Setting Goals for Artists

Setting Goals for Artists

Welcome to 2018. A new year, a fresh start in so many ways. I’ve been thinking about goal setting in a number of areas, so thought I’d welcome the new year by talking about setting goals for artists.

Setting Goals for Artists

If you’ve been an artist for any time—and especially if you make any part of your living from your art—you’ve probably been setting goals in some form for a long time.

If you’re new to art, or new to the business of making art for a living, then maybe you’ve heard about goal setting, but never done it. Maybe you’ve never seen the point.

Or maybe you don’t think it’s important to set goals because you’re a creative, and goals are for other people.

Each one of those descriptions fits me at some point in my artistic journey, so I feel especially qualified to share with you what I’ve learned, no matter where you are in your artistic journey.

Are Goals Really All that Important?

I’ll admit it: For a long time, I was in the third category above. I didn’t think it was important to set goals, because I was an artist.

Even when I began setting goals, they weren’t all that complex, and went something like this: Finish one painting per month, plus one. Thirteen paintings a year. No big deal, right?

I still don’t set goals every year.

And I don’t always succeed in keeping goals when I do set them.

But I can tell you from personal experience that I accomplish more when I take the time to set goals.

Imagine that you want to learn archery. What do you need? A bow, certainly. Arrows are a must, too. There just happen to be both in Grandpa’s barn or Grandma’s attic, so you get them out. But there is no target.

“What do I need with a target?” you say. “I just want to shoot arrows.”

So you shoot arrows, but you don’t shoot them at anything in particular.

You get pretty good at notching the arrow, drawing back the string, and letting the arrow fly. Your technique gets better every day, and you’re having fun.

But the purpose of archery is hitting the target, not just improving technique. You don’t know if you’re getting better at hitting the target until you set up a target and start trying to hit it.

The target not only gives you something to aim at; it gives you a method for measuring your success and improvement.

You’re a colored pencil artist. Your paper and pencils are your bow and arrows.

Your goals are the target you’re aiming at.

Yes, you can make great colored pencil art without goals, just as you can shoot arrows without a target.

But you’ll advance a lot faster if you take the time to set up the target.

Setting Goals for Artists

That’s goal setting.

Why You Should Think About Setting Artistic Goals

It’s a good idea to set goals on a regular basis no matter what you’re doing, but it’s doubly important for artists.

If you want to earn all or part of your living through your art, you need to have a clear idea of what that looks like. That’s your goal.

Once you know the overall goal, you can then break that down into monthly goals or weekly goals or even daily goals. You know what you need to do each day in order to reach your goal for the week, and you know how much you need to do each week to reach your goal for the year.

“But I only have a little time each week for colored pencil. I don’t need to set goals.”

Yes you do. In fact, if your time is limited, it’s even more important to set goals for how that time should be used. You can better schedule your art time, if you know what needs to be done.

How I Set Goals

Everyone sets goals differently. Some jot a few things on a pad of paper, which they keep on their desk.

Others have complex worksheets, and calendars.

There is no one way that works for everyone, so if you’re thinking setting goals is complicated and time-consuming, think again.

This is how I set goals, but I’m the first to tell you it’s only a suggestion. It may not work for you, but if it starts you thinking, that’s great.

Goal setting begins with brainstorming

I love planning. Planning is safe. I can make all sorts of grand and elaborate plans without actually doing anything but sitting in a chair, cup of tea or hot chocolate close at hand.

I spent quite a bit of time last October listing ideas I wanted to do this year. Ideas on improving the blog, launching new products, creating more art (especially creating more art.)

I spent a little time each workday reviewing what I’d already written, expanding those ideas, and adding new ones.

You can do this any way you want, but one thing you shouldn’t do is edit. This is the time for coming up with ideas and possible goals. Not evaluating them!

Evaluating ideas is the next step.

I set a specific amount of time for brainstorming. When the end date arrives, I stop brainstorming and put my lists away.

But I set a review date, usually at least a week later, but usually more like a couple of weeks or a month.

Setting Goals for Artists

If there are things to do—like checking blog stats or sales data—I do that along with the review. I want to have the most complete information available so that when the time comes to make decisions and set goals, I can make educated decisions, and set realistic goals.

Setting goals is the final step.

Finally, I decide what things I want to do. That includes selecting the priority for the year. It might be making art, writing the next book or email drawing class, or marketing. Those are my overall goals for the year.

Then I decide what needs to be done each month, each week, and each day for the year to get those things done.

Let’s say I decide to launch four new email drawing classes this year. That means I need to launch a new class every three months.

I know from past experience everything that’s involved in creating a new class. Art needs to be made. The lessons need to be written and illustrated, then edited. I need to set up the classes themselves, so they deliver at the right time.

That information gives me a rough idea of how I need to spend my work days.

How I Stick to My Goals

Setting goals is the easy part.

Sticking to them is another story entirely.

I don’t always meet goals. The fact of the matter is, I often fall short.

But it’s a lot easier to meet goals if I break them down into bite-sized parts that can be done each day, over and over.

Four new email drawing classes a year may sound like a Lot, but drawing for thirty minutes every day, and writing content for thirty minutes every day isn’t so much.

I do the same thing for each goal, breaking it down into a daily to list that’s manageable long-term.

But the real answer is discipline. The discipline to work through each task every day, whether I feel like it or not.

The discipline to finish what I start, when starting something new looks a lot more exciting.

In short, the discipline to just



The End of the Matter…

…is that it doesn’t really matter how you set goals.

What really matters is that you do.

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  1. Ruth Bosveld

    Hi Carrie, while I work usually in oils or graphite, and mainly miniatures, I really appreciate your insights and instruction. I live in Tasmania, Australia. We don’t have art fairs and the opportunities for exhibiting are limited. I have developed a Facebook following, which is slowly increasing and have started an Etsy store. There are galleries locally I could approach (if I was brave). I would appreciate your comments on selling. Thank you, Ruth

    1. Ruth,

      Welcome to the blog and our community. Thank you for your comment!

      Selling art is a topic all by itself. I haven’t talked about it very much, but am happy to write about it this year.

      You’re doing the right thing to promote your work by opening an Etsy store and a Facebook account. Make sure to do your promotions on a Facebook page, not on the timeline, though. Facebook doesn’t like selling on the timeline, so that could end up doing more harm than good. It’s easy to set up a “business” page with your account, though, so if you haven’t already, that is the first thing I’d do. Then connect your Facebook page to your Etsy account if that’s possible. Make it as easy as possible for Facebook followers to find your Etsy store.

      Most of the rest of selling art is all about taking your courage in hand, and just doing it. But I could write for a whole month on the subject and not cover everything.

      For now, keep doing what you’re doing with Etsy and Facebook, and keep making art.


  2. Vickie

    Discipline. That’s the key for me. I set goals. I do something with art every single day. However, when it comes to finishing a piece before starting a new one…not so much. You put it perfectly – starting something new looks a lot more exciting. As someone who only started classes in 2016, I find myself frustrated when I don’t achieve what it is I’m attempting to do. I want to be doing as well as the pros by now and, of course, that thinking has been detrimental. I still have so much to learn….”patience grasshopper” comes to mind. First thing on my to-do list for 2018…finish what I start, no matter how boring or how frustrating or how difficult it feels. Thanks for your posts, Carrie. You are such an asset to us all.

    1. Vickie,

      I totally agree! Discipline is almost always the key.

      And don’t worry too much about being unable to achieve what you attempt. That seems to go with creating art. I’ve been an artist almost all my life and I still fail to achieve my vision for a drawing almost all the time. It’s what keeps me pushing forward with each new piece, so it’s actually a good thing!

      Finishing what you start is a good place to begin, though. I encourage you in that endeavor. If it helps you at all, I’ll try to do the same thing this year.

      That means the first thing I should do is finish the three pieces leftover from last year, right?

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


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