The Art Biz ep. 135: Your Life is a Work of Art — Annual Review

You've spent the year honing your craft and learning how to be a better businessperson at the same time.

Before you go thinking about plans for the New Year, take some time to look back at all you have accomplished in the last twelve months.

Listen to this on The Art Biz

Recorded 2022.

Julie Anderson ceramic art
©Julie Anderson, Photosynthetic. Hand-build porcelain, 63 x 95 x 8 inches.

Let’s get this out of the way in case you're skeptical. There are at least 3 very good reasons for reviewing your year.

  1. Review your year to honor life.

    To appreciate the breaths you were given. Our crazy mixed-up world wants you to keep looking ahead and doing more. I get caught up in it, too. And I always want more for my clients. Reviewing your year grounds you in the present.
  2. Review your year as a reminder of what you have accomplished.

    It’s too tempting to look at the long list of what you want to do or what you have to do. Give yourself some grace for the work you have already done. This builds momentum and adds a deposit to your bank of hope.
  3. Review your year in preparation for future plans.

    You want to understand what was good about your year, what was challenging, and what you might do differently in the upcoming months.

Living 52 Weeks of Your Life

In early 2022 I read the book Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman. This book has had a profound affect on how I view productivity, which I wrote about here.

The title comes from the fact that the average person on this planet has about 4000 weeks of life in them, and Burkeman drills it home that we don’t really appreciate the brevity of it all.

He writes, “ … we’ve been granted the mental capacities to make almost infinitely ambitious plans, yet practically no time at all to put them into action.”


Looking back on the year, I can’t help thinking that we lost 52 weeks.

It’s a dark place to go. To look at the time that was lost. That angle seems not just dark, but downright unhelpful.

Instead of thinking about time lost, let’s look at all that we have experienced. I think Burkeman would agree: How we LIVED the 52 weeks.

Lily painting by Roseanne Wolfe
©Rosanne Wolfe, Blue Clay, Orange Lilies. Watercolor on paper, 23 x 18 inches.

Your Life Is a Work of Art

Your life is a work of art—a composition made of decisions, experiences, and milestones rather than color, shape, line, and texture.

Like any composition, it requires a careful balance. A deliberate balance. Not balance in the way the all parts are equal. A quick aside, but very relevant … I don’t believe in assigning percentages to life areas in order to find “balance,” because I want to do more of what I love.

Gratefully, I love my work. I love helping artists discover their individual paths and identify the strategies that work for them.

And I love looking at good art. Lots of art. More art. I love reading about artists and watching art documentaries.

My life composition is heavily weighted toward art. I imagine yours is, too. Some might look at us and say we’re out of balance. We know better.

A balanced composition of your life means that it’s harmonious for you. You may not need or want weekly massages. Your 1 day at a spa each year might be like that little dot of red paint you might see in a Matisse painting. It’s all you need.

Paper Basket by Candy Wooding
©Candy Wooding, Tumbleweeds. 420 pieces of hand-folded and hand-painted paste paper, burl wood base, 6 x 6 x 6 inches.

What  are the parts of a harmonious life for you?

You must assess your year holistically.

In The Artist’s Annual Review, I provide 51 questions that encourage you to to look at your year holistically.

Again, you can get those prompts by following this yellow button:


It starts with personal stuff like happiness, travel, and hobbies.

Next I want you to think about the work you did in the studio and how it changed. Dig deep into your creative output and I’m certain you’ll have a few aha moments.

Then, because it’s vital to keep learning in order to grow, reflect on how you fed your brain. What did you learn and where or from whom did you learn it? If you teach, do a wrap-up of how your courses and workshops went.

Finally, you finish The Artist’s Annual Review with business and marketing. Go beyond the numbers and examine how you evolved as a business owner.

The reason I love my business is because I get to experiment. It’s a full-on creative act for me. I want you to see how you can apply creativity to your business, and that you’re probably already doing it more than you know. It makes it much more fun.

Like your art, your life is also informed by experiments. Some on purpose. Others quite by accident.

What do you discover?

Where is the magic?

What moves the needle?

This Year Isn't Over

It’s the time of year when we begin to eagerly anticipate exchanging calendars. The New Year is within our line of sight and we’re eager to start fresh.

You can correct me if I’m using the royal “we” mistakenly and I’m the only one tempted to jump ahead, but I don’t believe I’m alone. Who doesn’t love an opportunity to begin again?

The holidays, and all that they entail, remind us that the current year isn’t quite done with us. We need to be present for all the days ahead. To, as I said earlier, honor life and the breaths you are given because nothing is certain about the future.

Cyd Rust figurative painting
©Cyd Rust, Life: Love Unconditionally. Acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36 inches.

5 RE-Words

To stay present in this year, reflect on the past 365 days and remember what made this trip around the sun different from other years.

As long as you’re reflecting and remembering, I hope that you also record.

Your written account of the year will be something you can return to in the future as a reminder of what you accomplished, what you experienced, what you learned, who and what you encountered, and more.

Your annual review is just for you. Nobody else should read it or will, likely, want to read it. Unless you turn it into a work of art, which, of course, you absolutely can.

Did you catch all my r-e words?

  • Reflect on your experiences.
  • Remember what you accomplished and encountered.
  • Record your reflections and memories.
  • Return to your record in the future when you want to …
  • Remind yourself of how full the year was for you.

All wrapped up in your annual review. (See what I did there? 😉)

Painting by Paula Neys
©Paula Neys, Serenity. Alcohol ink on paper, 4 x 6 inches.

Now Let's Add a P

Your annual review will also, when you’re ready, help you prepare for the New Year.

You can’t help making wiser decisions after taking stock of the past. Wiser in the sense that they are better for you and the vision you have of a balanced life—whatever balance means to you.

I mentioned Four Thousand Weeks in the beginning of this post. This book has affected how I want to work and how I want to help my clients.

Through my programs, coaching, and consulting, I want you to make the most of your 365 days a year—however you want to spend it.

I’ll tell you more about changes in my business in upcoming episodes of The Art Biz, so be sure to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. (And please do leave a review if you enjoy The Art Biz.)

In the meantime, your action is to start working on your annual review. Those 54 questions are waiting for you in The Artist’s Annual Review. It’s a process that will take you at least a couple of hours, so I suggest blocking out time and doing a one section a day.

I also suggest a ritual around the process—one that you should customize for yourself, but you’ll see my recommendations.

Extra Credit

If you are so inclined, I hope you take photos of your annual review ritual and, if further inclined, share on social media. Tag me on Instagram <@alysonstanfield> or Facebook <@Art Biz Success>. I’d love to see them.

This was originally published in 2016 and 2017 and has been updated so much that it doesn't even resemble its earlier self.😆  The podcast episode was recorded in 2022. Original comments have been left intact and reference The See Plan.

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48 thoughts on “The Art Biz ep. 135: Your Life is a Work of Art — Annual Review”

  1. Alyson,
    Last year, you posted the 8 Cs. I found it extremely helpful in reviewing 2015 and planning 2016. I sought it out to review 2016 and plan 2017. Excellent re-post!

    Last year, thanks to your 8 Cs, was the first time I’ve ever done a formal review and plan. This system makes Overwhelm find a place on the shelf and be entertained by candy and TV.

    I use your 8 Cs as a mind map. I added the questions for each C into Evernote last week and will use them to fill in mind maps for 2016 and 2017. (Note: I do add the link to the note, as this is your content.) I quickly notice the sections that need more ideas/items and those that I can “back off” because they are “too full” of ideas/items. Well, those with too many ideas get culled into a “later time” file, lol.

    So excited you re-posted this. Thanks!

  2. The best single thing for my art career this year was that I committed myself to becoming successful and got out there. I toyed with a full time art career and finally have the time since I no longer work a conventional job. I was consistently trying to produce art for the last 15 years but never had the time to devote to growing MY business. I realized I have the gift of time now in addition to the gift of producing saleable art. So in July I knuckled down. I paint in watercolor and I began private oil painting instruction — with great results. I entered and got into local exhibits — and was thrilled to win prize money. I participated in an online contest – and won a monthly first place award with promotion and a certificate for art supplies. I put myself out there to do a pop-up painting demo at a local historic building — and found I had 3 hours of constant visitors and sold (2) prints. Suddenly this past summer I received a new commission — and just received another one from a client. I rejoined a local art group and found they needed someone to organize and grow their social media presence — so I volunteered to do this since it comes easy for me and will help be keep in touch with what is going on with the art community. I work on creating work every day unless I have other commitments and then I try to focus on studying and exploring other artists techniques in print or via the internet. I committed myself to this just as I committed myself to successfully growing other people’s businesses in the past. And it works, by gosh, it works. Next year year, rinse and repeat. And continue to follow your great advice, Allyson. Thank you for being here to help us.

  3. I made it to Hawaii this year, as well — to get married (again, and as a retiree). Took a painting workshop that challenged me very much, tasked myself with 50 one-hour plein air painting exercises in addition to other work, introduced my 4-year-old granddaughter to oil painting (she’s pretty good!), and have paintings in two metro exhibitions this Fall and an invitation to show in a nearby gallery. Have just settled on a new business name and state sales tax number. NOW: #1 priority: produce inventory. Work on that every single day, in some way. Scuttlebutt is that Santa will be replenishing some of my painting supplies. Website coming in 2017. I don’t know when I’ll need a memorial stone, but I don’t want it to read, “He had much talent . . . but he was so very busy, you know.”

  4. I’ve already started my review of 2016 and I’m looking at how I can take things up to the next level. My highlight of 2016 would have to be being shortlisted for the Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year. I have never been involved in television before and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It was also my biggest challenge and pushed me out of my comfort zone big time. Completing a painting in 4 hours when I usually create paintings in days. It was stressful, but in a good way. Now I know I can do it, I’m going to try again next year…
    Challenge for next year is to get my work into some offices and more galleries.

  5. This is the perfect post for this house. Running both a design and art business, I decided it was time to graduate into a full accounting system (instead of jus invoicing and expenses only tracking) and I am putting that into place retroactive for the year and going forward. You have so many great questions here that can give me better clarity about how to achieve my goal ‘more time for painting’ and what steps I need to take now for a stronger art career tomorrow. Thank you!

  6. I recently blogged a year in review. I am extremely proud of my achievements this year, over past years because I really stepped out of my comfort zone and became more visible than I have ever been as a business owner and actually organised my own exhibition to raise funds and awareness for a charity I volunteer at and what is more is I did not have help to organized it, I did it alone on top of working 3 days a week and being ill for two months straight. The exhibition was opened by our councillor who bought a painting from me. I advertised on many places on the Internet including my website and I drove to 7 towns and approached companies to put posters up which they did. It was advertised in the local paper and I was invited for an interview at my local radio station. I have also sold prints and xmas cards this year. It truly has been a very successful year and I can’t wait to top it next year

  7. So happy to hear that you have fulfilled your dream of going to Hawaii.
    Enjoy your time delayed honeymoon and have a very happy anniversary.
    Thank you for the work you do helping and lending your support to all us artists.

  8. 2016 was a problematic year for me in the studio. I tore my rotator cuff of my dominate arm which cased a lot of pain while trying to make art. I did some but not nearly as much as I had hoped. I’ve had surgery and I’m looking forward to being more productive in 2017.

    One the positive side, I sold a piece to someone I don’t know — my first!

  9. Single best thing that happened to my art career in 2016? Winning Best New Artist at the Armonk Outdoor Art Show!
    What are you most looking forward to in the new year? Learning how to improve my art business with the Inner Circle!

  10. Thank you for the great article. I am trying to get better at year end reviews, and a friend sent me a link to your article.

    In 2016 I experimented with posting YouTube videos, and I have hit a small amount of traction. I am making about $50 a month passively through 2 or 3 videos.

    While not enough to make a living off of, seeing some money from doing something, I don’t consider work has been a real eye-opener for me.

    I am planning on starting a few other YouTube channels as experiments to see what I like doing and what people like watching.

    We are about to hit 500 subscribers (probably by Feb 1) and 200,000 views in March.
    You can come celebrate with us at

  11. The single best thing I did for my art career last year was join the Art Biz Coach Inner Circle. It was a big commitment and I worked my butt off, but it paid off in spades: financially, personally, professionally. So glad I made that investment in myself. My list of celebrations from last year is long.

  12. Love this! I have previously mentioned in comments and emails that I had to dedicate 2017 to completing my MBA- and it’s now DONE!! Cuz a girl has to work (or this girl does!). I didn’t make a lot of art but three things came through when I read your questions: a) I learned a lot as a self-taught artist about finding the courage to create art, finding my style, technique, my technical shortcomings and my vision for myself as an artist including my target audience, where to find them and how much to charge b) I went to Chicago for the sole purpose of studying the great art at the museums there and spent three days in the Art Institute alone slowly investigating and soaking in the paintings, prints, drawings and sculptures there- dazzling, awe-inspiring, instructional- and left with my mind full of new images and vocabulary and concepts c) I came to terms with my schedule- I work 40 hrs, commute by bus and train another 15 (usually standing) and have obligations 3 nights a week to non-negotiables (health and family)- that means that my goal of painting or drawing daily is probably not realistic BUT I can create studio hours in 2018 that take place on the weekend, make them sacred and begin the journey of overcoming those technical deficiencies and making art in my own unique way again. This blog and podcast have been a KEY to this past year, so happy to have found you!

  13. The year has been difficult as I now find myself in the role of caregiver to my husband in his battle with cancer. You helped me focus on what I did accomplish including a successful studio tour in the spring, a trunk show at a local gallery and participation in a large group show by artists who have been recognized as “Local Treasures” in the Albuquerque area for what we have given back to our community over the years. My frustration is been that I have little time out in nature which is where I draw inspiration for both my paintings and photography. Well, I have 40 years of material – film and digital to draw from and new techniques to experiment with (including cold wax and oil paint), so there’s no excuse for not getting out in the studio (next to my home) and working hard in 2018.

  14. I now see that I am an artist with something to offer others and I have come to deeply value my time….these were the greatest shifts for me this year.

  15. Thanks for encouraging us all to take a look at what we have accomplished in the past year. It’s so easy for me to bemoan what I’ve not gotten done. I joined a conscious business group that helps me keep my focus. Another member of that group hired me to illustrate a small book she has written. We worked so incredibly well together, it really boosted my confidence and she has become my greatest advocate. I committed to hanging my work at the library in an affluent community nearby for the month of November. I created all new works for the display and challenged myself to work intuitively in media that was outside my comfort zone. I also finished a ridiculously detailed pen and ink drawing that I’ve been tinkering with for years! I finished a challenging commissioned piece plus a fun drawing on deadline. To keep this ship afloat, I did lots of creative framing, photographed items for posting on an online business and did some French mat painting. For 2018 – first priority is to get a website up. I will also play more with two media that I’ve neglected – egg tempera and printmaking. After all, there’s this etching press in the middle of my studio calling out for more use! It sounds so much better written out than rattling around in my head with all those other thoughts…

  16. Thanks for this exercise, Alyson!

    Several things stick out in my mind, at the moment. First, the biggest support I received was emotional – from my bereavement support group. Then come the advances: I started a whole new body of work that combines painting with bead weaving, I produced an online facebook shop sale (Earrings on the Go!), I got my first greeting card accepted to GreetingCardUniverse in time for National Family Caregiver Month (November) and I have started spending more time in my studio which finally is (perhaps rudimentary) a studio. Even if it is a room in my house, it is a dedicated room and the only things in there are art related.

    Considering where I’ve been, these are fantastic advances in my opinion.

  17. One of the best things I did for my art practice was attending your seminar in San Francisco a decade ago. Thank you, Alyson, for your practical advice through the years to help artists move forward. I am currently in a city-sponsored four-year artist residency that requires a formal annual report of art production, exhibits, professional development, lectures, etc. I love how your 8-Cs format goes beyond a list of resume items to engage the creative and thought processes that underscore the work of successful artists. You’re awesome! The single best thing that happened to me in 2017 was winning the SVLaureate prize for artistic accomplishment and contribution to the cultural life of Silicon Valley. I’d like to say that Alyson Stanfield helped inspire the work that led to the award.

    1. Thanks for asking to see the work. Go to to view my portfolio. The SVLaureate award is given to five artists annually for long time careers and one for an emerging artist. My recognition was the “Off-the-Wall” category in sculpture. Feels good to get this kind of validation after the many ongoing rejections that working artists continually receive!

  18. I managed to get more people to see my art, more free art models and more people to see me as the artist that I am. This wasn’t easy for me during this time since I broke my right leg in 3 places and tore my muscles,tissue, nerves and Achilles heel on my left foot. I also had the nerve to rip the skin on the top of my femurs when I past out from all this trauma. It was hard to find a way to show me and my work because I was confined to using a wheelchair to get around. My big goal next year is I’m looking forward to a big splash of showing my art everywhere

  19. I was awarded 1st Place for a pastel in the Pahrump, NV Fall Festival. I was granted a commission to do a life size pastel portrait of a bride from someone that saw my art at a show. It was surely a challenge, I learned I could do it well and they loved it. I learned HTML to update my website and add my new paintings. I was surprised to see how much work I had done. The main thing I learned from this Annual Review was many things I need to do. I taught esthetics so now I need to teach art. I live in a small town with many people wanting to know how to paint watercolors and pastel. Thank you so much for this Annual Review. You opened my eyes to what I need to do and celebrate what I have already done. My website is almost up to date so here it is:

  20. I love you for sending these things! The single best thing I did for my art career, was keep on believing in myself even with all the doubts. To keep on building my new mixed media e-course, painting new art, and booking new shows. I continue to make cards for Trader Joes greeting card line, and have several other licensing contracts (we’ll see how they pan out). And have even started working on a book. Thanks Alyson, I am looking forward to diving into this. Your emails are a constant source of support.

  21. The best thing this year was having two museum acquisitions.

    Mischief and Plunder – three bronze Magpies was selected for Birds in Art at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wausau WI, then purchased for their permanent collection. The Last Whistle, a monumental bronze sculpture of a blue collar worker was purchased by a Foundation during ArtPrize 2016 and was installed on Labor Day 2017 at The Saginaw Art Museum.

    For an artist who travels over 30,000 miles for the past 16 years, setting goals is the most important I do each year. Working on my new list soon.

  22. The best thing this year was joining your Inner Circle Alyson! By the end of the year I found some real clarity around my arts practice and business. And it was wonderful to make the trip from Australia over to Portland, Oregon to meet many of you in person.

    There are so many great things achieved this year, too many to list!

    Thank you Alyson, I’m coming along for another year in the Inner Circle and can’t wait!

  23. Thanks so much, Alyson, for providing us with such a thoughtful Annual Review. Your FBF was one of the best things I did this year. I am putting into place many of the systems and I just sent my first email marketing via Constant Contact today. Because of my first solo show at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art this summer I forced myself to learn how to talk about my art comfortably and participated in many gallery talks. After the show closed in September I finished many art projects that I had promised people over the last two years while I was finishing the work for the show. As of a few days ago those promises have all been delivered and I am starting 2018 fresh. The FBF course influenced all of these things. Thanks again, wishing you and all of us many blessings in 2018!

  24. Thank you so much for this annual review Alyson like my art career it continues to evolve. I love spending quiet time filling this out and setting some solid goals. 2017 was the year my art went in a new direction and I am thrilled how it has forced me to grow. Thank you for all you do in the art community. Wishing you much joy and laughter in 2018!

  25. Thank you for posting this great article Alyson. We are so busy looking ahead that we forget to stop and assess all of our accomplishments, and our lessons along the way. I will definitely use the review before Planning for 2018! Thank you and much continued success in 2018!

  26. Pingback: Don’t Forget to Check Your Rearview | Elizabeth Fram

  27. Alyson, I love all you do for artists. I have been benefiting from you work since my first artbiz seminar in Golden. The artbiz success system has made it easy for me to treat my art with respect and dedication and helped me refine what I really want to do. Thank you for what you do.

  28. Pingback: The North Gate Opens: Stepping into the Mystery | DONNA IONA DROZDA

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Your Artist Mailing List: Rethinking + Assessing

Get a transcript of episode 182 of The Art Biz (Rethinking Mailing Lists for Artists) followed by a 3-page worksheet to evaluate the overall health and usage of the 3 types of artist lists.

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Your Artist Mailing List: Rethinking + Assessing

Get a transcript of episode 182 of The Art Biz (Rethinking Mailing Lists for Artists) followed by a 3-page worksheet to evaluate the overall health and usage of the 3 types of artist lists.

Where can we send it? 

To ensure delivery, please triple check your email address.

You’ll also receive my regular news for your art business.

Privacy + Terms