I have had a wonderful week teaching and learning in a workshop on creativity and career development.  We are focusing on art making as a way to think and draw upon what we already know about what we need to survive and prosper as artists and as balanced human beings. We are using our art making as a way to recognize and admit our greatest dreams for ourselves as artists and to figure out concrete steps in the direction of that vision.

Detail, 'Nature Rising,' watercolor

I have fabulous artists in my workshop (and they are all already artists although at different stages in their careers, from seasoned artists and teachers to students and creative thinkers currently working in other fields). They are there because they have made a commitment to themselves for art making to be more central in their lives and to get their art out into the world in a larger way.

Together we are revisiting the foundational ideas we have, embracing the content that matters most to us, and figuring out ways around barriers to our growth and success both internal and external. Happily we still have another week of action planning through creative process.

Have I mentioned that I teach to learn? I share strategies that have worked well for myself and others. I’ve found that in posing some of the questions I have about being an artist to intelligent, talented, committed people a process of discovery is revealed that guides all of us.

In general there are three basic struggles that most of us recognize as barriers: time, money, and space. Once we have dealt with finding space to make our art (accept adequate space while working toward the ideal environment) we still have to juggle economic needs, personal commitments, healthy balance, and the time to work. Interestingly enough, rather than focusing on external forces many of us need to overcome internal barriers to giving ourselves permission to take the time and personal space we need to focus on our art, art-making, and careers.

Desire to be an artist is strong in lots of creative folks. Many of us dream of exhibiting our art in a larger way; of seeing our work published in books and magazines; of living a lifestyle where we spend our time making our art as our living; and of being we our own boss. However it’s the willingness and ability to put time and effort into making our art, and having the tenacity and discipline to stay focused on what we say matters that ultimately make the difference. I think nine tenths of being a successful artist is showing up.

'Nature Rising', watercolor, 30 x 40, available on Etsy

(To see a fabric design based on this painting go here:  Flight of Fancy Too)

We cannot expect anyone to work harder to bring our art to the world than we are willing to do ourselves. If we seek to be full-time self-supporting artists we need to understand the operative words are “full-time.” I don’t mean we can not have careers as self-supporting artist if we are not in a position to spend a minimum of 40 hours a week on our art making and career building (although it would sure move us forward faster if we did), but we do need to make appointments with ourselves to consistently grow, water, and harvest our creative work.

There are advantages to thinking about our art careers as the businesses the IRS requires them to be to earn our business deductions. We know we have to show up for work, honor commitments, and complete tasks if we are running a business. If we were in any other business we wouldn’t give away our time, ignore important tasks, forget to advertise, or imagine our business could grow and prosper without attention and consistent effort. Neither will an art career.

Practically speaking it helps to make a list of goals. Keeping in mind our greatest vision for ourselves those of us in the workshop this week will begin to plan our next steps. We will decide what we would like to achieve in the next month, in the next year and in our lifetime. We will be realistic, but we will also be asked to expect great things of ourselves.

Each of us will have a different plan based in the circumstances of our lives and our vision for ourselves as artists. In the short term we will identify a plan for a permanent place to make our art; establish a daily or at least weekly schedule of art making; determine a monthly expectation for completing artworks, and make plans to regularly visit places that exhibit and distribute art so we can stay abreast of our field.

We will also plan for the future and establish goals for our studio time a year from now, for how many finished art works we will create, and for what specific achievements we will have worked toward. We will think about how we can hone our skills and gain the information and/or knowledge necessary to take our careers and artwork to their next stage of development. In the workshop next week we will be setting goals for ourselves so we can remember our best vision for ourselves and measure our progress toward that vision.

I’ll encourage the workshop participants to hang their goals on a wall in their studio space and take notice as they reach each goal or milestone. I’ll ask them to revisit the list whenever a decision is at hand that will demand time and attention and ask them to think about if it will move them toward their goals or away from them. If the answer is ‘away’ then it will be time to consider whether to say ‘no’ or to adjust the goals. Saying ‘no’ is hard but sometimes it is exactly the correct action. Lets all practice….