The 6 Habits of Highly Effective Artists


Do you want to be a great and highly effective artist?highly effective artists

I do. I might be getting a bit obsessed with it, actually.

Ideas pop into my head unexpectedly. I keep a long running list of ideas for improving my work.

I also study how the most successful artists got where they are, and I pore over every word that they write.

If you want to be a great artist, you should, too.

I wanted to find out what all these top artists had in common. Their mindset, their mental habits.

I spent a lot of time observing, which led to this list of the six success traits shared by all top artists I’ve found. I’m happy to share it with you.

The good news is that even if you don’t have all these personality traits already, most of them can be developed over time. Best of all, if you can cultivate these traits, you’ll become more effective in the rest of your life as well.

1. Highly Effective artists are prolific

The first key to being a successful, highly effective artist is to create. A lot.

The more you create, the better you get.

There’s no way around it; it takes work to be prolific. And effective artists work hard. Putting a successful art career together requires a lot of time in your studio, and not surfing LOLCats or Twittering about what you had for lunch.

2. Highly Effective artists are lifelong learners

If you’re a new artist, you’re probably on a steep learning curve at the moment.

Maybe you tell yourself that things will get better when you’ve been doing it longer. There won’t be so much to learn. You’ll have systems in place soon and everything will run smoothly.

Sadly, I think this is a myth. I’ve been painting and working my career as an artist for more than 15 years, and it keeps changing. Just when you’ve got one element sorted out, something new happens. Or becomes obsolete. Or mutates in 20 different directions.

If you want to stay ahead in art, you have to keep learning.

Fortunately, being curious and wanting to learn keeps you young and your brain active. A love of learning doesn’t just set you up for a successful art career, but for a successful and happy life.

3. Highly Effective artists are focused and consistent

Highly effective artists move consistently toward their vision.  Their work has a consistent voice and approach. Even when they move toward something that may be off topic, they relate it back to their greater vision.

4. Highly Effective artists plan ahead

Highly effective artists know where they’re going. They have a master plan and they stick to it. Yes, they adapt based on feedback, but always in service of a vision.

They don’t let themselves get derailed. They follow the plan.

5. Highly Effective artists are persistent

Highly effective artists understand that success doesn’t happen overnight. Real success rarely happens quickly.

Time is on your side. To get to the top takes consistency, hard work, serious study, and lots of persistence. Successful artists don’t give up.

6. Highly Effective artists are self-starters

I’ve been self-employed as an artist for years.

I’ve noticed a lot of people like the idea of working from home, working for themselves, being their own boss. But if you want these things, you need to be able to manage yourself.

No one is going to sack you if you’re late. No one reminds you of important deadlines or nags you to get your sales numbers up.

If you want to be a successful artist, you need to be a self-starter. It’s not enough to have good ideas. You have to act on them.

What trait do you think is most valuable?

What do you think the most important trait of a successful artist is? It might be one of these six, or something completely different. Let us know in the comments!

This Post Has 22 Comments

  1. zookyshirts

    Great advice here. Your advice sounds really practical for those of us who hope to make a living creating art. I started painting about a year ago, and it’s been an amazing activity for my free time. Growing my artwork beyond free time will surely take lots of persistence. Your post is sound advice for us aspiring artists.

  2. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

    Thanks so much for your kind words about my articles. Yes, it does take persistence. But the main thing is you have to love it. You have to absolutely love it without exception. You have to love all parts of the career from making the artwork to marketing it. Good luck, my friend.

  3. Rowland Jones

    Hi Gary!
    Intrigued by your opening line ‘Do you want to be a great artist? I do.’

    What do you mean by ‘great’ in this context? Successful? Achieving critical acclaim? Both? Many great artists achieved neither . . .

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      Hi Rowland,
      You are right. There have been great artists through history that achieved neither acclaim or financial success. What I mean by “great” in this writing is having a clear artistic vision and then creating a body of work that demonstrates or fulfills that vision. Cy Twombly, who recently died, is a good example of this (although he was financially successful and highly acclaimed). Twombly’s creative vision was that he was an artist of the spontaneous, the smudged, the questions left open and unanswered. His life’s work fulfilled that vision beautifully.

  4. Lana Nelson

    Gary, thank you for this article. I’ve been painting about 10 years and indeed the learning curve is steep. I work on own and am self motivated. Your article gives me assurance that I am on the right track! I needed this very much. I read your articles with interest often. Thanks again. Lana

    1. Gary Bolyer

      Thanks Lana. I very much appreciated you comments.

  5. Ingrid E. Albrecht

    Hi Gary,

    GREAT post! I would agree with everything you said, but I would also add “teaching”. Teaching has definitely made me become a much better artist, because it has reinforced what I should be doing in my own work. By giving demonstrations, workshops, and classes, I MUST know my craft and how to work with it, inside and out. Helping others in their own work to achieve their ‘personal best’, keeps me to be SHARP and helps me to zone in and target problem areas within my own painting. I might also add that I learn from my students. A wonderful environment has been created where ALL participants benefit.

    THANK YOU for all of your posts. I have truly enjoyed them.

    Ingrid 😉

    1. Gary Bolyer

      Thanks for the comments and kind words about my blog. I’m glad you’re enjoying it. And I look forward to hearing more from you.

  6. David Mandle

    Great advice and tips here which I find invaluable. For me No 6 is key as if you can’t be a self starter the rest won’t work effectively

  7. Fay Thomson

    And now artists with these habits in tow, take a look at competition/project Art Toppling Tobacco that seeks the resources of art to destroy the tobacco companies.

  8. Rebecca Buck

    No 2 is important;It’s all about Skill and Practice, just like a musician or sportsman. Your skill powers your intuition. I go back and re-study the figure and portrait Sculpture skills regularly to keep my Abstract Sculpture on track. Switching clays add to the challenge. A lot of people use drawing from life to sharpen their eyes.

  9. Sandra Zebi

    Thank you Gary for remind me the steps, I have been a professional artist for the past 24 years and I totally agree with all the steps , maybe you could add the business /marketing skills is essential in order to succeed like any other business .

    1. Gary Bolyer

      Thanks for your comments Sandra. I agree that the marketing skills are important to succeeding as as artist.

  10. Irene

    Dear Mr. Bolyer:

    I am afraid it is not the marketing skills that are important, but connections, by that
    I mean know the right people who can promote you, It is not enough to be creative artist
    it is who you know that will help you promote your Art.

    1. Gary Bolyer

      I agree. Being well-connected is important to success as an artist.

  11. Barbara Haviland

    I do want to be a better artist. I think presistance is the key to keep learning and learning. When you stop learning your work is stagnant.

    1. Gary Bolyer

      Thanks Barbara. Persistence certainly is a driving force for growing as an artist.

  12. Janet Stalder

    Hello Mr Bolyer,
    thank you for this interesting article, I am 67 and have been an artist for the last 30 years,
    ( have been told that I’m too old for it now. ) and was about to give up, but thanks to your motivation I have realised that it just needs a bit of know-how, and Persistence .
    thank you.
    A true artist is ageless

  13. Deborah Duffin

    Actually if you are talking about being a ‘top’ artist rather than a great artist – I think connections is what does it! You can be really good at all the things you are advising, but if you do not have connections and/or are not good at using those connections you will not achieve ‘top’ status. So it depends on what you define as a ‘great’ artist.

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