Your Primary Job Is In the Studio

If you intend to follow your life’s calling to be an artist, your top priority is to work consistently in the studio.

It’s not trying to get more followers on social media.

It’s not writing blog posts.

It’s not even teaching.

painter Jenny Wilson studio Denver Colorado | on Art Biz Success
Jenny Wilson's set-up in Denver's Blue Silo Studios. Photo by Tania Peterman.

Your primary job is to make art. Consistently.

It’s Work … Hard Work

You’re not “playing” in the studio, although there will be periods of experimentation. There will be hours that seem like play and are unquestionably more fun than others. But play only gets you so far.

When you’re in the studio, you are working.

You’re working toward a goal, whether it’s to build a series to promote or just to be a better artist.
You’re working toward a solo exhibition.
You’re working to, perhaps, earn a living.
You’re working to build a legacy.

You’re not working whenever you feel like it. You’re not working whenever you have time. You work in the studio because that’s just what you do, even when it’s difficult. Even if there is something you’d rather be doing. Even when there’s something someone else would rather you be doing.

You’re an artist and artists make art. When you’re finished, you return to the studio and do it all over again.

A Space of One’s Own

artist Sara Lee Hughes in Texas studio working | on Art Biz Success
Sara Lee Hughes working in her central Texas studio on one of the few cold days because, when you're an artist, you don't let a silly thing like weather get in your way. ©Sara Lee Hughes.

The studio is the place where you make art, wherever that might be.

You need a dedicated space that allows you to leave everything as is and pick it up the next day. “A room of one’s own,” as Virginia Woolf put it. It must be safe. It must be yours. It must be conducive to inspiration.

Without a dedicated space, you are tempted to make excuses for not doing the work. Excuses like some of these I’ve heard before.

It takes too long to set up.
I can’t work because we need the table for family dinner.
My kids get in the way.
My cat naughtily reorganizes my compositions.

While it might be ideal to have 500 square feet of white walls with 16-foot ceiling and assistants at your whim, this is not the reality for most artists. Don’t allow pining for perfect to interfere with your life mission.

Lack of a “real” studio space has never stopped artists from making art. Take over the dining room table. Reclaim the guest room that has sat empty for the last two years. Modify the storage space that you’ve been meaning to clean out anyway.

Make any of these spaces your studio. Be grateful for every square inch.

When you have a space allocated for creative work, there’s no need to worry about being in the way of others or cleaning up a mess. Relax. You can stop at any point knowing that it will be there for you when you’re ready to resume, and sometimes the span between creative sessions is longer than you’d like. You’re on the hunt for inspiration.

Artist Victoria Veedell San Francisco studio | on Art Biz Success
Victoria Veedell at work in her San Francisco studio, bathed in light from her north-facing windows. Photo by Amy Tan.

Refilling the Well of Inspiration

Yes, you need to have the devoted studio practice. At the same time, there are days, perhaps weeks, when you are gathering the ideas and raw material that will feed into your next body of work.

Maybe you just opened a solo show of major work. You’re drained. You’re at a loss for where to take the work next.

You need to get out of the studio. You need fresh perspective and to recharge.

You visit museums and galleries. You go on architecture tours and artist dates. You make studio visits and dive into research. You enroll in a workshop. You take long walks and longer baths to move your chi.

[ Be inspired by this interview with Flora Youkhnovich and this lovely documentary about Ellsworth Kelly: trailer. ]

This isn’t wasted time.

While it might be tempting to consider time away from the studio as downtime, you need it in order to be creative.  It contributes to your productivity in the studio and is every bit as necessary to your work as the hands-on making part. With your well of inspiration full, you can return to the studio and get back to work. Because that's what you do.

painter Julia Dzikiewicz
Julia Dzikiewicz working on a painting in her Lorton, Virginia studio in the Workhouse Arts Center. Photo by Joe Dzikiewicz.

Without the Art, You Are Not an Artist

Without the art, you are not the artist. It’s as simple of that. By definition, an artist is someone who makes art.

Too many artists put marketing before making. If you aren’t making art, you have no business prospects and certainly no need to worry about attracting more Instagram followers or growing an email list.

Some artists seem to prioritize almost everything before making. I know who you are. You fit work in when it’s convenient rather than prioritizing it in your life.

You’re just a wannabe if you aren’t making the work. You cannot introduce yourself as an artist if you aren't making art.

If you don’t make art, you have nothing to share. Your gifts remain hidden. Your dreams unfulfilled.

There is no such thing as a successful artist without the art. If you don’t put hours in the studio, all you have is just a bunch of good ideas. Or, more likely, you have zero ideas because you’re not focused on the work.

Your job is, again, to work in the studio consistently.

This post was first published on February 26, 2014. It has been expanded and updated with original comments intact.

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67 thoughts on “Your Primary Job Is In the Studio”

  1. Thank you for this wonderful reminder. Sometimes during this time of the year it’s easy for me to become more relaxed about being in the studio but then by spring I’m trying to make up for lost time. It was such perfect timing for me to have this in my inbox today. Thanks again.

  2. Thank you for the push! I keep trying to tell myself this, but many days am easily distracted by keeping up with life. I create sporadically, and need to be more consistent.

  3. Thank you Allyson for the reminder. I have a dedicated studio with a CPU, but being a graphic designer/digitalist with a laptop I can move around. I personally love using my deck when weather permits — I call it the East Studio and I call myself a plein air designer. LOL. All kidding aside you are absolutely ‘Your #1 job as a professional artist is to be working consistently in the studio.’ ~Marilee

  4. SO incredibly true. Now that I am actually working to promote my art and myself as an artist, I find that I want to be in the studio MORE THAN EVER and really work to be there every day. It’s like my commitment to my {new} landscape work has been cemented through my commitment to finally learning how to market myself. It’s a marriage of both. Thank you ALysonfor helping me to to get to this point.. !!

  5. Living in SW Florida, this is my busiest time of year away from my studio. I teach one day a week, which I consider semi-studio time, in that my class demos and instruction keep my painting skills fresh. Involvement in wet paint events can also be considered “studio time”, since I’m painting and creating at those events. Your reminders, suggestions, and advice help to keep me on track and not let daily interferences take over.

  6. jennifer ressmann

    That’s why we got into this in the first place – right?! LOL It’s so easy to get caught up in the computer work – especially if you find that fun, too! Thanks for reminder! Off to paint! 🙂

  7. My best work is done outside…Warp your brain & think of the world as your studio…Those who don’t actually have an indoor studio are actually at an advantage, because they are forced to go outside…You are what you eat, you art where you are, & if where you are is confined by 4 walls, that is what you will art…

    1. It would have to be a hat, it is so cold here t-shirts are just the first layer of 3 or 4…But as a Silver member of the Art Biz Incubator, I might prefer a warm high visibility hat with “ArtBizCoach Team Member”…Or “In-Training with ArtBizCoach”…Or “Member of ABI” in a Silver colour…Or “Shhh Artist Arting” with an ArtBizCoach brand…(high visibility is good, so as a pedestrian, you don’t get hit by a car…Fluorescent yellow or orange usually…)

    2. Thanks Alyson – spot on… And Sari, I reakon you’ve got a winner there too…Maybe consider both: winter hat, summer T-shirt…. multiple slogans available…. Alyson could sell them via her website… (wadaya say Alyson?) “You art what you is & you is what you art” on the front
      signed …

  8. I find the process (of painting) extremely frustrating (and yes boring too) but I live for the results. I have tried my very best to make the studio experience enjoyable — but it really never has been that way for me. However, once the painting is completed to my heart’s content, the end product makes me feel like I am on the top of the world (and perhaps that is why I literally incorporate our planet earth in so many of my paintings). What I do find to work for me is to set a goal to finish a certain number of paintings (usually in a series) for my annual exhibit. This way I am not focused on the process but on the completion of my task which I do find extremely pleasurable. This gives me the clarity of thought as well as the task (High Resolution Style).

    1. Hi Roopa,
      It is so nice to know there are other artists like me out there! There is so much talk about how enjoyable the process is and that’s where it’s at for an artist. I too find the process to be hard work, frustrating and at times boring and slow, but when I have that finished piece with a solid vision from my imagination realized it is pure joy!
      Thanks for sharing!

    2. Marque – Have you checked your personality type in Myers-Briggs? Usually it is the ENTJ/INTJ types that are result oriented and they put up with the grueling process because to them “it is always the end that justifies the means”. Had it not been the gratification with the results, I would have quit being an artist a long time ago. BTW your response triggered this quote in my head which you may find funny:
      “I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.”
      ― Frida Kahlo

  9. Hi Alyson,
    I enjoy reading your site. I do need to mention though- you remarked stop spending time on social networks, blogging etc. Well, I have a blog and have constantly since over 2 yrs. a visitor quota of 3000-7000+ WEEKLY!
    The fluctuation derives from the times I did not write, due to illness or relocating my new studio fro Florida to Maryland.
    I need to push myself every morning before walking my dog to write.(luckily located in my studio)
    Thereafter I am free to work on my next art projects.
    So, I do believe social contact is necessary as an artist today. If we are comfortable with it or not. It takes practice and now I even enjoy photo shopping my images and sending them out into the world.
    Thanks for all your input.
    I appreciate it.
    creative energy
    Christina Jarmolinski

  10. Thanks for the timely reminder to all artists to do their art. My book, 7 Habits of Deeply Fulfilled Artists: Your Aesthetic Needs & How to Meet Them, encourages artists who struggle with finding the time or motivation to their art to recognize that for artists, making art is a spiritual need not a frivolous want. Too many of us relegate art-making to categories that demean it’s importance to our emotional and spiritual well-being. As artists, our sense of meaning and purpose comes to us directly in the act of making art. As you suggest, art-making needs to take priority over art-marketing. If it’s the other way around, we can easily end up selling our souls instead of satisfying their deep aesthetic needs.

  11. Thank You Ellie, for taking time to reply. I am a professional artist since over 30 yrs. and a very soulful one. I would much rather lavish in my paints applying them to the canvas, instead of having the discipline to keep things going. It has proven to be successful for me and I just keep on going……………….
    I love my life as an artist. I am thankful for the way my life has evolved. We all have our options and I use them.
    Thanks again and Namaste

  12. Alyson,
    Your article validates the daily push to follow through on what I know is necessary. I carry my studio with me where ever I go. I have my paints, several canvas boards, brushes, etc ready and avaliable to use so that I can make good use of my time during my days, nights, and travels. I set up a working studio space where ever and whenever I can or need to. I paint every day. Your words provide scafolding to follow through even when there may not be “understanding” of the drive to create. THANK YOU

  13. I’m chronically ill. Keeping update to my blog is the easy part. I’m scheduled four posts in advance or two weeks. I’ve only started this year on the blog. I’ve officially been making art since 2010. I need less energy to write than create. Should get art done this week provided I don’t push myself with anything else.
    Also I am going through the process for treatment of sleep apnea which should give me more energy.

    1. Ok just done a high energy (spoons) cost part of one current project. Time to be on my back for a while, bringing yesterday’s laundry can wait.

  14. This is really good advice. I have spent the last few months developing a FB page, a new website and trying to keep a blog going because I am thinking of selling my are mainly through these venues. I have only a few pieces of art right now and have been working on the same painting, (embarrassingly) since last June. Like Roopa (above), I love to be an artist but more for the end result of the finished piece than for the process which means it is even easier for me to be distracted away from the studio.
    It took me awhile to come to the realization you talked about in this post and my art had suffered because of my premature focus on trying to create an art business. I am now in a conundrum because I have created the FB page and blog and feel guilty if I am not regularly posting on them, but also realize that I need to be in the studio right now and spend much less time on social media. I have thought about just forgetting about FB and the blog for a few months but hate to abandon those who have started following me.
    Any suggestions?

  15. Thankyou for this blog. Having been a full time professional artist for nearly 25 years now, my practice has evolved to be multi-streamed. I am a painter, printmaker, teacher and publisher. It takes a lot of time and energy to run these four businesses (from home). So I paint and make etchings on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday I go into the “office” and pay close attention to the office work. Separating the two elements of my work life, and giving them their own space means I can fully enjoy them without fretting about the deadlines that inevitably occur in both.

  16. Oh my gosh! Have you been watching me??;)
    Seriously, though. This is REALLY a problem! As an artist, there are sooo many things that I WANT to paint and do, but as a business owner and entrepreneur, there are so many things I feel I HAVE to do (like marketing and social media) It’s a real challenge to manage my time and work flow and I too often sit down to answer a question on Etsy and find myself an hour or two later pinning my 100th pin of the session or reading a blog that I just discovered. As you so accurately described in Bootcamp, the “pretty lights” of the internet and Facebook have to be approached with caution and control. Thanks, Alyson!

  17. 🙂 Hello everybody! Wow Alyson.. you are my master. Is like food your articles.. simple and direct great help. Thanks.
    Ordi Calder
    u n d e r l i e s

  18. Alyson,
    Without going into massive detail, I’ll just say “yes” and EXACTLY! I have been spending too much time thinking about “business” and not enough on what I love to do. When I started painting full time 10 years ago it was not to make money – it was to enjoy creating. With my focus on business I started feeling like everyone was making money off of my art but me – the framer, the art associations, the workshop teachers, the art supplier, UPS, FEDEX, the website, and the restaurant I hang my work in – crazy! That miserable feeling born of expectations for profit is the price I paid for ignoring the joy and sense of satisfaction I get from creating.
    So I have set new goals for 2014 – the first one is to put a new focus on enjoyment – which means reading more novels and spending less time on FB. And getting back to enjoying painting – focusing on my development as an artist, and keeping the focus there. I think this next year will be all about building my resume and my body of work. Ultimately I’ll be smarter when it comes to “business” – I am learning a lot about the business from you, and when the time is right I’ll know it.

  19. Dear Alyson,
    Thank you for this reminder. I wouldn’t mind if you remind me weekly! I have begun working on developing my own website, and though I enjoy the challenge of the learning curve and the creativity involved, I am very aware of the fact that I need to spend more time in the studio. Thankfully, I do have many ideas for artwork, but I panic when I think about if I’ll ever finish all of them in this lifetime. The constant need of income also keeps me out of the studio too often. My creative mind conjures yet more and more projects for income using my art. These projects are successful, but not enough to allow me to spend enough time in the studio. It’s a vicious cycle. If only the poor starving artist could be supported to be able to create.
    Anyway, I own your book and enjoy all of your blog posts and videos on your YouTube channel. And I appreciate all of your advice. Thank you again.

  20. Hi Alyson,
    Thanks for this. I frequently feel guilty when I don’t have time to read friends’ blogs, or follow through on motivational material I intended to read because I’m painting. You’ve essentially given us permission to paint. Thank you. I try to spend time in the studio every day, although it isn’t always possible. Then if I can’t I try to forgive myself for having a demanding entire life. But art is the core, and if I’m not in the studio, I’ll want to be. I agree with Cherilyn — Woo Hoo!
    XOXOXO Barbara

  21. AMEN AMEN AMEN!!!!!
    Thank you for always driving this home to us: making art is the most important thing an artist does.
    My self-chant is that 15 minutes in my studio is progress and better than none. It’s amazing how much paint I do in those precious minutes! I refuse to feel guilty that I’m not on FB, etc. Thank God for smart phones: most of my social media is done from a smart phone while away from my studio. 😉
    Thank you, again.

  22. Unfortunately this came a little late for me; nevertheless so true. For all of January and the first two weeks of February I struggled to get myself into the studio to work. I played around on my blog and Facebook etc… Making excuses that I needed to promote my work. But really it was fear; fear that I could not live up to this year’s challenge. ‘abstracting the landscape and finding spirit of place’. I had to force myself to get on with it, and thankfully I am now working and in full flow. Thanks again Alison for a really constructive article albeit a bit late for me. I am going to print it off and pin it above my computer; just in case – best ashar

  23. Your message came at the perfect time- while I am lucky enough to be producing a lot of work for one client, I am finding myself stuck for stamina to create NEW work. It’s tough to find the energy to stay in the studio after the production is done. I have new pots and patterns stored in my head, but I am having trouble with time.

  24. Alyson, I just love how supportive you are of us Artists!
    It’s easy to forget amongst all the marketing etc that having studio time is just as – probably even more important!
    I feel truly grateful that there’s someone like you out there, for us, for me, championing Art-making as a legitimate and NEEDED thing in this world.
    Thank you!
    Chrissy x

  25. Yes, you’re always in my head saying this Alyson! For me it is a symbiotic relationship – if I don’t make art, I don’t have anything to blog about. I get my best post ideas in the studio 🙂

  26. Thank you for this post, Alyson. It’s a great reminder and comes at a great time for me as I recently find myself stressing about posting work that I don’t have on the social networks. It’s clear that I have gotten slightly off track of my main goal of creating a big body of work this year. Thank you for this reminder!

  27. “Your Job is in the Studio” was a gift to my wandering eyes. After snooping around too many websites for way too long, in order to “find a job”…there you were telling me where my job was. Boy did I need to hear this.

  28. Great post, such a simple important reminder. I recently secured a studio space for creating, I am beyond excited and cannot wait to focus on different series that I am dreaming of!

  29. Vision without action in MY world is downright delusional. LOL
    Great post. This is my vision, my dream, my reason for being in the world. Gotta get that social media action going! Thanks a bunch!

  30. …you know us too well & why we are here…please feel free to reminds us of everything (regardless of time) because you’ve witnessed successes & failures based on the principal of work ethic…would have responded sooner (but my family were “Okie Boomers”..)and this year, I have just started taking this “biz” seriously…two commissions, created Facebook art page, Etsy store, website, and my first show….all since April…would say more but…have to work…I mean CREATE..
    Thanks Alyson (and Art Biz community)

  31. Thank you this great reminder. I always struggling with the thought that I must work an office job in order to make a living and not paint to make a living, so I always paint and can’t wait to get into my studio as soon as I finish my work.
    Hopefully, someday I will be able to make painting my daily job.

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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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