Thursday, April 3, 2014

Motivation and the Artist

Monet:  Train in the Snow

In my previous post, I wrote about discipline and the professional artist.  If this art business were a train, discipline would be the wheels.  But to get that train moving, you need an engine - motivation.

If demand for your work is low, it might be hard to stay motivated.  Maybe you're just starting out and haven't built up a client base yet.  Or maybe you've been doing art for a long time and your clients don't have any wall space left.  Or maybe your clients are wrestling with an uncertain economy and just aren't buying.  You might feel like giving it all up and going back to your day job.

Another reason why it might be hard to get going could be boredom.  If you've been in the business for years, maybe you're tired of doing the same old thing.  Sometimes, artists get into a rut when they discover a gimmick or style that sells well; it's hard to part with the goose that lays the golden egg.

Or, maybe it's just the grind of going to the studio, day after day, that gets you down.  Any job, over time, will do that to you.  They say that money is a great motivator, but even if sales are great and you're not bored, you can still get weary of it all.

So what's the solution?  I've found three techniques that keep me motivated.

Work toward a meaningful, exciting goal.  Goals are always good motivators, especially if they are truly important to you.  For example, recently I decided to help my sales by engaging in a Kickstarter project that involves a subject I love.  The project, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Roosevelt-Campobello International Park, is meaningful to me because I love the natural beauty of the Park.  I'm also thankful that its founders had the foresight to create it.   By creating 50 small paintings for the project, I will not only honor the Park and my relationship to it but will also help my sales.  Although I haven't actually started painting the pictures yet, I'll get to Campobello Island soon, and I can't wait to begin!

Try something new to freshen up your day.  When I paint, I use a standard palette.  For oil, it's a split-primary palette with six colors plus white.  For pastel, I expand on that by including split secondaries and also a series of greys.  As much as I like this versatile arrangement, I use it day after day.  Sometimes you just want to try something new.  I like to throw in a "guest color" now and then to see how it works.  Lately, I've fallen in love with the umbers and Gamblin's Warm White.  For pastel, I've expanded my violets with Terry Ludwig's "Most Requested Violets" and my darks with Rembrandt's new "Special Edition Darks."  (Look for my review on these in an upcoming issue of Pastel Journal.)  I don't try new things every day; I like to save them for when I really need to boost my interest.

Break the routine.  I'm blessed with having a routine that is already somewhat broken.  I paint, I teach, I write.  My routine is varied enough by these different jobs - each of which involves deadlines, another powerful motivator - that I rarely have trouble getting started.  But even if you just make art, you don't have to do it every day.  There's business to take care:  updating your financial books or fine-tuning your website.  But even these tasks can get rather routine, especially if you are disciplined and keep to a regular schedule.  To really toss a speedbump in your week, consider something radically different.  Go to a museum and study just one piece of art.  Take a workshop in a completely different medium or technique.  Go camping, but leave your painting gear at home.  These are the professional artist's version of a vacation.

But sometimes none of these tricks will work, and you may find it impossible to get to the studio.

I'm sorry, but that's not an excuse.  You're an artist.  You make art.  Even if you don't feel like it.   Sometimes, if you want to get anywhere, you have to just do it.

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