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Motivation tips for artists

By in How To


They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” Andy Warhol

It’s that time of year, when the Christmas and New Year excitement is over, and the January blues are threatening to come round for tea… It’s fair to say that often our motivation can tend to wilt a little in this post-festive period. So, what can we do to stay enthusiastic, positive, and productive? We’re here to bring you the best techniques to stop your motivation from slipping this January…

Book review – Motivation Hacker, Nick Winter


First up, we’re reviewing this excellent book by Nick Winter. Although it is technically a ‘self-help’ book, it is not at all patronising or cheesy like a lot of others you might have come across. In it, Nick describes how ‘hacking his motivation’ has enabled him to achieve an unbelievable amount of goals – from learning Chinese, to skydiving, to writing books. How has he done this? Well, we recommend reading the whole book, but here are just a few briefly summarised methods he suggests:

  • Pre-commitment: From pledging a large amount of money unless you achieve your goal, to simply telling others about it, this is a great way of cementing your ambitions and making it real. It’s scary, but that’s the point, and will stop you from making excuses or putting things off. If you were about to lose £200, you would definitely reconsider ‘finishing that artist statement some other time.’
  • Changing your output focus: Another technique employed by Nick is the way you set yourself goals – focussing on process rather than result. For example, telling yourself to write a 3000 word essay might seem daunting, but telling yourself to write for 20 minutes a day doesn’t seem so bad. This method can be utilised for almost any situation where an end product seems totally out of reach, but where smaller chunks of activity can easily be achieved.
  • Success spirals: Forming tiny habits. If you often find that you can’t fit something into your daily routine, success spirals might be for you. The idea is that you start with a tiny goal, say two minutes of Twitter per day, if that’s your nemesis. Let’s face it, everyone can spare two minutes, no matter how busy your schedule is. By setting this realistic goal and achieving it, your motivation levels will start to go up. You can set yourself multiple success spirals for all those tasks you think are out of reach, like exercise or learning a new language. Start small, let it build.

The great thing about this book is the author’s honesty and vulnerability. He never claims to be a superhero or to succeed at everything, but shares his own process and experience.


‘Clock’ by Ricardo Trigos

We recommend this book to those of you who might think you ‘don’t have time’ to do the things you really want, as it will make you realise just how much you can actually fit into 24 hours. Nick backs up all of his claims by actually achieving his goals – one of his ‘success spirals’ was to write this very book… and we’re glad he did!

Some further tips

Remove distractions from your workspace

We all know that generally we need the Internet to work these days. That said, the wealth of distraction that lies within that connection is one of the biggest procrastination causes of the modern world. If you need to use it, make sure you set out a clear set of tasks before you log on, and if you can, block any distracting websites so you won’t be tempted to stray off task.


‘Washing Line’ by Rebecca Merry

Distraction can also mean washing up, cleaning, tidying or sorting. If this applies to you, make sure you have a dedicated workspace to enable your productivity to thrive. Cleaning can always, always wait.

Another, more confusing distraction can be work itself. Often, with all of the advice to market and promote yourself, it can leave you forgetting to do the most important thing – making your art. Although managing the admin side of your practice is important, it’s the craft that is at the heart of your business. Always set aside dedicated time for creating, even if it’s just an hour every day – see our point about ‘resistance’ further down.

Dress for work

This one is for artists working from home – the temptation to never get dressed. Although lounging around in your pyjamas may seem great at first, it does absolutely nothing for motivation. ‘Dressing for work’ doesn’t mean putting on a suit and tie (you’re an artist after all!) but it does mean channeling your creativity through your clothing. Got a favourite pair of painting overalls? Make sure they’re always nearby. Find an old paint-splattered shirt makes you feel like Jackson Pollock? Don’t hide it away in the wardrobe. It’s about getting into character and into your creative mindset.

Work out how much time you’re wasting on unnecessary things – then cut them out

This is something we all do – we are creatures of habit and realising some of the time-wasting activities we do can be the first step to gaining hours of extra creative time. Think you don’t waste time? Then challenge yourself to keep an accurate diary of everything you do throughout the day, and see if you can notice any patterns. If you’re having a break, of course that’s fine! But make sure it’s something constructive you’ll actually enjoy, like going for a walk, reading, or listening to your favourite piece of music. Staring at re-runs of ‘Come Dine With Me’ on the telly isn’t necessarily a good break (and can end up being a whole afternoon!)

Try somewhere new

If the above points are applicable to you, perhaps it’s your working environment (i.e. at home), that’s leading you to procrastinate or waste time. Studios can of course be an expensive luxury at first, but if you weigh up how much more you’ll get done by being in that focussed environment, it may just be worth considering. If this isn’t an option, then even getting out of the house and into a coffee shop can give you some headspace and enable you to forget those other daily tasks.

Stop comparing yourself to others

We are all guilty of comparing our careers to those around us. But for artists, careers are often so personal and individual, that doing this on a regular basis will only lead to self-doubt and a lack of confidence. Artists have extremely varied amounts of success, and sometimes it can be down to timing rather than skill, which can be frustrating for others. The person who gets an exhibition in the gallery you’ve always dreamed of, may have just been in the right place at the right time. However, there is no point thinking about what could have or should have been, or resenting others. Concentrate on making your work the best it can be, getting it seen by as many relevant people as possible, and use other artists’ successes as motivation for your own career path.

Don’t make work for anyone else

This follows on from the point above. Obviously you want other people to enjoy your art (and hopefully to buy it), but there’s really no way to tailor your work to satisfy everyone’s taste. It’s therefore imperative that you continue making work for yourself. People look for integrity when they buy art, for the personailty of the artist to show through. Once you start trying to please others rather than making work true to yourself, you run the risk of losing the meaning and passion behind it – which is ultimately what  will make it sell in the end.

Overcome ‘Resistance’

Another book we’d recommend is ‘The War of Art’ by Steven Pressfield:


In this book Steven discusses a problem many creative people face, which he calls ‘Resistance.’ Resistance can be rearranging your paint brushes before you feel like you can paint, labelling your craft box before you can start making, or checking your Facebook fans before you can get back to work on your latest sculpture. It’s about continually putting off the thing your should be doing, because of fear or uncertainty. The problem is, it feels like you’ve done lots of work because of the length of time these procrastination tasks take, making it a dangerous creative enemy. So it’s important to identify when this is happening – once again, keep a diary of a few days of your working habits, and see where you’re avoiding the issue.

We hope these tips have been useful, and have helped banish some of the issues many artists face at this time of year. Do you have any motivation advice you’d like to share with others? Please leave a comment at the end of the article. We’ll be back soon with more tips, info, and advice for artists.


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