Life Balance

Become a More Productive and Profitable Artist with Help from These Three Authors

Become a More Productive and Profitable Artist with Help from These Three Authors

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Artists and designers seem to have always been viewed as magical unicorns.

For some reason, our work is expected to be flawless and aesthetically pleasing at the outset.


No time for development, no time to consider alternative color schemes, just whip something up “right quick.”

Would the same person making that request want their cardiothoracic surgeon to correct the blood flow in their veins “right quick?” Would that person want a chef to “just put something together” or craft a meal of complementary flavors and aromas?

It is common knowledge that to become a doctor, lawyer, architect, or first chair violinist, one must practice nearly incessantly, train under more seasoned professionals, and be fully dedicated to the process.

And yet although it takes as much time and discipline to become an artist or designer, I feel that we are not given the same developmental courtesies as other professions.

Friends and family minimize and taunt..

Well, if you want to be broke for the rest of your life…”

Teachers discourage…

“I’ve never known anyone to earn a living as a ceramicist (or photographer, etc…) Maybe you should consider something else.”

Some teachers discourage…

“I’ve never known anyone to earn a living as a ceramicist (or photographer, etc…) Maybe you should consider something else.”

In response we sometimes hang our heads and do the “responsible” thing. We earn a degree in an area in which we would prefer not to work because we don’t want to be broke, unproductive citizens. (The implications of which would fill an entire post on it’s own.)

Or, we follow our own path and are presented with urgent requests to create magical brews of visual delight with minimal compensation.

Is this truly how artists and designers have to live?

There are many exceptions to the social rules that have been ingrained in many of us since childhood.

Especially now and over the last decade or more artists and designers have built their own businesses using many of the skills some of us were taught would almost certainly lead to poverty.

Platforms like Etsy, Creative Market, Skillshare, Spoonflower, Society6, DesignbyHumans, DenyDesigns and more, help to dissolve myths surrounding the earning potential of artists and designers.

But what separates consistent, high earners from those with inconsistent earnings? What causes some artists and designers to continue to feel as though they have to take a vow of poverty in order to do what they love?

I think one of the primary barriers to becoming a productive and profitable artist or designer is mindset. Another barrier is the condition of the heart.

When what we think, “I may never earn a good living doing what we love,” doesn’t match what we know to be true in our hearts, “My art matters, and I can earn consistently from it,” then we struggle.


When what we feel, “My artwork is actually pretty good,” doesn’t match the doubts in our mind, “But who would ever want to buy it?,” then we struggle.

We struggle to create.
We struggle to make ends meet.
We struggle to defend ourselves from snide remarks and damning facial expressions.

This incongruence between the heart and mind may never completely resolve, but we don’t have to struggle…and that is where the true magic lies.

It has taken me years to shift my mindset surrounding art. (And it is an ongoing process)

When people were purchasing my paintings years ago, I did not really value them myself. I had been conditioned to believe art was a minimally important activity that you do on the side and if you are lucky, you might earn solid part-time income from it.

And then I began to value my work. And you know what? I could hardly sell one painting.

I bet you can guess what happened next. Yep, I allow a flood of negative conditioning to convince me that my art never mattered anyway; it’s no good, and I will never be able to earn a living from it.

I gave room to the lies.

But the thing about a calling – no matter the vocation – is that although a loud call might turn to a whisper (from us drowning it out), it never loses its voice altogether.

The call never stops. Quiet, subtle nudges persist until we pay attention.

Once we pay attention, we draw closer and closer to the call and it becomes louder and louder.

What happens next is up to each individual.

Will we give in to the old fears and lies?

Or will we consider new possibilities?

I chose to consider new possibilities. It just so happens that my “safe” professions did not pan out for me. I believe there is a lot more to that than I want to share right now. But I still had a choice to make.

Would I try to force the other path? Or, would I cooperate with the path I’ve known since childhood was the right one for me?

When I made the choice to cooperate with my own truth, life did not automatically shift in my favor. But the more steps I took on my personal path, the more opportunities appeared.

I discovered books and classes that existed for some time but were not apparent to me because I had been closed off to the possibility. I simply was not ready to embrace my truth.

This post is already longer than I intended it to be, but I wanted to share a little background information with you before suggesting the books below.

They are connected to my Amazon account, so if you were to make a purchase I would earn a small commission that helps keep this blog going. But that is not why I want to share these books.

While I do not believe that change has to take forever, I do believe that it takes time.

I read the first book below last summer, the second book last fall, and the third one earlier this year.

The information that I read is still sinking in. Change has not been instantaneous, but it has been significant.

These three books have helped me to:
  • quiet those old voices,
  • step back and put my situation into perspective, and then
  • value my work more highly so that I can begin to attract others to what I am doing

If you struggle with becoming a productive and profitable artist, I encourage you to give this content a try.

Allow the words to really sink in, and then make the necessary changes.

These are not magical solutions, but I can promise this: Once you begin to shift your mindset and it aligns with your heart, you will:

  • create regardless of any restrictions,
  • discover new ways to earn from your art
  • no longer need to defend yourself from others’ comments or demeaning facial expressions
  • be less concerned with the ways others interpret your value as a person and in relation to your art.

I am not saying you will become a nonchalant artist who is too arrogant to care what others think.

But I do believe that your focus will shift from desiring to be approved of and understood by others to knowing in your heart that as long as you are dedicated and invest in what you are doing, you will be able to withstand the negativity a lot better.

Below are the three resources I suggest to help improve your mindset and prepare your heart to become a productive and profitable artist.

1. Do the Work!: Overcome Resistance and Get Out of Your Own Way by Steven Pressfield

While reading this book, I probably looked like a bobblehead doll to passersby. The author’s words gave voice to my personal experiences. And I nodded in accordance to that truth. There were also many moments in which I could do nothing more than read a section and then stare off into space and I considered the ways in which I could apply those concepts into my own life.

Here are some takeaways from “Do the Work!

Our enemy is not a lack of preparation; it’s not the difficulty of the project, or the state of the marketplace or the emptiness of our bank account. THE ENEMY IS RESISTANCE. The enemy is our chattering brain, which, if we give it so much as a nanosecond, will start producing excuses, alibis, transparent self-justifications and a million reasons why we can’t/shouldn’t/won’t do what we know we need to do. START BEFORE YOU’RE READY.

When we conquer our fears, we discover a boundless, bottomless, inexhaustible well of passion.

Do the Work! considers the big picture and helps the artist and designer to re-frame thoughts and perspectives in order to do their art without hesitation or apology.

2. How to Be an Artist: Without Losing Your Mind, Your Shirt, or Your Creative Compass by JoAnneh Nagler

After reading this book, I actually emailed Mrs. Nagler to thank her for writing it. I did not expect a response, but she did respond with gracious words that suggested to me that she wrote the book with a sincere heart.

There are a lot of golden nuggets in this book. The most significant way that it impacted me, though, was to create a metaphorical grid system for my random ideas about creating a life as an artist.

JoAnneh writes as though she is speaking to you as a caring big sister.

I used to think that fully committing to art meant that I would create and sell the type of art I wanted. I thought it meant that if I was unable to do so, then my art wasn’t “good enough.”

This book helped me learn that being a “true” artist may not mean that art income is our primary source of income. And it is not sacrilegious to “get a day job” while building an art career. One does not have to be compromised for the other. Actually, having a day job helps us to create art without pressure. (If it’s a day job that’s good for our soul.)

Here are some of JoAnneh’s words:

Learn to measure wealth by the amount of freedom you have to do what you love to do.

Wealth, as an artist, has a different meaning than our culture’s literal definition. Wealth brings with it time: time to discover, to explore, to create, and to build.

Remember that the word of the cultural day was the Monet couldn’t paint. But he kept showing up for all of that beauty anyway. He had to find the wealth inside himself and value it, to keep going and live the life he wanted to live.

JoAnneh coaches us through the process of acknowledging our need to create, setting a solid foundation for ourselves, and then encourages us to show up for ourselves daily.

3. Real Artists Don’t Starve: Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age by Jeff Goins

“The world needs your work and you shouldn’t have to struggle to create it.”

In Real Artists Don’t Starve, Jeff Goins helps the reader shift mindsets from the starving artist to the thriving artist.

Being a starving artist is a choice not a necessary condition of doing creative work, and whether or not you starve is up to you.

Through this book I realized I was not crazy for thinking that it takes time to become an artist. We are not born natural artists, we develop into one with time and tenacity, as with any other profession.

No amount of natural ability can compete with diligent practice.

Another great reminder from the author is that we do not have to strive to be original because there are no originals. I think that as artists and designers many times we want to be innovative. We want to create unique art and make our own mark.

Goins explains that innovation is really iteration. What we think is innovation is truly refinement of preexisting ideas.

Even more important is that it is through iteration that we find our own voice – putting our own spin on existing concepts.


In Closing

I genuinely believe that these three books will tremendously help you out if you struggle to be a productive and profitable artist.

The information may not change your mind, heart, or situation over night, but if you allow for change to happen within in you, you will notice a significant difference over time.

If you have any questions, comments, or your own book suggestions, I’d love to read them below.

Become a More Productive and Profitable Artist with Help from These Three Authors
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