Things Successful Artists Do Differently

Two words, success and successful, have sparked heated conversations between artists on this blog.

I’ve learned that the definition of a ‘successful artist’ is subjective, and tends to vary from person to person. Nevertheless, there truly are things that most successful artists do differently.

Things Successful Artists Do Differently

Follow Their Effort:

Successful artists know their strengths, and that’s where they focus their efforts. In this world, the value of hard work cannot be substituted. Effort is the life-force and core reason for success. Yes, artists are passionate. But, passion and talent alone cannot take the place of hard work!


When work, commitment, and pleasure all become one and you reach that deep well where passion lives, nothing is impossible. ~Unknown

At first glance, the following points by billionaire businessman Mark Cuban might seem counterintuitive. However, successful artists are constantly striving to better their craft with effort. Cuban states, “Don’t follow your passions, follow your effort. It will lead you to your passions and to success, however you define it.” 

1. When you work hard at something you become good at it.

2. When you become good at doing something, you will enjoy it more.

3. When you enjoy doing something, there is a very good chance you will become passionate or more passionate about it

4. When you are good at something, passionate and work even harder to excel and be the best at it, good things happen.

“The difference between try and triumph is a little umph”. ~Unknown

Know How to Use Their Time:

Successful artists know how to manage their time wisely, and they know how to say ‘no’ to the superfluous. These artists understand that efficient time-management is an indicator of their future and where they are going.  They have well-thought-out plans and goals to help guide and direct their work activities. These pros work for improvement. They understand their tasks, and what they should be doing throughout the days, weeks, and months.

“Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.” ~Pablo Picasso

Make It A Business:

Being a successful artist is not a hobby, it’s a business. Whether they work part-time or full-time at their craft, successful artists are savvy business men and women. Being a successful artist not only consists of creating great art, but it is also about building a strong business.  They know their strengths and they outsource when they need help. They understand the importance of patience, and they know success doesn’t happen overnight. Successful artists take charge of their art careers.

They Adapt:

Nolan Ryan wrote this profound quote, “Enjoying success requires the ability to adapt. Only by being open to change will you have a true opportunity to get the most from your talent.”

Artists who are open to new ideas, and have a willingness to adapt have greater success. Whether creating in the studio or managing their art business affairs, successful artists have the ability to try something else when the current method fails. They adapt to external conditions. This flexibility leads to better chances of success.

Aspen oil painting by Lori McNee

They Have Courage

Being an artist takes courage and faith in oneself. Every time an artist stares at a blank page, canvas or lump of clay, he or she learns to face fear and overcome it. These people take calculated risks, they enter competitions, reach out to magazines, blogs, galleries and collectors, and they experiment with new mediums. Seth Godin shared this powerful thought, “Art is a personal act of courage. Something one human does that creates change in another”

Those who lack courage and fear risks ignore many opportunities that could lead to success. Courage builds self-confidence.

poppies Georgie O'Keeffe

Use Failure: 

The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure. All artists learn from failures and past mistakes, but successful artists are not defined by them.  Successful artists win some and lose some – it’s just part of the business. They learn how to paint adversity into a lovely picture.

Economist Tim Harford states, “The way to succeed is to embrace trial and error, develop the courage to risk and know failure–and adapt from those failures with adjustments.”

If you are dealing with a sense of failure in your art career right now, you might like this inspiring article, “26 Successful People Who Failed At First”.  

“There is no failure. Only feedback.” ~Robert G. Allen

 “A flower has to go through a lot of dirt before it can bloom.” ~Unknown

They Attract Success:  

Successful artists understand the importance of surrounding themselves with supportive people. They enjoy rubbing elbows with other successful artists and like-minded people. Like-attracts-like, and success-attracts-success. “They limit their time and emotional involvement with people who are negative.” ~Aletta de Wal.


These are the main things or attributes I have observed among my successful art friends. Can you add to this list?

*I hope we meet on Twitterand Google Plus, Pinterestand join in the fun at Fine Art Tips Facebook Fan Page! Please checkout my art too ~Lori


  1. kippax williams September 19, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    Thanks for sharing,Lori.
    I created “Enlightened Female,” knowing that creatives like
    you are in the artist’s universe,showing character in her work,
    enriching our circle of fb friends!
    “Enlightened Female” is included in my fb photo album.

    • Lori McNee October 10, 2012 at 4:51 pm

      How sweet of you! Thank you for the lovely sentiments. I do appreciate you too.

      My best,

  2. Bruce Stonehouse September 19, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    Thank you Lori for this useful and inspirational information. The only item I would add is: Its not so much what the profession can do for you, its moreso what you can do for the profession. Best regards and thank you again.

    • Lori McNee October 10, 2012 at 4:56 pm

      Nice thoughts, Bruce. Thanks for adding those simple yet profound words. I appreciate your input.


  3. Mary September 27, 2012 at 8:31 am

    Lori, thank you for weaving a great article. It is thorough and well-written.

    • Lori McNee October 10, 2012 at 7:12 pm

      Hi Mary, thanks for taking time to read it and comment! I’m glad you agree with the points…


  4. Becky Joy September 28, 2012 at 9:21 am

    Hard work, determination, perseverance and networking. There are no short cuts. It is a hard job, but very rewarding and I wouldn’t do anything else. A great post Lori.

  5. Freda October 3, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    # I look forward to readining more of your posts.
    I love painting, it is not only hard work and rewarding, but it is also healing
    Thank you Lori for sharing your posts.

    • Lori McNee October 10, 2012 at 4:37 pm

      Hello Freda, yes art has been very healing for me during tough times. Thank you for your kind words.

      Happy painting,

  6. Samantha October 11, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    Great advice Lori. Just like the old saying goes “It isn’t work, if you’re having fun”. Agree 100%, you have to enjoy it, in order tobe successful. Also, the Mechanical Turk is definently a great option for work. Thanks again!

    • Lori McNee October 12, 2012 at 8:21 am

      Hello Samantha,
      I like that old saying too. I still need to find the extra time to try out MTurk myself – lol. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here.

  7. Bernard Katz October 12, 2012 at 11:43 am

    Good article! I once asked a good friend what was keeping her from really pursuing her passion. She said to me, “It has always been my dream to make this my career, but if I fail then my dream will be dead.” I said to her, “If you don’t go for it, then you have already failed.”

    That being said, it takes a level of commitment for not only doing the ‘fun’ parts of being an artist, but also doing the not-so-fun parts of being in business as an artist. I have seen too many talented people struggle with what it means to be ‘in business’ as artist. Your article gives great advice!

    • Lori McNee November 19, 2012 at 11:45 am

      Hello Bernard, I really like that quote you shared. Yes, not trying is a form of failure in its self. Great share…
      Hope to see you again,

  8. Gina Strumpf October 17, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Hi Lori, I enjoy your post, great information. I agree with Becky Joy and I too love being a creative spirit, I love everyday…:D Thank you for sharing!

    • Lori McNee October 17, 2012 at 2:30 pm

      Glad to be of some inspiration to you Gina. Thanks, and happy creating!

  9. Dean D. October 21, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    I get the Empty Nest newsletter every week. And I read a lot about art web sites, marketing your art, and have been researching many of the “selling your art online” web sites over the last year. I am thinking about selling my art online. For financial reasons I have to use a site that has print on demand and also offers you, your own domain name. I am not a professional artist, though I have been in the field as a hobby for over 20 years. Because of legal hassles, I do not do commission work. For the same reason I am choosing not to blog. My whole issue with sharing with other artists, on the art web sites is… when you do that, you run a high risk of loosing potential sales.

    I do not mind having that on the web sites main page, but I want to limit that by having my own domain name and a more private web page, so I do not loose so many sales. I realize that by signing up with those web sites your going to incur their main page link on your private page, but on some sites that link is in very small print, which is good. Its just that the market is so flooded with talented artists, how are ya ever going to really make any money at it, even with the strategies you present on your “Fine Art Tips” link page, your still not going to improve your odds by all that much. I figure your own domain name page, a presence on a Face Book Fan Page, Twitter account, and a few direct marketing supplies off Vista Print ( business cards, window decals, banners, t-shirts, hats, car door magnets etc.) and of course maybe a presence in our local fine arts association, and possible presence at the local art shows, and of course word of mouth etc., are really the only real ways for me to make any money doing art online, in my opinion. I would still like your take on what I wrote and your recommendations on an art web site to use, for the needs I am seeking.

    • Lori McNee November 19, 2012 at 12:00 pm

      Hello Dean,

      My apologies for the belated reply. It’s a busy autumn for me.

      I would suggest using a WordPress blog for better customization. Use your blog for promotion, and branding and of course marketing. Your online presence really does make a difference in the offline world. It takes effort and takes a while to build, just like any business.

      I hope this helps,

  10. Cathy November 1, 2012 at 11:11 pm

    Excellent article Lori but how do you become a ‘professional artist’ in the eyes of galleries and collectors? How do you know when you are professional? Do you have to have a degree in art? In marketing? What are the keys that turn you from hobbyist to professional? How do you approach and get the galleries that sell and market to a high income clientele recoginize you as more than a hobbyist? How do you get known? You may have the drive, skills and time but how do you crack into earning that six figure income you spoke of? How do you get real collectors to part with their cash? Anyone can sell a few paintings, you just have to make them cheap enough but how do you earn a healthy sustainable income from your art year in, year out?

    • Lori McNee November 19, 2012 at 11:33 am

      Hello Cathy,

      These are great questions that I will answer in a post someday soon. Until then, here are my thoughts. No, an artist does not have to have a degree. For starters, the art must be original, technically sound, interesting, thought provoking, and professionally presented. The market has been challenging for even the best artists. But, persistence helps with professionalism too. I hope this tides you over until the post…

      Lori 🙂

  11. Jess November 2, 2012 at 1:58 am

    A really inspiring post, I shall RT! Thankyou Lori 🙂
    Jess x

    • Lori McNee November 19, 2012 at 11:30 am

      Thanks Jess! Happy to inspire…

      Lori 🙂

  12. Harriet Muller November 10, 2012 at 3:20 am

    Great site Lori, and I really enjoyed this post. One thing I would add is that successful artists have clearly defined goals – they know exactly what constitutes ‘success’ for them and work towards it. Look forward to reading more from you- thank you for sharing.

    • Lori McNee November 19, 2012 at 11:13 am

      Hi Harriet,

      Thanks for the nice feedback. I totally agree with your addition to this post. Thanks for sharing it. I’ve blogged on the importance of goals in the past.


  13. Elizabeth J White November 27, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    Hello I love all the information here and agree with all of it, I know that artists are a team and
    here to support each other, I have used blog sites and sub domains however I have my own website as well, and show at a local gallery. I have long range goals, and many plans. If I gave up on being a artist
    because someones opinion of my work was negative , I would have given up long ago, Art is subjective
    I have found in my love of art is what makes me who I am, a Artist, though it took me many years to feel
    I deserve the title, but now I get it, and wear the badge of Artist humbly. I have not one body of work but many
    many, bodies of work, some I choose not to share, just for me, selfish huh? but I have boxes of paintings,
    digitals and prints , art lining the walls, and in the hallways a little sun room studio over flowing with art,
    I think what makes one successful( not just at art but anything) is a drive, motivation that cannot be beat down. Skin needs to be thick not everyone is going to like your work, Artists put their heart in their works, and negative feedback can me like someone has walked on our hearts, just keep going, I have made my
    major goal, to create something each and everyday, and my bucket list is to create a thousand works before my earthly art retreat is over.

    • Lori McNee December 1, 2013 at 10:49 pm

      Hello Elizabeth, I like your statement about wearing the badge of Artist humbly. I remember it took me a very long time to describe myself as an ‘artist’. I didn’t feel worthy, and I still respect that six letter word. Art is relative, but I strive to be my best…and my best can be different from day to day!

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment.

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