How to Make 2017 a Killer Year as an Artist

I’m writing this in the middle of December, 2016. At this time of year it’s only natural to look at the calendar and take stock of the previous 12 months and begin making plans for the upcoming year.

But art is such a subjective thing. How does an artist set goals, anyway?

If you want to lose weight, it’s good to determine how much weight you want to lose and when you want to have lost it. Or if you want to run a marathon, you set a plan for achieving a certain running pace by a particular date. In other words, make it smart.

What are SMART goals?

As with any goal-setting it helps to make it S.M.A.R.T.:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Attainable

  • Realistic

  • Time-bound

What that boils down to is setting goals that you can be sure you achieve, by a particular date, in a way that pushes your limits without overdoing it.

Flimsy goals

Some goals just aren’t written very well. Sure, it’s better than no goals at all, or a vague sense of doing “better”, but there’s no real way to know you’ve achieved it.

  • Get better at a particular technique. I’d argue that this is a poor goal since “better” isn’t measurable. But you can enroll in a class that might help you improve. Maybe go outside your comfort zone and learn an art form that is not your normal mode of working. Working with pottery might spark new ideas for fashion design.

  • Sell more art. This isn’t really a measurable goal. What does “more” mean, anyway? You can learn how to start selling art online, for example. (I have no affiliation with Cory, by the way.)

Set concrete goals

Here are some examples, plus questions you can ask yourself to figure out how to get there.

  • Produce XX pieces this year. What does this look like broken down into quarterly and/or monthly quotas? Personally, I can’t expect myself to go-go-go constantly every single day in the studio because I have a day job and a family. What do you do when the creative well runs dry? Schedule time to recharge with artist dates or something like that.

  • Get in a particular show. What are the requirements and deadlines? If it is too late to apply to the 2017 show, how can I get ready for 2018?

  • Make $X from art in the upcoming year. Be realistic, but stretch yourself. How do you get your work in front of a particular audience? How do you market/advertise your work? Also, take into consideration your sales cycle. Some people make most of their yearly income right before Christmas.

  • Get X followers on a particular social media platform, or X subscribers to my newsletter. While this is specific and measurable, make sure it has a good return on investment and that you’re spending time on the right platform to convert into more sales, leads, signups, whatever it is you’re driving people to.

Put your goals in front of you

Michael Hyatt is a fan of reviewing his goals every day. It doesn’t have to be something drawn-out, just a two minute glance at them and a quick evaluation if he is doing something to “move the needle forward” on that goal. Put your goals somewhere that you’ll see them. It might be a list on your computer, or taped to your mirror, or on a mood board in your studio. Just put it where you’ll notice it. Burn it into your mind each day.

I know one artist who created a mood board of all these paintings that inspired her. They were the type of things she wanted to create, herself. By focusing her energy on creating those things, she eventually began to attract commissions to make exactly those type of paintings.

What are your goals?

Personally, I’m keeping my goals private. But feel free to share your own artist goals for the upcoming year. Or, maybe it’s best to share such things only with a select few who will cheer you on and keep you accountable.

The real question is, do you have art goals for the coming year? Share in the comments!


  • Samuel jones

    Good advice! It’s funny to me that you went with SMART goals since that’s what HR forces on us for performance reviews, and they don’t fit into our development life cycle very well, since we don’t end up having much control over what we work on during the year. Looking at them as personal goals makes them seem a lot more charming and wise.

    I really should set some small art goals for myself, since being a front end developer and a dad means art usually get left behind.

    • bradblackman

      Hey! It’s good to hear from you! Yeah, it is kind of HR-sounding but when you put it through a personal filter it’s pretty different. But the thing is if you don’t set something concrete you won’t do it or know if you’ve accomplished anything. The downside to corporate speak is for all it’s supposed clarity it becomes even more nebulous. By the way, since I wrote this I’ve discovered Michael Hyatt himself now endorses SMARTER goals: specific, measurable, actionable, risky, time-keyed, exciting, and relevant. It’s just a framework for goal-setting. What kind of goals are you setting for your art? Maybe there’s a way to get the kids involved. My kids love hanging out in the studio with me.

  • Natasha Papousek

    I don’t like setting goals that I can’t control. I am not the judge for the show I want to get into and if she/he doesn’t like my work, I don’t get in… but my goal can still be to produce 3 works for that show and do my part to fulfill all the requirements. I have no idea if folks will want to spend any money this year, so I don’t feel comfortable saying I will earn $X… but I will put in the hours at the kiosk, keep my website updated, get into a social media routine, upload X number of items onto my Etsy store, and take a marketing class.

    Do I have any art goals? Yes, I am going to take at least 3 classes and put in the work which should result in learning new techniques. I am going to make at least 2 pieces for a show in July and I’m going to participate in a postcard swap.