Six Art Career Production Problems

Production problems can kill your art career.

You already know continually making great art that gets the attention of your prospective buyers is not easy. This is especially true when you are working on production deadlines. If you are a producing artist making a living from your work, or that is your goal, then you don’t have the luxury of spending endless hours on each piece. You need to know when to quit. When good is good enough. Following daily rituals are part of the process and production capabilities of successful artists.

You have to make it before you can sell it.

Production is about keeping the horse in front of the cart. By that, I mean working on art marketing projects before you have your production issues under control is pointless. Learn to get a handle on making a sufficient amount of art annually so you can accurately predict your income and adjust your marketing to meet your production and sales goals.

Your production capabilities inform your marketing decisions. Get your pipeline filling processes refined, and then work progressively on creating demand to move your inventory.

Do any of these art production problems resemble your situation?

  1. Your work is so intricate and time-consuming that you can never make or charge enough to make a living.
  2. You have too many other competing interests in your life such as a full-time job, demanding family life or other compelling pursuits.
  3. Your disorganization blocks you from getting as much done as needed.
  4. You have not perfected an art making system with a process and a plan that allows you to move efficiently from one logical step to the next without hesitation.
  5. You lack concentration, or find yourself easily distracted by your computer, television, cell phone or other things that sidetrack you from your work.
  6. You don’t have the big picture, which means you lack a long-range plan for your career.

Any of those issues or combination of them can stop your career in its track. None of them are insurmountable so long as you are willing and flexible enough to make necessary changes. It comes down to what you want from your career, and how important the success you dream about is to you.

Live Your Best Artist's LIfe
Live Your Best Artist’s LIfe


Each piece of art should be part of a bigger plan.

You need to recognize that the individual pieces you make are simply small cogs in your big career plan. If completing the piece you are working on is your big goal, your career is screwed.

It starts with discipline.

For those of you struggling with how to get things done, you need to look at what you are doing. Ask yourself:

  • Are you giving yourself enough time to create all the work you have scheduled?
  • Are you working efficiently, so you waste as little time and motion as possible?
  • Do you have set hours for concentrating on getting your work done?
  • Are you able to keep distractions from family, friends, and Facebook from disrupting your time?
  • Are you set up to start working once your walk in studio or workspace immediately?
  • Are there other things going on personally or professionally hindering your production?

If you relate to any of the questions above, or have other problems with creating enough art so that you can supply the demand your plans require, then you need to stop everything. Make sure you have identified your issue and fix it.

Once you have mastered your production needs, or at least are seeing a significant improvement in your process for getting them under control, you can start to think about how to get your work sold.

The Guide to Art-related Careers
Learn about art-related Careers.

Do not spend time marketing your work until:

  1. You are making work that potential customers will purchase regularly.
  2. You are capable of turning out enough work to satisfy the demands your marketing will create.

It makes no sense to spend any time or money on marketing until you are ready. This does not mean you need 100 pieces in your inventory to get started marketing your art. (The number of pieces, of course, will vary depending on your media and other things. Sculpture, for instance, will have much lower numbers.) As a painter or photographer, you may need a dozen or more ready for immediate sale along with the knowledge and confidence you can steadily continue to make more pieces to match your marketing efforts and career goals.

Improving production comes differently to every artist.

There is no one clear-cut method for ramping up production. If you are having problems, you should already be aware that you are. Your best sources of help are other artists. Any problems you have are not unique to you. Improving production is much the same as improving your technical skills. You learn from others, and through your own trial and error. Just keep getting better and faster.

You should know on average how long each piece you create takes to finish.

With that easy stat, you can project how many pieces you can create in monthly and annual increments. It makes the rest of your business plan work. If you can make 80 pieces of art in the next 12 months, then you can investigate what you need to do to get those pieces sold. It is all part of a journey and process to move your career along to the place where your results match your vision for your big picture.


The Guide to Art-related Careers
Learn about art-related Careers.


art career, art marketing

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  1. But what if the art really does take a LONG time to create and there are no shortcuts to producing it without losing the quality? I can sell prints of my originals, but that won’t work with commissioned pieces which are the source of most of my income. It’s my biggest stumbling block and I haven’t found a way to resolve it, though it’s probably all I think about!

    1. I try to work in smaller, quicker, sketches or details or studies with the major works you create. Not everything has to be a fully resolved masterpiece.

  2. I agree, some art does take a long to make. Other than very high prices, it’s probably not possible to make a full-time career without a day job, sponsors, benefactors or supporting spouses or partners.

  3. Thanks for the insight. My biggest challenge is balancing the personal desire to create new work and try new things with the production demand for the things that I know will sell, or have sold (since I work on a made-to-order basis). If I only produce the ‘sellers’ then I feel bland and overworked. But if I get carried away developing new art then there is not much time left to get orders fulfilled and done with sufficient quality. It seems to come down to balance. Like you said, knowing when it’s good enough to call it done. And also to have space in your workflow to still improvise and create new ideas. This is surely a journey all artists find them selves on! Thanks Barney for the relevant and useful advice.

      1. Yes, Barney. I realized almost right after I left the comment that I was thinking of the moneymakers in a narrow way. Why not zoom in and give them as much life as I can, to push them further? Perspective is such an important and interesting thing. Thanks for the chance to reflect on this.

  4. Great article Barney. Reading this on monday morning it’s like hearing from a personal coach. I realize I have the “taking too long/perfectionism” thing going on, and also just fear I think behind that. I need to move myself forward to the next step. I had thought to launch my first series (possibly) now, but, (excuse) I had to move. So now it’s been pushed back, maybe to release mid-2015 around June shop time…we’ll see, you and Jason are on my email list. Thanks for the support Barney you truly are the Dude 😀 -K

    One other comment just for others, ritual and habit are so key, that and having goal and vision to aim for. A lot of what we do and get done is a result of our habits, and having something as a habit is like “set it and forget it,” it gets wired into your brain!

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