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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42 Comments

  1. I’m glad to ear that. This is the way I paint.If I design a sketch first, I never follow it,everything change during the process,it seem I have better ideas. I show my art at the best gallerie in town and it seem more the work is spontaneous better the sales. Thank you.

  2. This is spot on. Chuck Close’s remark about the “work of art” is precise. “Show up.” What else does one do if they have a “job”? The hard part for me and many others is the internal drive. We are our own boss. It’s virtually impossible to tell ourselves “to get busy”.
    Inspiration can be more of an excuse not to work than an impetus to work.
    Advice- Work consistent hours and have more than one project going at a time.
    This is a luxury I did not enjoy until I could devote more and consistent studio.
    Think art most of the time, but commit art thoughts into material expressions in whatever medium you use.
    Get used to being tired from production. It is work not toil. it is business not busy-ness.

    1. Very good article and helpful comments. I’m very thankful to have a lot of commissions but feel like I can’t get enough of my “own” work done for galleries and shows. I put a lot of hours in the studio but always feel behind & not able to jump on opportunities that might pop up. I’ve always done one painting at a time but often find myself thinking of other projects – inspiration is not a problem. I like the idea of working on more than one project at a time and think that might really help increase production & be more satisfying.

  3. 2019 will be a year of reaching new clients and venues. As this is my first year of “getting serious” I am on a learning curve which is fine at this time. Currently, fiber art is my passion, particularly the silk painting of wearable art. Yes, staying productive, quality and quantity will all be necessary. Some days I shift from design and painting to preparation for a gallery or other venue. Other days I look at pieces I have created and find I am not necessarily satisfied with a scarf so I seek to find new ways to repurpose the piece. Often this is done by framing a section of the painting. Remember… framing, tagging, repurposing and shopping for supplies are all part of being productive.

  4. I totally agree with Chuck I will sit at my canvas with all intentions of what I’m painting an suddenly I’m finished an what was planned to be a white horse on black background became a city scape with reflection in purple and blue .As I mentioned in my artist statement the canvas tells me what to do I just show up and follow the lead and work.

  5. Agreed. So much of making art is about what happens in process. While your hands are doing what you proposed to do, your mind is already thinking about the next steps. Even at the simple level of figuring out how to mix the next color and how it will relate to what has already been applied. Often the “inspiration” is really working out a variety of approaches to solving a problem and cataloging those ideas for future use.

  6. draw something every day. it doesn’t matter what its or where you are. like my friend Heather says, “leave the faucet on a trickle.” part of the challenge is, i think, being willing to fail. people wait for inspiration because we dislike “wasting time,” and we’ve probably learned this from friends and family who don’t understand the mental space required around the actual work. Sometimes I look like I’m not doing anything, but I am actually working. in fact, I’ve been challenged this week by having to mentally change tack for a time-sensitive project. This causes me to drop a few commitments because I need the space.

  7. I agree! Quality and quantity are essential. My problem is trying to store all my paintings! Sadly I am not at the stage of selling 80 artworks per year but will happily produce them.

    1. Me too Allison! All these paintings sitting around, piling up, is a bit demoralizing. Yet still I make more! Can’t help it.

  8. So where do you put this inventory? I’ve already got more inventory than I can comfortably display at a show, it’s cluttering my home (which could soon end up being less than half the space I currently have), and–even overpainting my lesser works–I’m painting less because I don’t have the income for new materials or space to put finished works.

  9. It seems like the more I paint, the better I paint. I do, however do better with a deadline for producing the work. And having a red ’75 Corvette sitting outside sometimes gets me off the mark. Or helps me sort through what I want to do.

    On the way to deliver art to galleries, clients, and shows (not in the Vette), I’m usually “itching to paint” and thinking about what that might be when I get back.

    When someone asks me how long it takes me to paint a painting, I count my education, thinking and research time as part of the working process. So the answer might be “All my life.”

  10. I was up to 125 pieces in a year before health issues significantly slowed me down. The worst was losing much of my sight in my left eye. It certainly changed my style. I have also lost much of my energy and I only painted 24 finished pieces last year. But I plan to work my way back up.

    1. I appreciate your sharing that information. I too had a successful art career in oil on canvas producing and selling up to 200 paintings a year. An accident took the sight in my right eye and after two surgeries they were not able to restore it. I only see bright fuzziness with no depth of field or clarity. I haven’t been able to produce any acceptable work and it leaves me grieving instead of trying to paint.

  11. I do a goal-setting exercise every year. Last January, my new “word of the year” was PROLIFIC. In 2018 I doubled the number of artworks that I made, and I doubled my sales.

    …so yes, all of the advice is true.

  12. This is soooo true! Over time, I have learned that having a painting schedule is the best way to increase output and also improve my skills. I spend 4 hours a day on the creative process (includes sketching, mixing paints, painting, staring at my painting and thinking (lol – yes i do this) and another 2 hours on computer stuff (marketing, social media, website, etc). I used to procrastinate whenever I would start a new painting (probably due to fear of failure) but now I just keep going and push forward and amazing things have been happening.

  13. When people asked me what I do for a living, my answer is simple; Monday – Wed., am a Building Construction Consultant; Thurs & Fri., am a working artist; and Sat. & Sun., am a Gallerist. So far this schedule has worked for me. I get to have a steady source of income, time to make, market and sale my artworks.

  14. I find the article, questions and comments very beneficial.Thank you very much. The observations that the best ideas emerge from the work process itself painfully struck home for me. I now realise that I currently spend far too much time on research and far too little on my work process.
    I’m wondering how could I possibly have forgotten the advice of a former art teacher who would regularly admonish his students with “Suck it and see!!”

  15. Thank you for this guidance. It is a reminder as well as fuel for my commitment to be in my studio daily. It’s a mystery, and almost comical how frequently the only time appointments unrelated to art “need” to be scheduled within my established studio time. I have decided this is the year to end that! I recognize increasing my productivity is the next skill I must practice and perfect as I continue this path as an artist. Thank you for your wisdom and direction, Jason. It really helps!

  16. Another great article; love the Close quote! Helpful tips from you and in the comments. My issues with production are time (working 5 nights a week at a full time job), and my style of painting is realistic and takes time. How can I paint faster and not lose my “brand” style? 2018 productivity: 24 original painting. Even if I double my productivity in 2019, that’s still falling way short of that 80 pieces mark. I could paint more small pieces, I suppose. Welcome comments or ideas!

  17. Thank you all for the great inspirations and love Chuck Close’s quote. I will set my goals at 80 pieces of artwork, if I accomplish 60 I will be happy for 60 is a lot of work, depending on one’s style. Now I need to sell, sell, sell all my work, that’s the hard part. Any suggestions how to sell 80 pieces of work per year???

  18. I work in Fiber. It is not fast. There are many steps along the way and although I can have several pieces in various stages–there isn’t a ‘drying’ time—each step requires my attention. I wonder what the goal output would be for fiber?

  19. Just what I needed to hear. Except my distractions are mostly from not saying no to requests of all sorts. Serving on Municipal Council, playing in a band, singing in a choir, taking the lead on special events, serving on arts boards, teaching art courses….endless. They are everywhere, coming from all directions and they fill up your mind and worry you and keep one from focusing. I needed this advice, to just get at it. Thanks Chuck.

  20. After retiring from the corporate world, I transferred my former “work schedule” to my present day “studio work schedule.” Of course the studio work is by far more enjoyable and fullfilling than the corporate work! Work, work every day and on the weekends! I couldn’t be happier.

  21. I am a printmaker creating limited-edition serigraphs. I have yet to see any informstion regarding printmakers. My editions are usually from 20 to 50 prints plus APs and have from 10 to 85 impressions in each print. I produce10 to 15 efitions per year. Can someone give their take on printmaking in gsllerirs?

  22. The comments of Chuck Close are right on the mark, and reflect what real creativity is all about. I have lost count of the number of ideas and thoughts I have had for a painting, then gone into my studio all prepared to put them down onto a canvas. Two days later I find myself staring at a finished product looking nothing like what was first envisaged. Creation is not an organized event, it’s a process continually being worked upon. You learn to go with the flow. As a friend of mine once remarked, “I never finish a painting, I just stop working on it”.

  23. I agree that running multiple projects is a great way to not waste studio time- if you hit an creative impasse on one piece then go work on another!

  24. Good article. I agree. When my time in the studio was more sporadic, I often found myself blocked in front of a blank canvas. As I spend more time in the studio, ideas percolate more easily. Usually, I have 2 or 3 pieces in progress at the same time, at my “work stations”. I like to work with natural light, so in the evenings, I am often thinking and planning for “next”.

  25. Thank you. I need accountability of sorts. So today I pledge to get the clutter out of my studio space, and have one painting finished by tomorrow evening. Every word in this article spoke to me. I can so easily and habitually crawl right inside my head or a book and tune out. I am a good painter, but…

  26. I agree that inspiration comes from perspiration. The answers are always found in the studio. But there are different techniques that require different time input. Larger pieces take more time. I could easily do 80 pieces if they were all very loose and small. But, I don’t want to paint that way. My things take more time. I think setting an arbitrary number isn’t realistic. When did fast become the goal? I am not making widgets for Wally World. I am working hard to create the best product I can. Sometimes that takes time.

  27. Hi Jason,

    I’m a figurative realist painter, usually producing works on large canvases (usually three to six feet on their longest side). I know the numbers go way down when producing this kind of work, but I don’t have a lot of experience with galleries and I’d like to set a goal for myself, and see what I need to change before approaching serious galleries for representation. As a gallery owner, could you help me out with a number of yearly works that you might might expect from an artist in this genre?

    Thank you so much!!! (And that Chuck Close quote has gotten me into the studio on days I’m not feeling it for years, lol)

    Benji A Palus

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