Occasionally, I get into trouble by suggesting something that stirs up controversy among RedDotBlog readers. I suspect this post might put me in a little hot water, but this is an important subject, and I don’t want to shy away from it. What is my hot-take? I suggest that when it comes to producing art, artists should put more emphasis on quantity than quality.
Shocking, right? It’s not like I’m saying that artists should produce bad art or that it’s okay to phone it in. I’m simply saying that artists should produce more art. More art, more often.
When asked how much work they produce, I’ve spoken to many artists who say something like, “I work slowly – I’m focusing on quality. I want to create the finest work I possibly can.”
The underlying sentiment, the desire to create high-quality work, is admirable. But there are a couple of problems with this mindset. First, the idea that quantity and quality are mutually exclusive is false. Second, this way of thinking often makes artists feel like they need to wait until they have a perfect idea, the perfect model, the perfect materials, and the perfect studio before they can begin creating.
In reality, artists who produce a lot of work are often the ones who produce the best work. The more you create, the better you get at your craft. The more you create, the more likely you will have a breakthrough. The more you create, the more likely you will encounter a truly special idea.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to how much art an artist should produce. But if you’re unhappy with your art’s quantity or quality, I suggest focusing on quantity first. Create more art, more often. The quality will follow.
To be clear, some artists work in a highly-detailed style or a challenging medium, and it will take them more time to complete an artwork. But the question these artists should ask is not “How can I make this artwork perfect?” but rather “How can I make more artwork?”
The truth is, no artwork is ever perfect. There is always something that can be improved. The key is not to get bogged down in the details but to keep moving forward and producing more art.
When I started in the art business in the early 1990s, I worked in a western art gallery. Many of the top artists in the gallery had previously worked in illustration, many during the heyday of illustrators in the 40s and 50s. These artists had worked for magazines and advertising agencies and had produced thousands, if not tens of thousands, of illustrations throughout their careers. They had learned the fundamentals of composition and technique and how to work quickly. They had a wealth of experience, and it showed in their work.
However, you don’t have to have an illustrator’s background to be a prolific artist. Some of the most successful artists I work with today have no such background, but like illustrators, they focus on producing art.
There’s something to be said for putting miles on your paintbrush or working through tons of marble or clay.
So what can you do to increase your productivity as an artist? Here are five things I’ve seen highly-productive artists do that you can incorporate into your own studio practice:
1. Set a goal for the number of artworks you want to produce each week or month.
2. Find a way to work that is comfortable and efficient for you.
3. Set up your studio so that it is conducive to working.
4. Commit yourself to work for a certain amount of time each day or week.
5. Don’t strive for perfection, strive for progress.
Let’s look at each suggestion in a little more detail.
Set a goal for the number of artworks you want to produce
I suggest you look at the number of pieces you created over the last month and set a goal to increase that number by 25% over the next month. If you only produced two pieces last month, then your goal for next month should be to produce three pieces. If you produced ten pieces last month, your goal for next month should be to produce twelve.
Find a way to work that is comfortable and efficient for you
This may take some experimentation. Some artists like to work in short bursts, while others like to work for long periods of time. Some artists prefer to work first thing in the morning, while others prefer to work in the evening. Some artists work best in silence, while others like to have music playing in the background.
The key is to find a way of working that suits your personality and lifestyle. There is no right or wrong way to work, as long as you are productive.
Set up your studio so that it is conducive to working
Your studio should be a place where you feel comfortable working. It should be set up in a way that is efficient for you and allows you to work in the way you prefer. Keep your creative tools accessible and organized. Decrease clutter that slows you down. Remove distractions from your studio.
Make a commitment to yourself to work for a certain amount of time each day or week
This is where a lot of artists struggle. They have good intentions, but they don’t follow through. They tell themselves they will work for two hours each day but only end up working for thirty minutes.
I suggest you commit yourself to work for a certain amount of time each week rather than daily. This way, if you have a day where you can’t work or only end up working for thirty minutes, you haven’t failed. You can make up the time over the week.
Don’t strive for perfection, strive for progress
This is perhaps the most important suggestion. Remember, the goal is not to produce perfect artwork but more artwork. The more art you produce, the better you will become at your craft.
So, what do you think? Do you agree with my suggestion that artists should focus on quantity over quality? What has helped you be more productive? Am I completely wrong – does quantity get in the way of quality? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!