Occasionally, I get into trouble by suggesting something that stirs up controversy among RedDotBlog readers. I suspect this post might put me in a little hot water, but this is an important subject, and I don’t want to shy away from it. What is my hot-take? I suggest that when it comes to producing art, artists should put more emphasis on quantity than quality.
Shocking, right? It’s not like I’m saying that artists should produce bad art or that it’s okay to phone it in. I’m simply saying that artists should produce more art. More art, more often.
When asked how much work they produce, I’ve spoken to many artists who say something like, “I work slowly – I’m focusing on quality. I want to create the finest work I possibly can.”
The underlying sentiment, the desire to create high-quality work, is admirable. But there are a couple of problems with this mindset. First, the idea that quantity and quality are mutually exclusive is false. Second, this way of thinking often makes artists feel like they need to wait until they have a perfect idea, the perfect model, the perfect materials, and the perfect studio before they can begin creating.
In reality, artists who produce a lot of work are often the ones who produce the best work. The more you create, the better you get at your craft. The more you create, the more likely you will have a breakthrough. The more you create, the more likely you will encounter a truly special idea.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to how much art an artist should produce. But if you’re unhappy with your art’s quantity or quality, I suggest focusing on quantity first. Create more art, more often. The quality will follow.
Quantity and quality are not mutually exclusive
To be clear, some artists work in a highly-detailed style or a challenging medium, and it will take them more time to complete an artwork. But the question these artists should ask is not “How can I make this artwork perfect?” but rather “How can I make more artwork?”
The truth is, no artwork is ever perfect. There is always something that can be improved. The key is not to get bogged down in the details but to keep moving forward and producing more art.
Put miles on your paintbrush
When I started in the art business in the early 1990s, I worked in a western art gallery. Many of the top artists in the gallery had previously worked in illustration, many during the heyday of illustrators in the 40s and 50s. These artists had worked for magazines and advertising agencies and had produced thousands, if not tens of thousands, of illustrations throughout their careers. They had learned the fundamentals of composition and technique and how to work quickly. They had a wealth of experience, and it showed in their work.
However, you don’t have to have an illustrator’s background to be a prolific artist. Some of the most successful artists I work with today have no such background, but like illustrators, they focus on producing art.
There’s something to be said for putting miles on your paintbrush or working through tons of marble or clay.
5 things you can do to increase your productivity
So what can you do to increase your productivity as an artist? Here are five things I’ve seen highly-productive artists do that you can incorporate into your own studio practice:
1. Set a goal for the number of artworks you want to produce each week or month.
2. Find a way to work that is comfortable and efficient for you.
3. Set up your studio so that it is conducive to working.
4. Commit yourself to work for a certain amount of time each day or week.
5. Don’t strive for perfection, strive for progress.
Let’s look at each suggestion in a little more detail.
Set a goal for the number of artworks you want to produce
I suggest you look at the number of pieces you created over the last month and set a goal to increase that number by 25% over the next month. If you only produced two pieces last month, then your goal for next month should be to produce three pieces. If you produced ten pieces last month, your goal for next month should be to produce twelve.
Find a way to work that is comfortable and efficient for you
This may take some experimentation. Some artists like to work in short bursts, while others like to work for long periods of time. Some artists prefer to work first thing in the morning, while others prefer to work in the evening. Some artists work best in silence, while others like to have music playing in the background.
The key is to find a way of working that suits your personality and lifestyle. There is no right or wrong way to work, as long as you are productive.
Set up your studio so that it is conducive to working
Your studio should be a place where you feel comfortable working. It should be set up in a way that is efficient for you and allows you to work in the way you prefer. Keep your creative tools accessible and organized. Decrease clutter that slows you down. Remove distractions from your studio.
Make a commitment to yourself to work for a certain amount of time each day or week
This is where a lot of artists struggle. They have good intentions, but they don’t follow through. They tell themselves they will work for two hours each day but only end up working for thirty minutes.
I suggest you commit yourself to work for a certain amount of time each week rather than daily. This way, if you have a day where you can’t work or only end up working for thirty minutes, you haven’t failed. You can make up the time over the week.
Don’t strive for perfection, strive for progress
This is perhaps the most important suggestion. Remember, the goal is not to produce perfect artwork but more artwork. The more art you produce, the better you will become at your craft.
What do you think?
So, what do you think? Do you agree with my suggestion that artists should focus on quantity over quality? What has helped you be more productive? Am I completely wrong – does quantity get in the way of quality? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
And then there are those of us who do both!
Happily in my studio.
I have to laugh. We have corresponded and you know my work. I have an enormous amount of work, but that hasn’t made it easy to sell. People have spent significant money on my pieces, but one of the only two galleries that ever represented me, in the big art scene on Cape Cod, was driven out of business by her landlord. In fact, I think many gallerists, when considering my work, are negatively shocked by how much I make. I guess it’s not one size fits all…….
Well Allen, I think you are doing the right thing -making a lot of art! Regarding your statement: “I think many gallerists, when considering my work, are negatively shocked by how much I make” – Perhaps in presenting your work, it is the time to put on the editor hat and not show a gallery too much work (but still keep producing it). Remember – “people have spent significant money on [your] pieces” – that is already great success (even if it doesn’t happen as often as you would like) – but consider, do you think you would have sold more work, if you had made less of it??? Selling art is hard, very hard, but one day you will be very pleased to have a produced a large body of work.
I am currently battling with this issue as an artist. I’ve been thinking about whether it’s ok to reduce my strive for perfection in other to produce more works.
Thank you for this article, you spoke to me.
Unfortunately that would mean deleting almost all the work on my instagram account and my website, and, more importantly, it would be profoundly dishonest. Extreme productivity is a core component of who I am as an artist. I am not so pessimistic as to believe that all gallerists will be critically repulsed. I only meant to say that being very productive can have a negative side as well.
When I am “on a roll “, it’s usually because I have a series in mind. That gets me busy, inspired, and productive. I enjoy my work and it turns into play. Hence, more artwork.
One of my mentors told me “produce 100 paintings and you can call yourself an artist. ” It was a way for him to tell me not to be so “precious ” with my art.
When you refer to a “series of paintings or art”, I think this is what my painting professor meant when she talked about a vision. Right now, I’ve become very interested in what better as Grand Manner Portraiture in Art History and I’ve collected images/photos etc. from my environment that would help me produce a series. I’ve also heard this advice not to be so precious with my art.
At one time I would have chosen quality first to be sure. However, now I believe you are right. Quantity does matter. Two things are true: the more you paint, the better you become and the more you paint, ideas will begin to flow.. Great article!
Yes to all of this 🙃
I’m in total agreement with Jason on this – producing a lot of work will improve quality as well – you do get better at those things you do frequently and consistently – producing a lot of work makes you better. In particular it leads you to find solutions or investigate many new ideas instead of “getting stuck” on a single work – if a work isn’t progressing after some time, leave it and go on to the next – sometimes an idea will come later, spontaneously, while you were working on something and you can then go back and complete the unfinished work you previously got stuck on, and if not, at least you produce all that other new work. Unless it’s a commission piece, you don’t get penalized if a particular piece either remained unfinished or wasn’t that great in hindsight, and you went on and did 3, 5 or 10 other works that turned out great.
Picasso sold a lot of work – but he produced way way more of it – he was always making new work, all the time – when he died he had 45,000 still unsold works (including drawings of course) – but get that- 45,000 works – do you think he let himself get stuck on any work, or slow down to make sure the a work was “perfect” by constantly fiddling with it, and taking forever to finish it??
Produce a lot of work – you can do your editing when choosing which pieces to include in a show, catalog, presentation, etc – and remember this – sometimes a work that you think of as “not really that good” will be exactly what the public finds great – I have had that happen more than several times in my experience, and the “not very good” work will be the first to sell at a show
Kent I appreciate your response to Jason’s post. Its really true the more we’re making or ” practicing” the better we get. There are no shortcuts. Creativity is an endless well…the more we tap it, the stronger the flow becomes and the more ideas we get. And yes, progress over success is really more beneficial to keep in mind as we work on our weekly goals.
Thanks! I didn’t know how much Picasso produced, but it helps me justify my stable a great deal, even if I should temper my desire to achieve a fraction of the great artist’s success.
I have found that when I have a deadline to meet, I work a lot and produce my best work. Having a goal always gets the best results. Way to go Jason.
The easiest way for me to not slow down or get stuck on one painting is to work on two or three at a time. When I’m not sure where I want to go on one, I move it to the side and continue on another one.
Exactly right !!!!!!!
My thoughts exactly. Moving on gets you over “artists block”. If I get stuck on a painting, I just leave it in view for anywhere from a day to several months. Seeing it every day eventually makes the “errors” in it pop out, and then, there will be some more time spent trying to figure out how to fix it, and then more time when the spirit moves me to tackle the next step.
In the meantime, I can just go ahead to paint something else or several something elses.
That’s what I do as well. I try to have several going at once. I still tend to work slowly though. I’m my own worst critic. The perfectionist in me comes out!! But it does produce a great satisfaction to get those pieces finished!
I agree. I have one niggle for myself. I do a variety of work rather than one style.I did/do a number of more refined botanicals that I have become know for locally and find doing looser works feels a “betrayal” of that but I like the effect of some.I think I should do it more precisely even if the other is more “attractive” to many and end up halfway beteen. I also do sketches especially travel ones which people really like but which I look on as just sketches. It is hard to break out of a mold. I am also doing some oils but wonder if I should stick to watercolor since that is what I have been doing for many years and am better at but oils seem easier to sell. I so agree that doing more of anything makes it better in the long run and then one can be selective about what is displayed. Marketing is hard! and time consuming as you are aware! Thanks for your input and getting responses. It is helpful.
Right on, Jason!
I don’t do as well under pressure as I do with steady, thought-filled production to meet the possibilities out there. So I must have a work ethic to meet that need, and that means I’m in my studio as much as I can be, every day…or most days. I have seen my work grow through the miles of canvas, especially this last year.
Thank you for pushing us.
Thank you for this wonderful advice , I Agree the more you work the better you become at it , also I hope you can write about Galery representation for artist that will be an open door to evaluate the artwork and exhibit it.
What slows me down is wondering what I’m going to do with all this art work. Don’t want it to pile up in corners of my art studio. Don’t want to spend a lot of time marketing. So I don’t produce much. Solves one problem, but I’m not much of an artist, am I?
I agree, Jason. You want to be in the habit of making stuff, not in the habit of freezing before imperfection.
I find that using a time card app on my phone lets me see how many actual easel hours I’ve put in as well as management and marketing hours. I can figure out how much of my time is overhead at the end of the year this way (15%). It also allows me to be honest with myself about meeting my goals.
Great topic and wonderful responses……one of my art instructors in college always told us to machine gun out our work, quality will come. another told me to produce 100 works, then he and I could chose the 3 or 4 to keep…. Keep working.
I agree with everything you said Jason. I have been painting long enough to know what you say is true. When I worked in a shared studio outside of my home (every weekday), I was productive and improved pretty fast. I also had deadlines for shows and exhibits so I couldn’t really work towards perfection. It turns out that non-artists never see my imperfections anyway and bought my work. I realized that they looked at the entire painting at once and felt something… without analyzing it.
Thank you for the recommendations for increasing productivity. I’ll commit to some of these. Now that I’m not working at an outside studio, and don’t have deadlines, I get distracted with everyday living and have been overworking and not finishing my work.
Great article. I agree 100% with all of it! Quantity and quality are not mutually exclusive.
Great advice, but doesn’t address the question of where to store the large quantity of pieces (in my case: bronzes) that accumulate in the studio. In addition, each piece I make is expensive: raw materials, foundry costs, patinas, etc. I can’t afford to make a lot of art until I can sell off some of the inventory in the studio.
I am a watercolor painter. I try to do at least four small (5” x 7”) studies every week in addition to larger more time consuming works. Some studies I may decide are sellable and some end up as a learning experience. This keeps me painting more often and on more subjects and has really improved my work. In addition, they are small, so there is no storage issue, and I have a growing collection of work at a lower price point.
Totally agree, an artist friend recently commented that my art was so much better now than a few months ago when I started back painting. I often go back and tweak a piece after it has ‘aged’ a bit, think it all just makes me a better artist.
During the time that I was represented by over twenty galleries in the northeast USA and in Europe (1990’s up to Covid 19), I produced about forty small 4 x 6 and 4 x 8-inch miniature oil paintings that were highly detailed as well as much larger works. The following week I would create 40 + highly detailed gouache landscapes 16 x 20 and 22 x 28 inch format. On weekends I would cut the matt boards and glass, do all the framing, photography and inventory and my wife would pack and ship the works to the galleries. Now, at 73 years of age, I am painting public and private murals and painting private commissions. Quantity certainly helped me improve the quality of my work. Every month, I noticed, as did the galleries, an improvement over the previous month. But I must admit, It”s nice to be able to slow down a bit as I age!
I agree with all your suggestions for producing more art! Now I just need to follow through!!
I agree with you. I am a digital fine artist and I often produce a work in one sitting of between one and three hours or so. Sometimes the work happens fast and is kind of like a gift being offered to me. Other times the one sitting does not lead to a complete piece, and on rare occasions I just trash it at the end of my work session.
I take classes with a community of digital artists and some seem to judge the quality of the work by how long it takes, or how difficult it is to create. I am more interested in if I am moved by the art, and if it is beautiful or stimulating or of high aesthetic value. The art I like best pulls me into the frame and I want to linger there and drink it in. If the art hangs on my walls, I want it to become like a good friend that I enjoy living with. I really don’t care how long it took for the artist to produce it.
I, too, am a digital artist, and since I make the art with a huge mathematical program I have created myself I make a great deal of it. So, I find your defense of esthetics over process spot on.
Personally, I find that quantity leads to better quality – especially when it’s focused or niched so that I can fully explore a medium or subject.
It’s what I do. I paint every day from noonish to 5 or 6 and it’s just what I do. It’s wonderful. It’s when I’m at complete peace. I discovered the Daily Painter movement and my improvement is on an upward trajectory in terms of developing new, juicy skills. I love going to work more than anything.
Just this week I increased the size of my paintbrush to 1″ and I’m in heaven. Every painting I turn out has something crisp and fresh in it since I quit trying to baby every surface.
“Swing a big brush” a quote from Charles Hawthorne. So good and true
I do my best work when I treat my studio as my place of employment. Ultimately, it is. I picture myself as an employer and ask myself what I would do if I happened in and saw me working…or not working. Would I promote me or fire me? Kind of a wacky mind game, but it keeps me accountable.
I like that.
I’m going to give it a try, as I tend to be easily distracted.
Excellent advice. But where to store all this work? Well I just turn the board over and paint on the other side – or paint over. There just isn’t enough room to store it all! But keep it for a while – till you understand what you really like and don’t like in the painting and then go over the absolute rejects.
What a good article. I know i used to work, i guess you could say ‘slow and steady’…. But that was years ago and there never was an incentive to finish in a hurried way. So eventually i put the paintbrush down and just didnt anymore — for like 10+ years. But in the past 5 years i picked up a new medium cuz it was easier to tote. Why tote? Well, my spouse is the lead of a band and they gig a lot. Gigs are generally 3 hours. Now, in all fairness, i can only sit idle for so ling and ‘just listen to him play’ (All. The. Time.). So i thought multi-task. Watercolor was the new medium (again, easy to tote). I give myself 3 hours — start to finish — he sings, i paint (like a sideshow of sorts). Since then ive amassed many pieces and now do my own art shows. Ive found if i dont give myself a timeframe, i never really finish a piece… the timeframe encourages me to finish. And yes, with quantity, the quality always follows… thanks for this validating article.
I must admit I am a procastinator and a stickler when I work, and very self-critical.
I will take your advice to heart, and start producing.
Thank you very much for your inspiring advice, and I wish you good success.
The old saw…”How do you get to Carnegie Hall?…practice practice practice is soooo true. I have been doing life drawing every week for 3-6 hours for about 14 months…I see the difference and it’s exciting. But I don’t work as consistently with painting and that’s what I need to change in my practice. Thanks for this very good article and thanks to those who have shared here…very helpful.
It is good advice that will eventually make the artist successful, provided they have good business sense too. If the artist is fortunate enough to be aware of the importance of consistency in the six areas discussed early on in the Art Business Academy program and knows their boundaries of what they will and will not do when asked about custom work, it is golden.
I had some of the first and none of the second. I was supporting myself from my art without a second job after three years, but it was about nine before I noticed that I was making more money for less work.
When you get to a point where you do feel stable in what you produce, you can purge out all your early unsold pieces and start again as if it was the same year you proclaimed yourself an artist. I did this a few years ago and business and artistic integrity have been better than ever.
The tax laws for artists are similar in the USA and in Canada. If you have a huge inventory at the end of your life, the tax department wants a share of it. They will tax your every work at the price it should have sold for if it had sold (the Fair Market Value).
It does make it a tough decision to barrel forward with the creation of many more works. On the other hand, when one is addicted to painting as many of us are, stopping is not a solution. Its a dilemma. However, I agree that one must continue to paint regularly and often to develop one’s signature.
Art is a mistress who doesn’t easily forgive abandoning it for any length of time.
Love this, Jason!
Yes Sir, you hit the nail on the head- quantity is better.
Personally, I strive to be an excellent realist painter. Yet, I admit, I have spent countless hours pining away on useless work only to find myself asking the same question: how can I be more productive without going INSANE on painting details and making the best use of my time?
It never ends, really. It’s an ongoing problem to solve in the realist’s arena because of the need to strive for perfection.
However, what’s helped me overcome the insatiable desire to be a perfectionist is to be sure I have excellent painting studies and drawings before I apply the concept to the canvas. This approach saves me a ton of time and prevents me from making major mistakes. Having a very clean, organized studio space is also key to success. This promotes the feeling of joy and relaxation.
Recently, I enjoyed what you discussed during one of your Art Business Academy sessions; to learn how to be “ambidextrous”…and I totally agree with this optional skill! One time, I went to a mural artist’s symposium and witnessed the artist perform like a conductor in front of a live orchestra! Like a beautiful ballroom dance partner, he painted beautifully and efficiently with both hands! I was kind of blown away… and, well, still trying to work that skill out- haha!
At the end of the day, you are absolutely right. It just takes practice, along with many trial-and-error paintings, to learn these valuable speed skills.
I thought you’d be quoting that pottery class–the one where half the class was graded on the quality of the pots they made, and the other was graded by the pound (Guess which one won?)
As for me (and especially since I taking away from my “crunch time” for my county fair), I’ve found that the “airline” approach works best. Airlines sell tickets at a variety of price points: rewarding planners who book way ahead, gouging desperate last-minuters, and occasionally giving out a steal to deal-finders on under-booked flights. At said fair, I’ve had paintings I hours slaving over get whites and pinks, while “quickies” that I’ve dashed off at the last minute ended up with blues and merits.
So slave away at your “magnum opus” and “cross train” with quickies–embrace variety in how you work!
I hadn’t heard about the pottery class Wendy – I love it!
Totally agree! For one thing, we are our own worst critics. We see flaws in our work that others see as genius. I always ask myself before I paint too much on one painting if it really needs more work. The answer is always no.
I’m new to this this blog , page but I have loved creating all forms of art most of my life and have really dove in the past 2 years to truly find my path with it all. This is all so motivational and educational. I love this whole forum , article, words from all the artists and the author here. I am seeing more and more it’s about creating more and that perfection is only in the eye of the beholder and with consistent works my skills continue to grow and get closer to achieve my goals in this area I love so much (Art). Thank you and I look forward to reading and learning so much more from this blog and it’s audience.
Agree! When the whole Duane Kaiser Daily painting thing started up, I belonged to a site called DailyPainters.com. I was still working as a labor and delivery nurse 3 twelve hour night shifts a week.7 pm To 7 am. I’d sleep till around 2:30 PM, get up and hit the studio and knock out a 6 x 6 or an 8 x 8 or a 5 x 7, put it up on daily painters site, eBay, and Facebook. Then I would get ready and go back to work by seven. With working three 12 hour shifts per week, I did have some spare days in there to work on larger pieces. Of course there was still cooking and laundry etc. My kids were already launched and my husband is super easy to please and would often just fend for himself for supper.
I think my work grew by leaps and bounds
Just by doing those little ones. I think I kept it up for about 2 years.
I agree totally. Been painting almost daily for 5 years. I do sell a little cheaper because of it though.
I am up early every morning and paint 2-5 hours and sometimes alter in the day. I can paint a couple of paintings or take days to figure out where I want one to go. I always have a few on the go at one time. My mind is always bouncing around..there are so many ideas to persue.
it is part of my soul and I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have time to paint. Just wish I could find some one to help with the website etc
Great article Jason! Thank you. I believe strongly that the brush miles make one a better artist in countless ways. Since I am still working full-time and running my art business, I find it necessary to juggle what I can when I can. Some mornings I’m able to paint before work and depending on how tired I am after work, paint more. On the days “I’m not feeling it.”, I work on social media, applying to shows, galleries, etc. I don’t have much idle time. You have to have grit in this business.
At my age I find that I take my time to create what I like at the speed that feels good to me. I don’t understand trying to do more paintings in a shorter amount of time. To me creating a work of art is feeling it as you go. Most of my paintings takes me up to 150 hours to create and I work in my studio 3-5 hours a day 7 days a week. If I miss a day or only spend a few minutes on what I’m working on it does not bother me. I always have music playing (Filter, Pink Floyd, Toll etc.) and my studio is always neat and orderly.
Well it just so happens that I had started to do this in spite of my inner artistic self saying slow down. I had gotten accepted into a local fall festival and even though I had plenty to display, I was feeling optimistic, thinking….maybe I will sell most of my work on the first day and not have much on the second day, so I better get to work.
I found that I had made a few minor mistakes in my mad rush that I was able to correct BUT it got the creative juices flowing and I stepped out of the box. Great read, thanks
As a public Mural artist … I have painted miles of walls, as a designer I have created miles of designs … I agree with everything you said about productivity…
I understand you needed a controversial statement to entice and engage readers … but as an artist I am concerned with Process and Final Product Outcome… I enjoy both! I often look back in wonderment, how did I produce so much? Easy … work full time!
It’s FEAR that gets in the way of many artists producing work and REJECTION is another emotion to move beyond … as an artist rejection has to make you stronger and more motivated!, not paralyzed!
I have been a professional artist ever since I got out of Art School in 1973. I was one of those Illustrators you refer to. I always put in a full 8 hour workday in my Studio….I am now 70 and paint everyday (a discipline I learned early on in my career). No retirement for me! Professionals never retire. Brush mileage is critical for success and paying the bills. My advice from a lifetime of making Art…..for what it is worth…..