Whether you desire to be highly creative or to earn a generous income, productivity is essential. It comes down to this: if you want to make more money and continually improve your skills, you have to make more art.
Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working. — Pablo Picasso
During my 30 years in the art business. I’ve known artists from millionaires to those barely making it. The most successful, whether measured by money, fame or just making art that readily sells, productivity is a common trait.
A measure of the efficiency of a person, machine, factory, system, etc., in converting inputs into useful outputs. Productivity is computed by dividing average output per period by the total costs incurred or resources (capital, energy, material, personnel) consumed in that period. Productivity is a critical determinant of cost efficiency. – courtesy of the business dictionary.
Okay, that’s the egghead version. To my mind, productivity, as it relates to artists, is making art repeatedly. It comes down to efficient ways to manage the mechanical aspects of creating art.
Productive artists make quick decisions about the entire process. They start by choosing subject matter, color scheme, size of the art, and materials. Then they work to get their intended result with as little effort as possible.
In most cases, before and after they became successful and wealthy the successful artists I’ve known made a ton of art. They were driven to make more art because they knew it helped them improve as an artist and that having more art gave variety to their collectors. How many haystacks did Monet paint?
I don’t know if it’s true, but suspect it is. It’s been written Bruce Springsteen wrote 1,500 songs before he recorded his first album. Bob Dylan was so prolific, especially in his early 20s that 50 years later a box of song lyrics from the 1960s was found. Choosing from among dozens of Dylan’s song lyrics, a group of musicians assembled by the producer, T Bone Burnett, including Elvis Costello and Marcus Mumford, recorded The New Basement Tapes: Lost on the River. It was released in late 2014. An HBO special recorded the process.
Pablo Picasso arguably is the most prolific artist of all time. It estimated he created 50,000 works of art in his lifetime. That is a long way from the 1,000 piece career average (33 pieces per year x 30 years) that I talk about in my Guerrilla Marketing for Artists: How 100 Collectors Can Bulletproof Your Career book. Picasso’s oeuvre gives you an idea of what is possible on the high end of the productivity scale.
The theme here is that successful artists create lots of work. It is the only way to hone your craft. Making art is as much a mechanical process as it is a creative one. Your creativity might inform how you want your artwork to look like as a finished piece, but your mechanical aptitude will determine your ability to see it through to fruition.
Your creativity helps you find new ways to make original art. Improving your art-making techniques enables you to churn out more art. Embedded in each new piece of art is an improvement in your skills. It is the drive to succeed that invigorates artists to stay busy when the tedium of the mechanical process kicks in.
I can tell you from firsthand experience from my fine woodworking days there was exhilaration in conceiving a piece of furniture and watching how it became a beautifully finished piece due to my artistry and skill.
Still, sometimes I could barely stand the monotony. Sanding and finishing make all the difference in a how a piece of handcrafted furniture looks. Nevertheless, the work involved in that part of the process was mind-numbingly tedious to me. I never let that part stop me from finishing a piece.
Had I gone into woodworking as a profession, which I seriously considered, I would have worked diligently to ramp up my income so I could hire out the tedious work. There is a lesson for you in that concept, which is to come to work every day thinking about how to replace yourself. What are you doing now that you can pay someone else to do for you?
Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just get to work. – Chuck Close
If you want to improve your art, you have to make more art. You can imagine how a piece will work, but you won’t know until you get to work. If you want to grow as an artist, you cannot sit still. I nearly always found something in the doing that was fun and unexpected. A straight line might give way to a curve in a place where I had not planned on it with the unintended result more appealing than I conceived in my initial vision and drawings.
You instinctively know you have to have enough work to sell to make your business profitable. Also, you have to work steadily at creating art to fill the demand.
It’s a linear process. That is you first need to make compelling work in sufficient quantity, and with ongoing and improving productivity capabilities before you spend your time and money marketing your work on creating demand, you cannot meet.
You should measure to know where you are in the process to honestly evaluate your current production capabilities. If you are confident this area of your art career is under control, it is an excellent time to start looking for ways to create more demand for your increased ability to turn out more work.