Flexible New Year's Resolutions

I rather enjoy making New Year's resolutions; however, I've come to the conclusion that artists would do better making flexible plans rather than writing goals in stone.

It seems that my business plans are better off being designed around themes rather than specific goals, because when I set up a list of such goals for myself, I rarely meet them. This is not because I'm lazy but because during the year unexpected opportunities or ideas crop up. Some years, new opportunities are so attractive that I end up completely dropping my previous goals and pursuing other paths instead.

This past year provided several examples of such changes. About this time last year I began using social media for business purposes. I had no idea how useful Twitter and Facebook would be to my getting my artwork seen by more people. Additionally, I started writing an e-mail newsletter to collectors—people who have already purchased my artwork or who are interested in doing so. In this newsletter, I post new artwork and add a bit about my painting and thinking process. Newsletter recipients are delighted to be the first to receive new images in their e-mail inboxes, and they often e-mail back with their comments. With all these ways of connecting with my audience, a dialogue has grown, and so have my sales. I have the freedom to offer incentives to my loyal collectors because I'm not bound by a gallery contract.

At this time last year I also had no intentions of accepting portrait commissions, but after having just completed an article on portraiture for Watercolor magazine, I'm now not completely opposed to the idea of taking on a few commissions.

Also at the beginning of last year, I was set on working with a high-profile gallery in New England where I was to be a guest artist for the summers of 2010 and 2011. Today, having sold so well from my website and at a bed-and-breakfast where I am the artist in residence, I am holding off working with galleries. I've come to the conclusion that I can sell my work on my own just as well, or even better, than most galleries can.

It seems that every time I write a long and detailed business plan, I begin to make sales in an unexpected way. So this year, I’ll instead write down themes to follow, rather than specific goals. One of the themes I plan to pursue: doing a series of watercolor paintings of Acadia National Park. A second theme: striving for excellence in my body of work.

How do I make my work better? First, by studying the masters—both deceased and living. I regularly ask myself the following questions: What makes their artwork so compelling? What elements do I see in their work that are missing in mine? When I look at watercolors by William Trost Richards, I ask myself, How does he handle color and value, and how does that compare to how I use color and value? Usually the answer is that I don't even begin to use colors the way he does—repeating them throughout the composition. But now that I’m examining his way of repeating color, I intend to add that element to my repertoire of painting skills.

This year and every year, I hope to take the quality of my work to the next level of professionalism. The better my work is, the easier it will be to market. I expect to sell primarily from my website, but who knows? If a gallery owner from a well-known arts district phoned me out of the blue, I just might change my mind. After all, this plan is not written in stone.

Lori Woodward earned a bachelor’s degree in art education from University of Arizona. She has studied watercolor and composition extensively with Sondra Freckelton and Jack Beal. Woodword’s work has appeared in several issues of Watercolor, and she is a co-author of the Walter Foster book Watercolor Step by Step. She is a member of The Putney Painters, an invitational group in Vermont. She resides in New Hampshire with her husband, Brian Simons, a software engineer. Visit her website at www.loriwords.com and follow her on Twitter here.

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Lori Woodward

About Lori Woodward

Lori Woodward earned a bachelor's degree in Art Education from the University of Arizona. She has studied with Sondra Freckelton,(watercolor) Jack Beal, (composition) and currently is mentored by Richard Schmid and Nancy Guzik as a member of the Putney Painters. As a writer, Lori has authored articles for Watercolor Magazine since 1996.  Lori authored a chapter on artists' web sites for Calvin J. Goodman's Art Marketing Handbook. She is a regular author on Fine Art Views, an art marketing online newsletter, and she has instruction art marketing and watercolor workshops at Scottsdale Artist School.

8 thoughts on “Flexible New Year's Resolutions

  1. I agree totally with you….a healthy balance of planning and taking advantage of opportunities presented. Reminds me of the Quaker saying: “Proceed as the way opens”.

    I am perplexed by those who make 5 year business plans for their art and intend to stick to them. I’ve had too many opportunities present themselves that I never envisioned. Like you, Facebook and Twitter have become fabulous sales spots that I didn’t even know existed a year ago. I can’t imagine saying “Nope, that’s not on my Plan.” and foregoing the connections and sales I’ve gotten from social networking!

    On the other hand, with no plan, it’s too easy to lose momentum. Have to be moving forward for a way to open. Plans with no action are just words, so I’m tracking carefully the actions I’ve taken so far in the goals I mentioned in the forums in the thread I started on this topic several weeks ago.

    And growing as an artist, as you mention, Lori, IS good business. I can’t imagine it not being a part of any business plan for an artist!

  2. Robin, I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one that has experienced a lot of changes in the way I market my work. It’s wonderful to know that things are progressing well for you.

    But I hear ya about needing some sort of plan, otherwise we lose momentum (like you said). Thanks for adding that.

  3. Hi Lori,
    This is a great topic. Usually I do not set any ambitious goals for my self, only because my teaching job and coaching basketball at high school takes up a lot of my time. However, this year my goals are; to paint at least one hour per day, more on the weekends. Also, start communicating with artists a lot more, like I am doing right now. I believe that the communication among artist is something that helps us all get inspired and energize our artistic minds.
    Y. Sokolov


  4. Excellent insight Lori!

    I think that, as with everything in life, we have to have contingencies and a reasonable amount of flexibility to adapt to situations that come our way. However, a solid plan is important.

    My 5 year plan is to exhibit in Nice, France. It is a wide open plan that was created without rigidity and inflexibility. Who knows what path I will have take to achieve this goal, but I am willing to take the long way or the short way, as long as it gets me to my final destination.

    I understand that in today’s world social and economic situation, a thorough and concise business plan can be necessary to help focus our goals and/or give others, like investors and collectors, a solid reason to patronize artists. But art is not something that can be restrained, contained or written in stone. Its very essence is that of change, evolution and growth.

    Finding that happy and successful medium between stability and flexibility is a difficult task and I thank you, Lori for casting some light on how to reach these goals!

  5. Tyson, I think a 5 year goal is super. But 5 years worth of steps to reach that goal, is a timewasting activity. Who knows what wonderful opportunity that will make you LEAP closer is right around the corner?

    I hope you reach that exhibit in Nice, and we will all be cheering you on!

  6. Thanks Lori for this post. It points up what I need to do for myself. I try to only spend time on the computer in the morning or at night in front of the TV.

    A goal for the year is probably best for me because I am always coming across a new opportunity some time during the year which would mean I need to update the plan in some way. Thanks for all your insightful posts. I look forward to them.