5 Common Traits of Successful Artists


Guest author/artist advisor: Aletta de Wal

“There is no formula for success, except perhaps an unconditional acceptance of life and what it brings.” ~Arthur Rubenstein

STOP. Before you read this article…Close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths & imagine. Now let your mind find a memory of a time when you felt successful. Walk into that memory and experience it all over again. Use all of your senses: sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing, balance and acceleration, temperature, direction, pleasure, and your kinesthetic awareness. Open your eyes and remember that feeling. Come back to it before you do anything successfully.

If each one of you told me what you just experienced, there would be some common aspects and many differences. That is the great thing about having a successful career as a fine artist. You make it up, just like you make art from what your mind conceives. Here is a list of important traits all successful artists share…


5 Common Traits of Successful Artists:

  1. Art is the core of their lives. These artists wake up and go to sleep thinking about art. They carve out time in their day making art or marketing it. (In fact, for these artists, there seems to be no clear distinction between the creativity of making and marketing.) If they have a full-time job, it is secondary in their minds to art and mostly a means to and end. Their  real job  is being an artist.
  2. Successful artists understand how business works in the art world. Successful artists understand the entrepreneurial aspects of making a living as an artist. When they encounter something new or unusual on the business side, they investigate and learn to do it or delegate the task. They know the value of relationships and network in person and through social media.
  3. Successful artists have a strong work ethic. They  manage themselves, their creative energy and resources. They balance the time to produce art and to market it. Whatever rhythm of working they choose, they stick to it. Whether these artists enjoy the business tasks or not, they know they must be done  and they do them without complaint or resentment.
  4. Successful artists are resilient. They know that success does not happen overnight – it requires hard work. These artists understand that things don t always work out the way they expect. When they make mistakes, they focus on solutions, not on regrets. They  learn from experience and experiment to improve on any success they have.
  5. Successful artists spend time only with people who are 100% supportive of their art career. They limit their time and emotional involvement with people who are negative   especially about art as a career choice. If people close to them have the skills and inclination to be more directly involved in their art career, the artist can produce more and better. Successful artists do not allow unsupportive people to be an obstacle to their plans for success.

The lesson: “Hang out with successful artists and study them.”

You can read or listen to Aletta’s interviews of successful artists here: http://www.artistcareertraining.com/featured-artists.


Thank you Aletta for another great article! If you enjoyed this post, please check out this other popular articles. Enjoy, Lori 🙂

PS. How do YOU define success???? I’d love to hear your comments….

You might also like reading:

Is the Social Media Bandwagon Right for You?

“You Are in Charge of Your Art Career”

3 Reasons to Start a Creative Blog for Your Business

The Visual Artists’ Challenge: Balancing Self Promotion & Gallery Representation

Commissioned Art – Tips to make it a Success!

Create a Powerful Portfolio

The Right Art Gallery – How to Find One

How to Bring Out the “Mona Lisa” in Your Own Artwork


  1. hinsel July 13, 2010 at 8:00 am

    Having a sugar daddy (mama) so that you don’t have to be gainfully employed at some drudgery filled soul killing real job doesn’t hurt either…neither does a single or large group of art investors, but uh…if you know where to find those let me know cuz so far…not so much. ; )

    Keep on a bloggin!

    • cantubury July 13, 2010 at 8:24 am

      the “creative life” is a non-gainful type of employment. i have had many “non-profit” businesses–none of them made much money, yet I was enriched beyond my wildest dreams…of course i had no “expectations”–those can kill you with one jolt. its all in what you imagine. anytime you have a sugar-daddy/mommie you have obligations…the creative life is unlimited potential from your own dreams and it is free for the dreaming….

      • Lori McNee July 14, 2010 at 2:54 pm

        True, money doesn’t buy happiness and to paraphrase what you stated, ‘with money comes obligations’…again, balance is the key to any successful person, artist or not.
        Keeping dreaming!!!
        Einstein knew it, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
        Thanks, Lori
        PS. Creativity is behind any successful business!

    • Lori McNee July 14, 2010 at 3:04 pm

      Personally, I know many successful artists who have made huge sacrifices in order to succeed without the help of a ‘sugar daddy or mama.’ Yes, there are those who find sponsers, promoters and benfactors to help boost their careers, but it has been my experience that this is the minority.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and visiting this blog!
      I appreciate it – Lori 🙂

      • Shanna Kunz May 8, 2011 at 6:55 pm

        Most if not all of the artists I know would not be very good at taking orders or living within the boundaries of a “sugar daddy”. They are much too determined and driven to leave their fate up to someone else, and most if not all, have integrity and a love of life that honors all the people in their lives and take much pride in “doing it themselves”.

        • Lori McNee May 9, 2011 at 7:37 am

          Hi Shanna-

          What a nice surprise, seeing you here! I totally agree with you. In fact, I can’t even think of one artist I know who has a ‘sugar daddy’, especially during this difficult economy. But, I have to say…a ‘sugar daddy’ would be a high class problem to have – lol!

          Thanks for stopping by and commenting-
          Lori 🙂

  2. Max July 14, 2010 at 1:32 am

    I think it’s important to say that unsuccessful artists (without commercial acclaim) can produce work of exceptional value. Measure of success in the art world is often determined by the ‘art mafia’ and a media focused on novelty and celebrity. Sure, you may wish to adopt the 5 common traits but it’s the work that really counts. There’s no substitute for integrity.

    • Lori McNee July 14, 2010 at 2:49 pm

      I completely agree with you, Max.
      Look at Van Gogh…he never was considered ‘successful’ as a living artists, having only sold between 1-3 paintings while he was alive – and of course, Van Gogh was an artistic genius. However, right or wrong, I bet you will still agree that many successful artists share these traits that are listed in the blog post we are commenting on. It is true of the ones I know.
      Thanks for the visit and the great comment.
      Lori 🙂

      • Rosalio July 9, 2012 at 6:28 am

        Its nice that you are helping other artist,

        I never had lessons & I’m doing pretty good, thus so far.

        If you want to check my work , you can email me, & I’ll send you the pictures of my current work.

        All the best my fellow arties!!

        Live long and prosper -Spock 🙂


    • Barbara Becker Muller November 4, 2010 at 11:49 pm

      I totally agrtee with what you say about the “art mafia”. Here in South Africa many galleries won’t even LOOK at your art unless you have a degree behind your name. There are plenty of fantastic artists who dont even have the opportunity to show their work based on the fact that they are self taught. So, really at the end of the day, no matter how hard you try to be successful there are closed doors coming from the more established galleries that market their existing artists locally and internationally. And of course if you don’t have sufficient income, marketing yourself is really difficult. A catch 22!!

      • Lori McNee November 5, 2010 at 11:19 pm

        Hello Barbara-

        It is interesting to hear how the art world is down in South Africa – luckily we don’t have to have a degree behind our name to accepted into galleries here in the States! Wow…I hope you can get some self marketing ideas off this blog. Remember social media is free and a great way to network, brand yourself and potentially sell your art.

        Good luck and thanks for the interesting comment. Cheers-

    • Madhvi Dhanak January 16, 2012 at 1:05 am

      I so much agree with Max, very true, it is the work that counts, most Famous artist in history were not appreciated inspite of all their hard works and tactics…commercialisation is necessary but the best work comes only when ones mind is not expecting and just enjoying his/her work. By the way a very nice topic, inspirational.

      • Lori McNee January 19, 2012 at 6:18 pm

        Hello Madhvi,

        It is good to hear you enjoyed this post. Yes, sadly history has proven that many great artists were undiscovered until after their death. Hopefully nowadays, the Internet will help today’s unknowns get noticed.
        Happy creating to you!


  3. toyota camry July 17, 2010 at 5:33 am

    Great site! much appreciated.

  4. Alyson B. Stanfield July 19, 2010 at 7:43 am

    Great list, Lori. I’m impressed that you got it down to 5! I think my list originally had 20 traits on it, but I can see how some of my traits would fit nicely in your categories.

    I have tried to pound #1 into artists’ heads for years. Hobbyists seem to have a hard time making art the core of their lives, but you’re absolutely right about this one. It deserves to be #1 on the list.

    • Lori McNee July 19, 2010 at 11:46 am

      Hi Alyson, it is great to have you stop by for a visit and to share your comment. It would be interesting to see the list of 20 traits you mentioned, feel free to post a link to your article.
      Best – Lori 🙂

  5. Elaine July 19, 2010 at 10:54 am

    I think you need to begin by clarifying what you mean by “successful artist.” I have a feeling your definition might be different from mine. And the artists I know are ACUTELY aware of the difference between making art and marketing it.

    • Lori McNee July 19, 2010 at 11:41 am

      Good point, Elaine.

      However, it is not up to me to define ‘success’ for it is a subjective term and like you said in your comment, ‘your definition might be different from mine’… I do have a follow-up post named, “How Do You Define Success as an Artist” which will have some responses from artists – it is interesting.

      This article lists the ‘traits’ that are common to thriving artists, but there is no formula. And yes, #2 states that ‘successful artists understand how business works in the art world’ – these artists know difference ‘between making art & marketing it.

      Please share your personal definition of ‘success’ with us!

      Thanks, Lori

  6. Roann Mathias July 20, 2010 at 6:37 am

    What a great article. So many issues to consider. There is always tension between being a creative artist and making money. Success is also a moving target; sometimes it feels like you can never “get there.” Also, I think that success is different for each artist and depends on their own goals and desires. Sometimes it just depends on timing and being in the right place at the right time.

    • Lori McNee July 20, 2010 at 7:31 am

      Roann, it has been very interesting reading the different reactions to this post. I agree with your points and yes, the money issue is often a challenge for artists….
      Thanks for visiting and commenting. I hope to see you here again soon!
      Lori 🙂

  7. Carol McIntyre July 20, 2010 at 11:33 am

    I like your 5 categories of success and would add “Giving Back” and “Acceptance.”

    As someone mentioned before, ones personal definition of success does evolve over time. For example, I remember when ‘success’ meant getting into my first juried show, then it was an award, then an art magazine, etc. Success can come in developmental stages, as you probably well know. Thanks for the article!

    • Lori McNee July 20, 2010 at 11:52 am

      Thanks Carol. Yes, that is very true and often the appetite grows when we get a taste of it – interesting!
      Cheers – Lori

  8. Robin Maria Pedrero July 23, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    That is it! That is what our lives are like! You nailed it!

    • Lori McNee July 24, 2010 at 4:05 pm

      Hi Robin…it’s great to see you here on my blog! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I look forward to your guest post soon!
      Lori 🙂

  9. forex robot July 24, 2010 at 8:54 am

    Wow this is a great resource.. I’m enjoying it.. good article

  10. Amy Pryor November 5, 2010 at 8:54 am

    A great post by Aletta. Lori, thank you for sharing this. I am very happy to read this and feel I am following the 5 as best I can. At this point I wouldn’t consider myself a successful artist because I haven’t reached my goals as an artist. I am confident to say I am successfully doing the things I feel will get me to reach my goals. I feel like, not only do I live, breathe, and eat art, my entire family does. I have a great support group with my husband and kids. I think that can be extremely beneficial. I wish I could say I had a sugar daddy, because my art business helps support us.

    I’ll keep doing these things each day!!

    Amy Pryor

    • Lori McNee November 5, 2010 at 11:23 pm

      Hi Amy-

      Don’t be too hard on yourself. I am sure you have accomplished many levels of success – honor those. Having a supportive family is success in itself! Congratulations, not all artists share that same success in that department….and your family is grateful for the support you give them with your art career. That is awsome!

      My best to you-

  11. Maria Brophy November 5, 2010 at 10:18 am

    Lori, this is a fabulous list. I agree with Alyson, #1 – making art the core of your life – is extremely important.

    As far as “what is success” for an artist: I think it is being able to create art when you want. Most of the artists I know want to create art full time. They need to. They crave it. So often people don’t believe in their own ability to making a living as an artist, so they take a job doing something else. The art suffers…

    Success is doing what you love, every day (and earning a living doing it, if that’s what you want!)

    • Lori McNee November 5, 2010 at 11:08 pm

      Hi Maria,

      Thanks for stopping by for another comment. I agree with your definition of success. But, success is a relative term and varies from artisan to artisan as we can see by the reactions to this article. Yep, and if you don’t believe in yourself, it shows up in your art!

      Here’s to doing what we love! Thank goodness, I love writing too…
      Lori 🙂

  12. Bonnie J. Smith July 18, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    You are so right about what you wrote. I also have learned to seek out much more experienced artist who are not in my medium, I actually seem to get more from them. Maybe they are just more forth coming, I don’t know. But I hang on to every word they have to say about art.

    • Lori McNee July 18, 2011 at 11:18 pm

      Most artists feel the same way…I know I do. Thanks for stopping by for a visit Bonnie.

      Lori 🙂

  13. Brenda Stumpf October 4, 2011 at 7:06 am

    That is a GREAT solid list of aspects/traits. It would be wise to revisit this list from time to time to refocus and realign if you feel out of balance with your efforts 🙂

    • Lori McNee October 21, 2011 at 2:07 am

      Hello Brenda,

      Thank for adding your thoughts to this list. It is important for artists to refocus and keep on course!


  14. cherry January 6, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    art was my life, it was my soul and the one thing i drove towards, yet when i finnished university i found money was my main priority. its so hard to make it as an artist in the recession dosnt make it easier.

    i found myself (sadly) changing my career because i don’t want to waste time chasing a dream that wont give me a stable future. (i couldnt see myself being over 17k a year as an artist.) and i’am going to do a second more useful degree in nursing. i couldnt be happier to become a nurse but iam very sad and in mourning for my artwork :(.

    (i still draw alot.) but working very hard and unsociable hours makes it very hard

    sounds like excuses for a lazy artist. but maybe id suit it more as a hobbie :)x

    • Lori McNee January 7, 2012 at 9:32 am

      Hello Cherry,
      Being a nurse is an important and honorable occupation. However, have you considered gradually creating a body of artwork during your off hours? Maybe working towards an artistic goal during your ‘free time’ would satisfy your mourning for your artwork. One suggestion might be to set a goal of a home show or an exhibition at a local coffee shop or charming retail store. When I was busy being a fulltime young mom, this is how I kept my art in my life. I also entered competitions.

      Good luck with it all!

  15. Christopher August 28, 2012 at 6:51 am

    After suffering at the hands of an abusive mother, being dragged up through the care system and subsequently finding myself sectioned for seven years, only to climb out of this hole with a fist class degree from an established art school. I find the depths of my inner termoil still haunt me to this day! Maybe I should attempt to visualise my xp in order to give people a greater sense of the obsured reali that only wealth can manufacture.

    • Lori McNee August 28, 2012 at 11:18 am

      Hello Christopher,

      Wealth does not buy happiness, but unfortunately it is a marker for professional success – not personal. It saddens me to hear of your unhappy childhood, but I hope your art helps you find happiness and gives you an outlet for expression. Thanks for sharing your story and views here.


  16. Beverley November 6, 2012 at 12:32 am

    WOW, Lori,
    So glad I,ve found your site.I,ve listened to your audio and would like to know how do I have an initial chat as the contact details at the top didn’t give me the details,
    thank you

    • Lori McNee November 19, 2012 at 11:22 am

      I am behind on replies, but thanks so much for your nice words Beverley! I really appreciate it. You can email me [email protected] and we can set a chat up soon.

      Lori 🙂

  17. Linda Marino January 2, 2013 at 9:37 am

    Thanks Lori! Fantastic article! It’s worth printing out and re-reading when ever doubt sets in. Thanks so much for being such a consistent, positive role model for so many artists.

    • Lori McNee February 27, 2013 at 6:25 pm

      Hello Linda, comments like yours keep me blogging when I don’t have the time or energy! I appreciate you.

  18. esulWalker January 28, 2013 at 8:01 am

    Another formulaic (even trite), conception of ‘successful?’ art. Weak on details. Rather more a business than an art method. Everyone sells ‘success’ but few sell ‘art.’ Does success rhyme with fame; or is it an advertising supplement buzz word. AD’s are not free, art is no more a commodity than a human being. The
    business of art suffers from a lack of ‘art.’

    • Lori McNee January 28, 2013 at 11:26 am

      Good insight to add to this popular topic. Thank you for sharing.

  19. jeff May 28, 2013 at 5:24 am

    I want to thank you for your blog.
    I am in the beginning stages of becoming more focused on canvas work. Your blog is VERY inspirational to me.
    Thank you.
    xo, Jeff

    • Lori McNee June 10, 2013 at 2:41 pm

      Hi Jeff, I am so happy to hear that my blog is helpful to you. Comments like yours keep me going when I don’t have much spare time.

      Happy painting!

  20. selftought June 28, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    “art mafia” so true, the art market in RSA is leaning to much towards the theoretical side of the scale, and is being past down from one academic to another. Creativity in art is almost lost. Centuries ago art was past down from one master artist to his eager apprentice. Nowadays A degree educated plash of red signaling mood and a vigorous brushstroke that matches your sofa is what’s promoted. So what makes that million rand painting better than yours?… nothing just the academic pulling the string.

    they managed to put art in a box, can you believe it. art is suppose to be outside of the box… not so?

    I wish you to be a renaissance master artist of our time.

    • Lori McNee October 24, 2013 at 9:29 pm

      Hello Self-tought. I appreciate your thoughts and agree with you. Worrying about matching the sofa isn’t the purest form of art. One must strive to say something different. That is the challenge. Thanks for your comment.

  21. Sarah August 1, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    Hey Lori,
    I am a current fine arts major and I love to paint. Recently I am selling a few of my paintings In a local store and I am having a hard time with this concept of branding myself. I’m having a really hard time finding my style and I really want to have a long career in being a professional artist. Sometimes I feel trapped in paintings things that will sell more and are more popular than pushing myself to paint something that I might really love but might not sell. I hope that make sense. Thank you for any tips!

    Sarah Burrows

    • Lori McNee October 24, 2013 at 10:22 pm

      This is a very common dilemma for many artists, established or not. Since the sagging art marketing, I have seen many well known artists paint what sells. There is a balance between paying the bills, and selling your soul. You will have to find that for yourself. If you are feeling trapped, that is not a good sign! I would suggest painting for yourself too…that is how you grow. And who knows? They might really like what you like too. I hope this helps…

  22. janika September 1, 2013 at 9:58 am

    Hey great post dear. You blog is very helpful for the artists. Keep up the good work.


    • Lori McNee September 17, 2013 at 8:45 pm

      Janika, I a grateful for your visit and kind words.


  23. Pergunta November 26, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    It so much easier for painter and traditional sculptors that do much more marketable art. Try having conceptual ideas that are much more abstract thoughts. In another others that art idea will not match or go with couch in the living room.

    • Lori McNee December 1, 2013 at 10:51 pm

      Very true! Plus, I always think the collector should buy a new couch to go with their art anyway. 😉

  24. Jason June 15, 2014 at 6:59 pm

    Great piece of advice. The one that speaks to me the most is having a strong work ethic.

    • Lori McNee June 15, 2014 at 10:18 pm

      Thanks Jason, yes that is the key for me too!

  25. Joana_JW June 25, 2014 at 10:14 pm

    I think a successful artist aims for clarity; clarity of mind, soul and ideas. A confused mind who lacks the power of taking decision and is irrational is dangerous. I completely agree with this wonderful post! I am sure there is no sure shot formula for success but yes passion is always there 🙂

    • Lori McNee July 20, 2014 at 3:25 pm

      Yes, ‘success’ is not easy to define. I agree with you about passion. Thanks for sharing!

  26. Teerex Art July 14, 2014 at 6:22 pm

    well nice post….

    As an amateur wht am i scared of art carrer cuz it reallybothers me a lot….I dont want to be poor.

    • Lori McNee July 20, 2014 at 2:54 pm

      You are at an exciting time in your career! Good for you. Focus on what you want, and not what you don’t want. You want to be a success! Have fun creating.

  27. Patric Rozario January 10, 2015 at 6:21 pm

    Hello Lori

    Those are surely the ‘Most’ important 5 points ant artist must understand and live with. The last point is so very true. Hang only with the eagles if you want to fly. Forget the turkeys.

    As a person who involves the community in my creations, I have recently started a Crowdsourcing exercise. Serious artist must consider Crowdsourcing soft are. Mine is: http://pearlappetite.ideascale.com

    • Lori McNee February 8, 2015 at 12:38 am

      Hello Patric, yes I believe is soaring with eagles! If you have any Crowdsourcing tips you would like to share, I’d welcome a guest post from you. Please let me know what you think. Thanks for sharing.

  28. Chul Hong Park November 29, 2015 at 6:36 pm

    I like all your advise and comments.

    • Lori A McNee May 1, 2016 at 2:01 pm

      Thank you!

  29. Dharmalife January 19, 2016 at 3:30 am

    Hi Lori,
    while checking for other information in google i just found your article and its interesting the way you have narrated here is superb !! like to read more from you !!!

    • Lori A McNee April 1, 2016 at 12:53 am

      Thank you! I’m happy to have you discover and enjoy my blog…

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