Out of Practice: The Physics of Your Art Business

The reason you’re out of ideas is that you’re out of practice.

I was so proud of saying this to a client the other day that I asked her to hold while I wrote down the quote.

I knew to write it down because I’m in the practice of gathering ideas for my writing. I have a regular writing schedule. I can’t say the same for a studio schedule.

No Studio Practice

When Barbara Gilhooly and Ayn Hanna called for “heart art” for their commitment ceremony, I wanted to make a heart for them so badly. I stewed over it for three months before giving up. I had a twinkle of an idea, but no vision for making it happen.

Barbara and Ayn in front of the wall of hearts, a beautiful ceremony that I had wanted to contribute to. Photo courtesy Carol A. McIntyre.
Barbara and Ayn in front of the wall of hearts, a beautiful ceremony that I had wanted to contribute to. Photo courtesy Carol A. McIntyre.

That’s when I realized that the reason I couldn’t make it happen is because I don’t have a regular studio practice. I’m not in the habit of making art, so starting a new project seems like starting over. It would take more energy than I have available in my schedule.

Some of my clients have a problem coming up with ideas for their newsletter or blog, while others go blank in the studio. The root of the problem is the same whether you’re stuck in the office or in the studio: the reason you’re out of ideas is that you’re out of practice.

You’re not writing frequently enough or working in the studio as much as you should be. You’ve neglected your practice.

In a First for This Blog … Here’s Where The Physics Comes In

It’s Newton’s First Law of Motion, which can be paraphrased: An object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an external force.

In this case, the external force is the voice inside your head that fills you with excuses and diversions. If you want to maintain momentum, you must keep taking action.

If you want to maintain momentum, you must keep taking action.

Heart art
The wall of hearts that many artists with strong studio practices contributed to. Photo courtesy Carol A. McIntyre.

The minute you stop for a break, you risk watching that short break grow into a longer break and, before you know it, you’ve stopped altogether.

It takes much more energy to restart something than to keep it going.

I’ve witnessed this in my clients and students who “take a break” from writing their monthly newsletters because they think they have nothing to say. That one-month break turns into 6 months and then 12 months.

You may think this doesn’t sound too bad, but consider the implications. What do you tell your list after being AWOL for months at a time? Oops! I forgot you. I didn’t have anything to say, so I didn’t write. I didn’t think you’d care.

You don’t say that because it’s awkward and a little lame after promising them regular correspondence from you. To avoid this, you’re going to maintain the practice. And I promise that the more you write, the more you will find to write about.

When you have a practice – a routine – you’re more sensitive to what you need to maintain it. It feels good to be able to count on this structure.

Likewise, the more time you spend in the studio, the more ideas you will have for your art. The more structure you have in your studio schedule, the more freedom you will be able to express in your art-making.

Out of ideas? Get back into practice!


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45 thoughts on “Out of Practice: The Physics of Your Art Business”

  1. Thank you Allison for the AHA moment! That’s exactly what happened to me a year ago and you’ve put your finger on the cause while I had attributed it to something else. I was a bit confused about why I hadn’t started posting again when the something else had been resolved but you’ve nailed it.

  2. Great article! I am currently struggling with this very thing: WHAT do I do next? HOW do i jumpstart the process? After weeks of doing basic production, I am trying to get back to more creative work, and it is a leap of faith. However, needs must!

  3. I started a blog called ‘Weekly painting worth 1150 words’ (given that a picture is said to be worth 1000 words and I planned to add 150 actual words to each post) to force myself to paint something presentable every week, and write a short (and therefore doable) piece about it. I soon shortened the title to ‘1150 Words’ and I’m closing in on six years, averaging 60 posts a year, with only occasional lapses. I don’t offer my paintings for sale on my blog, but have combined several posts into small books (currently working on ‘The Fine Art of Physics’) which I sell on the blog.

  4. Despite not having a regular studio schedule, I’m never out of ideas. That’s because I learned, as you did, to “write it down.” Generally, ideas comes to me when I’m deeply involved in my graphic design projects. I stop and take a moment to sketch it — usually less than a dozen strokes — with minimal notation. When I work, I keep a stack of letterhead paper folded in half for this purpose. It gives me the option of a vertical or horizontal composition. Plus, it gives me four surfaces to alter the idea as new thoughts occur. The sketch/idea then goes into my 30″ x 40″ flat file cabinet for the future. When I’m ready to paint, I go to the cabinet and pick one. As of today I have 316 idea sketches, each of which could be a significant work of art for me.
    Chuck Close has said that “all the best ideas come out of the process.” I don’t agree. I do agree with him, however, that the idea can be changed and improved by the process, or that the process can even push the idea in another direction. Inspiration, ideas and productivity go hand in hand for great art. You don’t have to wait for inspiration or an idea to begin painting, you collect them.

    1. @Stephen: This is a wonderful approach. Must give it a try. Years ago there were no ideas (Yes Alyson, there was no practice either). Now the ideas are fleeting. At the time one pops up, I think “oh that is great, I will remember that”. But honestly, I forget with all of the other head filling things in life. I did not fuss with writing them down previously since new ones are constantly presenting themselves.
      What a sense of relief to have a go-to place for the old ideas.

  5. Yup, totally get this. I go through this every year. I’m going through it right now. I’m out of my studio from June to September and then it is definitely like starting over. I am at a blank. So, so hard to get going. After a few weeks of doodling, sketching, or just playing around with materials, I can finally start to get somewhere. Great post! Thanks, Alyson!

  6. Wow, first congrats to Barbara & Ayn!!!!!! What a creative way to celebrate – I’m sure the creative energy of the hearts will fill their life. Alyson -this article hit home – I have the studio practice down but forget to keep my writing up. Thanks for always providing the nudge I need!

  7. Thank you for all the thoughts and reassuring my confidence that I am doing best I can do. I always have too many ideas, but I always write all of them down and keep a folder to review when my mind needs help or reminded of the idea. I also keep a notepad beside my bed, so if I have any ideas in the middle of the night, I can write them down.
    I love the term sharing rather than marketing. I have alway taught my friends about my art and others. My studio has always been in my home, so I have been able to share my art with visitors.
    I started a year ago to be more consistent with my Facebook Art Page. I blog every Monday and that seems to work well.
    I taught art for 10 years and it was very fulfilling. I only do a workshop once an while now.
    “Happy Painting” Linda Lee Foster Paul

  8. So simple, but so true. Thank you! To add to Stephen’s point, I’d like to suggest that, if anyone has yet to get on the Journaling bandwagon, this is an excellent opportunity. If you write or sketch all of your ideas in one place, you don’t have little notes floating everywhere. Yes, this is personal experience. I was hesitant to start a journal for years, frightened by an entire blank page. My AHA moment came when I saw Jamie Fingal’s journal; each page is divided into smaller parts, a storyboard journal! They can be bought pre-divided or you can divide each page yourself. This made all the difference to me; 1/3 of a page isn’t nearly as daunting as a whole page and visually it is, in my opinion, freer and more exciting. Sorry to go off-topic, but it seemed right.

  9. Thanks Alyson, for this great article and for including our “heart” art installation and celebration! We had no idea how much everyone would love this idea of making heart art (76 artists participated) and the wall installation is so amazing. And not to worry, with what we’ve learned through involving our community of creative friends in this show, there will be more opportunities in the future to participate in another exhibit. The celebration and opening were so much fun…we’re working to keep that motion rolling!

  10. I’m really tempted to start adding silly responses to the test questions.
    And I’m also tempted to consider finding a value for the coefficient of static artistic friction now that it has been brought up. Would some of the variables be: number of days missed studio practice, number of tasks other than creating on the must do list, number of days til an important deadline, number of hours missed sleep (probably this one should be squared).
    I am never out of ideas! I am, however, often out of time and occasionally out of supplies.

  11. Hi Alyson, Last week was very good, starting the Art Biz Lift Off is a good study, and Marge and I started our campaign to clean out the rec room space and weed old stuff, then getting started to prep the whole room ( electrical, lights, painting, Direct TV hook up, plus prep floor for new carpet) and now is ready for carpet in October. While that is not working in the studio this class sort of got me off dead center to get our rec room finished by mid October after sitting idle for 6 years since we relocated. The garage is next, so my hat is off to you and your no nonsense approach to getting things done and on time. The first part to your module is thinking big and dreaming, while having just finished the affirmation section this next section will take a moment, and I am physically very tired now after 6 days of very intense physical work on the rec room so coasting a bit today, just to enjoy this pause while my body rests, catches up and then once energy gets back I’ll take off on this next challenge. I can let you in on a big shift for me from my larger painting,to now I am painting miniatures, which is 5″ x 5″ or smaller, less than 25 sq in. While I sold my larger oils of wildlife, never caught on with folks, and since the market is up and down these days why not try something completely new, nothing ventured nothing gained. I painted very steadily, daily in my studio, for the past 6 years about 75 original oil paintings a year sold on eBay, but could not get the auction style to work, time to move on. If you have a very dedicated customer list, eBay can work, but just cold and expect the search engines to make work you are in for a very big headache, you will not get the views and visits you need to consistently get a lot of bidding to bid your work up respectively, that is my experience. I do not like giving my art away for next to nothing after working so hard to make in the first place. Just in case other artist are not aware, being an artist for me has meant remaking myself over, completely every 2-3 years, or my work will not appeal to the public, is hard to do but if I do not do this the results are not that much fun and people will not stay with. Being an artist means to me to push into new areas all the time. I developed a new coating for my watercolors and now I am going to develop my work. Thanks have a great day, next time in the garden the white stuff will abound, with hope.
    Jimmie Springett wildlife painter

  12. Yes! I’ve been thinking about this same topic as of late while re-reading The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp.
    It’s amazing how our little routines and rituals can make all the difference in not only understanding good ideas from bad ones, but in how successfully we execute them.
    Thanks for the reminder!

  13. “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg helped me to understand what these things called “habits” really are and how to manage them. Somehow, believe it or not, reading that book led me to develop the habit of running 3 times a week. The interesting thing about habits is that if you form one new habit you lay the groundwork for others – your brain changes. So, forming the habit of running 3 days a week – something I never thought I would ever do – facilitates my improvement in other areas.
    I look at taking on the 30 day painting and blogging challenge as an opportunity to develop a habit I want to have – the habit of writing daily and painting daily. I don’t necessarily want to publish a blog or a painting daily – or to complete a painting daily – but I do want to paint and write 5 days a week.
    When my schedule gets so hectic that I can’t seem to find time to paint, I get anxious – not because I’m afraid I will run dry, but because I have a commitment to myself to do the things that I love to do. And this 30 day challenge is showing me that, no matter how hectic my schedule is, I can find time to paint and to write.

  14. Books on habits and rituals are inspiring, to me. They remind me that it helps to have some activities you don’t have to make decisions about.
    A wonderful new book out is “Daily Rituals – How Artists Work”. There are entries about many, dozens, of all sorts of creative persuasions – artists, writers, composers, scientists…. And giving a remarkable variety of ways to have daily working rituals. It’s all good.

  15. I took immediate action after I read your blog yesterday, Alyson. I started a painting and got quite a bit done. It’s a mountain landscape based on the Douglas County open space…and I’m back at it this morning. Thanks for reminding me to maintain momentum.

  16. So True, Alison! So true! This applies to even things like gardening or housekeeping 🙂 Thanks for the motivation to keep to my schedule! I find that my habit of saying ‘yes’ often leads me to be overcommitted. Something I need to work on!

  17. Just what I needed to ponder on today. This past year has been a whirlwind for me. I was comfortable,securely settled in my art, happily creating in my studio. Selling my work at art festivals and online. Then wham, last Christmas, just before the winter art season in Arizona, my husband was diagnosed with lung cancer. My world stood still. I canceled my shows and in a few months my life was turned upside down. I lost my partner of 43 years, my home, my car, my artist friends and had to leave the mountains of New Mexico. I had a wonderful following of collectors and was so comfortable with my creations. Now I’m faced with starting over. Reinventing myself as an artist in a new market in North Carolina. Such a frightening task at 60! But your blog today has inspired me to stop procrastinating, to start creating again. The challenge of making something new, finding new shows, meeting new artist friends. Time to reorganize and take time to blog, restructure my business and begin my new journey. Thank you for the right words.

  18. Hah! Spectacular post Alyson, and as often happens, quite timely.
    Just starting to get back into the swing of things after taking 6 or so weeks away. Though with me, ideas never stop flowing. It’s more often the actual production process of finding the time and getting over the fear that challenges me.
    Have just started some new rituals in the past few weeks. Thanks for the spark and support. Yes, I’ll have to revisit my Twyla book for more.
    Thank you!!

  19. Hi Alyson!
    I wanted to leave a note because I sent you an email about this the other day! I wanted you to know I appreciate your answer! No matter what form! THANK YOU!

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