The Art Biz ep. 5: Which Ideas are Worth Your Time?

Recently I was talking with Cynthia Morris, when, in response to who-knows-what, she said with a scowl, “Ideas! I’m so tired of hearing about ideas.” Or something like that.

Right then, I knew we had to talk about it. I knew she was on to something.

Listen in to the podcast as Cynthia and I talk about why too many ideas can be a bad thing for artists. This is especially true when you’re trying to make a living from your work.

Cynthia gives practical tips on how to choose among your many ideas for your next big project.

Music: Animals by Left Hand Shakes. Used with permission.

This episode is brought to you by the Art Biz Inner Circle, a  year-long coaching group where ambitious artists find support, accountability, and strategies for a successful art business.

Show Notes – Authored by Cynthia Morris

Creative people are blessed with an abundance of ideas. New ideas arrive daily, pulsing through our awareness and lighting up our sense of possibility like a scintillating fireworks display.

How fun! We love inhabiting the land of possibility, where our ideas inspire us, energize us and make us feel like omnipotent creators. We could do anything!

The problem is, we can’t do everything.

©Susan McLaughlin, Garden Party: Evolution. Mixed media on linen, 40 x 30 inches. Used with permission.
©Susan McLaughlin, Garden Party: Evolution. Mixed media on linen, 40 x 30 inches. Used with permission.

This abundance of ideas can become painful when we arrive at the crossroads of what to make next. The fireworks we loved so dearly becomes a dissatisfying decision swirl, making us second-guess everything, including our desire to make anything at all.

So, how can we know which projects to work on, and when?

Which of the seductive ideas do we devote ourselves to?

When I help my clients with this common challenge, I use a five-step process, which I have outlined here as writing prompts to help you get clear on your next projects.

Writing your answers will reveal more potent insights than only thinking about them.

Step 1: Remind Yourself of the Big Picture

Perhaps you seek to be an award-winning artist. Or maybe you are trying to increase your art income.

What vision do you have for your art career?

We start with the big picture because it is what drives everything else.

Step 2: Determine Your Focus

What’s your focus for the next 6-12 months?

If you haven’t yet decided that, start now. What do you want this next period in your life to be about? Is this a theme? A big goal?

At the end of this time, what would help you feel deeply satisfied?

©Kathy Ross, Life is Such a Ride. Mixed media, 17 x 10 inches. Used with permission.
©Kathy Ross, Life is Such a Ride. Mixed media, 17 x 10 inches. Used with permission.

With your ultimate focus in mind, consider what you will do this year to bring yourself closer to your art’s purpose.

You might be in the phase of your career where developing your skills and body of work is more important than selling.

You could be at the place where showing your art and gaining a larger renown is your primary focal point. Knowing where you are now will help you decide which projects to take on.

Step 3: Gather Your Ideas

Now it’s time to capture all of your project ideas.

Projects require multiple tasks that must be completed to ensure a successful project. Examples include:

  • Organizing an exhibition
  • Proposing a class to teach
  • Inventorying your artwork
  • Updating your mailing list

Write down on one piece of paper or digital document as many ideas as you want.

Step 4: Play Favorites

Now, look at the list. Make a check mark next to the ideas that directly lead to that sense of satisfaction you want to feel in the coming year. (Review step 2.)

Make another mark next to the items that align with your big picture goal.

Any items that do NOT have check marks should be taken off the list for now. Feel free to put them in another document entitled ‘someday’.

Or, if they don’t relate to what you are trying to achieve, perhaps they don’t belong on your list at all. Ask yourself what they are doing in your realm of possibility if they aren’t aligned with what you seek to achieve with your art.

Step 5: Choose One

©Frances Clements Fawcett, Wide Awake. Mixed media sculpture, 16 x 11 x 11 inches. Used with permission.
©Frances Clements Fawcett, Wide Awake. Mixed media sculpture, 16 x 11 x 11 inches. Used with permission.

From your winnowed down list, choose ONE project to focus on in the current quarter.

Depending on the scope of the project, it may take longer than three months to finish. Plan your other obligations around this one project.

By now you should have a clear sense of which project to work on now. Easy peasy, right?

You might not get off so easily. As a seasoned coach for creatives, I know that you may be squirming right about now.

Perhaps you don’t want to choose just ONE project. You lament having to set aside all those sexy ideas. You think you can choose up to THREE projects.

This is where you have to get real with yourself. It is the ‘rubber meets the road’ moment. If you have squirmed at committing to one project, ask these questions:

What is preventing me from focusing on one project? What are my beliefs around this kind of focus?

What do I have to give up in order to choose one main project?

And finally …

What do I really want? What will truly satisfy me in the end? What am I willing to do to get that?

There will come a point when you are less enamored by all of your great ideas and more interested in making things that matter to you both in the moment and in the long-term.

Mentioned in the Podcast

Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky

Your Turn

Have you ever struggled with having too many ideas or not being able to prioritize them? Tell us about your experience in a comment below.

Photo of Cynthia MorrisAbout My Guest & Author of the Show Notes

Cynthia Morris is an artist, author, workshop leader, and certified coach. She is a longtime ally of artists and mastermind partner to me.

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29 thoughts on “The Art Biz ep. 5: Which Ideas are Worth Your Time?”

  1. This is so true! I have licensed my designs, have a shop on etsy of small originals and some manufactured items, Love painting large art pieces and have two childrens books in progress. Yet I find that I am not profiting with my art that I would love to do full-time. I do need to focus. I have been doing this since 2000 and get discouraged.

  2. I think this is even more important to “focus” when you are only able to do your art part-time. Although then it is more clear too that you do not have time for everything.

  3. I loved the podcast! I worked on one series all last year. It was tremendously satisfying. The podcast reminded me that I want to do that again this year. I want to make the choice of a project part of my end of year review. I love the idea of planning what I want to do in 2017. I have always finished my work, but my “voice” gets lost sometimes as I jump from idea to idea. The quarterly and yearly focus will be a great help.
    Thank you for all that you share.
    Susan Lane

    Susan Lane

  4. Great interview. Lisa Call teaches a class “Working in a Series”.

    We put our super ideas in an idea warehouse. We narrowed them down and then had to pick only one. For the next 10 weeks this one idea was our only subject matter. In how many ways could we explore it visually?

    I found great Relief in no longer being tempted by the other ideas. And the with time the one and only got so much deeper and more interesting…it does sound like marriage!

  5. Thank you for this great framework for choosing ideas 🙂

    I set an intention for what I want to achieve at the beginning of every year, and whenever I’m inspired by a new idea, I compare how it fits in with my intention. Sometimes the idea can be tweaked and adjusted. Sometimes it doesn’t fit at all, and it goes to my “Someday Maybe” idea storage in my Google Drive.

    1. Love it, Nela! That’s how I do it, too – how does this thing help me achieve what I am going for.

      Glad you have a space for your other ideas. I wonder if you go there regularly to see what’s there?

  6. Before midnight I threw away another five pounds of paper. TWENTY-FIVE POUNDS OF IDEAS!!!!

    It really helped that you said, TOSS IT. It will come back to you if you need it.

    Do I trust God? APPARENTLY NOT or I not be hoarding IDEAS!

    I don’t think I mentioned but I cleaned out my closet,too. NO clothes or shoes that don’t fit AND that I don’t like.

    I have a shoe box of ideas/notes that have been lightly curated and a 5 inch cube with business cards and letters and notes for following up with. I figure I will take care of four or five a week. I have unsubscribed from SO MANY GOOD VOICES.

    Okay. Now I am going to watch the podcast, but YEEHAW! It is going to be quite a ride this year.

    1. Hola muchas gracias por el aporte y por todos sus esfuerzos. Yo soy nueva por acá y no se mucho de estó, con relación a la descarga el link me lleva a Wupload pero no me deja descargar a menos que inicie sesión, que puedo har.e…c??

  7. while I hesitate doing a reply, am going to anyway – to begin with, in one of those updating that goes on, my computer, some months ago, lost sound, and despite ‘support help’, nothing was able to bring it back, and it will be maybe in January that will have funds to try to have it fixed – so no, despite saving those missives, have not yet heard any of them… still, tho, at least in this one, can make a comment –
    all art derives from one’s ‘sense of life’, and few it is who have really figured out beyond that, figured the actual abstract idea that is encompassed, which is known by so many mundane titles… in my case, I begin with abstract ideas and visualize them – and now have a good 30 years of ideas from which to fill my remaining time seeking to do as many as can… further, by beginning with knowing the abstract idea per work, I can integrate whatever goes into the work, knowing what needs be in and leaving the rest… now, priorities – I work in metaphor, as that allows dis-similars to be worked into the painting, thus broadening the view of the world I present, and adding more layers of the onion so to speak to be viewed… within that lever of abstracts, the more ‘universal’ the idea, the supposed greater the painting may be – but there are several which may never be done because the technical aspects may be greater than my patience,and this raises the question, should I anyway, and end doing less in numbers, or content myself with such as variations on a theme, all being good, and greater in number…

    right now, am expanding my space to permit me to try for both, at least to some extent, in that my large scale works are on my easel to do, and the smaller ones on the drafting table – but at no time have I ever lacked for one of interest to do, only for the problem that sometimes bothers me – namely why bother when so far have not found my buying public, only my ‘fan’ public [but this not happen often, and as am in my 70s, am more concerned with simply keeping at the producing, whatever the sizes, as long as can, even if this means only a legacy I never really see]…..

    so – what to do, as live on SS, and not seem to have the time left to break away for selling, and am not proliferate in the first place as work detailedly in pen and colored inks on works from 20″x32″ to 32″x40″ to those ‘grand landscapes of 36″x72″ or so… you have my website, so you know what my works look like…

  8. I’m so happy to have read this today. I’m early in an art career and had been wondering if I was slacking off because I didn’t have a zillion ideas. I typically have just enough – maybe one or two at a time. I practice keeping my eyes open for something that ‘gets me.’ I think about themes for upcoming shows. When I’ve finished something and ready to do something new, I have an idea waiting. I like doing several drafts of a painting to see how shapes/colors work and when I need to let the first idea simmer for a bit, I may start the first draft of the next idea. It’s working so far. As they say, ‘Enough is as good as a feast.’

  9. Two of my favorite people talking about what most of the time stops me on my tracks. I am now having to regroup and rethink my strategies abd goals for my career. This was the perfect time for this podcast!
    I usually do have millions of ideas that pop into my mind, but usually I have “the big one” that keeps overwhelming all other smaller ideas.
    I will have to go back to the drawing board and hone in on the goal for the year.
    Thank you Alyson and Cynthia!

  10. Villy Boyadzhieva

    Hello to both Alyson and Cynthia! Thank you for this wonderful podcast and all this great content on the website! I have found your website yesterday and since then I can’t stop reading!

    I am at the beggining of my art career. Recently I figured out that my job as Ing in Landscape architecture is not a fit at all and I have to persue my crazy childhood dream to be a fulltime artist. Since then I am worried about the future and I am afraid of failure but I have already achieved many of my goals and I would have to achieve this one as well. I have thousand ideas but it seems like I have time just for one of them.
    It is that as an adult (I am 28) I must know what is right for me and no one could answer any questions. I have always been painting but the marketing thing is new for me. I made one sale and two commisions just from facebook recently with very little promotion, but one of them didn’t pay me… so annoying. However I am very grateful for people like you, who give me hope that this proffesion is not all about luck.

  11. Eek! Recognised myself as one of those people who gets tempted by a new idea when they should be focussing on finishing the current one! Will remember to double check with myself at those potential-crisis moments in a project – for me normally in the middle of a project as well as when nearing the end.
    I’d love your input on how to balance the idea of ‘focussing on one thing’ with all the different areas of our creative life/business we have to keep alive (making work, blogging, marketing, teaching/coaching etc.)?

  12. Thank you, Alyson and Cynthia! I have long been trying to understand this issue. Bad case of a million directions. But between your great approach and an overdue chat with a dear artist friend, I’m seeing the light. My friend’s an artist, actor, novelist, playwright, film maker, screenwriter and director. Talented, successful, happy, passionate, and prolific in each of his mediums. I seriously thought he was Superman. I finally asked him how he does it, and it was like you said: simple, one at a time, highly focused. His next project is ready for him when he’s done. Without having to rush. I mistakenly assumed that if I didn’t try to capture 3 or 4 at once, I’d miss the window. It’s such a pleasure to know a better way.
    Thank you again !

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Your Artist Mailing List: Rethinking + Assessing

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.

Where can we send it? 

To ensure delivery, please triple check your email address.

You’ll also receive my regular news for your art business.

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