creating a tremendous supply of poor-quality artwork will not lead to success. In today’s competitive art market, quality has become even more important.

An artist once asked me, “Which is more important, quantity, or quality?”

“Yes!” I replied.

For today’s artists, it’s not an “either, or” proposition. To be a financially successful artist today you must be both efficient and proficient in your craft.

Can You Wait for Inspiration?

Some artists would argue that trying to be more productive is futile, as inspiration doesn’t come on demand. I love artist Chuck Close’s response to this idea:

01f/34/arve/g2661/072“The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.”

Chuck Close

What Do You Think?

Has productivity played an important role in your art career? What are your greatest challenges when it comes to productivity? Do you have advice to share with artists who are struggling to create more? Share your thoughts and comments below.

Graph Source:  Xanadu Gallery’s 2009 State of the Art Survey

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About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of Dad was an Artist | A Survivor's Story and best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business. Connect with Jason on Facebook

43 Comments

  1. Jason,
    You are so “right on” about daily production. I am not sure if we artists have something in us that make us want to be in the studio, but if we have it we know it. Solitude is essential as well. I don’t mind being alone. I do like painting with other artists, but that isn’t always productive other than having critiques besides our own.
    I’ve had students that dearly want to paint, but can’t get in the zone. I can’t teach that. It shows up or it doesn’t.
    Also, all paintings do not meet our expectations, but learn from your mistakes and move on.

    Thanks Jason for the many articles you give us.
    Thelma

  2. You make some key points that are really helpful, Jason. For me setting productivity goals is a new idea. I’ll do it!

  3. I do have to encourage my students though when that inventory piles up and they’re not selling. We decided over lunch the other day to have a deck party and art show in the Spring. We’ll bring out lots if art and have a silent auction. We think we might generate sales that way which will encourage us to make more art! Thoughts?

    1. Shirley,
      Selling is key of course, but I find that it is the pile up of artwork leaning against the wall that discourages new artists just as much as lack of sales. Perhaps, in addition to your deck party, you can also find soft venues for your students like coffee houses, senior centers, etc to get the artwork off the floor and give the new artists more exposure! For instance, I found a lovely coffee shop / bakery in my area that was very willing to have me curate a rotating art show of student’s work.

    2. Be careful about auctions! They tend to attract bargain hunters who DO have the funds, but why should they spend – say $600 dollars, on a piece – when they can easily get it at auction for perhaps $200!?! . . .Or even SADLY $25!! BEEN THERE! NO THANKS!

  4. Dear Jason,
    I appreciate your Blogs very much. Perhaps at some point you could discuss when artists have a very personal voice in their work, in other words, when they have a very specific style which is original and natural to them as their work has developed. My work is specifically bold in oil paintings, mixed media printwork and in my rice paper mask sculptures. They are well-appreciated, however, I don’t know how to market them or get wholehearted representation.
    Thank you for attention on this. Phyllis

  5. Right now I’m working on “speeding up by slowing down.” What does that mean? I’ve already mastered the practice of setting production goals and making regular time in the studio. But, because I work in the unforgiving medium of watercolor, and paint in a detailed, realistic style, I’m learning that I can produce more GOOD pieces, faster, by slowing down at the start. Rather than just painting anything that occurs to me, I spend more up-front time thinking through the idea, composition, and color palette. When I actually paint, the process involves fewer attempts to rework and results in more pieces that really satisfy me and fewer “meh” pieces.

    1. I think you are spot on, Helen! I consider my production time to include the planning / thinking through it stuff! This is why I feel Artists could never be paid by the hour! Even minimum wage would result in my works costing thousands & even tens of thousands! I tell people it’s the closest a man can be to experiencing pregnancy! When you get an idea, we refer to that as a “Conception”! Next, you begin to mull over the concept & it begins to develop! The “embryo” grows! At some point you begin NESTING! This is when you gather your tools, surface & media in preparation for the “Birth”! Next, there comes a time when you can no longer contain this “baby” (idea / Concept ) & it MUST enter the physical world! You sketch it out as you see what YOU think it IS in your mind! It is now BORN & you nurture it! Great!. . .it’s becoming JUST what you SEE it being!. . . . then UGH OH! ADOLESCENCE strikes! BWAAAAHAHAHHAA! The piece is likely to rebel in this stage & NOTHING you do to direct it to BE what YOU dictate will EVER result in YOU getting your way! It’s NOT gonna happen! Just like that child YOU dreamt of becoming a DOCTOR or a Lawyer or whatever, if they are an ARTIST or a mechanic, or whatever, then nothing’s going to change that! YOU have to take THEIR NATURE into consideration & GUIDE what they TRULY ARE! You notice subtle elements that timidly peak out at you & THAT is the MASTERY!! Nurture those! Enhance THOSE! Pay attention to your growing “child” & you AND it will be successful!! Go ahead! Ask me how I know! LOL! I just got accepted as a SIGNATURE MEMBER of Artists for Conservation in November 2019! There’s only 500 Signature Members in the entire world! Admittedly, sales are painfully slack, but I’m taking the “BUILD IT! THEY WILL COME!” road! My BEST work is ALWAYS the NEXT one! Thanks! I hope this helps everyone who reads it! I’m now 63 yrs old & have been an Artist my entire life! What the world sees & calls “Patience” is truly DILIGENCE! NEVER give up! EVER!
      https://gallery.artistsforconservation.org/artists/14757

  6. Being productive is key to any endeavor. I keep at least 12 sculptural pieces going at any give time. It boggles many visitors to the studio but after many years I find the process is essential to staying in a creative space.

    I describe it as keeping 12 prayer wheels in the studio. I have to wait for paint or adhesive on one and spin around and find myself engulfed in a creative spin on another. My entire day is touching many of the 12 giving each a spin. Some languish some sprint but I stay productive without waiting for inspiration.

    The process becomes fun and there are never any “stuck” moments.

  7. Music is a big part of my inspiration to help the paint to flow onto a canvas . I prefer louder music to block off surrounding noise . Perhaps a few sketches and just start …. I also like to turn off the phone and prefer no interruptions , time can fly away so I try to block so many hours to create and so much time for marketing , research , etc. also taking a break and a walk with our dog helps clear the mind .

  8. I just finished a 72” x 48” painting that took me over 150 hrs. over a three month period from concept to final brush stroke. So i guess that breaks down to around 50 hrs a month or a little over a week a month.

    I try to spend 2-4 hrs a day, 4 days a week working in the studio.

    My problem is I try to keep it simple but i can’t help myself from getting deeper and deeper into it after I get started.

    I don’t think I could do more than 6 a year. I’d like to but I seem to get lost in the details.

    1. I have trouble with this also. I get high expectations of the level of realism I want in the painting and then find it takes longer and longer to complete or ends up waiting, unfinished because I start another painting. Pushing through the final stages of completion is a big challenge for me.

      1. I’ve been through that distraction thing as well! I’ve found you often have to push through it & work on through! If you get concerned about losing a distracting inspiration, then do a sketch of it or something to retain it, then use that anxiety to drive you to finish the 1st piece so that you can begin to explore the new one! Trust me! If you constantly allow your mind to wonder, it WILL! I am A.D.D.! . . . . .SQUIRREL!. . . . SHINY THING!. . . !! Success does not come forth from an undisciplined mind! Chaos begets chaos. . . . begets depression, anxiety & regrets due to distraction!
        Think of it this way! If you want to take a trip to say. . . Albuquerque, NM & you live in Columbus, Ohio. . . You aren’t going to get to Albuquerque by way of MIAMI!. . . OH WAIT! It’d SURE be COOL to see THUNDER HOLE in Mt. Desert Island , MAINE!. . . OH ! OH ! LET’S go to SEATTLE & see the Sky Needle!. . . OH OH! No! Let’s go to GLACIER NATIONAL PARK!. . . and on & on! You’ll never get to Albuquerque & miss out on what that would have been! BTW – There was something IN Albuquerque that you were supposed to gain, but you never go there, so BWAHHHH WAH WAH!
        FOCUS!!

  9. Chuck Close said it all. His comments were so on target as were the rest of the artists who describe the process and the need to work “all the time”. It is essential to have enough good work at any given time to not only share it on a website etc but to have an inventory to work from for continuity.

  10. This absolutely right
    I find the discipline in regular creation is what matters. Also a willingness to put work aside if I don’t like or understand it’s direction. I’m just not ready to listen to it yet.
    Another thing I find helpful is to work in an unfamiliar or new medium. For me that’s been monoprint, egg tempera, collage and stencils. I’ll work fast not even trying to make ‘art’. It keeps me working and often expands my ‘vocabulary’ as well as giving me smaller pieces which are much easier to market for me.

  11. I find my work improves when I can find my production rhythm. I have learned that I can help myself get into a good place mentally by playing certain music, looking at work from artists who inspire me, looking at the natural world by taking a walk or viewing images on line. So I do need to be in the mood to do my best work but I have learned how to get there no matter how I start my day. Production goals have been essential for me to get into the studio and get painting. It also helps to have a show or commission on a deadline!!

  12. “The rest of us show u[ and get to work.” I heard Chuck Close say that on a video- from his wheel-chair.
    What else is there to be said?

    Personally,I am half-way through the issue with my right eye. “It’s probably the case that you will not have as good a quality of sight from your eye.” This from my doctor today.
    The painting and watercolor work I love to do may not be feasible anymore. I could write a book on what it takes to get paint to a surface- so much we take for granted is involved.

    “The rest of us show up and get to work,” said Chuck Close from his wheel-chair. Artists do what they need to do. Production is going to be what it is.

  13. I feel like productivity is the grease. The more you produce, the less friction or resistance. Ideas come easier. Work becomes more spontaneous. And the bonus is that quality is easier to achieve in concept and execution. Close is right. Just show up and do the work. Create your own inspiration.

  14. I must admit, I go in spirts. I read somewhere…Jason, that the the artwork is 50% and the business of art is the other 50%. I look forward to having an assistant that can help me with all the bits and pieces once I am off and running.
    C:)

    1. Charisse, I agree and I found the perfect person to help me – a newly empty-nest friend who is looking for a way to make money and find something to occupy her time. Not only do I have someone part-time to help ship orders, do the accounting, and bounce marketing ideas off of, but she is building up her resume and I get to spend more time creating. It’s a win-win!

  15. I struggle with productivity. I feel it’s easier for men to have more productive work than women. Besides trying to work on my art every day, I have to take care of my house ( cleaning, prepare food for the family), my pets( we have a zoo), but groceries, buy pet food, clean, clean and clean, and I also teach art at elementary school. I’d like to ask the women artists how they organize their lives, being an artist , selling art and being a wife, mother, housekeeper, teacher, etc.

    1. Thank you for exposing this big “elephant in the room,” Edna! Even Jason understands how one parent can better enable the other [artist] parent to focus on the quality and quantity of art produced by managing the myriad aspects of the artist’s business while at the same time managing the needs of family and household. Culturally, that support role has most often fallen to a woman. Add to that mix the demands of the caregiver role that’s most often (not always, though) on the shoulders of women as our parents and loved ones age. As much as I’d love it, it’s not always feasible to ignore the phone and others’ needs in favor of isolating myself in the studio. I do currently enjoy the full moral and financial support of my husband, but the creative work and business management are still entirely mine. And with time, his progressive neurological disorder will require more and more of my care and attention. So I do what I can to maintain balance, and am learning to “separate the wheat from the chaff” — i.e. to be mindful of what’s important, what distractions can wait, and which distractions i can simply say no to. I don’t have children, but to the extent i deem possible and worthwhile, i demonstrate to my family and friends that the artmaking is important to me as evidenced by how protective i am of my studio time. Before they will respect my craft and my time, i have to show them that i respect my craft and my time. And then the work will come!

    2. You are correct. Making art is a full time job, so is working for a living (until your art does this) and also caretaking/home-making. Something has to give. A spouse/sibling/grown child may be able to help. I have no children and no longer any pets. My husband cleans and I cook. I produce about 300 figure drawings a year, most are just OK, about 50 are keepers. I sculpt and paint, which has a higher keeper ratio because there is built in concept and edit time. I am actually planning to create less art, but spend more time on each thing.
      There’s also this: https://news.artnet.com/art-world/we-asked-20-women-is-the-art-world-biased-heres-what-they-said-81162

  16. I also believe that production is the key to results. When I first returned to art full time I struggled to produce 20 paintings. I doubled it in the second but my problem was that I was trying to be perfect and match those who had spent a lifetime honing their skills. In the third year I had a goal of 100 small paintings. Then I stepped up my game to one small painting a day. In the fourth year I needed time for marketing dropped the goal to one each week-day.

    Over the next 5 years I completed a goal of 30 paintings in 30 days many times to keep me on track and inspired. I found that completing even small paintings helped immensely with improving my skills and discovering what buyers did and did not like. Sure some of these paintings were hurried and I could have fussed more, but many were wonderful and now I had plenty of inventory on offer for my ever growing following. When I was selling enough paintings, I returned to my first love, 3D work and now often work on series that include painting, sculpture, carving etc to exhibit a full and congruent gallery show. Now I paint and sculpt larger, but those high production years of small works gave me a great foundation in just getting on with it.

    My best tip for momentum is to work in series. Sometimes I work on a series concurrently, such as different views of the same type of bird using the same background. Other collections follow on from each other over time, each one developing the idea further, like my Frida series. Most importantly, when I create a ‘one off’ I let my audience know they are purchasing a rare version of my work, which is quite a draw to some patrons.

    For those that suffer to produce a few works a year, I advise you to participate in a variety of work and play shops. Loosen up and have some fun throwing some paint or plaster around. Stop worrying about being perfect, you’ll be amazed at your what you can accomplish.

  17. I seriously doubt Chuck Close is producing 80 nor 50 paintings per year. I know, I’m not Chuck Close but just saying. Other than that I don’t have any dispute with keeping to a schedule and producing as much as as possible.

    1. Dave, you know well Chuck’s style of work would not allow 50-80 pieces a year to be completed. That does not negate his perspective of getting in the studio and working, and not sitting around waiting for inspiration.

    2. David, I agree. After working as an illustrator for many years, I know that you have to get to work, even when the mood does not strike, so I am used to getting down to work on a daily basis.Now that I no longer have books or assignments hanging over my head, I still “go to work” every day, eager to work on paintings or do studies for paintings to come.

      But I have to take exception to the idea that a working artist needs to produce 80 paintings a year. That’s more than a painting a week. Of what quality? Can’t be very high. Even my large editorial illustrations took about 1-2 weeks each. I work almost every day and on most of those days at least 6-8 hours. Perhaps it’s the nature of my work, which is detailed oriented, but I could not create that many pieces, unless I were to turn out very small pieces selling for low prices. And, while I occasionally do some pieces like that, those are not the truly inspired pieces I want to create.

  18. “Just show up and get to work.” What great advice ! My background is in Commercial Art doing story boards and felt tip marker sketches for Advertising and Film. Discipline and productivity are essential if you want to survive. I set a timer in my studio to paint an hour, take a fifteen minute break and back to work. No loud rock music, classical at the most down low, then silence.
    A student of mine once said “You know Patrick there’s a reason they call it Art Work not Art Fun.”

  19. I prefer enthusiasm or excitement, even obsession or stubborness, than inspiration. Inspiration is too fancy and intimidating a word for me – just like the word masterpiece. A masterpiece used to be a project done perfectly, nothing to do with grand themes and the clouds parting. We artists make it tougher on ourselves the higher the pedestal we put our talent and creative process on. Starting, filling that blank page/canvas is always a challenge and a first time for me, even after 40 years of painting – keeps things interesting. Sometimes a project demands you take it on, sometimes a whim explodes into a meaningful idea – either way the excitement of the chase and the surprise and delight at the end as the piece achieves a life of its own makes all of the doubts and obstacles worthwhile.

  20. Over the past 2 years, I have busy setting up and operating an alternative exhibiting space, called the Underground Gallery, in Harlem, NY. As result, I had to cut productivity way down. At the end of the year evaluation, I found, while I learned a lot as well as establishing a wide range of connections with art lovers, art collectors, curators and other artists. I decided to convert the exhibiting space to my working art studio and showroom to focus on my artistic practice only. My aim for 2020 is 20-25 hours per week to produced self-directed and commissioned paintings in a variety of sizes and prices. I found 16×20 canvas under $500.00 is my best seller. So I’ll be increasing production of that size. As always, great article.

  21. When I worked full time in the library, most of my weekend and many nights I spent on art. Now I have retired from that and find it ironic that I procrastinate about getting into the studio! I now actually have a studio space, and recently got it set up with help from my daughter and her husband. Casting about for a theme for a show to have at the end of the year. Once I have a theme and a venue, there is no stopping me!

  22. Thanks for sharing Chuck Close’s idea about waiting for inspiration verses getting to work each day.
    I agree and appreciate Chuck’s words about this topic. I shared Chuck’s idea with my husband who is a writer. The idea certainly applies to writers, as well!
    Lee Pierce

  23. I am hoping sales follow my increased production levels. I did a variety of different work this year. Some on canvas, some on paper, a number of linocut prints, mixed media, watercolour. With over seventy paintings and ninety greeting cards. It has been a fun year. Totally agree with Chuck and you, Jason.

  24. Hi Jason,

    Thank you for all of posts. They are interesting to me.

    I have a question that I hope you can clarify for me.
    I am looking at a Call For Entries. This particular one looks like a perfect fit for my work, but it is across the country. I know that IF my work is accepted I’ll have to ship my work there and that’s fine with me. I can ship my art.

    But there is also a like called Opening Reception and a date.
    Does that mean I’ll be expected to travel across country to attend the reception? I’ve been afraid to enter my work into juried exhibitions because of the cost of traveling.

    Thank you for your thoughts.
    With Regards,
    Cindy

    1. Cindy, in 2019 I participated in 12 juried shows around the country. Of all of those, I was only able to attend one opening that was not in New England. You are not expected to fly across the country to attend openings. But keep doing the Calls for Entry. It is a great way to build up your exhibit history and get your work seen by more people–especially if you are like me and not represented by a gallery.

  25. After laying down my brushes 65 yrs earlier, I purposed to complete as many paintings during the coming year as my age. This was accomplished. I now have set my schedule for two completions per week for the year. This necessitates the completion of three paintings a week over a ten week span, as I have five week-end shows that also require travel. Every painting generates new ideas. I block off areas of the work and imagine I am in the painting and viewing the various scenes. This then leads to the next painting, and so on. On one, I may paint a mountain, but in the next I’m hiking on it.

  26. When I practiced as a themed architect years ago we hired a great artist and designer. He said that rather than coming at 8 am (starting of our office hours) he would come in when his inspiration started later in the day or even at night. I replied that he would come in at 8 am and inspiration would come. He needed and wanted the job. He came in and the inspiration flowed. When we had 7 or 8 clients at a time wanting their projects done; it had to be done! End of story.

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