In the Zone of Discomfort

Artists who attend our workshops are deliberately placed into uncomfortable situations.

They are asked to 1) meet everyone in the room before the end of the event; 2) share workshop exercises with people they don’t know; and 3) change seats so they sit next to someone new.

I do this because dealing with discomfort is necessary for growth as an artist and as a businessperson.

Dharma tests her comfort level sitting in a wee-bit-too-small basketful of cat toys.

Some of the ways artists stay in their comfort zones:

  • Entering the same exhibitions year after year
  • Maintaining membership in a group whose members are not growing
  • Sticking close to a friend at art openings rather than meeting new people
  • Writing a newsletter that looks like every other artists’ newsletter
  • Using an artist statement from five years ago
  • Promoting their art the same way year after year without seeing results
  • Having a website that hasn’t changed in three years

If any of these sound familiar, I challenge you to get uncomfortable with your art, with your marketing, and with your life.

Challenge Yourself

Take the statement that rings true and, if you think it would help with your progress, turn it on its head.

Enter a different exhibition or stop entering juried exhibitions altogether. Attend an art opening with the sole purpose of meeting three new people. Scratch the newsletter you’ve been clinging to and build a new, more interesting one from the ground up.

You don’t want to stay uncomfortable for long, but you do want to stay there long enough to stretch your potential.

In the Zone of Discomfort, you seek new ideas, knowledge, and clarity. You want to test what is possible. You want to innovate.

Ask These Questions

If you’re still not convinced that you’re ready for the challenge, ask yourself a few favorite questions that I use in these situations:

What’s the worst that can happen if I put myself in this uncomfortable situation? If this does happen, can I live with it?

What’s the absolute best thing that can happen if I put myself in this uncomfortable situation?

If the best scenario could happen right now, why would I postpone the results?


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19 thoughts on “In the Zone of Discomfort”

  1. We’ve heard the saying of not keeping our eggs all in one basket. For an artist we’re trying to get our work to market and hopefully to sell. This is how we make our living. But, if you kept all your eggs and marketing efforts in one basket and the basket was dropped you risk breaking all the eggs. So if we rely too much on one resource, one line of effort, or single venture we may actually be putting all that we’re trying to achieve at risk which is making a living from off our art. As mentioned by Alyson we might keep doing the same things over and over with no returns, such as entering the same underperforming shows. Granted some things take time and repetition is necessary to see results in certain areas, but after a while with no change a decision must be made and you have to get out of your comfort zone to try something new. Don’t let the eggs rot, you’ve got to get them to market somehow.
    Recently I made a HUGE discomfort decision in adding something new to my marketing mix as well as a potential income stream. I decided to try selling my works via the auction format on eBay. Did I hear someone gasp in horror?
    You might think, “Oh I could never do that. That would be beneath me to put my art on eBay. That’s selling out!” Then by all means, go fill out a job application and take on extra work as your other income stream and one which you’ll probably hate. I know of artists who dropped out of the race, and took on a “regular” job to make ends meet or they gave up on their art and relegated it to a hobby. Now you can really gasp in horror. For myself I decided to adjust my attitude towards eBay and look at it as a viable alternative income stream even if it’s not a primary one.
    Maybe this will peak your interest. In just a little over the first 30 days of my eBay experience, I put up 13 small paintings, sold all 13 and retailed nearly $2000.00. I now have new collectors, I’ve shipped work out to different states and within the local area I have sold to new clients who have never purchased work from me before. Looking at the bidding history, and I saw area codes of bidders in the United States from the North, South, East and West. This means my art work and name has been put before others that I have not met or who have unlikely been in one of my galleries, but who are now familiar with my work. Instead of spending $2000 on advertising hoping for a return on investment, I felt like I was getting paid to advertise instead! Also the amount of time and cost to my creative energy was less than what it would have been if I decided as an alternative income stream to take on part time work that’s unrelated to art.
    If you don’t mind me sharing I’ve written a two part blog post on my own eBay experience. Maybe it will be of benefit.
    Part One: A link to part two is included at the bottom of the post.

    1. William: I think the days of gasping at eBay are over. It’s been interesting to watch it mature as a venue for artists. I don’t pay a lot of attention to what’s going on there, so I appreciate knowing that you’ve done well – and written about it.

    2. Yes, you’re probably right about the gasping at eBay part, but perhaps there’s still a frown or trepidation thinking it may undermine one’s reputation as an artist. I’ve also seen artists diss eBay despite others success. I guess it’s like recommending a restaurant because you had good food, good service, and then someone else goes and there’s a new cook, a lousy wait person and to top it off got food poisoning.
      As an alternative, I did see a landscape artist using his blog as a platform for his own personal auction and it appeared he was successful at it. I also know there are plugins for WordPress for transforming a site into an auction platform with functionality similar to eBay. I imagine for that to work, one would need pretty good traffic for their site or a good base to work from in starting out, but the idea seemed interesting if someone wanted more control and keeping it all “in house.”

  2. Great post! One year I took on the color pink because I hate it, thinking it is too sweet and girly and romantic. I found tons of non sweet ways to use it with other colors in my art work. I am very good at getting outside my comfort zone in producing art however I have never really thought about getting outside my comfort zone in art marketing, assuming any marketing is good marketing. In reading your list I think I am guilty of every item on it. Right now I have an idea for a one man show and I am terrified to pitch the idea … I need to just do it.

    1. Rebecca: Those butterflies in your stomach are telling you to keep moving forward.
      And remember that de Kooning used pink brilliantly – and did quite well with it.

  3. This is a real challenge to me. I am trying to find a comfort zone!
    I have spent the last few years trying all kinds of new things to market/promote my business. I would like to be able to spend more time creating new work, and less time out of the studio (aren’t we all!)
    I would be so happy if I could find a few things that worked every year, so that I could do more automation of my schedule, instead of trying to re-invent the wheel every year.
    There must be a balance between putting yourself out there, and actually enjoying life. I’m still working on this one.

  4. Pingback: Rose Welty Art Studio » Traffic in the sun of Lima, Peru

  5. I got myself out of my comfort zone this year by writing my first book “A STRATEGIC PAINTER” and getting it published without any further delays (it will be coming out on Amazon this winter). The process has been more than uncomfortable as one can imagine as using words is a left brain activity. For a right brain dominant painter, to put thoughts into words instead of pictures alone had been a challenge. Then to go through with the process of keeping things succinct without being too wordy…coming up with supporting pictures to keep things exciting…finding connections through research and analysis…and lastly, getting it out there all in a cohesive way…while raising two children under 10…yes. I did it…it is done and it feels wonderful.

  6. Thank you Alyson for your article and William for mentioning Ebay as I was just thinking it might be a good idea to sell on Ebay recently.

    1. Vanessa, if you go the eBay route be sure to build some enthusiasm for the auction even before it goes live by advertising it across your website, blog or any social networks you use. Maybe a series of special works? Also send notice out in your newsletter if you have one to your opt in list. You can also send individual emails (not bulk) to people you know who you think may be interested and who has had some contact with you. Also send out a reminder notice to your list, before the auction ends. People get busy and forget. Glad you’re considering something new. Wish you the best with your art endeavors.

  7. Hi William,
    Thanks so much for your additional input. Actually I was just wondering 2 hours ago if I should link it to my blog!!! So your message was perfect ! I’m also starting Pinterest and linking it to my Fine Art America page…
    Also, I noticed that some people just have a link to their Facebook page on their blogs and no “subscribe to blog” option anymore. Not sure what to think about that…things change fast!
    Thanks again!

  8. This is kind of radical, but after 2 years of doing very consistent marketing – blog, events, sending DVs to galleries, I had the worst year ever financially.
    I decided to scrap all of it, and set the intention that I would attract the right opportunities to me, without having to go after it. What I needed to do was change my mindset. I was doing all of those things because I felt I had to, and it was not authentic.
    So.. what I am doing now consistently (although I fall off the wagon sometimes) is to meditate and do yoga, and work on changing my energy to a higher vibration. So far, many new and unusual opportunities have come to me, really out of the blue!
    After losing my beloved animals last week, I set an intention that the perfect cat would find us. Friday, Katsu was delivered to us from the Las Vegas Animal Shelter – direct to our door. He is wonderful. I have also had some other amazing things happen, so I’m trying to do more of this.

    1. Patricia: I love to talk mindset and I’m so glad you brought this up. I think mindset + action is critical, but I don’t believe in willing things to happen forever.
      I’m guessing you’re still doing some marketing, yes?
      Congratulations on your new kitty. I need to set a similar intention for a female Siamese.

  9. Pingback: Rose Welty Art Studio » Behind the Curtain – how I work

  10. Once a month a real estate lady comes walking by my home with a large messenger bag and places a newsletter of homes for sale on my door. In the newsletter also has events in the community, cooking recipes for holidays, and any charity things going on, as well as tips for home improvements.
    She wears a suit while walking this whole neighborhood. I can tell she writes the newsletter herself and enjoys it, and it fits with that her job as an agent would require good communication skills.
    I like looking at the newsletter, but what I admire most is that she walks to every house in a suit every month you can count on it. I see her out my window while on my computer. Sometimes I want to spring up from my chair and call after her and cheer her on. This to me is an example of real go getter-ness. I’m sure it’s not exactly comfortable to do all that walking in those clothes, in cloudy weather, carrying a big sack, but she does it. And if I were ever to sell a home, I would certainly consider her.
    What this has to do with your post is, I get a lot of spam snail mail for real estate agents “junk mail.” There is nothing remarkable about them. I am “sold” on who I would hire, just by this 1 real estate agent’s distinctiveness.

  11. Pingback: In the Zone of Discomfort | Maleko's Art

  12. Great post Alyson!
    We all need the reminders to keep moving forward to easy to live in our comfort zones and get complacent. I re-posted the article on my blog >
    I have always considered myself a visual artist (painting and drawing) but in the last year have began to write. I have combined my poetry with some of my art and entered competitions and even written some short stories and one novel. It has lead me down many new paths and forged new relationships getting out of the same old same old day after day.
    Thanks again for the great post!

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