Time and Motion | Discover Simple Ways to Create Your Artwork More Efficiently

BdTHThis is a guest post by Barney Davey

Time and motion studies have been around for decades. They are a staple of productivity gains in the Industrial Age of the 20th Century. The idea is to find the most efficient, effective way to do any job.

603px-Gary_Plant_Tubular_Steel_CorporationTime and motion experts study every step in a given process and look for ways to make that process more efficient. If, for example, an assembly-line worker is using three motions to complete a task that could more efficiently be completed in two, an efficiency expert would help the worker streamline his/her activity to eliminate wasted motion. While the efficiency gain for each action might be small, if that action is repeated hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of times, the cumulative effect of improved efficiency is tremendous.

How do time and motion studies relate to making art?

If you have read “Starving” to Successful, The Fine Artist’s Guide to Getting into Galleries, or taken one of Jason Horejs’ workshops, you know he stresses ramping up your production to make more art. It is a simple equation. In order to sell more art, you have to fill the pipeline and maintain production to support it. Galleries that promote your work expect you to be able to meet the demand they make for it. Your collectors and other distribution sources want to see new work all the time, too.

Total time spent creating a piece of art does not determine its value.

Art is never finished, only abandoned. ~ Leonardo Da Vinci

“How long did it take to paint (or sculpt, or make) that?” is one of the most common questions an artist will hear. Some artists and some collectors mistakenly relate the value of a piece to the time it took to make it. This is just flat out wrong. It totally discounts the years of study, training, experience and expertise that allows a skilled artist to create quickly.

Your work has intrinsic value that you cannot commoditize based on the hours it took you to create it.

You should never be embarrassed if you can make your work quickly and sell it at high prices. Rather than a stigma, it is a blessing. Understandably, you may not advertise the time spent creating the piece, but you shouldn’t undervalue your work because you created high-quality work in an efficient manner either.


Dreams of Sunflowers – Mikki Senkarik – www.senkarik.com

Dreams of Sunflowers – Mikki Senkarik – www.senkarik.com


I once was on an artist marketing workshop panel with Jack White. He is a successful, well-known master painter, and bestselling author of many excellent how-to art marketing books and novels. As an accomplished artist, he taught his wife, Mikki Senkarik, how to paint. Together, they have sold millions of dollars of originals and fine art prints.

One of the things Jack mentioned to the panel was how he taught Mikki to arrange her colors on her palette so the ones used most often were closer to the canvas. Now that may not seem like much. However, when you consider moving your hand from the palette to canvas potentially thousands of times in the course of making a painting, it will add up to saved time. Imagine how much more time you could save if you stop to think about how your workflow is arranged and how it can be improved.

Small improvements can earn big gains

Years ago, when I sold advertising for Decor magazine, I worked with an advertiser who sold saw blades to picture framers. A big portion of his revenue came from sharpening saw blades. Sharpening a saw blade takes many steps:

  • Receiving
  • Cleaning
  • Wash and dry
  • Brazing
  • Hammering
  • Face grind
  • Side grind
  • Top grind
  • Clean, inspect, dip
  • Ship

By bringing in a time and motion expert, this advertiser was able to rearrange his shop and workflow for much greater efficiency. The bottom line was he was able to do the same work with less effort and cut his turnaround time by around 50%. You can imagine how this improvement helped the finances and productivity of his small, entrepreneurial service business.

If you stop to evaluate what steps you take to make your art, you can find ways to make more art with less effort. This will translate to making you more money for the time you spend creating your art.

Some ideas:

  • Is it time to rearrange your studio to allow you to access your frequently-used tools and to clear your workspace of clutter?
  • Can you outsource some of your simpler tasks that are taking up valuable creative time? For example, if you are priming or varnishing your canvases, could you bring in an apprentice or intern to take over?
  • Create your own assembly line. Instead of preparing one canvas, painting the painting, varnishing it and then preparing it for framing, consider preparing multiple canvases at once, painting in succession and then framing all at once. Some artists will even paint multiple similar paintings at once, allowing them to mix paint one time and apply it to multiple canvases, creating a huge savings in time. Sculptors, photographers and mixed-media artists can also benefit by grouping like activities together.

Not every artist’s process allows for these kinds of changes, but any artist can find ways to increase efficiency and productivity without decreasing quality.

The work begins with a detailed analysis of what you are doing now, and how effective it is for you. Begin thinking of ways to improve your efficiency.

Fighting Perfectionism

Perfectionism is the mother of procrastination – Michael Hyatt

One of the ways you get more work in the pipeline is to learn when to let it go, or abandon it as DaVinci says. If perfectionism is causing you to stall in getting more work done, you should investigate if there are underlying issues at hand. You might be afraid of success, or afraid to fail. You might have other issues keeping you from enjoying the success you and your art deserve. Some people call this “head trash.” If you can recognize extreme perfectionism in your artistic practice, you can begin working to overcome it.

Join Me for My Upcoming Online Workshop

This coming Thursday, October 10th, I will be giving a powerful, new workshop, “Guerrilla Marketing for Artists” where I will share with you ways that you can not only improve your efficiency to create new work, but also creative and affordable ways to then get your work out in front of interested buyers. I invite you to learn more about the workshop and join me in this live, online workshop sponsored by Xanadu Gallery.
Learn More and Register by Clicking Here.


About the Author: Barney Davey

Barney Davey helps visual artists and fine art photographers succeed at the business of art. Since 1988, through his books, blogs, workshops and consulting, Davey has provided thousands of artists with practical advice, doable ideas, and useful information.


  1. Thanks Barney for this piece. You made the same point I’ve been trying to make on the Xanadu Mentoship on why we as artists shouldn’t apply time spent to the value of the piece. The time spent is the artists choice due to the love of their medium. This should not be passed on the the buyer in the form of a higher price.

  2. Thanks Barney. I am most interested in your information and have already signed up. I will be traveling that day so I really thank you for making the recording available. I always learn things from the information you and Jason are sharing.

  3. Not producing enough artwork is a big problem for me. Thanks for the article, I am going to try a few of the time-saving tips. I do like the idea of a series of similar paintings and work on all them at the same time.

    1. For artists especially, time is money. If you focus on your process and determine to get your speed up, you will amaze yourself with your output. It’s not just time and motion, it can be learning to be disciplined so you avoid distractions. That can be your family, the phone, the TV, social media, pets and all kinds of other things. You need to set aside work time and respect it and make sure everyone else does, too. Just because you work at home, assuming you do, it does not mean you have to juggle all those other things when you have studio time. Learning to let go is another way to get more done. When you are finished, spending another hour on minute details may not be worth the effort compared to having a whole hour working on a new piece.

  4. Fun article, Barney! I’ve been interested in time/motion studies ever since reading “Cheaper by the Dozen” as a kid.

    This year I am attempting to finish all the drawings for a book that I will be publishing next year. I am always thinking about how to be more efficient with my tools, and I have learned to slam out a drawing in fairly short order. Since I am motivated by completion and not perfection, I have to keep holding myself back from saying, “DONE! Next?” and actually try to view the drawings with more care. (No worries about perfectionism holding me back.)

    The fact that you quoted 2 of my “virtual mentors” Jack White and Michael Hyatt confirmed for me that what you write is worth reading. Thanks, again!

    1. That is a great book, and the 1950 b&w movie is a classic. Keep up the production, I bet you get better as you get faster. Glad you liked my sources. Here is one more for you: “Action is the foundational key to all success.”
      Pablo Picasso

  5. Check yourself! Be accountable! Find out!
    These podcasts have made such a difference in my life.
    You have a way to clear up those head games that cause doubt.
    Thank you for the parachute advice…’
    Leaping still,

  6. Your article is well-timed for me. Just this week, I started re-arranging the process I use to prepare poured acrylic paintings on cradled wood panels. I have 17 new pieces currently in progress, so the organization can be tricky. I decided to think of preparing the surfaces in “batches” at each stage and keep post-it notes by each with a checklist of things left to do on each piece. It is easier coming back into the studio later with reminders like that. Also, I think dividing tasks during the day according to how alert you are can help with studio productivity. I need to make product innovations and supply purchase decisions early in the morning, but I save simple tasks–like masking off the sides of a piece–for evening work when tired. Thanks for the excellent productivity advice. 🙂

  7. Hi Kirsten,
    It is good to learn the article’s info had a positive effect on your process. There is more time in each day than we know. All the best to you for continued success!
    Cheers, Barney

  8. In my 25 + years as both a stained glass and ink/watercolor artist I must have at least a dozen classic examples of finding more efficient methods. Most surprising of all is that most of them were right under my nose for many years. Two of my best examples:

    glass sunflowers – I was collecting glass insulators and noticed how the tie wire tied them to the telephone wire, and discovered that if I adopted similar engineering and cut grooves on the bottom of the petals and wrapped a wire around and soldered the other end to the center of the flower, I would not have to put a solder border on each of the 50 -60 petals. This saved me hundreds of hours and made them much more durable. If a sunflower blew over in a windstorm the wire between the petal and center would just bend instead of four or six petals breaking from having no flexibility.

    cityscape and landscape ink/watercolor paintings – If I drew the picture in with ink and filled in the color with watercolors, the average time for a full sized 30″X22″ piece was 35 hours. But, if I did the inking and filled in the color with pastel pencils the average time was 27 hours. I got the same or better quality of vivid colors.

    This is another reinforcement for Jason’s stressing of the importance of consistency in our artwork; simply the more you stick within parameters the more opportunity you will have to find shortcuts, which is impossible if you go off like a loose creative cannon, like I did for my first 9 years with my “I will make more money if I make whatever I think people want” mentality at the time.

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