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.
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.
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.
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:
“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.”
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
Since I moved to Arizona, I have a designated studio in my garage with heating, air conditioning and good lighting. Not being in the main part of the house has helped my productivity immensely. I am able to paint for long periods without interruption and this has assisted me in quantity as well as quality of my work. I highly recommend that one has an out of the way area with rules in place about not interrupting until break time. I am fast approaching the number of works necessary to apply to a gallery in Arizona and beyond. My current website is out of date and I am preparing to start a new one with my new, western subjects.
Thank you for this Virigina. I have a room in my house that functions as my office for the day job and my art space. I’ve always felt I do need to be separated from “work” and the house in order to get more accomplished. Going to put serious consideration into dong this.
I totally agree. My studio is like the TV room without a door and somehow it feels like anyone can come and interrupt. It happens a lot. I look forward to a studio outside the house in a separated area.
I would say it’s easier to be prolific if you have, in my case a variety of sizes. In 3 months I will have finished 8 large works 48×72 and 48×48 so slower than usual. However if i check the past year – even with covid and a period of 3 months house hunting and moving, I have done 54 pieces if adding in my quick monoprints.
Now I’m settled I believe i can do 30 – 40 paintings 30×40 – 48×72 and add in some 60×60 with 20-30 very small ones.
My issue has never been production but finding successful sales outlets. I think the additional discipline of turning up to work as Chuck Close said, is a major one because it carries me through both lean and fat times and keeps my creativity alive.
Work begets work. Also, work (practice) begets the skill and confidence needed to accomplish the work. If you do get a genius bolt from the blue but you don’t have the developed skill and understanding of materials to enact it, what good is it?
I had a very positive breakthrough when I set the goal of “make 100 of something.” I reduced the variables as much as possible — one size and format, one medium — and bought paper and mat kits and had at it until I had 100. Initially, it felt forced and contrived but as the process continued confidence evolved beside the work. I didn’t know I could do that. Now I do.
While I agree with Jason and the following comments, if you don’t have outlets for your work being productive creates a problem that isn’t mentioned or addressed – storage. As a photographer, my images, stored in clear bags with backers, not framed, don’t take up a lot of room. But having multiple sizes adds to the situation. So does having larger, framed pieces. After only three years of working to be a full time artist, I’m out of wall space and storage space. $50K in annual sales, even if it didn’t eliminate the problem, would certainly make it a lot more bearable – maybe even enjoyable…! :o)
Storage is certainly an ongoing consideration and, in my case, the need for it would be a good problem to have. :-).
By design, I’m short one closet in my house and — long-term, not now — I’m considering offsite storage versus an onsite shed or outbuilding of some kind. The things I’m thinking about are: watertight (rain or snow infiltration, condensation), mice and insects, temperature and humidity control, security and access, overall size and interior shelving, and — of course — cost and maintenance.
And I imagine that Jason would reiterate: inventory control, a system to know where things are other than “in the shed.”
A number of years back I acquired a studio space in an old mill building in my town. What I eventually discovered is that I really still prefer keeping my work space INSIDE my house where I can work at all hours of the day or night, and still stir the stew on the stove, or take a break to have lunch with my husband, or walk the dog. So I use that mill space for display and storage and meeting with collectors, and I work in a studio right off my kitchen. I’m in there every day, all day, morning until night. It’s a no brainer for me and it makes it easy to always be working because it is a part of where I live. Having no separation between work and life for me seems to generate even more desire to create.Art is essentially always on my mind.
Thank you for sharing your process with us! It sounds like you have found a system that works well for you and helps to keep you motivated and inspired. It’s interesting how some artists like to work from home and others prefer to have a dedicated studio space. There is no right or wrong answer, it’s all about what makes you feel most creative and productive.
I am easily turned on so the white canvas syndrome has never been a show stopper for me. In fact, I could not agree more with Chuck about the inspiration coming in the action. Often, the plan changes as I work on a piece so there is no need to do a whole lot of planning ahead. Just have a general idea and let it surprise you.
This is great advice for anyone who wants to be more creative, Diane! Just have a general idea of what you want to do, and then let the piece surprise you as you work on it.
An artist’s job is to make art. Period. Full stop. Anything else must be secondary [including marketing, which ideally should be done by someone else, but which many of us have to do ourselves; & showing art (participating in art fairs, mounting gallery shows, etc)]. And it should be done EVERY DAY to produce a lot of it. I can think of only one famous artist who has extremely few known artworks – Vermeer w/27. By contrast, Picasso, who sold a real lot of work, still had 45,000 unsold artworks at the time of his death. Think about that number for a while – now get busy! You may not reach 45,000 but just keep it in mind, perhaps as a goal. You cannot make too much art.
And it’s true, if you’re doing it all the time, inspiration comes while you are in the process of working on something. I often need to make differently cropped versions of my photographic artworks for inclusion in various media, and often find when I go to work on that, that I suddenly visualize further variations to the work, leading to new works, sometimes a whole series of new works. And I delay making the cropped version of the original work for media use while I produce the new works, or at least “in process” sketch like versions of them because one thing I can say about inspiration is that while it can come unexpectedly, or quickly, it is very very fickle, and can disappear just as rapidly. I’d rather be delayed a few hours, or few days on an image for media, than lose the ideas that came during that original process – so sometimes I find, when I finally have the needed media version of a work, and I think, “wow, that took a bloody long time!!” I then realize I may have made 2-8 new artworks while doing it – so that’s really pretty good overall. But the point is working on art produces new ideas for art – either directly related to the ongoing work itself or to ideas for new works – it’s a feedback process! And reduce as much as possible any type interruptions – when I’m working, my phone is off, and my computer is NOT connected to the internet, and no music is playing
Thank you for your advice Ken! This is definitely something that all artists should keep in mind – that the more art they produce, the more likely they are to come up with new, inspiring ideas.
There seems to be, at least to me, two things that determines success 1) Cretativity: both a unique vision and tools that help that vision come alive 2) The Quality of worked produced. I don’t see success as a dollar or production number but as self-fullment of the internal drive I have to express myself in unique ways. Some artist such as Kandinskky can churn out art like a machine, 450 oil and watercolors in 7 years, remarkable! Frida Kalo 200 in her lifetime and da Vinci less than 24, I recently read that the number totally atributed to da Vinci is now 13. Guess what I am saying is the uniqueness of the work is first in priority. However unique without a quality product it is ‘just a good idea’ poorly executed. Today, I bust my hump to put out 3 pieces a month. They are not paintings, they are not sculptures – I honestly do not what to call them but they are well received and well made. If I do become successful monetarily it will because of those two properties unique and well exacuted.
Jason…Thank You for this post. I am constantly in the process. I have been for 50 years. I currently have an inventory of about 50 pieces. It is not about the numbers but the growth and directions of my work. Hopefully i am growing and evolving. The rest will take care of itself. The only thing I might add to that is that the component of organization is also key to growing. As I reached the senior citizen category it became imperative in order to use my time wisely. Thanks, Darryl
Excellent point Darryl – getting your things and time organized are critical.