Commit to Something Big

Your exhibition is over.

Now what?

Sara Drescher watercolor painting clear water bottle balanced on white and gold teacup sustainability | on Art Biz Success
©Sara Drescher, Culture. Watercolor on paper, 18 x 30 inches.

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

You were so geared up for this that you haven't had time to think beyond the preparation and deadlines.

Post-show deflation is real.

But you don't need to have a show end to experience the business blues. Maybe you're down because you don't have a show, you aren't selling, or people aren't signing up for your workshop.

Time to explore the next thing.

Without something to work toward, it’s easy to start telling yourself stories. To assess everything that is wrong. Or just to ignore the situation and convince yourself that your inbox needs rearranging.

To feel fulfilled, you need something to look forward to.

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.

oil painting brown gumball from tree on dappled brown background Jennifer Mathews | on Art Biz Success
©Jennifer Mathews, My Gumball. Oil on canvas, 11 x 14 inches.

Here are five possibilities to consider for your next project (and a 6th much bigger idea following).

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.

This exhibition will not be at the same place you’ve been showing for years. There’s nothing big or scary about that.

Look for a venue that is a notch above where you are accustomed to showing.

[ Art Exhibition Checklist and Timeline ]

2. Schedule an open studio.

No “official” studio? Make it a house party.

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 an artist talk.
  • Be inspired by Simonne Roy's successful Quiet Gallery Experience.
Rene Gibson sculpture from cow skull | on Art Biz Success
©Rene Gibson, Survana. Swarovski crystal cow skull, 29 x 48 x 10 inches.

3. Have a sale.

Discounting your art is never my first choice, but there are times when it's necessary.

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

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

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

[ How to Have a Sale of Your Art ]

4. Start a blog.

If you write well, take advantage of blogging—especially if you teach.

Blogging, when executed well and consistently, can do the following.

  • 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.

But only if you maintain it.

[ Podcast episode: The Benefits of Blogging About Your Art with Lisa Call ]

painting stone rose window artist Grace Scharr McEnaney | on Art Biz Success
©Grace Scharr McEnaney, The Rose Window. Watercolor on Arches paper, 27 x 32 inches.

5. 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.

Maybe you increase the value by adding more features (and charging more).
Or you offer it in a new location.
Or you find an online platform that's a good fit.
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. You only have to make the commitment.

When you've marked all of the above possibilities off your list, there's one more option. But it's not for the faint of heart.

Develop a Legacy Project

Legacy projects are much bigger than a Big Scary Idea, and include a combination of these traits:

  • They are conceived and created/implemented over the span of multiple years. Perhaps a lifetime.
  • They are often wrapped up in a social issue that the artist is passionate about.
  • They are rarely forced. The artist is driven by purpose to make it happen—never knowing exactly how it will happen.
  • They almost always involve collaborating with other people.
  • They might include a fundraising component through crowdfunding, grants, public funds, or a combination of all these.
  • They quite often lead to more exposure and opportunities for the artist-organizer.

All of these guests on The Art Biz podcast talked about their legacy projects …

Knit Democracy Together with Eve Jacobs-Carnahan

Building a Legacy Brand and Destination with Sean VanderVliet

The Investing Artist: Art, Real Estate, and Legacy with Mary Erickson

Multi-State Multi-Year Multi-Artist Art Project with Marilyn Artus

Crowdfunding a Public Art Project with Romy Owens

Kevin Caron Sweet Gum Ball Recycled steel sculpture | on Art Biz Success
©Kevin Caron, Sweet Gum Ball. Recycled steel, 12 x 12 x 12 inches. Photo by Natasha Mishano.

One Final Piece of Advice

When you really want to avoid the blues or predicaments after your project is finished, have another in the pipeline at all times.

This is why you plan. So you don't have a lull in your business.

[ See Artist Planning Sessions ]

I want to be clear, though, that you need time off.  Planning for consecutive projects doesn't mean you work nonstop.

You must take breaks, vacations, and gather your inspiration and source material in order to be fresh for your next Big Scary Idea.

This article was first published on March 16, 2011. It has been updated and expanded with comments left intact.

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54 thoughts on “Commit to Something Big”

  1. I have just committed to something big. I will be shipping five of my pastels to the Abend Gallery in Denver for a Pastel Invitational exhibit. I will be included with nine other very well known artists from the Western states. I’m just amazed this has even come about. I was invited by the gallery after one of their artists saw my work on my website. You just never know.

  2. I’m in total agreement, Alyson! The big thing is not knowing the details of HOW you will realise your big idea but simply that you WILL!

  3. I just committed to producing an ambitious art event, called 6×6, which will present six, back to back, one week only art exhibitions beginning in September in New York City.
    “Don’t wait for someone to ask!” Exactly.
    More artists should take their careers into their own hands.
    Fortune favors the bold.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Nice, Kesha! Are these exhibits of your work, or are you curating work for others?

    2. Great move Kesha-is that a solo show of your work?-or are you connecting with other artists? I’ve been a artist with lots of energy towards outside-nobody can sit and wait-that’s not our business…..
      Great and congrats again……

  4. Thanks for this Alyson. It seems like somehow I’ve blinked and it’s March. While I’ve been doing newsletters, fb and sending out postcards, and of course painting, I definitely need to define some goals and make some specific plans. There’s always room for improvement.
    And Deb, your work is beautiful, I wish you much luck with your exhibit at Abend.

  5. I’m in the process of growing my business! 1) Moving out of my house into a real studio, getting apprentices to help with studio production, buying new jewelry cases for my booth, talking to more stores and galleries, and creating new jewelry designs! Phew! My head is spinning!

  6. Well, I committed to something big! I am having my first solo exhibit in May and the Pebble Peace Gallery in Doylestown, PA . I’ve only been making art for less than 5 years, so I definitely couldn’t pass this opportunity up.
    The biggest challenge has been that to exhibit at this gallery I was required to make several large scale pieces (at least 30″ X 40″) and I had never made anything nearly so large. But now after about 6 months of hard work the big ones are done (9 of them!) and I can’t believe how much I’ve learned and have grown as an artist in making them!
    If I didn’t have this show deadline pushing me, I *never* would have even attempted pushing myself this way. So I totally agree, while scary at times, committing to something big has been great for me 🙂

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Abby: That’s great! Just remember to set a new big deadline soon. Those post-exhibit blahs can be debilitating, so I hear.

    2. Gosh, I thought that was only me, Alyson! I feel reassured! I’ll definitely note down your idea of scheduling another big deadline for a few months after an exhibition…Hopefully I’ll never get this Post-exhib blues again 🙂

    3. Thanks Alyson! I didn’t really think about that, but it totally makes sense! I’ll have to look around for my “next big thing’

  7. My big idea is to have a space for Original Impulse. I want to host gatherings, salons, workshops to build more community locally. My idea is that I live in an attached apartment – above or behind or something really cool. I’ve had this big idea since at least 2007 and it is getting clearer!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Cynthia: You SO need this! You own both spaces: the creative studio space and the attached apartment. You need a good kitchen, too. You’re too good of a cook to leave that out. 😉

  8. In the rare moments that I don’t have a deadline, I commit myself to a big, knock your socks off, time consuming painting.A painting that pushes my abilities. Since I make my living with my paintings, I often have to stick with the status quo. I usually have to stop and start on these “masterpieces” fitting them in to the down time but in the end I have something of which to be most proud.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      I love that, K. Is it hard to make yourself do that – not knowing how you’ll show it or where it will find a home?

  9. My intention is that, within the next 3-4 years, I’ll be able to pull together a joint Mongolian-American artists show, with venues in both the United States and Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
    At this point, I’m working on making the contacts I need in Mongolia. One of my goals for my trip this year (in August/Sept) is to visit some individual artists and their studios. A new, high end (the President and Prime MInister of the country are on the board of directors) gallery opened recently and I plan to check it out.
    Facebook has been critical for this. I found out about the gallery, Tsagaandarium, through a link a Mongol friend posted and I’ve been commenting on the gallery’s posts to get on their radar. I’ve also got a few Mongol artists as FB friends.
    For those of you thinking “Mongolia? Artists?”, here’s one painter’s website. He’s good. Really good. And there are many more who are just as accomplished. Art and artists are valued and respected in Mongolia. Kind of refreshing, actually.

  10. Hi!
    Last fall I sent a video of myself singing and playing guitar through social media titled “disABLED artist/musician beats the odds” after severe illness from Lupus and being told that I would not be able to sit unaided in a chair much less hold a guitar and sing again. Miracles need to be shared. This project was created after that shared Utube video and here we are. This is the link to my ‘next big project”. Thank you for your part in this and your invaluable encouragement.
    Celebrate the day!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Nancy: I watched one of your videos. That’s wonderful. Good for you for fighting the odds!

  11. One show one artist, 4 venues all at the same time.
    May 20 – June 18, 2011
    Pinot & Palette is a celebration of prospering, terroir, and the cross-pollination of two of Oregon’s renowned art forms: painting and winemaking. With works that explore the beauty of the vine and viticulture, the Oregon landscape, and the romance and industry of Oregon’s wine producers, this multi-venue exhibit will be a celebration of the grape and all that we appreciate about life in the Willamette Valley.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Wow! I remember talking about something similar with you when I met you in Portland. But 4 VENUES?!

  12. Boundaries and deadlines are what give us direction and force us to think creatively. Many times lack of time, direction and money can be turned into a positive, mind-blowing experience with boundaries and deadlines.
    Lack of time: I work in a smaller format for quicker completion. I only have time right now to create journal pages. I don’t know where these pages will lead me but I’m having fun creating and exploring. Will they lead to a show or be inspiration for later larger works?
    New Directions: a) I started a Plein Air group in Costa Rica that meets monthly. B) Four diverse artists (2 in USA; 2 of us in Costa Rica) have recently started a “Visual Dialogue”. Works inspired by the previous artist will get mailed back and forth between these two countries. c) This Saturday I will co-host the first in a series of three monthly Yoga+Creativity one-day workshops. The yoga (taught by another person) will prepare the participants for the creativity part (me). There are three different themes.
    Money: I try to use found materials and what I have in my studio before purchasing more. Hopefully the abundance will arrive through teaching workshops, tours, etc.
    Good luck everyone!!!!

  13. Great idea! I’m committing to two “big things” — developing and refining a new body of artwork (long overdue) and developing and marketing a series of workshops and/or one-on-one training sessions for people who have asked how I create my digital art.
    Of course, I’ve also committed to joining Alyson’s Artist Conspiracy , which is quite a challenge in itself and I’m in the process of trying to figure out a system to integrate the lessons, challenges, etc. as a regular part of my life instead of something I do “when I have time”.
    All good stuff!

  14. During slower times I recently started to focus on discovering art competitions to submit my artwork to. Just a few days ago one of my pieces got finally selected, and I now will participate in the first San Francisco Spring Open Studios Preview. This is just another way to multiply your chances to exhibit, publish it in art books, or win even some $$. Usually there are a lot competitions out there, so you can chose what subject matched best with your artwork (abstract, flow, figurative,..). Mostly they charge a small submission fee of about $30-$40, but I think it’s worth to try it once in a while.
    In San Francisco for instance:
    Publications in art books (only online, what makes it easier to submit the same piece(s) for several competitions at the same time):
    Only $40 submission fee, and it comes with a cash prize option.
    This one requires to purchase 2 of their published books what might be pretty expensive considering that one book comes down to Euro 80. But that happens only in case you get picked for publication, and it’s an international publication.
    In my opinion such competitions are a great ‘motivation kicker’. And if you won’t get picked at the first one, the second or third might be the winner, who knows?! 🙂
    Best of success!

  15. I committed to something big for 2011: My 100 Faces in 100 Days Project. Today I painted Face #72 — a two-year-old painted from life. I’ve asked for volunteers to come sit for me for about four hours (they don’t need to be still … they just have to show up and talk to me). I’ve had tons of volunteers and they are all enjoying being a part of the project. Each day I put up a blog post starring that day’s sitter. In May, I have my first exhibit of the project and will be inviting my regular collectors and all my faces and their friends.
    This has just been outstanding for me … and the doorbell ringing each day with a new “face” is the kick in the pants I need to paint, paint, paint.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Jill: Nice! I really enjoyed looking at the project and the paintings are so fresh, so appealing.

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  18. Can definitely attest to this post. Planning and committing makes the world of a difference to me. Even with small things, like colour mixing within my artwork. I choose a select pallet and plan my execution from here. But of course even on a grander scale this applies. I find without a plan things can become very overwhelming, stressful and then you simply look back and say “where did the time go”, “I haven’t done anything”…
    My big plan this year is to take part in a local art contest.exhibition which has prizes ranging from $100 – $10,000. To keep me motivated and committed and even to plan each step towards making this successful, I’ve been blogging about each step.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Actually, I’m not really encouraging a plan. I’m encouraging the big idea. You figure out the plan later. It’s the big idea that motivates you to develop the plan.

  19. This is one of those ideas that you’d think everyone would acknowledge and utilize. As a teacher I constantly see students that flounder from lack of planning. They don’t know how to prioritize and budget their time. Setting priorities has to be a companion to the big date.

  20. Committing to something big and just saying yes is the way to go!!
    Can you get a group of your students to come to a workshop in Tuscany?…I just said yes without hesitation. I am now working out what I will be teaching (We leave on June 26th)
    Would you like to teach a workshop at R&F, Snowfarm, Castlehill?….yes!
    (dates at my website)
    I think it is about turning down (or off )the voice in your head that says you can;t do it and not overthinking.
    And that goes for the studio also
    Thanks for this post

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Lisa: Sounds like you have a terrific year ahead of you!
      For too long I taught myself to automatically say No. Now I’m doing the reverse. I am really trying to be more open to opportunities, though I must ensure they’re a good fit.
      I just turned down a national promotional campaign that wanted blog space from me. It just wasn’t a good fit for this site and my readers would be wondering what the heck I was up to.

  21. I’m studying your book, “I’d Rather Be in the Studio” as well as another great book on marketing art. In the process, I’ve developed the goal of refining my vision as an artist and being able to articulate this in writing. This will enable me to give focus to my larger goal of completing 20 – 25 gallery ready works over the next year or two. I know this is not very fast in terms of completing paintings, but I’m also a home teaching mom of 6 and studying painting several times a week with an awesome painter. As impatient as I get with myself, I have to remind myself not to despise a day of small beginnings!

  22. Hello Alyson,
    I wanted to drop you a quick email to thank you for the years of encouragement and advice. My inbox if full of Feedblitz emails of things I need to do. I don’t delete them until they are done.
    One thing I have done recently thanks to you is joined facebook and created a fan page (Zartwerks).
    As to committing to something big I started something on my own a month ago. After 2 years working on a major renovation on the house /gallery/ studio and only working on paid commissions my painting stock/inventory had run dangerously low. In January I committed to a solo show at a very large venue in May so something BIG had to be done. So I decided to challenge myself and paint 100 painting in 100 days.
    It was great to read your article on” Something Big” It has encouraged me to push past the half way point and keep pushing towards the finish.

  23. I started reading your blog recently and have come back a lot to browse. I absolutely agree with this idea of committing to something big. It’s really how I get mostly everything done. I committed to starting a small art blog this year and to posting once a week. With two small kids I thought I would never be able to make it happen but, I have. Once I realized that people were actually reading, I feel that my commitment is worth it. I haven’t missed a week since January. Next goal might be to post more than once a week!

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  25. Lynne Eve Grossman

    Hi Alyson,
    I’ve read and commented on your blog since way before you wrote your book, but I was using a nickname. I’ve recently committed to coming out of the blog closet and connecting my blog to my professional website. Tonight was my first blog post that connects to it and I owe a lot of that gumption to your words of wisdom.
    A few days prior to that big leap for me, I ordered your book and am anxiously awaiting its arrival. Several days before that I attended a wonderful Networking Day at the Women’s Caucus for Art in my area and thought of you. I’m thinking you’d be a great workshop speaker in our Washington, DC area….
    I’ve thanked you many times, but it’s never too often. Although, I’ve worked at my art professionally and full time for the past 7 1/2 yrs, I’ve only recently been able to make the time for those next steps, due to life, not personal motivation. (You should hear how often I quote you or the discussions here to my husband. He knows you as my artbiz coach. :).
    W/ appreciation,
    Lynne Eve Grossman

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Lynne: This is so awesome. Thanks for revealing yourself and for being here – with one name or the other.

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  29. I am in the middle of something big. I just finished painting my 52 Diva Series which took me 7 years to complete. My first exhibit will be in Lancaster, PA (where I used to live) in October. I am currently seeking a place to exhibit in San Jose, Costa Rica. The paintings were created in Costa Rica, where I have lived for the past 23 years.

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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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