The #1 Priority for Artists

I am frequently on the receiving end of artists' complaints about all of the computer work they have to do. Write your artist statement, update your résumé, respond to email.

Then there’s Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and organizing photos for those sites as well as your email newsletter. You know the list.

Yes, there is a lot of digital work that is required of today’s artists. And aren’t you lucky to have these free or low-cost tools that artists two decades ago didn’t have to share their art? (It’s a good idea to remember this now and then.)

Painting by Cheryl McClure
©Cheryl McClure, Allegro Triptych. Oil on three wood panels, 30 x 30 inches. Used with permission.

In some instances, I find that artists who spend excessive amounts of time on the computer are doing so at the peril of their artwork.

In other words, they're unconsciously doing it to avoid the studio work. And, let's face it: The studio work is the harder work.

I don’t care how much you say you enjoy making art. When the pressure is on to show and sell your work, the creative process can be brutal.

It’s super easy to type, respond to comments, and “like” other people’s posts. You could waste all kinds of time doing that and that’s exactly what you’d be doing. Wasting time.

Don’t get me wrong: You can’t avoid these tasks entirely. But your days should be heavily weighted toward making art.

Are you using your computer work as an excuse to avoid engaging with your more important work?

You Are Not Alone

Please know that when you’re struggling to make art, you are not alone. All artists have phases that are more successful for creating than others.

It’s when the phase becomes your modus operandi that it is no longer acceptable. If you haven’t worked in the studio for days or weeks, things must change.

Textile Art by Susan Lane
©Susan Lane, Rhythms II. Hand dyed and commercial fabrics, paper, and thread. 12 x 12 inches. Used with permission.

Quote Me On This

I’ve said the following on many occasions, but it bears repeating.

Without the art, you are not an artist. 

Without the art, you have nothing to market. You have no business.

You can't “sorta” be an artist. You either make art or you don’t make art.

Artists make art.

Don’t Let Me Distract You

My job is to help you build a business from your artwork and expand your career. I write about strategies and ideas to help you on the journey.

Your job isn’t to drop everything and start implementing what I write.

Your first job is in the studio. Always.

If you have an outside day job and you’re trying to get an art career off the ground, the studio is your priority during the hours that you have available.

It doesn't make any difference that your studio is the kitchen table. It’s the place where you make art and you’d better be there most of the time.

Waiting around for the perfect studio space is just an excuse. Artists build, paint, draw, mold, assemble or fashion wherever they are because, as I said above, they’re artists.

©Cindy Michaud, Still Standing. Oil on canvas, 20 x 24 inches. Used with permission.
©Cindy Michaud, Still Standing. Oil on canvas, 20 x 24 inches. Used with permission.

When You Aren’t Making Art

If you find yourself getting bogged down in computer work when you should be working with your craft, remember these words: Artists make art.

Go in the studio even when you don’t know what you’re going to make. BE with your art and materials.

Smell the paint or wood, watch a photo slideshow, feel the clay, or organize your beads.

Don’t wait for inspiration. Go. Do. The. Work.

It’s why you’re here.

Your Turn

Remember that every artist struggles with making art at one point or another. How do you deal with it?

This post was originally published on February 23, 2017 and has been updated with original comments intact.

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38 thoughts on “The #1 Priority for Artists”

  1. Ha, Ha! Perfect timing! I’ve been really good about working on my art this week, but this morning I spent the entire day so far on the computer and my head is spinning. Your email couldn’t have come at a better time. Back to the studio for me!

  2. Thank you, this is a timely message. Speaks to me on many levels… And it’s always good to hear it from someone such as yourself who hears all the whines and woes… I want to be successful on all counts… Marketing and most of all MAKING!

    1. J. Paris: I don’t like to complain about hearing the whining, but it’s unfruitful. I prefer focusing on the positive changes we can make to be more successful and feel fulfilled.

    2. I have just seen a picture that could be the all time perfect picture for domestic violence organizations, who would I contact?

  3. I love making my art and I make a lot of it 🙂 What is a problem is the amount time I have to spend in addition to that to market it. Building relationships, writing content, making videos, posting on social media. I’ve decided to go through everything I do in a week and cut down hard on anything that isn’t needed because it’s affecting my health.

  4. thank you so much. I do exactly that. I sit at the computer and read emails, Facebook, and Youtube. I am an artist, and I will spend 1 hour in the morning, and that’s all. I will go into my studio and make art. I will spend 1 hour in the evening.. and that’s all. Artwork- coming up. Thanks for the pep talk.

  5. You are perfectly right. The internet can easily distract. I try to cut it down to a minimum. Organizing the time for each activity is necessary, but not always possible. I will keep on trying! Thanks for reminding!

  6. I really need to hear this!
    I have a day job – as a graphic artist – but I’m ready to become a fine artist. I plan to retire in July and work on my paintings “full time”~Yay! I seem to go through phases of working in my studio a lot, and then not finding the time. Plus, I recently broke my left wrist, so there’s another excuse for not having the energy to work in the studio. Thanks for sharing this important message and reminding me to get back to my creative side. July will be here soon, my arm will be back in shape, and if I’m going to embark on on a fine art venture and develop my skills, I need to implement some good habits ~ 80% making art and 20% marketing sounds good to me.

    1. I just came across this blog entry. Having also broken my wrist 9 years ago in February, I felt the need to reply to you. Though a simple fracture, and not my painting hand, this left me feeling very distracted and vulnerable. I pushed myself to get to the studio each day but had a lot of difficulty getting started on anything. For reasons I don’t fully understand, I pulled out some paper I hadn’t used in 8 or so years and just began playing with it. in a way that was quite different than my usual painting style. Very quickly, I had an “aha” moment and was on my way to a brand new process that I have been working on ever since. It seemed to be based on that vulnerability- a more organic and intuitive process with unique results. It’s unclear to me whether I would have gone down this road had it not been for the fractured wrist. I just want to encourage you to open yourself to what also may evolve as you push to get back to work. Hoping healing is swift and you will enjoy your pending retirement.

  7. So timely Alyson…especially as I contemplate how to get it all in! We can’t! So the art, above all else, must come first. Thank you for giving us a much needed reminder!

  8. This was great. Sometimes I find it helpful to give myself a little time off from painting, but I put boundaries around the time off (48 hours tops!).When I resist going into the studio, it’s usually a combination of feeling low on inspiration plus perfectionism. Why paint if it’s not going to be great? Your suggestion to just be with your art materials is perfect. I would add: give yourself permission to have days where you do nothing but experiment. That usually gets me out of my slump.

  9. How did you know?? 😉 Your post is timely. I realized earlier this week that it was time to revisit my goals for the next three to six months and shift my focus back to the studio and art making! I have been avoiding the studio because I’m about to change the technique I use to make my art and while I’m excited about it, the learning curve a bit daunting. Thanks for this reminder! It’s like you were reading my mind!

  10. This is so right on, Alyson, and very timely for me as I struggle with this everyday. It is also a topic among all my artist friends. Thanks for the reminder and tips!

  11. Thank you for this Alyson! I try to limit my computer work to one hour first thing each morning and sometimes at night. The rest of the day is working on my art. It is not always easy to maintain but I tell myself that if I was working in an office I wouldn’t spend my day on Facebook or Instagram!

  12. Alyson, THANK YOU for this excellent blog!! It is one of the best I’ve read concerning the motivation I’ve been looking for this week; your words, duly noted! I was just saying to my beloved (just last night in fact!) that I feel like I need a stronger push into my painting. Don’t get me wrong, I love to make art and I mean LOVE TO PAINT!!! But like others, I find myself engaged in many of the ‘other’ tasks required in my art business and not focused the same way with time dedicated to making my art. Since reading your blog, I have outlined a “learning to form good habits” list and it definitely includes the importance of actually creating everyday, both drawing and painting, and remembering to take the necessary breaks. Thank you for your motivation!

  13. Great topic, Alyson! Having come from the corporate world (although still a creative job – graphic design) with tight deadlines and multiple projects, and 15 other creatives to brainstorm with, I’ve found it very hard to self-motivate now that I’m working for myself and by myself. The internet is definitely a distraction, and an easy excuse when I’m feeling less than enthused by my own work. Doing computer busy-work makes me feel productive, but it isn’t helping to get more paintings done! However, the problem is also the cure: I find that watching instructional or demo videos on YouTube, especially by world-class artists, really gets me eager to get back to my studio.


    This is fantastic…as she says, just do the work, and no place is too small to show your work.
    Rejected =by the SF Art Institute (as I understand it) because she wanted to work with glass beads, Lou went on to create “Kitchen”, ( a monumental work that not only put her on the map, it led in=her into fame. All without compromising her self, work and vision. Inspiring!

  15. Fabulous reminder why we need an art biz coach! If we didn’t have the art, there would be no art biz!! I have come to enjoy writing my blog, updating my website and writing my newsletter. And, yes they consume my time. A reminder to get back to the easel is always good to help keep things in perspective.

  16. Thank you for reminding me to my studio, and yes, thank you so much for doing what you do with you blog. I cannot thank you enough.

  17. Yes Alyson, I remember those days before digital cameras and the internet when art business was a lot harder. Photographing art was so difficult and specialised and as an artist I didn’t have the contact I have now with other artists. But I do agree that the internet is a great delaying tactic. You’ve just got to get in the studio and make art. I uaually get down there at least four mornings a week before anything else can take my mind away. We need people like you to keep us on the straight and narrow. Thankyou!

  18. Well, to be quite frank, production isn’t a problem for me, SELLING is the problem. I have no end of sculpture subject ideas…. oh, there is the problem of finding a place to put completed art, and coming up with the money to have them put into bronze or another medium…. unfortunately, I can make ’em faster than I can move’ em …..JP

  19. I too am a Facebook user every day sometimes twice a day. I love being inspired by the 20 art groups that I am a member of. It also is difficult to make time to paint when I work about a 26 hour a week part time job. I will try to be more disciplined in my studio times and thank you for the words of wisdom that even thought you might not be painting, just be in your studio to visualize, smell the paint and look through your planned compositions. It helps to hear other’s stories also so thank you for sharing!

  20. I really needed this article. I needed someone to give me a sharp kick and tell me to get on with it. No more excuses. I start a part-time job next week but am determined that this is only going to be temporary as I am determined to get back to earning from my art. Studio time every afternoon and weekends. The job is just a mean to an ends. Table is cleared. Easel is set up. The work starts now!

  21. When I feel stuck, I make sure I’ve had water and some healthy carbs, then either a walk or music usually gets my energy moving and Im ready to work. 🙂

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