May 4, 2017 | Alyson Stanfield

Do This Today to be Happy One Year From Now

Your exhibition/class/event was a smash hit, and now it’s over. You can breath a sigh of relief.

Your calendar is empty. The breathing room feels good for a few days, until you realize that you have no thoughts about what to do next.

I gently suggest that you take about 1.5 days to relax and bask in the afterglow of your success. Then, get back to work.

©Jennifer Mathews, My Gumball. Oil on canvas, 11 x 14 inches. Used with permission.
©Jennifer Mathews, My Gumball. Oil on canvas, 11 x 14 inches. Used with permission.

I’m not saying that you have to work at the fever pitch before your event. I’m just saying that you need something else to look forward to.

When there are no big plans on the horizon – no major deadlines – we flounder and may find it easier to procrastinate.

Without something to work toward, it’s easy to get lost in the black hole of social media or convince yourself that your inbox needs rearranging. Laundry, anyone?

Stop pretending that any of these (especially social media!) is satisfying. If you want to be happy one year from now, what do you have to do today?

Commit to the Big Scary Idea

It’s fine to accomplish small tasks and projects, but it’s the big goals – the things that are a little scary and a lot uncomfortable – that will move your art career further faster.

Big ideas motivate us to take action, and each action builds momentum toward a larger goal. All you have to do is decide to do it and commit to making it happen.

Here are six possibilities to consider for your next project.

1. Book an exhibition.

If I could choose a single Big Scary Idea for you, it would be to add an exhibition to your calendar. People will be able to see your art in real life, talk with you about it, and tell other people about it.

No, this exhibition will not be at the same place you’ve been showing for years. There’s nothing big or scary about that. Step it up a notch above your usual venues.

2. Schedule an open studio.

If you have a great studio, you might not need to find an outside venue.

©Rene Gibson, Survana. Swarovski crystal cow skull, 29 x 48 x 10 inches.
©Rene Gibson, Survana. Swarovski crystal cow skull, 29 x 48 x 10 inches. Used with permission. 

This open studio should be more prestigious than anything you’ve done before. Perhaps you could:

  • Hold back new work to be unveiled.
  • Invite another artist and reap the benefits of having two lists.
  • Set it up early and invite your VIPS, curators, and interior designers to special showings.
  • Give a gallery talk.

3. Have a sale.

When you have excess inventory or when your art is moving in a new direction, consider having a sale of earlier work.

As always, give your collectors and best patrons first choice. This eliminates any sore feelings over higher prices they might have previously paid.

Do it right. Ten percent off isn’t much of a sale. People are more motivated to buy when it’s at least a 30% discount.

4. Launch a regular newsletter.

While some of us do this as a habit, a newsletter is a big step for most artists and businesses. Many a newsletter never gets off the ground because either the artist doesn’t know what to say, doesn’t think anyone cares, or is waiting for more signups.

Let’s eliminate those three excuses:

  • You don’t have to know what to say. You just have to make the commitment to yourself and your subscribers.
  • Don’t make decisions for other people. Let them decide whether they care or not. Good heavens! They signed up to hear from you in the first place.
  • Having only a few names on your list isn’t a reason for not sending an email to those who signed up for it. You’ll never grow your list by ignoring those who signed up for it.

5. Start (and maintain!) a blog.

If you write well, take advantage of a blog – especially if you teach.

Blogging, when executed well and consistently, can:

  • Position you as the expert.
  • Help you to better understand your art.
  • Make you more articulate about your work.
  • Add more meaningful words to your site that might be found by search engines.

6. Teach a new class or workshop.

If you’ve been teaching the same thing in the same way for longer than you can remember, it’s time to rethink and refresh.

©Kevin Caron, Sweet Gum Ball. Recycled steel, 12 x 12 x 12 inches. Photo courtesy of Natasha Mishano.
©Kevin Caron, Sweet Gum Ball. Recycled steel, 12 x 12 x 12 inches. Photo courtesy of Natasha Mishano. Used with permission. 

Maybe you increase the value by adding more features (and charging more); or you offer it in a new location; or you decide to turn it into a retreat.

When you have a glimmer of an idea for a new class, go for it. You don’t have to know the name of it and you don’t have to know all of the features. Again, you just have to make the commitment.

Your Turn

What scary, uncomfortable idea will you commit to in order to be happier one year from today? I suggest holding yourself accountable by making a note on next year's calendar.

What’s your deadline?

23 comments add a comment
  • I wish I could figure out what would be scary :D I haven’t found anything about business that scares me. I’d love to do an exhibition but haven’t found anywhere to do one where my ideal people would find me.
    I work on the corner of the living room table or in my bedroom and live in a very rural area, so and open studio might be tricky although it could be a lot of fun if I could get people to come. It’s a lot further from the city here than it is from here to the city, in people’s minds.
    I am doing a sale of earlier work in acrylics this weekend. Thanks for suggesting a good number.
    I’ve had a regular newsletter since 2006 and a regularly maintained blog since 2003.
    I don’t teach art but I do teach joyful self-expression. Haven’t gotten many takers lately though.

  • Hi Alyson,

    Wow I always love all of your wonderful information. I did a workshop with you a few years ago and would like to attend another live event. I am interested in the retreat but I have looked for the price for the one is Portland and the one in Reston but I am not seeing prices–except of the hotels–listed anywhere.

    I don’t want to fill out all of that information as though I am registering just to know if it is something I can budget for. Can you tell me the price or where to find it.

    Thank you so much for all you give to artists,


  • I have a question about having a sale on artwork. I follow several of the major art blogs and those that are from a gallery’s perspective advise artists to never have a ‘real’ sale on their artwork. It is fine to offer a 10% discount for repeat customers or for multiple purchases for a special client a little more, but it is said we should never mark our work down—either rework it, put it in storage, or destroy it.

    So with your suggestion to mark down up to 30%, this seems to go against everything I have heard. I agree with you that it is best to offer any discount to the best customers.

    So how do I take your advise and then follow what all the galleries I have worked with say and never discount more than 10%? I would be compromising my relationship with the representing galleries if I do so–but I would love to move a few older pieces.

    I have been debating this issue in my head for years now. These are some of my thoughts.

    When someone purchased a painting at regular price, she had the ‘pick’ of the best of my paintings. After five years, maybe she still has the best of the group and I still have three left. These unsold paintings may have had their chance to sell in other locations. To me, they are still good paintings, and may have had lots of comments and even awards.

    When it is time to reevaluate raising my prices, I have never raised prices on an older painting. However, most art advisors say one should raise prices on all paintings including the old.

    So far I have figured out how to rework some of my paintings to change them enough to fit with my latest series of work, but it would have been so much easier to mark them down and move them. I cannot bring myself to destroy work for the sake of ridding myself of them. (First of all, they are not bad and second, they have used resources that I do not want to add to a landfill.) Reworking my work is very hard to do although it has offered up some new techniques that have enhanced my work.


    • Hi, Jeanne. Your question is a good one. If you have gallery representation, you would want to work with the gallery on any sale. And, like I said, first choice always to previous collectors.

      I suggest sales only of earlier work – when you have a lot of inventory, perhaps even of work that isn’t anything like what you do now.

  • Karen Leso Hegglin

    Hello Alyson,

    Again such wonderful content. A big scary idea, an Open Studio at my home studio and garden,
    for a date in May 2018! It is on the calendar. Thank you.

  • Hi Alyson,

    Big scary idea for me is to schedule an exhibit outside my little town. I just had a successful open studio and have a solo show scheduled at the local art center in September. Because of your suggestion to hear other artists I have been looking at the career of the artist who was my greatest influence, Barbara Rossi, my drawing teacher who taught at Roosevelt University and the Art Institute of Chicago when I studied with her. She is now an international exhibitor with work in major institutions. I developed my style because she taught the quality of the line, and to always have finesse.( Extreme delicacy or subtlety in action, performance, skill in discrimination and taste. Adroit and artful management. ) I heard her but the importance of thinking bigger, doing a scary thing did not sink in until listening to you. I need to show my work. Thank you, Alyson

  • Open Studio party on calendar for mid July this summer and (new for me) a limited list of summer classes to offer is in the works. Brochure outlining such is almost ready.

  • I am taking part in a county wide open studio event in September. I’ve done that before so it isn’t scary. What gives me moments of panic is the exhibition I am having in the parish church in June 2018. I have made a commitment to paint 25 portraits of gypsies for the exhibition, which is scary enough as I estimate 60 hours per portrait, but I have to find 25 “sitters” between June 8th and 11th this year. Strangely the universe seems to be doing its best to support me with offers of help coming from all directions.

  • I’m seriously thinking of having an open studio event in July. There will be a lot of planning involved. I’ll have to write down a schedule to make sure I don’t forget anything.

  • My big scary move is switching from papyrus font on my websites and for changing the background from black to white. You make “booking a new exposition” sound like you just have to pick up the phone and call a random gallery and poof you are on their schedule for next season. I has been my experience that just getting an established gallery to look at my work is a major hat trick. I agree we as artist should always be looking for challenges and keep looking outside of the box for opportunities, sometimes their are brick walls impeding artist such as money, time and demographics. Taking such scary risk at the wrong time can sometimes derail an artist career. The best advice I ever have gotten is from my wife: “Just paint your ass off”. In doing that I have gotten better and better until I am now reaching a tipping point where my artwork is being noticed and appreciated and selling. Yes there has been some marketing and networking along the way but none of that would have helped without the hard work of just painting my ass off. Too many artist that I have seen haven’t invested enough time in their artwork to warrant a successful career. I guess I’d rather be in my studio. It may sound odd but most of the successful artists that I have met have an incredible work ethic and spend very little time in marketing. The have struck a balance between the two with the overwhelming majority of their time spent in their studios

    • Kevin: First: yay to changing the site!

      Second, I love the advice. You’re right that too many artists market prematurely. However, while they may spend little time on marketing, they spend a helluva lot of time on the business. The more successful you are, the more in demand you are. You’re networking, making calls, organizing shows, etc.

      Third: You are assuming that a gallery is the only place you can have an exhibition.

  • I have yet to get that smash hit to deserve my 1.5 days of basking in my success. But I’ll get there! I have had a few works in jurried shows, but I’m daunted by putting together a solo show, but slowly and surely it is coming together. I have a theme, which is my most difficult aspect. I do a lot of playing and experimenting, but now I am trying to focus my energy on creating a cohesive body of work. Next step is to find somewhere to put it! Should I start inquiries before the works are done? Or wait until all is complete? Advice is appreciated! This and other articles are so helpful! Thank you, thank you Alyson!

  • Nicolas

    I just committed to book an exhibition 1 year from now. I´ve never done one and its the first time I see it as a possibility but lets see what happens.

  • Isn’t it better to decide to be happier NOW than commit to being happier in a year?
    You don’t have to wait a whole year to be happier.
    You can do it now.

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