goal setting for artists on the art pro podcast

Happy New Year from Bangkok Thailand!



Do you need to set goals, is there even any point? How do you choose and set goals you’ll actually stick with and achieve? I’m covering all that plus I’ll share my own experiences with goal setting and my goals for this year. plus I have a little update for you hint: We’re not in Canada anymore…



goal setting for artists on the art pro podcast

starting the new year by taking in the sights with my partner Niels



HAPPY NEW YEAR! I love to celebrate the new year because it means celebrating the chance for new beginnings. To me that means thinking about what I did and didn’t accomplish last year and the goals I want to set for this year so in this little solo episode I want to talk about goal setting, the kinds of goals that might move your art career forward, I’m going to tell you about my own goals for this year! But first there is a big update I want to tell you about.

Baring any major disasters (knock on wood) my partner and I are now in Bangkok Thailand where we are starting a three month adventure through South East Asia. I’ve been hustling to record enough interviews and edit enough episodes so that y’all won’t even notice I’m gone. I can’t promise 100% but I don’t think there will be any awkward gap. You may have noticed that the podcast went from every week to every second week but I figure thats better than the awkward gap while I’m away backpacking.

On a related note, if I ever say again that I want to get three months ahead on the podcast and plan a major adventure abroad, and move to another city, and do it all right before christmas, just tell me to go f*** myself because thats basically what I did.

Did you catch that we also just moved? Yup we packed up all our stuff quit our day jobs and left Toronto. For now our stuff is in storage and when we get back after our trip we will be looking for a new apartment and new jobs in Ottawa so we can be closer to my family for a while. So if you’re from ottawa by any chance- Hi! we’ll be neighbours soon!

For a lot of reasons this new years is a big transition point for us so I definitely have all that kind of thing on my mind these days and I’m excited to talk to you about it. One last thing before we get into the goal setting though, is that I’d like to invite you to send me an e-mail if you are an artist who makes your full time living from your art, or you are another kind of professional in the art world with some useful insights to share with artists. I wont be able to do more interviews until I’m back in late march but if you’d like to be on the show, please reach out via e-mail to jessica@artpropodcast.com I may not be able to get back to you right away but I’ll be stoked to hear from you!

Ok on to the actual subject of this episode! Setting goals for the new year! I’m sure, like me, you’ve noticed a lot of talk in the media at this time of year about how no one actually sticks to their new years resolutions, and a lot of people might tell you that they never make resolutions for just this reason. After all what’s the point if you’re just setting yourself up for failure? So do you need to set goals? Is there really any point?

Quite a few of the artists I’ve interviewed have said that they aren’t big planners or goal setters preferring instead to ‘go with the flow, see what opportunities they can find, and follow where they lead. My guess is that this works well for some people because they are already focused on an outcome, even if they haven’t written it down and made it a formal goal.

They didn’t just fall into becoming professional artists they had to be wanting it and thinking about it in order to be working hard and noticing the opportunities coming up around them. So I do think this must be a pretty good alternative to more traditional goal setting.

I think everyone has heard of the law of attraction by now. Many people think its total b.s. but many other people claim it really works for them. I heard a great theory about why that might be which says that it might really be more like a law of attention. Have you ever really wanted a certain thing? A certain style of boots for example or a yellow coat, and then you start to notice boots and yellow coats wherever you go, in stores, on strangers on the subway. it’s not so much that those things started appearing magically because you manifested them, you just started noticing them because they were a high priority on your radar.

I think that whether you take a traditional goals approach or the go with the flow approach this law of attention thing might be an important key to success. Whatever it is you want to accomplish or achieve, it needs to be a high priority on your radar all the time so you’ll actually notice all the useful information and opportunities that are out there for you to take advantage of. And in order for you to truly make it a high priority mission you really have to be obsessed with the idea, aka you have to actually want to do it!

I used to be one of those people who made new years resolutions only to realize two weeks later that I had already forgotten all about whatever I said I was going to do. All that (mostly) changed when one year I stumbled on the idea of setting a very do-able goal that pay immediate dividends. That goal was- this is pretty ridiculous to say out loud- always pee before you leave a place. I simply just got sick of leaving the house or especially a bar only to realize 10 minutes later that I had to pee soooo badly! It was simple and every time I remembered to do it I was winning. A while later I made a goal to start going to the gym. I had made the goal to loose some weight many times before and given up pretty quickly every time but this time was different because again my goal wasn’t an outcome, it was an action. I told myself all I had to do was stop in on my way home after work every couple of days, of course once I got there I also worked out and once I worked out I didn’t want to ruin my hard work by eating chips for breakfast, and in the end I did lose weight but the goal was just to show up at the gym so I had already won anyways.

I also hear a lot of big voices out there on the internet encouraging you to set big audacious goals that will stretch you but that you can really get excited about. And honestly I don’t know which is the right approach. I’ve been thinking about that for myself lately because small practical doable goals have worked out for me in the past. But maybe I’m not meeting my full potential because I’m not thinking big enough. Maybe it depends on the kind of person you are. Are you more inspired to take action if its a big challenge or if you know for sure you’re capable of succeeding? For now I’ll have to leave that up to you while I try to figure it out for myself.

Another important factor in there is actually wanting to work towards the goals you set. It’s one thing to want to make an income from your art but if you aren’t willing to carve out time everyday to work on it, you wont do it and you wont achieve your goal. It has to be something you are actually willing or even excited to do. So figure out what that goal is and work towards it. Don’t set yourself up for failure with a goal you don’t really care about.

In the gym example above I really wanted to start going to gym and working out and getting fit, even if I didn’t lose weight, I just wanted to be the kind of person who goes to the gym. In another example, I set myself the goal last year of getting the next level of my driving license- but I did NOT achieve that goal. Why? Well to be honest I don’t really like driving and it wasn’t a high priority for me at all.

If it’s not a high priority don’t waste your focus on it. Yes we all have to do things we don’t like to get ahead in life but having the right goal at the right time can change your motivation and your success rate. I set that goal because I know I have to get around to it eventually but I didn’t care about it enough while I was still living in Toronto with good transit and a bike. However now that I’ll be living in Ottawa where everyone drives and owns cars I am suddenly much more motivated to get that license.

This is easier said than done of course. It can be hard to tell the difference between things you want to do, things you wish you wanted to do, and things you feel like you should do. Even if you know you don’t really feel excited about doing something It can really be hard to draw the line between things you should make yourself do and things you should not bother wasting your time on. This is where prioritization comes in

Remember when I told you about my law of attention idea earlier? A huge part of achieving goals is that FOCUS. If you can accidentally forget about your goals, your chances for success are not good. Likewise, if you have too much on your plate or too many goals going at once you really can’t be focused on any of them. Both too many priorities and no priorities result in the same outcome, and it’s not the outcome we want.

I mentioned back in the intro that I just finished trying to get ahead on this podcast, pack up my life to move to another city, plan a major trip to South East Asia and all while stressing out about christmas. I really hated myself for the last few months, trying to get everything done that I needed to. And honestly I fell way short of my intentions on a lot of things because I over committed myself. It’s a fairly extreme example but I have actually been doing this to myself all my life. Hopefully this time I actually caused myself enough pain to change my ways.

I recently read Essentialism by Greg McKeown and The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan and I picked up the idea of setting only one goal at a time. You pursue that one goal until success, and only then moving on to a second goal. That doesn’t mean you can only accomplish one goal each year, just that you have to choose only one thing at a time- the most important thing at the time.

So for example you might want to make a living from your art but the most crucial thing to do first is devote 3 months or 6 months to producing a fabulous body of work you’ll be proud to show and promote. During that time you don’t also try to learn a new hobby and read up on business advice, because those things just dilute your focus on what you’ve already decided was your most important goal- producing that great body of work. After that you can decide if your next goal is picking up the new hobby, building yourself a website, or applying for shows, but pick one to focus on and shun the others for now.

Oh and I also wanted to share another example of a lady I heard interviewed on another podcast. I can’t remember off the top of my head who or when but this idea really stuck with me. She was a freelance wed designer I think, but instead of taking on projects whenever clients came along. Resulting in her sometimes having the stress of no work, and sometimes having the stress of too much work. Her partner suggested she figure out how long it took to build a website for one client and then break her calendar into blocks of time and only work on one clients project at a time. Of course she did what we would all do and explained that that wasn’t how freelance design worked. But in the end she tried it and lo and behold it did work. So each would-be client could choose a time slot that suited them and they might not get her right away but they would know exactly when their project could start and exactly when it would be finished by. The fabulous thing is that she could also block out a week or month at a time to focus on other projects like launching courses or creating content for her side hustle blog. That way she always had just one main project to focus on at a time, even if she actually had two business and other side projects all happening over the course of a year.

Anyways, thats what I’m going to try to do this year and I think it could be a game changer for me or at least reduce stress! So I can’t vouch for this yet, but i’ll suggest that you at least consider it and how setting an actual priority and focusing on it might improve your results over time.

Ok so that was all pretty important theory stuff (or at least I think so!) and hopefully it’s food for thought when thinking about what kinds of goals to set. I also came up with a few goal ideas for inspiration so here they are:

-Implement a new routine to carve out more time for your art (or for the business end of things if you already have the art making covered).

-Find a certain number of shows, galleries, or residencies to apply to by a certain date or find one per week to apply to until you get accepted for something.

-Dedicate yourself to developing a new body of work.

-Grow your social media accounts to a certain number of followers.

-Build or re-vamp your artists website.

-Book a years worth of commissions in the next 6 months (or whatever amount of time is realistic for you.

-Set yourself up as an actual business. Get a business license and a separate bank account, track income and expenses, save receipts to claim against your taxes. The actual steps here will vary depending on where you live but your goal to do the research and set yourself up right if youre making money but haven’t done this yet.

Ok I think I could actually go on forever coming up with goal ideas but hopefully you already have something in mind so lets move on and talk about how to actually set a goal. How you frame the goal can help you make it concrete and actionable and S.M.A.R.T goals are the gold standard it seems.

S.M.A.R.T is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound. Different people sometimes choose different words in there like significant instead of specific or motivational instead of measurable, but I’m sticking with the tried and true.

So first, is your goal specific? “Make more money from my art” is not specific. “Sell out my next show in march of 12 paintings at $900 each” is specific. “write one grant application per month” is specific.

The next thing is to make sure it’s measurable. “Make better paintings” is not very measurable because its so subjective. Think about it, after 3 months are you going to be able to say “yes I succeeded” or “no I failed”? Or will it be more like “well they’re a bit better I think”. Instead you could make the goal “make one small painting five days per week” (which will most likely lead to improvement) or “take a painting class with a specific artist I look up to”

You also want to check yourself and make sure your goal is actually attainable. If you only sold 2 paintings last year your goal to “make $100,000 from art sales” is probably not realistically attainable. “sell 12 paintings this year” or “sell enough art to cover studio rent” might be more attainable.

The next one goes back to what I was saying about prioritizing and focusing. Making sure your goal is relevant means making sure this is the right goal at the right time. “Sell $500 of art online every month” is not the most relevant goal for you if only your friends are following you on instagram and you don’t have your own website set up. The more relevant goal would be “Gain x new followers per week” or “create a professional artist website with an integrated sales page by the end of the month”. Then again there might be an even more relevant goal for you right now like “finish the last 6 pieces for that upcoming show”.

The last piece of the acronym is T for time bound. All this means is that there has to be a deadline and or schedule for your goal or else its just a good intention that you want to get to someday. There are 7 days in a week and none of theme are called someday. So don’t just say “I’m going to send out proposals for my next big project”. Instead say “I’m going to send out one proposal per week for the next 2 months” That way you know all along whether you’re on track and the goal is designed to discourage major procrastination. At the very least you need an end date to complete your goal by or it’s just too easy for it to keep getting pushed back.

Ok thats that. Im glad you’re still with me, we’re almost done and ready to make some awesome things happen this year! Just remember that deciding to do something and doing something are two different things and the difference is action.

So how can you help make sure you’ll actually act on your goal? Well we already made sure you chose a goal you are motivated to accomplish and that it’s a high priority, and that we didn’t pile too many goals on your plate at one time so you can actually focus on that one top priority. I think the last piece of the successful goal setting puzzle is accountability.

Accountability could take a few different forms so I encourage you to get creative here. If your goal is about getting more art made maybe you schedule a block of time for someone to watch your kids so you can work or even have a weekly meet up with a friend to either make work or just check in to see that you actually have been working, even just a regular phone call would do. This is a good strategy for a lot of different kinds of goals so find a friend and schedule a call once a week to talk about your goal progress, even if their goal is totally unrelated to yours.

You could even take this idea to the next level and organize an artist mastermind group with a few fellow artists/ creatives/ business owners. In this case you’ll ideally need your co-conspirators to be other artists but they don’t necessarily have to work in the same medium or have the exact same goals. You would meet up once per month or so, it could even be over skype or google hangouts if you don’t live close. And at each meet up everyone gives updates of what they are working on plus one person gets focused feedback on their current projects, struggles, ideas etc.

Ok now we are really ready to get started! My resolution this year is to restrain myself from shooting myself in the foot by taking on too many projects. And I think my first goal of the year is to spend some of the time while I’m traveling to reflect on what I want to work towards when we get back. So by the end of March I want to have a plan and a single priority. Thats the only goal I’m setting right now but Im thinking subsequent goals will have to do with starting my own business, ideally by making some kind of income from this podcast. Fingers crossed!

Well now that I’ve gotten all of those thoughts out of my head and blasted them right out at you, I hope you are going into the new year feeling like you can take some big strides forward. And in the mean time I’ll be here for you with a new episode every other week full of insights and ideas from other artists who are making it happen. Next up is a two part interview with Mati Rose and Christina Empedocles about personal finance for artists. So make sure to keep your ear out for that and Happy new year! I hope this is your best most productive year yet!


goal setting for artists on the art pro podcast

A tiny section of the floor to ceiling painting covering the interior walls of the temple complex at the Grand Palace in Bangkok Thailand. These people were ambitious about setting and achieving goals!