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Keep Your Blinders On

by Jack White on 11/27/2013 7:00:34 AM

This post is by Jack White, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews.  Jack has enjoyed a forty-one year career as a successful fulltime artist and author. He has written for Professional Artist Magazine for 14 years and has six art marketing books published. In 1976 Jack was named the Official Artist of Texas. He has mentored hundreds of artists around the world.  Jack authored seven Art Marketing books. The first, “Mystery of Making It”, describes how he taught Mikki to paint and has sold over six million dollars worth of her art. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here. 


Want to know what our favorite sporting event is? I know most of you would think I’d say the Super Bowl or the Final Four. You’d be wrong. Mikki and I love horses; our all-time ultimate sporting event is The Kentucky Derby. In 1994, we had the good fortune to spend a week at the Derby with press credentials that gave us free reign of the grounds. Arriving on the backstretch at five each morning, we visited with owners and trainers for the seven days leading up to the big race. Mikki was in heaven sketching horses, trainers and jockeys in the shadow of the famous twin spires.


One day, Mikki and I were in an official press conference with Nicholas "Nick" Zito. Zito began his career at the very bottom as a hot walker, worked his way up to groom, then assistant trainer, and finally became a trainer. His first top level horse was Thirty Six Red. With Nick as his trainer, he won the 1990 Grade 1 Wood Memorial Stakes and earned a second place finish in that year's Belmont Stakes. Nick Zito went on to win the Preakness once, the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes twice. He got his big break in 1991 when he won his first Kentucky Derby with Strike the Gold.


There were a couple dozen real reporters asking questions. Nick explained he was going to tweak his mount a little for the derby. Standing up with press credentials dangling from my neck I asked, “Mr. Zito, will you put blinders on Go For Gin to help him focus?”


My hubris was showing. I wanted to sound like I knew some of the finer details of horse racing.


Nick paused, turning to ask his hot walker a question before responding, “Great question. Right now I think we will let him run free. He seems to be laser focused.” After the interview, I went to the betting window and placed $2 on Go For Gin to Win and $2 more on Strodes Creek to come in second. I won on both bets. Total winnings were $9.


We are two very lucky people, Mikki and I have been to a couple of Super Bowls, the NBA Finals and a World Series game. Those were nothing compared to the two minutes of excitement at the Kentucky Derby. I can close my eyes and hear the thundering hooves pounding the track as they turn for home. You can feel the roar of 140,000 people screaming as riders spur their mounts past the grandstands.


I’ve come to the conclusion artists have the same temperament as pure blood race horses. A flying bird or honking car can distract them from their task. Most of the time, the reason really top horses lose is they can’t remain focused for two minutes. I help a lot of artists and have been mentoring some for several years. It’s common to receive an email with their list of goals. In most cases, the goals are beyond realistic but I never discourage their dreams. I just wait because it never fails. Sometime the reply comes in weeks, other times it's months.


"Mr. White, I hate to tell you this but I just can’t make it. I’m going to find a nine-to-five job. My wife is fed up with me not making sales. The reason is no one is buying art. Galleries are not taking new artists. The economy is really bad. eBay is dead, NO ONE is buying on eBay any more."


I know that is not true. For the last few months, Mikki has been listing some 6” x 6” painting on cradle panels and we are doing very well. Our listings all begin at a penny and seldom do any fall under $200 at the end.


Not long ago, a really skilled artist we’ve worked with for a long time lost his focus. His email contained a list of his art equipment he was going to sell. I fired back, “What are you doing to put your work in front of buyers?”


“I have been painting some of my best work. I posted them on my website and Facebook. I even tried Craigslist.”


I asked him to hang in one more month. I also suggested he begin contacting his client base. As if by magic, several commissions showed up and he began doing much better on eBay. He did about $2,500 last month with prospects of having some big months ahead. He is not going to sell his brushes and easel. Now, he is laser focused. It’s like he placed blinders on in order to focus.


Paul wrote, “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” Jesus said, “You cannot serve two masters.” I have found art to be a jealous mistress. She wants your full attention or her jealousy will find a way to destroy your life.


I get up each morning and write. I do this every single day we are home. My goal is a thousand words. If I reach more, it’s a plus. I did a painting for Larry McMurtry, author of Lonesome Dove, The Last Picture Show and Terms of Endearment - just to name a few. He told me “I write two thousand words a day. No matter what is going on, I find time to write two thousand words.” He is successful because he is laser focused. Larry wears blinders when he is at the keyboard.


My dear friend Stephen Pressfield, author of several books that have been made into movies is laser focused. The axiom “Focus or Fail” is more important than ever. I don’t expect the economy to suddenly improve but there will be artists who continue to succeed. They are the ones wearing blinders. They also have ear plugs. They don’t listen to outside gossip. They tune out the negative news, filling their minds - not with Pollyanna in the sky thinking, but realistic thoughts of success.


I have written fourteen books. A Hollywood producer is interested in reading my last book when it’s finished. The book is being edited. It’s the true story of John Wesley Hardin, a gunfighter who killed 42 men by the time he was 25. They are thinking of making it into a miniseries. I also know the reality is very thin but I can certainly dream.


Please listen to this old broken down cowboy. If they knock you down, get back up. Force a smile across your face. Don’t let them know the blow hurt. If a gallery or publication rejects you, smile. Know someone will appreciate what you do. I plan to keep on keeping on until one of my books hits the jackpot. Find a set of blinders and, together, we will trudge along our way to the top.


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Related Posts:

Cul-de-sac Career


What's Up With e-Bay?


Topics: art and psychology | Art Business | art marketing | FineArtViews | inspiration | Jack White | sell art | selling art online | selling fine art online 

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Michael Cardosa
Hi Jack,

Thanks for the posting. Focus gets hard at times when life gets in the way.

I had a 5 and 10 year plan on where I wanted to be. I'm a little behind the curve on the 5 years but it's my own conscious decisions that put me there not as you say the economy or the galleries or anything else.

Good luck with the book... and the mini series!

Thanks again,


Marsha Hamby Savage
Thank you, Jack. This came at a very important time for me. It has been very tough this year in many ways... sales of paintings definitely. But, it has been successful in the workshop arena... and not bad in some shows and opportunities to be seen. But, sales ... just okay and on the down side of okay... but there.

Your words make me realize I must focus on "exact" target marketing. I am doing those other things, Facebook, Pinterest, Daily Paintworks, Etsy, my website, blog ... and some good advertising in a major magazine (with small articles I am included in). So, I am working at it. All these things are good ... but I can see from what you posted there is an area I have been ignoring.

My patrons and previous clients get an occasional newsletter, but I have made them to generic. You are talking and it is as if you meant this newsletter just for me. I love it when I open a newsletter and the "cosmic forces" ... forgive me ... have answered a problem I have been struggling with.

Sad thing, I don't really have a plan, but work from the seat of my pants ... not a good way to work or plan. You make me think! Thank you!

Stede Barber
Hi Jack,
Thank you for loving words and needed. I have never before felt like "giving up"...not doing art, but finding ways to share and sell it...and these are words of support I am taking to heart. Always good to remember I and we are not along. Bless you, Happy Thanksgiving and all it entails...

Stede Barber
oops...we are not ALONE...we are all along for the ride if we keep one leg on each side of the horse and keep going... love to you and yours...

Sandy Askey-Adams
Hello Jack..

As always, you hit the nail on the head for me and also made me notice all the things I must get done via marketing.

I agree with Michael. It is not so easy to focus and stay focused. Thanks Michael for making me feel not so alone on this marketing thing.

And also after reading what all Marsha has is so much more...much more...than what I have done. (Way behind here Marsha.)

The thing is, those three words, "what's the use," can sometimes get in the way and deter or discourage me from doing all that I can be doing.

I need to read all your posts Jack because one learns from them all the time. Thank you.
Replies from other artists on these posts are
very helpful too.

I have to get up and not stay down. I have to get up and not stop on the way....knowing that it doesn't matter how many times I fall, but what is important is how many times I manage to get back up.
I have to remember too that every time a door closes, another one, perhaps even better, will open.

Thanks again Jack, and good luck on the book and mini series. It sounds interesting.

Happy Thanksgiving Jack and everyone.

Sylvia Dion
Excellent article Jack. Staying focused is one of things we all struggle with, especially in a society where we a pulled in so many directions all the time. I have just begun marketing my artwork even though I've spent years working and building my skills. As a business owner I know the dedication it takes to succeed and have been devoting at least two hours a day to my painting. That may not seem like much to many people but it's working for me.

jack white
To All,

The one tiny thing we do to keep focused. We make a list of things to do. Do the list at bedtime.

Work on #1 until that is completed and then begin #2. Finish 2 before you start 3. You probably won't do all ten, but you will get some things finished.

If cleaning the studio is number one, then do that before you begin to make art.

Having a list of things to do helps us all keep focused.

Happy Thanksgiving and Go Cowboys.


Marsha Hamby Savage
Jack, such a simple idea! What it takes is discipline.

jack white

Form a habit of making your list. It only takes a minute or so, but can make a world of difference.


Sandy Askey-Adams
Jack...So true...that list. Reading what you say about a list Jack is encouraging.

NOW, if I can only make it into a habit as Marsha says. Yes, discipline.

I do make lists, but not always, or if I make the list, I neglect to look at it at times.
eee-gads, sounds like I need a lot of help here.
And I can even write about doing that kind of thing on my blogging, but I have to do it too!!!

Sharon Crute
I chuckled a bit when you mentioned "blinders" to Zito. As a former race tracker, I could visualize his eyes rolling to the heavens. Blinders are part of a harness, blinkers are for race horses.
Always love your inspiring writing.

jack white

I knew that and I suspect I used blinkers when I shot out a question. I was raised on a ranch and not a race track; however we follow racing and have for years. Old ways are hard to break.(smile)

I stand corrected with a red face.

It's probably good I use blinders,because our readers wouldn't known about blinker.

Much Obliged, jack

Karen Burnette Garner
Jack, I agree that it is easy not to be focused, distracted sometimes into inaction. I appreciate this reminder to keep the goal in mind, and keep going in the direction that takes you there. There are often events, or activities, that tempt me to get involved -- things I know I could do, and do well. But they will not help me get to my goal. They simply allow me to fluff my feathers and strut a bit, but no real return for that effort. Thanks for this reminder. My best to you and Mikki!

Kathy Chin
Hi Jack,

Happy Thanksgiving to you and Mikki and the rest of your family!!!

Not surprisingly I read your piece today. You've been on my mind a lot as I prepare for a small Holiday Bazaar on Saturday through our gallery. I've taken one of your recent articles to heart and had a bunch of 10x10 and 8x12 canvases made. Have been making lists of things to get done before the show, and am trying to stay focused as the time draws near. Good or bad, I'm going to be ready.
Jack, I appreciate all you have done for me during the last few years. You have provided pearls of wisdom that I'll never forget. When things don't go right, I think, "What would Jack do?" and then proceed from there.
Call me schmaltzy, but on this Thanksgiving, among the thanks I give are for you and Mikki. Thank you so much for everything you do and give to us all!!! We appreciate you!

Happy Thanksgiving to you both.

You and Mikki are tunnels of light shining through.

I think about you and Mikki quite often and will be joining Kathy Chin, in counting you and Mikki among our family blessing.

Donald Fox
I hope everyone has had a great Thanksgiving. This is one day where focus is easy - family, friends, and food.

Making a list is so simple and yet powerfully effective. Do one thing after another as you say, Jack. It is amazing how much can be accomplished. Imagine a carpenter not following the plan (the list). What kind of house would that make?

Laura Fischer Saxon
Thanks for that commonsense wisdom. Along the way of struggling to survive, I have run in a lot of different directions. I am still taking classes to build my skills and have not persued selling my work very often. But I just mentioned on facebook that I am doing a still life with a kettle, wine bottle and candle, and a friend said that she is interested in buying it! And it's not even finished yet! So don't give up! If you like your work, chances are that someone else will too!! Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!

Janet Zeh
Wow Jack, thank you so much for this. I sometimes get distracted and you are right, that is when things seem to start falling apart. But when I'm laser focused, everything begins to work again. I like this line: "I have found art to be a jealous mistress. She wants your full attention or her jealousy will find a way to destroy your life." So true!
I look back through the 6 years I've been making my living strictly from my artwork and sometimes wonder how I've been able to do it. Your influence has been an enormous help in that regard. Thanks for your voice of encouragement and reason which helps me stay on track.

Jana Botkin
As always, timely and practical wisdom from the great Jack White!

I think in lists, so here is my response in list form:

1. It was James who said that about double-minded folks.
2. Wow, you consider Stephen Pressfield a "dear friend"? As always, I continue to be impressed and awed by your circle of friends. They are lucky to know you.
3. How did you suggest to that artist that he contact his client base? phone? notes? emails? coffee dates? all of the above? make a "sales pitch" or just enjoy their company?
4. I heard an interview with Jay Papasan who discusses condensing one's list down until it only contains one item - the one that if you do it, it will make everything else either easy or unnecessary. It has to do with focusing on what is the most important. He also tore apart the idea of multi-tasking, which completely supports your idea of focusing on the one most important task.
5. Blinders, blinkers, most of us would have thought you made a typo if you'd used the proper term! 8-)

Thanks again, Jack, for everything you share with us!

Colleen Taylor
Excellent post as always Jack and I enjoy those words of wisdom from me. I'm very focused and disciplined with those blinders, and I must say, it has paid off for me. What I would like to know, from you as well as others, how do I take away the sting and the hurt that I've heard from other artists "friends" that have criticized me for doing well? I've always been supportive of them. My skin is fairly thick but apparently not thick enough!

jack white

When a couple or single person buys a piece or pieces we hand write them a thank you welcoming them to Team Senkarik.

Then in a few months we follow up with a NON selling mailing. For instance: Just a reminder we would love for you to attend this years collector only event in Santa Fe. Another jumbo postcard might remind them again in July about the Labor Day event. If we go in a new gallery we do a mailing.

If we learn of something good that has happened or if they have been ill we phone. We have an opening invitation for clients to visit our studio.

At the collector event we try to take a few couples to dinner or breakfast. A little private time to become friends. We always pick up the tab.

Mikki noticed one client lost her cat. She called. Another lost her sister, Mikki called. Sometime I do the calling. A good client got a raise. I phoned.

We stay in email touch with a lot of our base.

In short we treat our client base as if they are friends.

When the Cleveland Indians were doing well I emailed encouragement to a devote fan. I tease a doctor that is a rabid Oklahoma football fan when they play Texas. He gives me heck when OU beats Texas.

Each case is different. Mikki does the blog, but it is not all about art. For Thanksgiving she showed a picture of one of our two black rescue cats. The Heading, "Molly is Lost." People panicked. Then they scroll down to find her under the bed sheets as Mikki was trying to make the bed. We got about 70 responses.

In short we treat collectors like we would want to be treated.

You are's James. Actually in Greek the name is Joseph. King James felt he deserved a book named for him, because he financed the work. It really is the book of Joseph.

But since Paul is my favorite, I tend to give him too much credit. (smile)

I get to writing and fail to check my reference.

The list of ten seems to work best for me. Many time list one is simple and only takes a few minutes. For instance, call the vet for an appointment or order supplies. Remind Mikki to put our cougar urine to keep the deer away. We have scores of white tail deer. They eat our flowers. The cougar urine makes them think a male is in the area. They stay away. We have a tiny sliver of cloth on several trees. The smell needs to be squirted on every ten days. Or if it rains, after the rain.

I know you are wondering why I don't put out the warning stuff. I took some medication that messed up the nerves in my back. I can't walk well enough to trek all over this place.

Hugs, jack and the diva

jack white
Colleen Taylor

Unless the person being critical is a close friend, I pay no attention to their rebukes. I ignore outside critics. My thought is they don't know me well enough to say what they are expressing. Only those who know me well can give me advice. I know they care.

When you have written as much as I have you will have plenty of folks that don't agree. Some are down right nasty. I always think, you don't know my heart. You don't know my intent.

Someone told me, your art has no soul. I thought, you don't know that to be true. I know how much of my soul I poured into making the art. He can't judge my passion. He can judge the results, but not the motive behind the art. Employ IGNORE.

If you were elected President 49 percent would not like you. If a person being elected president can only get a little over half the support, why should we expect more.

Rejection most of the time is not personal. Your work may not fit. They may have someone doing similar work. There are dozens of reasons to be rejected. It's up to us to pay no attention and keep moving forward.

I didn't stop writing because someone discovered a mistake. I get up and go to work.


Hi Jack,
Thanks for the post, your stories keep me going.

Colleen Taylor
Jack, Thank You for this reply. I have forged ahead regardless and I will take your advice. I can't tell you how much your words mean to me at this time. You hit the nail right smack on the head with what you said. Thank you Jack!

Hello Jack,

Your article inspire me a lot to go through whatever hardship work in life we encounter we need to continue and not to be hopeless. You are right, life is sometimes ups and down but we need to continue even if we are down sometimes but this is a mean challenges for us. Discipline and organize plan is what inspire me when i read your article and your advises. Thank you so much Jack, god bless you in all of your good ways!...Happy Thanks Giving and Advance Merry Christmas!...hahaha


Jana Botkin
Colleen Taylor, remember that haters criticize to wound, and those who care about you criticize to help (even when it may not come across that way!) And beware of Critic's Math: 1000 compliments + 1 insult = 1 insult. . . not very good math, but it is definitely how we perceive things.

Always take the high road. Takes more energy and discipline, but causes less mess to clean up in the end.

Congratulations on your successes! Your portrait of a woman in the garden particularly beautiful.

Colleen Taylor
Thank you Jana Botkin, great advice and so kind of you to comment. I certainly appreciate it. You made me smile broadly!

Christine Marx
This is a definite keeper! I will be posting it and hanging it on my studio wall. Very inspirational at a time when I think a lot of artists are feeling the pinch of the economy. Thanks for the wonderful words of encouragement, Jack.


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