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Business Management For Artists

by Lori Woodward on 11/17/2010 9:59:36 AM

Today's Post  is by Lori Woodward, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. She also writes "The Artist's Life" blog on American Artists' Forum. 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'm a female professional artist who constantly struggles to run my business efficiently. Lately, I've been applying a project management tool called Scrum to organize my work activities and it's simplified my daily process into digestible morsels. Scrum - a rugby term, where the players pass the ball back and forth on their way to the goal, is now the name of a methodology geared for software programming teams. I won't go into the history of it and how it's used for software development, we'll skip all that -- getting right to how I am using it to organize my art and business tasks.


My husband is a software developer; when I asked him for help in managing my art business, he suggested that I use Scrum techniques to help me meet my goals more efficiently. What I discovered -- Scrum helps me simplify and focus my activities so I don't feel overwhelmed.[1]


Scrum is designed for a team of players - one or two project leaders and a work crew of 5-9 developers. The problem with applying these techniques to my art business is that I'm the work crew, the project manager, and the project organizer. Additionally, I am the shipping department, the advertising department, the writer, bookkeeper, and a part time housewife. It  doesn't take a genius to see that I need to work 24 hours a day or hire help.[2]


If it takes a village to raise a kid, it certainly takes a team to run an art business. [3] Personally, I don't think I'll ever reach my goals if I try to fill all of the roles listed above - and mind you, I'm trying to do all of them perfectly.


So What is Scrum and How Can It Help Artists?


Scrum divides interests and work roles among several individuals. There are two types of players: Chicken and Pigs. The creators of Scrum came up with this analogy based on an old joke about a chicken and pig who decided to open a restaurant called, "Ham and Eggs". Obviously, the pig had a serious commitment to the project, while the chicken was only marginally "involved".


I, as the artist who must create my body of work and succeed or fail on it's quality, am the pig. If the paintings fail to sell, I am ultimately responsible. My art dealers are chickens. They provide the eggs, (space/venue)  but they don't live or die on whether my art sells. My framer is a chicken - well almost anyone but me is a chicken. They are marginally interested in my success,  but I sink or swim by my own efforts.


Scrum is a simple way to organize tasks into short, 1-4 week sessions (called sprints). I'll explain more about them in later posts. If you can get someone to be an accountability partner - who doesn't have any control over you but is a living person to report to, that will help you stay on track. He or she just listens (and is a chicken)... you file  your task list with that person on a regular schedule.


Each day, you write down the results to three questions:

1. What did I do (or achieve) today?

2. What am I planning to do tomorrow?

3. What, if anything impeded my progress today?


Your accountability partner's job is to help you dissolve impediments... period... if you can't find someone who is willing to take on that supportive role, then you'll have to resolve these roadblocks yourself.


As my artwork continues to improve and I gain recognition, I plan to hire as many people to help me with the business side of my work as I can afford. Then when I have time to fully focus on my artwork, I'll finally have the time to fully develop as an artist. Hiring others will also create jobs and so improve the economy!


More to come! Next, I'll show you how to design your next "Sprint"... usually that means an art project, painting, or series of paintings.



[1]I think the reason why I am attracted to spending so much time on social networks is because I'm escaping the fact that I can't do it all by myself, so I spend hours in denial online. This does nothing to get the tasks done that will make my art successful, but it acts like a drug to mask the feeling of being overwhelmed (at least it does for a few hours).


[2] We artists rarely hire the people we need to run a smooth efficient business because it costs money. What business does not cost money to run? I've noticed that male artists either have spouses to handle the biz end of their art sales, or else have no problem hiring the best framers, bookkeepers, and agents/gallery owners to handle their sales. 


[3] I think two smart and loving parents can raise children... I don't buy into the village thing. In Africa, many of the men have many wives and a ton of children. I am using this analogy because I really do think that we artists need to cut down on the work we have to do to get our product to market.

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Related Posts:

Artists' Business Plans

My Busy, Busy Life

How to be More Productive Part 2

Topics: FineArtViews | inspiration 

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Carol McIntyre
Lori, I love the analogy of the Pig and Chicken! Please keep writing about Scrum, as I am anxious to learn more.

Does Scrum assist in removing the overwhelming feeling of being over whelmed? :) (BTW, your [1] PS is spot on!)


Tuva Stephens
I can relate to your post. I literally write down what I need to accomplish each day answering the 3 questions you stated. Each week I plan out my week that may already be on my calender. My husband is my go-to person for advice and helps me to accomplish what needs to be done.

Coral May Barclay
Thanks Lori, for this wonderfully descriptive article of what it is like to make a living as a (female) artist!. One thing i would like to add or at least for me its an added activity that seems to take up lots of time, and that is LEARNING and improving in all areas, especially in the area of computer technology and social media. Plus I am not sure if its just a time waster or in fact something worthwhile. I have been thinking lately of "chunking" my time as well, but find as an artist my temperament gets in the way, and i get carried away in the studio, and paintings seem to have a mind of their own on how they develop. But when all is said and done its a pretty fun (somewhat stressful) way to make a living and the trick is to keep it all in balance.

Carol Schmauder
As usual Lori, a wonderful article. At this point I am playing all the roles myself, except I have gallery representation. [2] certainly seems to be true with the male artists I personally know, except for one.

Tom Weinkle
Great suggestions! Scrum tool sounds very helpful.

I am lucky to have a spouse who is the “brains of my operation”. She tries to hold my feet to the fire, but I can run very fast. Hah.
The theme of honesty with ourselves is so critical. I appreciate you helping us look into the mirror to improve.


Joann Wells Greenbaum
Hi Lori,
Your post today certainly touches on some very important points. As an artist and running the business of art we are very stretched to meet all the needs of attaining a successful business.
I would like to know if the Scrum program is something that can be modified for artists and is it a free program. If it's not free, what does it costs? As it seems the cost of running an art business is ever increasing, to incur another cost is not what I'm looking to do.
Thank you for your comments,

Lori Woodward
Hey thanks everyone for your comments. I've been looking into the scrum model further and I DO think it might address how to deal with many of our daily struggles and keep us on track.

For me, it eliminates confusion - there are a few rules - like not changing horses in the middle of a stream type stuff while working on a painting. Knowing exactly where I'm going next, and writing down what got in the way of my producing a successful, completely finished and ready to hang result.

I'm really looking forward to writing this series, and I hope it will help others as much as it's helping me. It's been working for computer software teams for almost 20 years and is gaining momentum for other types of projects. It's a flexible methodology, so we can modify it to our own schedule and needs.

I guess I'll have to write some supplemental posts on my own blog since I write for FAVS once a week.

Lori Woodward
Joann, you don't have to buy any software - it's a methodology. You can look up the premise on Wikipedia, but I intend to adapt the methodology for artists... for free!

Then artists can modify the program so that it works for them as individuals. Guess I better start writing more about it on my own blog, but will post the series on FAVS each week and try to answer questions.

One of the keys is to get someone else involved - an accountability partner whose opinion you trust and who is interested in helping you do your best as an artist and biz owner. Sometimes this can be a spouse - if he or she is truly honest but encouraging. Sometimes it can be an artist friend who is willing to receive progress reports. This person does not tell you what to do though - he or she is a chicken...

OK, my schedule today says to work on thumbnail sketches for my next landscape. So off I go - will check back later (early evening) to answer questions.

Michael Cardosa
Hi Lori,

This is a pretty interesting post. I'm not sure about actually using Scrum but I can see where setting tasks (rather than goals) for the week or month are important AND what is even more important is a way to get them to pop up and nag you until they are done. For the past several years I've starting putting a number of things to remember in my Outlook calendar, bills, events, when to cancel a service, etc. so that I don't depend on my memory to get them done on time and if I don't delete them until it's done it will constantly (and constantly, here's the nag part)remind me to finally do it. For the past week or so (see, I don't even have a good memory or when I first thought of this, I've needed to take some better pictures of some paintings I've finished and those that were on my easel (which I post as well) and just plain forget until it's late at night and the lighting is bad. Posting it somewhere to myself would definitely make me remember at a more opportune time to accomplish this task (I just put it in Outlook now ) and am going to post others as well that have been floating around on the periphery of my mind to get done.

Even little ideas like this can make a big difference in how much we accomplish in our days.

Thanks again for another good one,


Any help in thinking about organization is welcome! The main thing is that we have to wear multiple 'hats,' and most of us don't have a staff to delegate all this to. It's a constant effort to prioritize and re-prioritize, and to then adjust each week's activities accordingly. And now I've added 'construction crew' to my wardrobe of art-related hats; my husband and I are renovating a stone structure on our property into a showroom for our artwork as a result of the closure in September of the gallery we were represented by for several years. And there's also website design and maintenance...These are the things that keep me awake at night!

Lori Woodward
Michael, Ah ha! I'm still here, what do you know?

Anyway, I still have my to do list, calendar and other things that work. Right now I'm using scrum for my work projects = paintings since they are the core of my business. No paintings, no reason to run a business ;-)

Each painting is a story and involves a sprint - with number of hours estimated to get a usable "product". Each day during the sprint, I ask myself: What went well, what didn't (and why) and how can I get rid of the roadblocks that did occur on the next spring (painting).

Oh guess I'd better start that blog on how sprints can apply to works of art this evening... I can also use this model for writing my instructional series and books. It'll just be a "different story" and will have a separate notebook or file.

Artists are visual - we think in pictures. Usually the "team" has a white board or sticky notes where they transfer action items during the sprint to the completed column. I've been using my compact digital camera set at a low resolution and I just photograph many of my "to do" items. When I look at the printed catalog of photos, I don't have to process my tasks into words, and I actually remember visually what's on the list.

When I get the next blog done, I'll post links on twitter and FB.

George De Chiara
Great post Lori. I look forward to reading more about Scrum. I really like that pig and chicken joke/story. It's good to know we are all pigs:)

Esther J. Williams
Lori, you gave me a good chuckle (pun intended) with the Pig and Chicken analogy. How about our actual customers acting as chickens too? When we talk to them about our art or they own a piece or two, they act as sales agents to help sell our works to their friends, family and acquaintances.
That happened to me yesterday, one phone call to a person on my subscriber list to say hello and after a conversation, she bought a little painting. Then she wanted to promote some of my work to her work partners. I did not expect it at all. But there is proof that your people on that newsletter subscriber list are your pot of gold or the chickens that lay the golden eggs.
Enough for the puns, I am going to shut up and paint!

Nancy Medina
Lori, what a great post! I have been trying to convince my sales manager husband to quit his day job and go to work for me for years. Why do men think it would be an ego blow to work for their wives? I make more money with my art sales than he does with his regular job! how is this not a win-win??? shhh, don't tell him I told you that, k? : )

Stede Barber
love this article, especially your later note about VISUALLY keeping your to-do That's actually how I track mine of what needs to be done and visual priorities in terms of what leads to the next item...

I am definitely in the feeling-so-overwhelmed that I'm like a deer-in-headlights stage; my brain doesn't always function verbally, but the visuals do.

Right now I am searching for the help I need to develop my work to the next level as well as finding outlets for getting my current work out to customers. I get so much terrific feedback on my work, but need more sales to in turn give me the time to continue improving my work.

Thanks once again Lori, for the reminder of creating a team.

Lori Woodward
Nancy, your secret is safe with me :-)

I look forward to the day when my husband can quit his day job and I can support him. That way, we can travel together because I can work from anywhere.

He's taking on more responsibility for the admin parts of my work over time. I think he's enjoying the satisfaction he gets from that more than at his day job. Time will tell.

Esther, yes - clients can be chickens too. The thing to remember about chickens is that they aren't allowed to micromanage the pigs. In other words, they help reach customers, but don't tell us how to paint. Of course, they are the voice of the collector, so we do well to heed their wants, but we decide on how or if we'll meet those wants.

Pigs rock and rule!

Stede Barber
wow...never thought I'd be joyful to claim that--I am a pig!

Lori Woodward
Stede, I feel your pain! I so get the deer in headlights analogy.

Many of us "creatives" generate more ideas than we can handle, and we have just as many dreams to go with them. Then there's the stuff we have to do to manage life and the stuff we want to do to relax and have a good time.

The fact remains that we will not get all of it done. Life is way more complicated than it was 100 years ago (I'd probably be dead by my age - back then). If we don't organize our tasks, goals and thoughts, we will likely not accomplish much at all. It's better to focus on one project - to fruition than never complete a host of projects.

Well, that's the way it is for me. I'm a bit OCD and a bit ADD - depends on the task and how much I care about it. Either way, I waste a lot of time thrashing, worrying, planning and dreaming - scrum helps me to plan the work, follow the plan and report my progress - if something doesn't go well, I address that issue on the next painting. The whole goal is to get a painting done and ready to sell in my alloted pre-determined time frame (Sprint).

In Seth Godin's book, Linchpin, he quotes Steve Jobs (Apple) as saying, "Artists Ship". This means we don't thrash forever, we get it done as best we can and move on.

FYI - almost all of my artist friends, no matter how successful, have had poor sales since September. It might have been because of elections - many collectors hold off buying. So, don't get too discouraged if galleries aren't willing to look at your work just now. Things are beginning to pick up.

Tom Weinkle
nancy, lori, sorry but i can't resist....I am available for adoption.


Barb Stachow
Each day, you write down the results to three questions:

1. What did I do (or achieve) today?

2. What am I planning to do tomorrow?

3. What, if anything impeded my progress today?

As an artist who is living with fear of a cancer reoccurance...this could get to be quite a list! LOL Art is my life line...

Lori Woodward
Barb, don't try to make this list for your entire life but for one small important project. If you list everything in one list, it will be too long, you'll get confused and feel overwhelmed (which sounds easy to do in your case)

Right now, I'm just applying these questions to completing my paintings. Sometimes I need to schedule in extra time to deal with what didn't go well - for example if I don't know how to deal with painting rocks, I schedule in several hours to deal with that problem (called research in scrum). I look at how other artists solved the problem, maybe do a few sketches or copy part of a master work. Then go back to my painting.

I never rush, and never settle for less than my best effort. On the other hand, I try not to obsess or work on one painting endlessly. I do have a time limit to meet (I work slowly, so I'm planning one week for each medium sized painting).

Michael Cardosa
Hi Lori,

I'm still here too but I DID manage to get one of the new photos up! At least some progress has been made! Hope you get to paint today.


Lee McVey
Lori, I really enjoyed your article and look forward to the other installments. I'm also glad you took the time to respond to everyone since those responses are also helpful.

Nebraska Artist
Lori-fun and informative article. I am always interested to read information about the business side of our passion. While I think using scrum would be to restrictive for me the principles are sound.

Specific to hiring help. I have always believed that one should put a dollar amount on what your time should be worth then hire some one to do the mundane tasks that kill time and don't have a direct financial impact to the bottom line.

Fortunately we have many opportunities to hire great people on a contract basis for a few dollars an hour. While my parents continuously tell me I am part of the problem (specific to the economic situation here), I disagree. I compete on an international basis. I cant pay 25$ an hour for my MBA Assistant if my competitors are paying 3$. Therefore I hire where I can get good help for what I can afford and more importantly where the amount I can pay will actually provide a nice living for someone.

I am sure this will be somewhat controversial but our business doubled last year and part of that is because I can focus on doing what I am good at and what makes money then farm out much of the other stuff.


Marsha Hamby Savage
Wow, what a timely article for me. I am always so overwhelmed at the many tasks it takes to be a successful artist. I know, Lori, you were using this technique just for producing your work. I will start there and follow along!

But, it seems this could also be applied to the marketing aspects of the works and wonder if this is going to make my lists too long and overwhelming. I do try to work in chunks (as someone above said) on the many different aspects of the art business: social media, competitions, galleries, inventory, lists of various kinds, etc.

I did try to use my Outlook calendar -- but have been on trip of over six weeks -- now need to get that calendar up and loaded again with goals and projects to complete. Hope this made sense!

I had not thought of taking photos of the list -- great idea instead of transfering them to another media!


Lori Woodward
Marsha, yes this process can be applied for any project or set of work responsibilities. I'm starting with the studio/painting process because that's something we all have in common.

then I'll go on to apply it to business practices. As far as housework and errands - that's a personal thing and each of us will need to respond to those tasks on an individual level.

Stede Barber
Love your reminder of how creatives can come up with 1.5 million ideas a second...and somehow expect to fulfill them all too.

I keep a "someday maybe" file...let's me jot down ideas that I really love and keep them where I can access them. And the whole concept is...there, the idea is captured where I can find it, but no commitment to carry it out at this time!

Back to painting...the challenge of the moment is both values and warm/cool balance as I move into painting a larger size!

Lori Woodward
I just wrote an update blog for this same topic on my own blog. You can check it out here:

On this one, I start to break my major tasks (which are far too many) into "stories" so I can triage them. I hope to get another blog off there soon that explains what to do with those stories so we are not so overwhelmed.

Spencer Meagher
I appreciate your writing this Lori. I'm curious. I suspicioned I hadn't been getting newletters the last couple of days. I know I haven't received this one. I found it by going to FAV blog. Anybody know what would be going on?

Lori Woodward
Sometimes I see my FAV blog in my spam box. I select it and click on "not spam".

If that's not happening, try signing up again - it's better to get two copies then none at all.

If that doesn't work, let Clint's team know on the forum. Are you a FASO customer?

Spencer Meagher
Thanks Lori. They seem to be coming through on my laptop email but not on my smartphone. Gonna have to do some digging, I guess. I don't like missing any of the newsletters.

Spencer Meagher
I know this isn't related to the article, but some may find it valuable. In order to filter spam from my smartphone I set up a gmail account. Email comes into my laptop and simultaneously goes through gmail and then to my blackberry. For whatever reason gmail started filtering all my newsletters as spam.

Thanks for pointing me in the right direction. Hopefully I have it fixed.

George De Chiara
I had a problem with getting some of the emails from FASO through my yahoo account for a while. They would either show in my spam folder or worse, not show up at all. Clint and his team did a bunch of work to get around this problem. I mention this because it might be related to the problems you are having with your smart phone.

Spencer Meagher
Thanks George. I'm going to monitor my gmail account for a few days to see if it is fixed. I typically don't look at that account more than once a month. I was surprised to find over 500 emails in there. Many of them valid emails.

Thanks Lori, my accountability partner, Lee McVey, clued me into the importance of your post (I hadn't gotten to it yet). Wow! Very helpful organizational information.

I've been doing a Sunday Summit (Christine Kane terminology) once a week, looking back on the week just completed and looking ahead to the one to come. Scrum will be helpful tool to incorporate daily.


Joanne Benson
Hi Lori, Thanks for sharing the scrum technique. It makes sense and is pretty intuitive. Now I just have to focus and follow through. I also tend to go on the internet to avoid getting started. I just started a commission due for a Christmas gift. I kept putting off the start. Once I get started though it is never as bad as I think it is going to be! So my plan is to work on it lots tomorrow! Looking forward to futher installments on scrum and how it's working for you.

Tuva Stephens
Joanne, Turn that attitude around and think "today I get to work on that commission." It really does make a difference.

Joanne Benson
Hi Tuva,
You are so right and I am about 80 percent finished with my first commission! Yeah! They are always absorbing once I start them. Also, I watched your video the other day. Great job. You are a sweetie! Joanne

Tuva Stephens
Thanks Joanne, I am so glad you were able to see the Tn Crossroads segment! I am not crazy about doing commissions. The response to the You Tube/segment has been nice. I am presently working on 3 commissions from several requests. You say you are about 80 percent finished with the commission. It is that 20 percent that bogs me down. I have to consider "Have I done too much?" or "Have I done too little?" It is a tricky thing, isn't it?

Joanne Benson
Hi Tuva, I agree with you about knowing when to stop. I don't want to overwork it but yet need to get the important details just right....can be a challenge. I think it is done now but need to email to client for final approval.

Cynthia McBride
Lorri, I always enjoy your posts and blog, but this one in particular gave me an "Aha moment".
I don't know of any female artists whose husbands help out with the bookkeeping etc.(I'm guessing there must be a few), but do know of lots of male artists with partners/wives who pitch in. Nothing is going to change in this regard in my household so I am resolved to get on with the business of making art and doing the best I can to handle all the rest. Staying OFF the computer, making painting a priority and getting organized are now at the top of my list.

As always, I appreciate your concise and revelatory articles. Keep up the good work.

Carol McIntyre
Cynthia, I wanted to let you know that I have a husband who is very helpful (so there are a few). He is my technical assistant, writes an article in my monthly newsletter, delivers work, etc. Some day I dream of having an assistant, even a VA, to help with all of the tasks. It is on my long term goal list!

Cynthia McBride
Carol, you are one lucky gal. I'm sure you treasure him. Paint on!

Carol McIntyre
Cynthia, as in most things in life, there is no luck involved. It took a lot of hard work, communication and perseverance. We are now a team and that was always the goal. Back to the easel!

Sharon Weaver
You mention in your footnotes that most male artists have a spouse who handles the marketing and business aspect. This is so true. I do know one female artist who's husband is very hands on with her career and she is also forging ahead. The artists who have a second person to share the work load definitely have an advantage.

Spencer Meagher
You are right Sharon. A supportive spouse does make focusing on your artwork much easier.

Lori Woodward
Lisa... my husband and I sit down too during our daily meetings. Then I get a foot rub :-)

Clint Watson
I guess I'm an odd duck, but I find using things like scrum and detailed goal-setting methods to be very restrictive. I usually operate without those things and find my creativity is better than when I do try to be very organized.

However, on days when I have a lot of non-creative tasks to accomplish I do sometimes use a "scrummy" method.

Lisa Call
Clint - I agree with you in terms of the creative work. (We had this conversation 2 years ago when I wrote those posts and I think you tried it out a few days by using post it notes with your tasks on it - or something like that. Interesting to hear you still do it. I've been doing a lot of coding on my website recently - I find the scrummy stuff gets in the way - I just want to code :)

I wouldn't use scrum to manage the creation of my art as Lori does either. I used it for the business side of things but even then I found it was too restrictive with much too much overhead.

The parts I still use (breaking down bigger tasks into smaller) are pretty common time management techniques.

An accountability partner is invaluable also - I find it really helps keep me on track.

In scrum the accountability is really about peer pressure - if you have to sit in a room every day and tell your coworkers what you did - there is a good chance you will do something, otherwise you let down the entire team.

Artists generally work alone, so if they don't do something there is no "team" that is let down, so the concept of accountability partner is slightly different as your partner doesn't really need you to produce "for the team" - they are just there to be a cheerleader.

Clint Watson
Lisa - good ideas.

Here's the link to the conversation you referenced:

That conversation was the first time I had any idea what the word scrum meant (other than "something with software teams"), and is still the extent of my knowledge. I've never had a chance to read those older blog posts you wrote as, to be frank, scrum doesn't really interest me all that much (neither do GTD, seven habits, and a plethora of other organizational methods). Like you say, I just want to code.....I guess since I generally work alone. I'll be sure to bookmark your series for if/when we ever have to work in "team mode" in developing software.

Thank you.


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