How Much Time Will Your Art Career Take?

How much time do the lessons take?
How much time should I spend on social media?
How much time should I spend on marketing vs. making art?
John Salvest, Forever
©2013 John Salvest, Forever. Secondhand romance novels on metal armature. Courtesy of the artist and Morgan Lehman Gallery.

These are questions I’m often asked to which there are no easy answers (except maybe the last one, and I take a stab at that below).

Everyone wants to know “how much time?” because time is sacred, and we should be choosy with how we spend our time.

The better question.

There is a better question than “How much time?” Ask yourself: How much time and effort am I willing to invest?

The key word is “willing.”

When you’re committed, you don’t care how much time something takes. You’ll find a way to get it done because it becomes a priority.

When you’re committed, you lose track of time because you’re focused on reaching the goal.

When you’re not committed:

  • You take on a project because somebody else thought it was a good idea, even though your heart resisted.
  • You “try” to do the work, but you discover that you’d rather watch TV or play with your grandchildren.
  • You’re easily swayed by almost any other opportunity dangled in front of you.
  • It takes endlessly longer because you procrastinate.

The truth about time.

Here’s the truth:

It will take as much time as you allow.

If you have just an hour, you’ll find a way to get the work done in one hour. Of course, this means there is no time for multitasking or procrastinating, just relentless focus on the task.

Watch out for allowing too much time. Some of us (ahem … me!) tend to expand a task to the time that we have (or the time that we think we have).

This is worse when there is no deadline attached to the task or project. Someone told you they’re not in any hurry for the piece they commissioned from you. So you keep working on it. More likely, you’re not doing much work and are just procrastinating.

You’re expanding the time it takes to do the commission. You’re making it bigger than it really is or should be. It’s consuming too much of your energy.

Time spent on business v. studio.

Our favorite clock that hangs over our fireplace. It’s a take on the mid-century design of George Nelson by artist Anne Bossert.
Our favorite clock that hangs over our fireplace. It’s a take on the mid-century design of George Nelson by artist Anne Bossert.

Of all the questions at the top of this article, there is one that I can answer without hesitation.

If you want to know how much time you should be spending on marketing/business compared to making your art, there’s a lot of evidence that successful artists will spend at least 50% of their time on business and marketing.

That means if you have a 40-hour work week, you’ll spend 20 of those hours on business. This might include updating names in your database, writing a blog post or newsletter, sharing on social media, or packing and shipping your art.

Contrary to what you might think, more sales and recognition do not lead to less office time. The more successful you are, the more time you’ll spend on business. At that point, you’re juggling team, galleries, museums, and all kinds of logistics.

Notice the word “team” in there. By that time, you’ll have more people to help you with all of your obligations, and you’ll have to manage them.

The bottom line is that any project or task that you’re committed to will take as much time as you allow. How much time and effort are you willing to invest?

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24 thoughts on “How Much Time Will Your Art Career Take?”

  1. I probably spend around 10 hours a week on art creation. This is because I have other kinds of content, products and services to create for my business (art is part of it but not all of it). I think I’m around 50-50 for creation vs working on the business.
    As for actual work vs other time, I’m probably somewhere around 4 hours of work a day. Spread out over the whole day. The rest is caring for family, housework, reading and hanging around on social media.

  2. This is a timely reminder, thanks Alyson! I keep this quote from Steven Covey prominently displayed: “You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage – pleasantly, smilingly, nonapologetically, to say “no” to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger “yes” burning inside.” I check in with my “yes” and roll up my sleeves. I feel this is in keeping with all you so patiently tell us here on the Art Biz Blog. -Sally

    1. There’s being a friend, and there’s “saving” friends from their own habits as a feel-good “excuse” for procrastination. I have to watch when I’m saying “yes” to a friend’s sense of urgency in case I’m *really* saying “no” to my own priorities.

  3. If I could get the art business side of my art down to just 50%, I would be one happy artist. I run more on the 80/20 rule, with the 80% on the wrong side, as far as I am concerned. I do have an assistant; we both work 20 or more hours a week supporting the business end of my art. I paint an average of 10 hours a week, at best. I do produce a lot of work, usually about 100 paintings annually, but I am quite unhappy with my ratio of business to creating art. I have added two new galleries, and I would have to agree with Alyson that growing does not lessen the need to spend time on the business side of art, it increases it.

  4. Good timing. Thanks for reminding me 50/50 is a goal and not let business become more than 50. My work is almost no deadlines and it’s become clear I’m very much a deadline kind of gal. So days quickly go by and I realize I’ve created nothing! I’m also easily distracted (like with this e-mail when I’m supposed to be printing cards! lol). But I know what needs to be done and once I’m passed the huge event I’m working now – and the holidays – I’ll implement the items I’ll be working on over the next few weeks to help me get back on track starting Jan 2016!

    1. Lisa: To be clear, I didn’t say not to let business become more than 50%. I think it might at some point. We just need to be clear that spending 15 hours a week on Facebook doesn’t count toward the business number.

      It sounds like you would benefit from working with a coach for accountability purposes. At the very least, you need to set deadlines and goals for yourself.

      And why wait until 2016?

  5. Alyson, your “Truth About Time” is so true. There’s even a name for the concept.

    It’s called Parkinson’s law and it says that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

    For me the most useful part of this post is “committed” vs. “not committed.”

    Thank you!

  6. A very “timely” LOL article! As I’m ramping up my art business, it’s apparent how much time the business end of things takes. I had read about that before, so I was prepared and committed to it from the start. I’m sure it’s one of the main reasons so many artists who *want* to live from their art don’t do so. Not only do you need to have direction in your business efforts, but you have to be quite disciplined with your time and watch out for those “expanding tasks”. Right now the most challenging thing is knowing *what* to spend my time on to promote my business effectively.

  7. Great article. I love spending time in the art studio and am fully committed to the business. However, saying no to people who need assistance is very difficult for me. I am practicing the “no” word and spending more time operating the business. During autumn, winter and early spring the challenge of focusing on the studio business is easier. Summer poses a business challenge because most of my painting is inspired by the outdoors. It doesn’t help that the garden is outside of the art studio window begging to be painted and weeded. Currently, I am focusing on writing art instructional material and uploading to HP Magcloud for on demand printing distribution which has allowed for more time to write and design and less time is spent mailing magazines and burning CD’s. If I gave myself a report card for time management the box for focusing on one business task at a time would definitely be checked “needs to improve”.

  8. Vicki P. Maguire

    Spending 80percent on mkt . Nearly 70 hours a week. I miss my love…creating. I do exhibit often, social media, blog I want to… but so confused with FBpage blogging.!!
    Recent exhibit, the physicians wife bought my abstracts…. cool; I think I’ll be more balanced once I have my distribution points identified. I just juried on line with two.
    But would like two curated galleries outside my city. Oh, an I do work with a designer as she needs. Still, a trickle of sales. oil abstracts…palette knife.
    Wish I could do more; color and design is strength after building and flipping high end homes. I’m not doing something right. signed….very tired.

  9. Timely post! This is something a lot of people have been asking me recently in my work as an accountability coach and I find it SO difficult to answer. My own personal approach lately is to reduce the amount of WIP’s – art and other kinds – that I’m doing simultaneously and set clear outcomes for each session before starting to work. I’m finding I’m getting more done in the same amount of time this way. Hours are not always the best measurement. Completion is more satisfying – even if it’s only a stage in something 🙂 Also we need metrics for results v time spent. If I spend an hour on FB cultivating a client, great. If it’s reading something meaningless not so.

  10. “The more successful you are the more time you’ll spend on business.”

    This is SO true! My business more than doubled this summer and the business end of my career flooded into almost every waking hour I had left to create. It took a lot of thought to make business decisions that would move me into a new level of business practices that better suit all the new clientele. Each new growth spurt has its challenges… and rewards.

  11. Its such a funny question. My first answer was “all of your time”. The real struggle is knowing when to stop. Taking time for yourself is very important.

    1. Oh yeah thats right I forgot about turning it back on.. Im finally in my down time right now and always end up realizing I only have 2 gears on and off. I have to work on that!

  12. Hi Alyson,
    The Pareto Principle or 80/20 rule wold suggest that 80% of your sales come from just 20% of your efforts…as an artist.

    And only 20% of your sales come from 80% of your efforts…as an art marketing executive.

    So perhaps just make the art. Maintain the website weekly. Have the online shopping cart and show various options for worldwide shipping?

    Now just paint your art vision with several versions of the same inspiration.

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