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20% Dream and Scheme, 80% DO

by Lori Woodward on 12/16/2009 12:40:02 PM

Today's Post is by Lori Woodward, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. She is also a contributing editor for American Artist's Watercolor and Workshop magazines. She writes "The Artist's Life" blog on American Artists' Forum and is a regular contributor here on Fine Art Views. Lori is a member of The Putney Painters, an invitational group that paints under the direction of Richard Schmid and Nancy Guzik.  Find out how you can be a guest author. 

I believe that some of us creative types are inclined to spend a little too much time in the "dream" department and not enough time in the "do" department.

My elementary school report cards show hard evidence that I was a dreamer from the start. Words like, "looking out the window", "day-dreaming", "unable to focus" described my general behavior. In first grade, I ended up meeting with the school district psychologist weekly to see what the problem was. He reported that I was intelligent and needed to skip first grade. That didn't happen, and it would have been a big mistake if it had. My disinterest in school work had nothing to do with my aptitude... it had much more to do with the fact that I am a dreamer from the very core of my being.

The World Needs Dreamers Who Perform

Now don't get me wrong... Dreaming is a great thing because the world needs dreamers. Most artists are dreamers by nature, but the hard cold fact remains that if we spend the bulk of our time dreaming and scheming, and not creating great work, our dreams are not likely to ever come true.

Ask any successful artist how much time he/she spends actually creating artwork, and you'll find that time in the studio far exceeds time either planning or dreaming. You see, they settled on some plans and dreams early on and then took immediate action in pursing those dreams. I am honored to call a handful of highly successful artists my personal friends. I see how they conduct their careers and their marketing efforts. They all have one thing in common... they are productive. They paint/work whether they feel like it or not. They put the horse before the cart, first creating a dynamite work and afterwords, they apply the best marketing tools to get their work before collectors' eyes. In fact, these artists didn't have a hard time getting into galleries because the quality of their work is evident.

I'm going out on a limb here, and this might make some of you angry, but I have to say it because this is what I believe...

Marketing your art gets easier when your artwork is remarkable!

It's absolutely true that you don't have to be the best artist in the world or even in your locality to make a good living at it. There are many types of collectors who buy for a variety of reasons. But! If you desire to show in Scottsdale, Santa Fe, or New York City in a high profile gallery, you're going to have to be better at what you do than most artists in order to knock the socks off of the gallery manager and thereby amaze their regular collectors.

So, let me get back to my premise: If you spend any more than 20% of your time dreaming and planning, which implies that the remaining 80% should be spent creating work, you're not going to have enough work to make a living at it. It usually takes years of concerted effort to get good enough to entice the best collectors. Talent means very little - education, practice and "doing" are the real keys to success. At least these have been the keys of the artists I personally know who are wildly successful. By the way, many of them did not posses much "talent" during the early learning phases of their careers. More often, a good education combined with years of working is the way to get "talented".

Collectors are savvy spenders. You can't fool them into buying your artwork.

I haven't taught an art marketing workshop lately because I feel bad for the artists who think they can sell their work simply by paying for ads, submitting portfolios to galleries and "doing all the right things". All these things are necessary at some point, but not before their work is pretty darned good. Some amateur artists (those still in the learning process) just can't see the difference between their work and the work of seasoned professionals. Maybe they do, but think they can fool the collecting public by falsely talking up their work. Some, who are still in the beginning stages of learning, state that they are award winning artists on their resume. Those awards are not listed in their bio, and I wonder what awards they are talking about.

But don't give up just because you're not at the professional level yet. Anyone who has desire, intelligence, and self-discipline can get there. It helps to realize even the most celebrated professionals started out as a beginners.

Many of you who read this newsletter are experiencing the career of your dreams, and I'd be willing to bet you worked hard to get there. No dream ever comes true without concerted effort.


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Related Posts:

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No Top Rung

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Believing in What You Do

Topics: Art Business | Lori Woodward Simons | Miscellaneous | Productivity 

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Monte Wilson
Lori- Great article! Work, work and more work is the only way to improve. An instructor can provide you with technique, application etc... but it is still you who must pick up the brush or knife and do and do until you've mastered that lesson and then move on to the next and repeat. I find trial and error to be a very good instructor. If I see some technique I like but have yet to learn, I'll break out those little canvas boards and have at it until I figure it out. But that's me, I love the process of discovery...the "aha! that's how it's done!" moment. If it were up to me, I'd spend 100 percent of the time painting...

Lori Woodward
Thanks Monte for your encouraging comment. I was a bit worried that this blog was too strong in language, but your comment has put me as east ;-)

Charlotte Herczfeld
Lori, a great article, as usual. I started studying and Working seriously around 2002. In 2008, I had my first self-organized show, because it took that long to get where I was a decent enough painter. I've grown quite a lot since, have a following, and work on getting better and better. I'm absolutely convinced you are right! It is the quality of work that matters. (And learning how to market, by following this newsletter of Cliff's and other blogs and sites.)

You know what? You can work 100 percent of the painting work-time, and dream some 90 percent or so of the time, *while* you do the work of painting! Creativity begets creativity in other areas too. Might not work for all people, but as the painting-brain is busy working, the rest of the brain can think and dream.

Charlotte Herczfeld
Ooops, sorry, a typo. Started showing in 2007. Cliff, what about an edit button?

Lori Woodward
Monte, I meant "at ease"...not "as east" LOL I'm going back to painting now - can't type diddly.

Charlotte Herczfeld
Ummm, (blushing) feel free to remove or edit, as I didn't even get "Clint" right.

Lori Woodward
Charlotte, join the club.. of typo types. See my goof above... OK, back to the subject!

Monte Wilson
Lori- LOL I read it as you meant it. Hey, the other day on a comment I wrote Twiter instead of Twitter...

Mark Yearwood
I identify with Charlotte's comment. When I'm painting, my mind is sort of in that dream mode.
Some of my best ideas, art related or not, come while painting. I also remember things like, "I didn't take out the trash."

Terry Rafferty
Lol, I'm doing everything I can today to avoid painting, including reading my email. So you've given me a kick-in-the-butt, now I'm going to get to work! Thanks :-)

Bruce Ulrich
A nice variation on the 80-20 rule, that says 80 percent of a small business's income is generated by 20 percent of the clients. We should all strive to be more in the 80 percent production mode.

Sharon Weaver
I agree that the quality of work is the single most important item an artists must strive for. We use the word talent but that can be misleading since it implies that "talent" is something that you either have or don't have. Talent is something which allows an artists to create but hard work is the ingredient that separates good art and great art.

Pat DeVane Burns
Lori, you nailed it! I posted your article on my blog. I also printed it out and taped it in the front of my daily journal to remind myself not to get the cart before the horse. I tend to work in "clumps"... paint a bunch then market them... then repeat. With the advent of the computer I sometimes spend too much time on the marketing and research because it actually is fascinating to me. Now it's back into the paints and the learning curve and get that inventory up. It's got to be painted before it can be shared! Thanks for your insights.

Kay Borrett
Thanks for the good word and exhortation. I needed this today!

Jeanean Songco Martin
In response to Lori Woodward's article about dreaming/working I would agree that dreaming is essential but the work must follow. As a child I too was a dreamer. I remember sitting in class with the "glazed" feeling of being there but yet not being there. My mind always wondered outside the closed room. Losing oneself into the dream state is a good place to be. Even the act of painting is like being in a dream. Sometimes I have to go to bed to get into that dreamlike sensation to think about my painting and how it could be achieved or improved.

I have found that keeping an "idea journal" is very helpful. Some of the pages in my book are:
Ideas and sketches of future paintings
Notes about upcoming shows or shows that have inspired me
Reminders of deadlines
Self-critiques of current paintings with specific plan of "attack" to finalize ongoing work
Clips and poscards that inspire
Words of wisdom by other artist

The source of inspiration goes on and on but the most important task is to actually COMPLETE something. I go back and check off the things that have been completed. Setting goals and completing them gives a sense of accomplishment and control over the chaos and "dream state" which fuels the idea. Work, putting brush to canvas is the only way to fully realize the dream. Through work the dream advances to reality and becomes a true work of art.

David Cressman
I agree with the point about talent meaning very little - no matter how advanced we are or at what stage we may be at in our development, we are all students of art - the best artists will invariably be those that study the most and practice the most regardles of how experienced they may be - as Ken Howard RA says, painting is seldom easy, you have to practice everyday.

Carol Eaton-Preeston
I agree with most points of this article, But I do believe that having some raw talent does help a so, so artist become a great artist if they work at it. Yes, the dreaming is a relatively small part of the whole process, but without the dream there is nothing to process!
Yes, hour must be spent in the studio developing one's art, but it is also good to spend time with other artists to tap into their creative
consciences. It all works together.

Mark Yearwood
It is also good to get away completely with a vacation, family, music performance or simply a walk just to clear and refresh your mind.

I obsess sometimes and find if I'll take a break, the next painting spurt is very creative and enjoyable.

Carol Eaton-Preston
via with facebook
I agree with Mark. WHen I've taken a workshop or have gone away, I come back full of creativity. This is because spending too much time in the same surroundings can create a block I think.

Teddy Jackson
I always enjoy your articles. This one is no exception.
Today, I was just telling someone about my dream world when I was a child. My art adventure began when I was a 10 year old, horse crazy young girl, riding my stickhorse into our pastures. Being an only child, I loved racing through the trees, becoming one with the beauty of nature, and getting to know the cattle-nose to nose. My sketches were general horses, dogs, and cats. Little did I know I was creating memories that would someday appear on canvas.
I find plein air and equine art to be at the top of my list of things I enjoy most.

I am now retired from my full time Human Resources career and have gotten involved in various art organizations. The networking opportunities have been tremendous. I teach one afternoon per week and truly enjoy helping others to create and appreciate art.

FASO has been very helpful to me. Having all these wonderful coaches and friends to point the way and to give encouragement has been very beneficial.

Thanks for reminding us of the importance of commitment and hard work. Dreaming and time travel only keep us motivated - we must practice our creative trade.
Wishing you a productive and successful 2010.
Teddy Jackson

Marsha Savage
Lori, I enjoyed the article. It seemed to be an issue I have been thinking about a lot lately. I seem to spend way too much time reading and researching about art, techniques and marketing. I think I don't spend enough time in the studio lately and have been trying too hard for the marketing end. I have had some success, some awards, and am in galleries. But, nothing beats spending time in the sutdio. I even talked to my husband about what you discussed -- hopes that he would understand the uninterrupted time in the studio I need.

Again, I enjoy reading all your posts. I have even discussed what you said on my blog.

Lori Woodward
Thanks everyone for sharing your thoughts and experiences. Marsha, thank you for mentioning this blog in your blog space. Nice work too!

Michael Cardosa
You know Lori, I tend to agree with you about having great art makes marketing easier. Unfortunately, sometimes reality steps in and you see some really bad work with exceptional marketing that gets sold for really unbelievable prices.

Lori Woodward
Michael, I know what you're saying, but I believe there are few examples of purely amateur art selling for high prices. The term "Really bad" can be a matter of taste. Artists like to get on Thomas Kinkade's case about selling for high prices, but his work takes skill, and no one can deny that his work appeals to a segment of society.

There are other cases where a dealer or critic is able to raise interest in work that would not be otherwise perceived as valuable.

Today, most collectors have developed their own tastes,and build a collection carefully. The instances of poorly skilled artists getting big bucks are far a few between. For most of us, we will need to create work that has intrinsic value based on our skill set, ideas and developed style.

Michael Cardosa
Hi Lori,

I think I might have been having as bad morning when I wrote that first piece. I didn't mean to cast aspersions on other peoples work and as for Thomas Kinkade, I'm guilty of buying a few of his prints for people who enjoy them although I'm kind of neutral on most of his offered prints myself. If you look beneath the marketing of the prints I agree, there is a lot of "knowledge" and hard work that was required to get to that level which are words I'd much rather use use instead of the catchall word talent. One thing that you have to give Thomas Kinkade is he (or someone working for him) is a brilliant marketer. Same kind of thing can be seen with Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hanson the "authors" of Chicken Soup for the Soul. I've listen to Jack speak a few times and people would be amazed with how they plan goals and work backwards to meet them. I guess my point is that good marketing just doesn't happen and needs to be addressed at the same level of work as someone puts into making their art the best it could be. I guess what really kills me is seeing really brilliant work go for practically nothing and other works commanding much higher prices that are not more "painterly" or "creative" just marketed better. I may not be able to prove it myself but good art and good marketing combined might just equal well off artist instead of starving artist!


Lori Woodward
Michael, good points you make.

I have nothing against Thomas Kinkade, but he's easy to use as an example because his work is well known.

Yes, it is sad to see brilliant work under priced, and yes you're right, that's where good marketing comes in.

Marsha Savage
I think when talking marketing for artists, the conversation always ends up with some discussion about Thomas Kinkade. I hear many people nearly gag when even saying his name. I usually end up saying, though I don't particularly like the kind of work he markets, he is a good painter and has quite a bit of knowledge. Just look at his plein air work -- which I don't know how old it is. I do find some that I like.

And when brilliant work is under priced, I usually think it has more to do with not having the opportunities to raise their prices, or living in a location that will not sustain higher prices. Granted they should be marketing their work to other locations with more "art" following.

That is where it starts to get sticky. Spending time looking for those places, or opportunities to show work -- competitions and such. So, we get caught up in researching, reading, etc. and not as much time in the studio. I think this is partly what the article could be about. Thinking of goals, writing them down, and then letting it go and get to the studio to produce. Some of us have a hard time letting go of the "dreaming" part of this equation.

A kick in the pants as someone said earlier is exactly what we need. And putting the cart before the horse was also mentioned. These are so appropriate. Makes me understand, just go do the work, but don't ignore opportunities that come our way. And spend a little time on the computer. I usually do that during my coffee and breakfast time! And, I look up at the clock and a couple of hours have gone by. So . . . just had to chime in more thoughts here. Gotta go! Shower, and down to the studio. Thanks everyone for the thoughts -- and Lori -- I so enjoy reading your thoughts and articles. -- Marsha

Pat DeVane Burns
Thanks, Lori, for this post. The stream of comments coming in from other artists is a connection that I needed. Today I give myself a Christmas present of a full afternoon in the studio to play... no painting on a commission, no painting "to market"... just painting to get back to rediscover "my voice", as Marsha said on her blog (which is excellent, by the way!)
Thanks to all who shared here!

Ann Bell
I tend to be more of a doer than a dreamer, but I am discovering that dreaming helps my doing.

It is far easier to sell remarkable work than ordinary work, but marketing skill is an important component of success.

I am enjoying reading everyone's comments.


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