Where Motivation Comes From

I want to help you expand your art business and grow your art career.

Each of my blog posts, class lessons, or live events is carefully designed to help you get one step closer to your dream.

In these formats, I can teach you:

  • What strategies you could be using to promote your art.
  • Why these strategies are helpful.
  • How to implement strategies.
  • About artists who are getting good results by using these strategies.

Still, as much as I would like, I cannot teach you how to get motivated to do the work.

©Valaree Cox, Brain Series One and Two.
Venetian plaster, paper, paint, nails, and waxed twine on a substrate of birch panel, 16 x 20 inches each. Used with permission.

I’d go so far as to say that I can’t teach you anything if you are not motivated.

I can give you information, but that information is no good if it is merely collected – put on a shelf in hopes that it will somehow magically work just because you paid for it.

I can write motivational articles or respond with positive feedback if you comment on my blog or Facebook page, but I cannot give you the motivation to take action.

Motivation must come from within you.

If you aren’t motivated to do the work, it doesn’t matter how many books you read or classes you take. You’re throwing your money away if you don’t plan to do the work.

What Gets You Up in the Morning?

Motivation is the spark that sets everything in motion, whether it’s your day, your week, your project or your entire career.

©Roma Donovan, Far Away. Pigment ink photograph. Used with permission.
©Roma Donovan, Far Away. Pigment ink photograph. Used with permission.

Motivation is ignited by motive. This is your big WHY.

Why are you trying to build an art career?
Why are you trying to sell your art?
Why do you want more people to see your art and respond to it?
Why are you not satisfied with making art for yourself?

Do you see that when you can answer these questions, you will bolt out of bed in the morning with a burning desire to head to the studio and share your art with more people (after a cup of coffee, of course)?

Common motives for artists include freedom, sense of accomplishment, greater connection, and recognition. Additional income, though a nice outcome for your action, is rarely the primary motivation that leads to action.

So What’s the Hold-Up?

If you’ve identified the motive and still aren’t making progress, you have to consider what’s getting in the way of action. Ask yourself more questions that begin with Why.

Why am I not writing my newsletter?
Why am I not updating my blog?
Why am I not exhibiting my art?
Why am I not (gasp!) making art?

There could be any number of reasons for stalling, but it usually boils down to one of these:

  • You don’t know how to do something.
  • You haven’t identified the first step.
  • You don’t think you have the time.
  • You don’t believe you can do it.
  • You are anxious about what might happen after you’re finished.
  • You’d rather be doing something else – something easier or more fun. You’re trading the potential for future results for present satisfaction.
©Charles Heppner, How do you live in peace. Cigar box, encaustic, paper, 7 x 7 x 2.5 inches. Used with permission.
©Charles Heppner, How do you live in peace. Cigar box, encaustic, paper, 7 x 7 x 2.5 inches. Used with permission.

Serial entrepreneur Kevin Kruse suggests we find motivation by calling on our future self. Here are a few questions I ask my future self when I’m not doing the work. They go like this …

If I make this choice, how will it serve me 3 months from now? 1 year from now? 5 years from now?
Am I delaying potential positive results?
Will I regret not doing this?

Is Your Motive Strong Enough?

Return to your motive and consider this: Is your motive stronger than your reasons or excuses for not doing the work?

If the motive were strong enough, you’d do whatever you could to make it happen. You’d take more classes, hire a coach, stay up late, or get up early.

You’d escape your comfort zone, show up at art openings and introduce yourself to people, apply to shows and risk rejection, and invite the feedback required for growth.

Your Turn

Are you motivated? If not, why not? What needs to change? What’s your motive?


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33 thoughts on “Where Motivation Comes From”

  1. Hello,

    I decided in 2012 that I would look back in to art(after not drawing since my teen years) and eventually decided to pursue this as a career. One of my biggest flaws is lack of motivation/procrastination when it comes to things that only affect me and it really slowed down my progress.

    I’ve now been working hard to get myself out of that rut and put in serious work. I just did a weekend art workshop (8 hours a day for 3 days) and have signed up for a 6 month mentorship program to get guidance on building my art skills. I also plan on going to the Drawing salons here at the national gallery of art (Unfortunately, I was too late for this month and had to be waitlisted) and I will be going back to open life drawing sessions on Thursdays.

    I’m excited about all the new things I’m doing and can’t wait to see where it leads. Since I was just focusing on getting myself together skills wise I had not bothered to focus on the social/marketing aspect of it all, but I do have instagram and tumblr accounts to post to.

  2. What a timely post, Alyson.

    I am motivated to BE IN MY STUDIO. To MAKE Art. I have little motivation to Share my art.

    I don’t have much of a motive TO make a living from my art. I’m not even sure HOW to do it…even after collecting lots of great advice.

    Thankfully, I have occupational bondage to sustain me and my fear. Double-edged sword that gratefulness.

    I’ve acted in the past on the great advice…to receive too little results for what felt like huge efforts. So it goes back to motive to share…and earn a living….

    Very timely. I AM MAKING art…and without a “body of work,” I truly couldn’t go forward when I decide to move forward, eh?

    You are so right about that YOU cannot MAKE me motivated. I see it with working out: I MUST get myself to the gym. NO one can make me work out…and I cannot make anyone work out. No one can make me want to market my art, too. Sigh. LOL

    Can someone else do it for me? LOL

    Hugs and belated Happy Birthday!

  3. What drives my motivation is an all consuming passion to create art. I create it everyday except Sunday, which for me is a day of rest. When I create art I am in a different world. It consumes me. When I don’t create I feel as if I have missed visiting with my best friend. Motivation is not the problem with me but direction as to what avenues I want to take. I am very comfortable with making business decisions. I just don’t believe that the Internet is always the answer to everything.

    1. Bill,

      You are SO lucky! I feel passionate and have TONS of ideas. I could paint the rest of my life and not get through all my ideas. The issue for me is that art is HARD work – the work I like to create is details, has perspective and emphasizes accuracy of drawing. I can do it all, but it is still really hard work (both mentally and energetically) and so I procrasitnate and do things that are “easier”. Once I start I too am immersed, but it is the starting part – the activation energy- which stalls me. I say it is much like exercising – getting started is hell, but once you’re going you are so happy to do it. I think the key in your thought is that you do it almost every day. I find that if I go to the studio every day it becomes a habit, something I just do and don’t think about.

      I also had issues on direction. I found that if I just had thought about it the following way it really helped: There are many directions I can go and I have time. I will focus on this one thing for right now. That doesn’t mean that I can’t change that focus anytime I want. I don’t lose the ability to pursue other avenues. Those thoughts seemed to really help and I have been focused in one direction for the past year.

    2. Marque,
      I love your statement at the end! I can choose how long i focus on a specific avenue, whether that be for a day, a week or longer. My intent stays the same “make art”.

  4. Well, I’ll do something very scary right now, by explaining why my motivations is on a downward spiral. My art career took off nicely in 2005. I was accepted by a few galleries and sales kept climbing for several years. I have been very active in the art community, changed galleries as some went out of business, I did some teaching for art clubs, kept improving my technique by taking inspiring classes. I am very happy with how my art has been evolving. I love painting in the studio and outdoors, and I have been doing it regularly, so my production is good. BUT…the sales kept going down year after year. Show openings see very few visitors and those that show up, come to chat, not buy. This has been going on for the last couple of years and it’s wearing me down. Alison’s courses are helping me clean up the office and studio, increase my marketing efforts, and generally getting my mind busy, but it’s hard to get the motivation back. There, I said it all. I know that no one can fix my problem for me, but at least I got it out. I am carrying on with the classes and hopefully I will hit on things that are my weaknesses, but I am a bit worried that I don’t spend most time on things that are the least of my problems. Alison said it very realistically in the beginning – we can’t do it all at once! So, what is the biggest of my problems? Well, if I knew it, I wouldn’t need this class, right? I’ll keep trucking and putting the pieces of the puzzle together. Thanks to everyone here for all the ideas you have been sharing, I am amazed with the variety of art projects and businesses out there, and with all the sharing that goes around. Great job everyone!

    1. Oh dear, I don’t remember when I wrote this post, but I can report now that things have changed significantly. My art shows have been well attended in the past year and sales have picked up. I generally feel more motivated and I am working on more projects than in the past years. Thanks Alyson for these inspiring blog posts and classes. Every little bit of motivation helps!

    2. Yay! So happy to get a second report, Tatjana. Your original comment was from 2015 – I couldn’t bear to remove old comments when I freshened up the posts.

      For other people reading, what do you think has made the biggest difference for you?

  5. For me there are two layers to the motivation cake. On the basic level, I’m super motivated. After my full time job and my time with my three year old and everything else that needs to be crammed into a day, I land at my desk around ten o’clock and before I know it it’s 2 AM and I feel half-dead but I’ve made stuff, shared stuff, written blog posts – the works. I have no problem writing to people, getting turned down, entering competitions, losing competitions – heck, sometimes even winning competitions. On the other hand, going to bed at 2 AM most nights and getting up at 7 is bleedin’ EX-HAUUUS-TING. I go to bed and my heart skips beats – I’ve had it checked and the doctor says it’s totally healthy, I’m just overtiring myself. I physically feel that I can’t carry on like this forever. The hope is that the art will take off enough to let me lose the day job, but I guess I’m racing against the clock in a way. So yeah, sometimes the mind is willing but the body is weak 🙂

    1. Your comment here SO resonated with me! For years I’ve worked towards a botanical illustration certificate with a full time job/household demands, and I was upbeat/motivated/excited while learning many techniques with immense improvements. Hours put in every night, loving seeing the progress, feeling accomplished, getting good feedback. I am at the end of it.Here is the difference for me: now that my day job of 30+yrs is gonefor a few months now, and I have all the time I kept thinking about all I wish I could do, I feel lost since I’m not good at self management. Since I’m not an outgoing, forward person with no contacts/art friends, I feel so isolated and doubt if I can make a career out of this- what I always thought I would like. Now, I’ve even fallen out of practice with my art and struggle with motivation since I remember the bodily stress I put myself under reaching those goals before. My body isn’t as resilient anymore. I keep looking for motivational videos and sketching to try to come out of this mess, lol. I realized through this article it really is all on me, because even my hubby saying he believes in me doesn’t push me enough even though I’m grateful for it. The last thing I could stand though is another corporate job. I love Allyson’s blog but can’t seem to move ahead, and it’s killing me. Art is the only driving force I ever had in my life.

  6. I have found out that I have to watch out for becoming a human doing instead of a human being. Things like laying down on the bed, not even falling asleep, for an hour and just being are so incredibly key to my creative juices. When my life is so full that I don’t have time for that on a day off, then my creative life suffers.

    As to doing the deal, the whole art biz deal, I have to say that keeping up with classes and doing everything that it requires is sometimes just one more thing to do, and I have to realize that while I work a full time job (that’s not the art business) I can only fit so much more into my time. Not that its not all worth doing and learning about and applying, and ultimately the alternative to my job, just that personally I have to keep my eye on what’s really important in life as a whole. And generally for me that’s a healthy balance, and realize that for me, creating the art is more important than selling it. And unless I am healthy enough to do that, no amount of marketing is going to work, as I won’t have the art to sell.

  7. Intellectually I market – but in practice not enough. I read lots i paint lots but belief in selling is a great big problem. I sold well at The Crypt St Ives – hired for the week for a solo show – and have booked for the same time week next year – pleased to get accepted date – first choice – but the work I’m doing now feels like I’m waiting for next October and the Show

  8. Great topic! Thanks. Like someone else I am working a “day job” and also building my bookbinding business. Based on the time I spend, the times I say no to other fun activities, etc. I am highly motivated. I often don’t feel sufficiently motivated to get some tasks done that are not so much fun however. This past month I had a student intern who was a wonderful motivating boost! Having her in my studio made ME more productive. I have recently begun a conversation with a retired friend who says she does not have enough to do to take some of the repetitive organizational tasks off my plate. I also have 2 sisters and 2 friends who serve as my advisory board. I find that setting up ways in which I am accountable to others helps my internal motivation.

  9. I appreciate this compelling article. I wonder if other artists out there are experiencing similar distress at not producing art when they know they are completely capable of it. I believe that one reason for lack of motivation to paint is a self-protective emotional response to an underlying fear.
    It’s scary putting it out there, but here goes. Can the emotional reason for not painting be greater than the logical reasoning that I should be painting because I know I want to?
    Can being shut down as an artist have more to do with self-protection from a much earlier emotional trauma than what is happening right now? All the self-lecturing and beating oneself up for procrastinating cannot win against a subconscious belief that will not allow you to paint.
    Talent and motivation can be 100% but if the belief and fear that stops you is not dealt with, results will be slowed to a snail’s pace or completely stopped, as was my case.
    It took me over 30 years to pick up a brush again. From the time I was a child I never wanted to do anything but be an artist. My future looked so promising, yet because of my circumstances I stopped painting in my 20’s. In spite of decades of attempts to get back to it, I never could. The block was so deep that even picking up a brush felt like a 50-lb weight was attached to my arm and was so exhausting my efforts never lasted.
    I’m happy to tell you that I finally did get my stuff figured out and today that fear is gone and I’m free to paint again. I can answer the questions in Alyson’s post thoughtfully and honestly, which gives me motivation to move forward instead of sending me into a tailspin like it would have in the past.
    I’m now in my late 50’s and paint or draw nearly every day, fear-free! I’ve answered Alyson’s first questions and realized that I really do want to be an artist and am now doing whatever it takes to make it happen. Sometimes our reasons for lack of motivation have nothing to do with our art, but must be examined if we ever want to break free and let our artist thrive.

    1. Karen,

      Thanks for this! I agree that self-protection can be a big reason why we don’t paint when we say we want to. Painting can be (and perhaps the best art always is) a vulnerable undertaking. Getting to the heart of one’s art means revealing the unknown depths of oneself and it takes awareness, as well as courage, to drop defenses and allow this to happen.

      Over the holidays I heard part of a poem by John Dryden that seemed to address my reluctance to risk exposure by going deeper: “Errors, like straws, upon the surface flow; he who would search for pearls must dive below.” I’ve noticed how if I try to copy a painting I feel good about – one of my self-protective strategies – the copy never succeeds. Because I keep trying to get it to look right, it never will be; it lacks the element of soulful discovery that made the original sing.

      For me, diving below seems to involve challenging notions of right and wrong, success and failure. It also means risking the journey to that realm where pearls may be found, usually in unexpected places. As someone who in the past has perhaps erred on the side of showing “too much, too soon,” I’m learning that the process of painting is one I do not necessarily have to share with others. When I know I can choose what to show and what to keep for myself, I’m less likely to use self-protection as a reason not to paint. Or to hold back from painting what I may be capable of but can’t know about it advance.

      Such a rich journey, this!

  10. Finally getting better with the depression. Although it took an estate agent house inspection (yesterday) for me to clear my workspace. I have ideas for new work.Blog got wiped by malware last year, I’m getting that back up. I started with the gallery page.

  11. As I have read thru each response it is amazing how I can relate so much to nearly everyone. I too work a FT job as well as trying to build a side business and I dream every single day of creating art. Like someone said there would never be enough days to create all my ideas. Time escapes me when I do finally steal time to paint…Though alyison said it is rare a motivation to be financial reasoning, mine most definitely would be as well as feeding my soul of doing what I love. Financial income goes hand in hand with creating art. I cannot have one without the other. When I do create art people pounce and say you should be doing this! I do doubt and likely fear that I may not have what it takes to earn financial success. This is the first time since becoming a mom (of now 20-something yr olds) that I can say this year will be more about ME. My motivation is to do what I love (paint) in hopes that folks would purchase and allow me to walk from my FT lifeless boring day job. So this year I plan to grow my side business of engraving on glass to promote sales for businesses that hire me — to then allow me to go part time rather than Keep my FT job, which then would allow me to have more time to create art and in my dream this too would grow. The first domino has to fall and only I can make it happen.

  12. What motivates me to create art is my love of creative self-expression and that my art makes people happy, brings some light to their day.
    What motivates me to sell it is my vision for my future.

  13. This is a fabulous post. I’m sitting down to answer these q’s as I move forward in my new biz. THIS question has me really going deep into my ‘why’ – “Why are you not satisfied with making art for yourself?” WOW! Flipping the ‘why’ on its head has given me a whole new perspective – Thank you.

  14. Wow, so timely for me as well. I have gotten some great advice from y’all. I now realize i’m not the only one who experiences this now. I will be looking forward TODAY answering these questions and moving forward.
    I have one question, (which in my mind is the biggest road block) what do i do with what i make? My small family doesn’t really like my work and online sales aren’t really happening. And then there’s the self defeating behavior of “maybe i’m not really an artist”.

  15. Dear Alyson,
    I’ve been following you for a while now and whenever I need a kick up the backside you’re there to give it! You keep me questioning and sharing when really all I want to do is be quietly in the studio listening to the radio and painting. I’m ready for the year ahead. Thank you so much.

  16. What a “deer in the headlights” moment! That is the missing piece…what is my WHY? Thank you for the leading to discover my own WHY and to be content with it. I have watched others boldly go forth in the world as artists with a full quiver of business savvy and drive and the resulting success. I am not ashamed to make art just for me and to share with my loved ones. I do, however, get really jazzed about the opportunities to share the processes with others and that wonderful moment when they get to see something inside themselves bloom. That is my WHY.

  17. Wow, glad you shared this blog post! I hadn’t seen it before. Simple, but profound and so, so important! I need to think some more about these questions in regard to some of my art (I do various types of creative work, some of which have been neglected and I’d really like to find my way back into). Thank you.

  18. I find that I am sometimes side-tracked (often, if I’m truthful) by the marketing of my work. I feel I’m a jack of all trades, so I enjoy the social media/newsletters/blog side of things. And as we all know, its very easy to spend hours on the computer without meaning to, and when I have an exhibit coming up, with lots of publicity involved, this is a big problem. Sometimes that terrible little voice inside my head tells me that I prefer the computer to my studio work. But over the years I’ve realized that this terrible little voice is wrong – that when I decide to put painting above all else that is when I’m happiest. Which is why I’m signing off now to go and paint!
    Thanks for the motivation, Alyson!

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