artist advice, artist planning, artist vision, cal newport, contemporary realism, create your best 2020, deep work, goal setting, goal setting creatives, how to be an artist, how to plan your work as an artist, james clear, plan 2020 artist, planning
Hello my beautiful fellow creatives! I am so excited for this year. Are you excited? Isn’t it amazing that the future is in your hands, ready to be written?
I recently saw a post that said, “Your future lays before you like fresh fallen snow, take care the steps you take, for every step will show.” It’s SO true—every little thing we do in our life eventually compounds, and eventually the invisible will show itself, even if it is not obvious at first. The invisible work is so important, especially for us artists!
I am so grateful for everything that I was able to accomplish this year. I had a solo show which was very successful, in a beautiful gallery I was super proud of! I launched my first online course, began teaching as a college art professor, was featured in Beautiful Bizarre and other art publications, had my highest revenue year from my art so far, and fulfilled a lifelong dream of hiking in the redwoods! I made a painting about it too, as you can see below 🙂
“Solace,” oil and metal leaf on panel, by Jessica Libor (me!)
Although these things only take one sentence to write, they actually took months, and really years of action, to come to fruition.
For instance, my solo art exhibition took hundreds of hours to prepare. In the very un-glamorous privacy of my studio, I spent many late nights working away at details.
Each decision to work on my painting instead of go out with friends or watch Netflix, compounded the results of my exhibition. This is just one example of how I got the results I did this year.
The online course took months of writing, filming and preparation before it launched. Likewise, I would not have been able to get a job as a college art professor had I not gone through years of schooling and getting my Master of Fine Arts at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
Although the hard work can seem grueling while you’re in it, eventually you WILL see the results of your efforts (or non-efforts!). And I don’t want you to think that I am bragging when I tell you this: it’s always an uphill battle for me to continually challenge myself and work on my long-term goals.
One book that really changed that this year was the book Deep Work by James Clear. This was actually a suggestion of Alessandra Maria, an artist I really respect who I actually interviewed on the blog earlier in the year. In Deep Work, the author talks about how distracted we are as a society, and generally as humans. He talks about the value of committing deeply to a task for a set amount of time, and entering the state of flow. When we get into deep work, that is when the really inspired artwork comes to fruition.
Below, one of my pieces from this year, “Fields of Gold,” oil and gold leaf on panel.
This year I initiated methods of working that were blocks of time dedicated only to my artmaking. I wasn’t allowed to look at my phone or computer, get a cup of tea, or call or text anyone.
I simply blocked off two hour sections of time and created intensely. And you know what? It was HARD. I struggled with it! Just like when you’re running an extra mile and your body protests because it isn’t used to it, my brain wasn’t used to such dedication (I know, it’s kind of embarrassing!)
I had the urge to go for a walk, check my email, text a friend, or otherwise distract myself from the pain of focus. Just like doing a math problem, my brain has to work extra hard when creating a realistic piece of art—getting the right values, colors and proportions. I could feel my brain stretching as I focused for these chunks of time.
Below, a brain-stretching artwork I finished, “The Butterflies,” oil and 23 karat gold leaf on panel.
Even though it was hard, the results I got this year were far and away beyond what I had gotten in previous years. I created some of my favorite pieces. I remember one particular day, I blocked off a few hours to create. I got into such a state of flow that I did not realize that 6 hours had passed. I did not stop until the piece was complete. I was shocked that I was able to finish a large, technically detailed piece in just 6 hours. It’s probably my favorite piece this year! And it’s a physical piece of evidence of what you can do when you compress time and get into that focused state of flow. You are able to accomplish far more than you could imagine!
Below, “Darling,” the piece I finished in 6 hours of super intense focus!
So as we step into the new year, ask yourself what you want to experience in your art career in the next 360 days, and even in the next decade, which is 3,600 days! Here are a few ideas with how to break that down. I have three steps for you that I believe will be helpful in casting your vision as you move into a new era of your artistic career.
- IDENTIFY WHAT YOUR DREAM CAREER LOOKS LIKE: The first step is to identify your wildest dreams: this is the WHAT. If anything WERE possible within your art career, what would that look like for you? Let go mentally of any circumstances holding you back as you imagine this. You may have a limiting thought that you are too old or too young for success, you don’t have enough time, you don’t live in the right place, you don’t have the funds to make the art…it could be anything negative that you have holding you back. Just temporarily suspend that limiting circumstance and imagine that it was not holding you back, but in fact, was an asset! Imagine how your art career would look like in its most ideal form. Where do you show your work? What artists do you show with? What kind of work do you make? How do you feel about the work that you make? How often do you work on your art? What kind of awards have you won? Are you teaching, or traveling anywhere? Where are you doing residencies? What kind of people support your art? How do you make money? (Although a topic for another post, selling your artwork is not the only way to make money as an artist: there is also teaching art, gaining a fan base on Patreon, selling lisences of your art, winning grants, doing commissions, doing public artworks, doing live events, and much more!) Write down the answers to the prompts, in vivid detail.
- IDENTIFY WHO YOU WANT TO BE: The next step is to identify WHO you are when you are the artist you described above. If all of your wildest dreams come true in your art career, who are you as that version of yourself? Does she get up at 6am and paint until noon? Or is she in the studio every day 9 to 5, like a regular job? Does she visit museums regularly, or go to exhibitions where she might meet people who could help her in her career? How does she think about the contribution that she is making through her art? Write it all down.
- IDENTIFY YOUR TOP THREE: The third step is to look at your dreams that you just wrote down and take within it your top 3 artistic goals that you would like to accomplish this year. EVEN if you think the goals would be IMPOSSIBLE to achieve within one year, I still want you to write them down. Why? Because when you identify a long term goal, even if it feels very lofty, you will strive to align yourself with that goal. You see, your brain is like a missile—when you put a destination in front of it, your amazing brain will look for ways to reach the goal. It works like magic! Eventually, even if it doesn’t happen within the first year, you will be aligned with your goal. Each day you’ll get a little closer if you keep it at the forefront of your consciousness. So take your top 3 goals, and write them very large somewhere you can see them in your studio. Look at them every day and be inspired!
- MAKE MINI GOALS: Once you have your top 3 goals, I want you to work on them one at a time. Take each goal and break it down into twelve mini-goals, one for each month. For instance, if one goal is to have a body of work you a really proud of within 2020, you can have a goal of making 3 amazing pieces per month that you are really proud of. This could overlap with a goal of applying to 100 shows or opportunities this year, which breaks down to only 12 applications per month, or 3 applications per week.
- BLOCK OUT TIME: Once you’ve made mini-goals for each month that support your top 5 goals, take out your calendar and block out the time you need each day to make it happen. Schedule out three months in advance, so you can build momentum. And then, be sure to show up and keep the promise to yourself to work on your goal. Remember it’s your invisible work or showing up that will create the reality of having your dreams come true!
I realize that when you’re trying to achieve new goals, old habits can be hard to overcome. That is because the brain is wired to seek pleasure, avoid pain, and be as efficient as possible. This is great when we are in the wilderness, avoiding wild animals and the cold (pain), looking for fruits and berries and somewhere soft and safe to lie down (seeking pleasure), and looking for the shortest way to get there (being as efficient as possible).
These hardwired instincts are actually really good because they have kept us alive as the human race for centuries. However, in the modern world, we have to be aware of our instincts and how they can hold us back. You see, in the modern world, and more particularly as a modern artist, avoiding pain could look like procrastinating on a project because of the effort it takes.
Seeking pleasure could look like watching Netflix to escape your reality or snacking on things that aren’t optimal for our health because of the short term pleasure.
And, seeking the most efficient way possible could look like trying to get success before you’ve put in the work and made artwork you’re actually proud of. You see, we are no longer running from bears and foraging for berries to survive (well, most of us, anyway!) but those instincts are still there.
And if we plan from our pre-frontal cortex, which is the smart part of our brain that allows us to plan, rationalize, and create, then we can overcome these basic instincts while still appreciating them and thanking them for keeping us alive! We can transcend our most basic state by identifying our goals and dreams and working to achieve them.
And what is art all about if not a transcendence beyond ourselves?
Another thing I like to think about as an artist is your duty. If you have decided to be an artist, then you have a duty to express your vision to the world. The world needs to see your creations and will be a better place because of it. It is your sacred duty to fulfill that job that only you can do.
One last thought is to create a vision board that includes images of your top 3 artistic goals for the year. That may include an image of the gallery you hope to show at, the kind of artwork you’d like to make, places you’d like to visit, and images and words that reflect who you’d like to be as you accomplish your top 5 goals. This can be helpful to keep motivation going as you do the hard work of the day to day grind of working on your goals! Especially as visual artists, we can be stimulated by visuals, and this can help us get in the mood to focus and remember why we are doing it in the first place.
Ok, I hope that this has been super helpful to you as you turn over the next decade and choose how you’d like to spend your next year! It’s my heart for you that you achieve your wildest dreams as an artist, and live a happy and fulfilled life along the way. I know that this is going to be your best year yet!
Lastly, I have a gift for you that I think will be extremely useful to you as you plan out your year. I’ve created a free Artistic Visioncasting worksheet, and mini-course, with everything you need to plan out your goals and dreams. There’s questions to prompt you, so you can break down your goals in an organized way. I created it specifically for this blog post so that you can get the most out of it! Just click the link below to download it.
Now go forth and create!
With light, love, and creativity,