Productivity Is Indispensable

  • Do you want to be the best artist you can be? Do you want to make as much money as you can from your art?
  • Do you want to make as much money as you can from your art?

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

Experience proves the power of productivity.

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.

What is productivity?

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.

Quality in art comes out of experimentation.

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?

Productivity is a universal aspect of creativity.

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.

Successful artists are prolific artists.

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.

Making art is not always easy or fun.

Mahogany chair designed and built by Barney Davey

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?

Discovery is part of the creative process.

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.

The only to make more money as an artist is to sell more work. Duh!

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.

First things first.

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.



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  • Thank you Mr. Davey! This was very inspiring. I am still wanting to do the course you sent me. I have seen a lot of your competition (art business coaches) and you seem to be the one who makes the most sense. You also seem down to earth, which I admire.

    • Thank you David. I appreciate your kind words. You’re right, there is lots of competition for helping artists with programs like mine. You have to find someone you click with. Kinda like selling art. You pick the ones you like the best. Fortunately, it’s a big world and we all fit in.

  • Barney,
    It certainly is good and needful for an artist to consistently produce. Set some standards for your work and keep practicing. There will be setbacks and discouragement but progress is possible.
    Some artists have reached the position where their work is in high demand even to the point of being on a waiting list. Sometimes their work is of the sort that requires a lot of research, preparation and a more time consuming technique.
    For the rest of us who are more prolific we can easily produce much more than there is a market for. A pile of unsold paintings can be discouraging. I have destroyed hundreds of paintings that no longer pleased or were inferior in design and technique.
    These days I sometimes think what is the point of making one more painting that will end up on the growing stack in the attic. I suspect many artists have these thoughts and the consequences are not good.
    Nevertheless the process of bringing the subject to life in our preferred medium usually grabs and off we go again in the hopes that this one will be really good and maybe have a buyer.

  • I’m at that spot- trying to figure out how to increase my productivity without compromising my creativity.I do sell whenever I have a show, but I want to market myself so I sell year-round. I don’t know if I can produce enough to do that. I’m not a very fast painter. My work is expressive landscape-mostly from my imagination- so I never have a definite plan as to how it is going to look. The painting paints itself-sometimes its fast, but most of the time its not. thanks for this article…its got me thinking of how to do this 🙂

  • What a great article. I am trying to balance a full time job with painting. and finding it very hard to balance. I am producing one piece a week but need to increase that. The marketing part is the hard part for me. I am trying to line up my shows for this year. The question is, How many shows is reasonable? I think I could do 1 a month and still have time to produce paintings and work at my job. but much more than that would be very hard I think.

    • Congrats on having so much energy and ambition. A lag in one or the other of those is what holds back many careers, not just artists. Everyone has to go at their own pace, but getting serious about time management and staying focused on the right things helps enormously. I made a new Twitter follower yesterday. In her bio, she says she is a “free-time” artist. I love that description.

  • I agree we all need to be more productive in our painting lives. But here is a stone in the pond. What I have noticed when I try creating art when I am not inspired, the result is a forced effort that typically does not yield a quality piece of work. Further, I get frustrated and that sends my energy into one that is limiting rather than growing. To me getting to that place, that energy vibration when I am called to paint has been my most productive times. I enjoy the process of painting and that energy has allowed me to sell more work.

    • If you are not inspired, try working on another piece and come back to the first one later. Just don’t stop working. That’s the message from both Picasso and Chuck Close as evidenced by their quotes in this post.

  • You mentioned hiring out parts of your work. I’ve never understood how anyone could have someone else do any part of the work and still sign his name to it as the artist. It’s not all about design and composition. To me, the real work that goes into it, the creation by the artist’s hand, is the most important element. Damien Hirst’s spot paintings come to mind. Even Hockney said it was an insult to artists to have a team of assistants do the actual work.

    • I had in mind getting help for doing the back end when I made a comment. However, artists employing helpers to make their art has been going on for centuries. Michaelangelo had others work on his sculptures. Experts did his feet, for instance.

      The contemporary market has numerous examples beyond Hirst and his spot painters of artists using assistants. Lichtenstein, Chihuly, and Warhol are examples. It’s a mindset. Buyers have shown a willingness to purchase works even though they know it was not handpainted by the person who signed the work.

      Using assistants won’t keep you from getting into museums or galleries, or stop collectors from buying your work. It’s a personal choice. As with Hockney, everyone is entitled to their opinions. I disagree with his take. And, where does one draw the line? Is Picasso’s massive Chicago sculpture to be denigrated because others forged the steel, did the welding and assembled the work? I believe embracing all one’s potential, including how to use assistants to fulfill large aspirations is a good thing.

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