Getting and Staying Motivated

Getting and Staying Motivated

I recently conversed with a reader who is just getting started with colored pencils. She’d wanted to be an artist from the time she was five, but one thing and another got in the way. Now that she’s making a start, she wanted to know my tricks for getting and staying motivated when making art gets tough.

I’ll be honest.

I had to stop and think about her question. Do I really have any tricks for getting and staying motivated? After all, that’s an often daily struggle for me. There are so many other things to do.

Things that seem more important than drawing.

Things like writing blog posts, freelance writing (to support my art habit,) daily chores around the house, including cat care and, now that spring is coming, yard and garden work.

Yes, I keep a to-do list. Two actually. A written list and Sarah Renae Clark’s Habit Tracker*. I’d be lost without them.

And yes, art is on both.

Getting and Staying Motivated When Art Gets Tough - To-Do List

But it’s still so easy for studio time to sink to the bottom of the list. Some days, it drops clean off the list! I hardly seemed like the right person to answer the reader’s question. She deserved an answer, but I didn’t know what to tell her.

Then I remembered my personal art challenges for this year, and realized I had a few tricks for getting and staying motivated to make art.

Even when I don’t want to.

Getting and Staying Motivated When Art Gets Tough

15-Minute Promise

The best thing I ever did to motivate myself was the 15-minute promise.

What is the 15-minute promise? Simple. I do art for 15 minutes, and can quit without feeling guilty. Getting and staying motivated is a lot easier when I know I could quit in 15 minutes and still have met a goal.

Some days, I work for 15 minutes, and that’s all.

But what usually happens was that once I get started, I’m able to work for an hour or two.

Even now, I sometimes (often) still have to invoke that 15-minute promise to get my rear in the chair and my pencils moving over the paper!

15-Minute Task List

Some tasks that have to be done each day can be kept up-to-date and moving forward with no more than 15 minutes a day.

Remember all those “other things” on my to-do list. Some of them are daily things (email, blog updates, etc.) There are also bigger projects like writing books. All of those things can be managed with only 15 minutes a day.

It’s amazing how much you can accomplish on even the biggest project in just 15 minutes a day. But it’s also a great way to limit the time you spend on things that eat up time like a hungry lion!

It’s also much easier to paint or draw after finishing all those other little tasks.

Draw Studies

Another way I try to keep myself drawing every day is by doing studies.

Studies are not complete works; they’re small drawings or sketches of larger subjects. I like to draw landscapes, so I’ve been doing a lot of small drawings of branches, and bark and things like that. The maximum size is 4 inches by 6 inches and I often work even smaller than that.

Getting and Staying Motivated When Art Gets Tough - Studies

I don’t always limit the amount of time I work on them, but because they’re so small, they don’t take much time, even when I put a lot of detail into them.

You learn more and learn it more quickly this way than by trying to work on larger pieces once or twice a week (or less.) I highly recommend it.

And you’d be surprised how inspiring and motivating a study can be, especially when it leads you to a new subject or a new way to draw a familiar subject.

Draw from Life/Outside

Do some drawing from life and/or draw outside. Plein air drawing not only gets you outside, but gives you the opportunity to see things in a different way.

And whether you draw outside or inside, drawing the actual object instead of from a photograph is a good way to train your eye to see, and to train your hand to draw what you see.

Getting and Staying Motivated When Art Gets Tough - Draw Outside
Draw in Different Locations

Writers do this all the time. They go somewhere other than their office or usual writing spot. It might be a coffee shop or a library or maybe even their car, parked in a scenic location.

That works for artists, too. In fact, that’s part of the reason I started drawing outside. The change of location and atmosphere made me want to draw.

You don’t have to go very far. The next room. Or the front porch or backyard.

Sometimes just changing the way you draw is motivating. Try standing at an easel if you usually sit, or try sitting in an easy chair if you usually work at a desk.

Do Something Fun or Outside Your Normal Art Routine

I recently had trouble working on the drawing for the month. At the end of the previous week, I’d made good progress, so it should have been easy to pick up again the following week. Right?


Getting and Staying Motivated When Art Gets Tough - Have Fun

I did nothing on Monday and kept busy enough on Tuesday that I didn’t give the monthly drawing as much time as I should have. Wednesday was a total wash out!

But I did do art all three days.

I did something experimental the first two days, and worked on my weekly drawing on the third. Neither one may amount to anything, but they got me started.

Audio Books/Movies/Music

Sometimes what you really need is distraction not motivation. What better distraction than an audio book, movie or music?

I used to paint to music all the time and it worked. But then I heard Lisa Clough of Lachri Fine Art talk about listening to an audio book or movie while she paints or draws. She said she could sit for hours and make art if she had something interesting to listen to.

You know what?

It works!

You might also add live streams from other artists to that list. I often draw or paint while listening to (and sometimes watching) Lisa’s live streams!

The Bottom Line

Getting and staying motivated looks different for each of us.

Those are some of my tricks for getting and staying motivated when art gets tough. Maybe they’ll help you, too.

Or maybe you’ve already found your secret motivating tools. If so, share them in the comments below.

After all, we can always use more motivation!

Got a question? Ask Carrie!

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  1. Michele

    Good morning, thank you for your good advices. My problem isn’t to draw but I get discouraged because I don’t sell anything. I know I have nice artwork and people like what I do. Do you have any advices to make it work? thanks again

    1. Michele,

      Thank you for your comment.

      You’ve presented another good topic that could be discussed at length and never completely resolved.

      Selling is a lot more difficult than creating, and it always has been.

      If you’re just getting started, it will take time to build enough of a following to be able to generate sales. Here are a few basic steps that might be of help.

      You’re already working on the first tip, which is to make the best art you can. Hone your skills. Learn new skills and always be looking for ways to improve your artwork.

      Second, know the type of people who are interested in the type of work you create. An easy way to begin is to market to the people who are like you. If you like horses and like drawing horses, then begin marketing to people who like horses and like art. You won’t want to limit yourself to those people, but they’re a good place to start.

      Be persistent and patient. It’s going to take time to develop enough name-recognition to establish yourself. Even then, it will take time to find the people who like your art, have an interest in buying, and have the money to spend on art.

      Start local. Social media is good, but despite being able to reach the world through social media, social media is not going to sell much art for you. You’ll do better by beginning in the place where you live, where people already know who you are and are familiar with your work. Find and make satisfied customers among them, and they’ll help you sell more art more quickly than all the ads you can buy and all the posts you can publish on social media.

      Those are probably the most important things you can do to market your work. There’s a lot more, as I said at the beginning. Too much to go into here!

      Thank you again for your question.

      Best wishes,


  2. Carol Strong

    I love your website and all your email posts. This got me inspired…I often push art off and then the day is gone. It is best to stick to your list, or go directly into your art cave and start at once. Thanks for all your great ideas!! Carol

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