In this video, Matt Tommey shares key insights for artists on how to start overcoming self-sabotage in their life and creative expression.
Since I have the great honor of working with hundreds of Christian artists in my artist mentorship program, I'm always getting questions. One of the most common questions I get from newbies is "what can I do right now to start thriving?" Here's 12 things you can do right now to start thriving as a Christian artist:
1. Just show up & do the work
There’s just no substitute. It’s been said it takes 10,000 hours to become a master at your chosen artistic medium. So whether you’re a painter or metal artist, potter or basket maker you’re going to need to put in some serious studio time. The beautiful thing about it is that for the artist, the process of being in the studio can be the reward. Yes, we’re all after fantastic art that we can sell and make a living from, but for the artist, the magic of creativity happens long before the sale happens. It happens when we walk in the studio, turn on the music, prepare our materials and just get in the zone.
2. Push through the ugly
Every Christian artist I’ve ever known, including myself goes through periods of creating
crap. Sometimes its for a week, or months or a year or sometimes it’s in every piece. If you stop in the ugly phase, you’ll never get through to the place of creative resolve and resolution. Keep pressing, reworking, walking away and returning until you know that you know it is finished.
3. Encourage yourself and silence your inner critic
The voice of the inner critic will never go away by itself or by wishing it would stop. The voice must be silenced by a greater voice; the darkness pierced by the purity of light. The dominant inner narrative in your soul can be guided, not by your emotions but by your choices. Who are you and what do you want? Practice some creative visualization, create a treasure map, journal your personal and creative affirmations daily and listen as the critic is silenced.
4. Take time to rest and renew
It’s been said that creativity happens best on the edge of order and chaos. That being said, we can’t live 100% of the time in that tension. You need time to reflect, rest and renew your physical body and your inner life so that fresh ideas can clearly come to and through you. This is not a luxury for the artist, it is essential.
5. Fill your creative well
When it’s time to create, we all go inside what I call our creative well to draw upon the inspiration and understanding that lies within. If the well has gone dry, then the work becomes mundane and our experience in creative bored and anxious. What exhilarates your spirit? What makes you stand in awe and wonder? Movies? Music? Sculpture? Great art or theatre? Whatever feeds your inner life should be on your regular menu. "
6. Don’t eat seed
Over the years I’ve found that emerging artists have one main question they are always asking: “How do I make money with my art?” The better question is how can I keep the money I’m making with my art. Becoming a successful Christian artist for most people is able building a bridge to a dream; transitioning from a 9 to 5 job or even beginning to sell your work to the public for the first time. Regardless, all of that takes money. I always encourage artists to take the money that’s coming in initially from selling or teaching and put it away in your business envelope. That way, when a big show, marketing need or other opportunity comes along and you need capital to invest, you have it. Money invested at the right time in your business can be valuable seed to produce the harvest of success you desire.
7. Create what you love
We’ve all done it. You sell a couple of pieces that are similar and you start thinking “If I make 1000 of these, I’d be a gagillionaire... so I better get to work!” Only to find out that at the next show, you only sell a grand total of zero. While we must always keep an eye on what’s selling and what our clients are genuinely responding to at the end of the day, we must make what we love. Otherwise, we become robotic craftsmen just replicating patterns with wrote skill instead of creating out of the place of inspiration and passion. Create what you love and trust the money and opportunities to follow.
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8. Reach up and reach back
None of us have gotten where we are in life without those special people providence placed in our life at the right place and time to teach us, lead us, guide us and inspire us to go to the next level. No matter where you are in your creative journey, you can do the same for someone else by reaching out in genuine relationship. In addition, there’s always someone who’s further along than you are in whatever creative endeavor you find yourself. Continue to purposely reach up to them as well and become a river of inspiration; both receiving and giving the abundance that’s flowing through you.
9. Tell your story
Art is not a commodity. No one buys great art or fine craft because it was the cheapest or it was on sale. People buy fine art and fine craft because they desire connection; connection with the maker, the process, the materials and ultimately their own human experience. Your personal creative story is a huge part of that because when people connect to you they connect to your work. It’s no longer just a basket, mug or painting, but rather a reflection of the story of the maker who poured their heart and soul into the piece. Art becomes like ancient cairns, pointing the way and commemorating significance in the journey.
10. Dream Your Dreams
Most Christian artists I’ve met over the years are so completely overwhelmed with where they are right now – creatively, relationally, financially – that they’ve lost their ability to dream and imagine outside of their current life experience. What happened to the kid on the playground who believed he could climb to the top of the highest tree on the mountain? What happened to the little girl who wanted to be a famous fashion designer in New York City? I’ll tell you what happened. Life happened, they got bogged down in the details and lost their dreamer. Without dreaming and imagination, we become robotic manufactures of commodities. With dreams, desire and imagination become artists who allow all of life to converge in the studio where we create beautiful objects that help others to live with wonder.
11. Say No to the Wrong things and Yes to the Right
You’re an artist, yes, but you’re also an entrepreneur, shipping department, marketing department and custodial staff in addition to whatever personal and civic obligations that may find their way into your life. If you say yes to everything, you allow everyone else’s emergencies, priorities and passions take precedence over yours. Design your life. Dream your dreams. Create what you love. Life a beautiful life with beautiful people and allow your priorities to be the measuring stick for everything else you allow into your life. That’s not selfish, it’s healthy.
12. Connect to Your Source
If you’ve been an artist for very long, you realize that your creative gift is not your own or even the result of all your own hard work. Pure and simple it’s a gift from the Creator and we simply have the incredible opportunity to collaborate with that Creators process, inspiration and gifts in order to reflect His beauty. Without that connection we die creatively because we cut off the source of our inspiration. With that connection, we go further than we ever could on our own good ideas and hard work. With that connection, we simply lean into the process of creative collaboration that’s already been designed especially for us. With that connection, we always prosper because that’s the design of the Creator.
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As I've reflected on my own journey and the journey's of the literally hundreds of artists who are a part of my Created to Thrive Artist Mentorship program I now understand there are basically stages an artist goes through on their journey of creativity. Most artists stop somewhere along the way but for those who refuse to give up, they reap the rewards of perseverance.
All artists start here, creating from a place of passion, connection and expression. The focus for the hobbyists is creating for their own enjoyment. Hobbyists pursue their art at their leisure and don't always have a dedicated space to create. Hobbyists enjoy the freedom of creating when inspiration strikes - once a week, a couple of times a month or even a few times a year – and often continue to create because of the spiritual connection they feel when creating. Main challenges facing these artists include frustration with lack of skill, perfectionism, dedicating time to create, connecting with other creatives for community and beliefs around their own identity as artists.
After creating for some time as a hobbyist, these artists begin to develop a passion for more focused pursuit of their art. They are serious about developing more skill, spending more time on their artistic development and are starting to sell their work to others. Emerging artists are beginning to develop the basics of their art business including things like website, printed materials, professional photography, dedicated studio space and applying for shows. Main challenges facing these artists include renewing their mind to align with God's Word rather than their own experience or beliefs, building healthy relationships with other artists who are on the same journey and balancing time to create with relationships and administrative tasks required to launch an art business (marketing, bookkeeping, communications, social media).
The professional artist has moved through the stages of hobbyist and emerging artist after several years of honing their skills and developing their unique creative voice. This artist usually has a dedicated studio space, spends time creating on a daily basis and regularly pursues selling their work via social networks, shows, commissions and other venues. They have developed their own unique marketing brand and are working to connect with those who connect with their creative voice via their website, social media, printed media and referrals. Main challenges facing these artists include cultivating fresh creativity while building upon the success they've experienced, asking for help from professionals in order to grow their businesses to the next level, cashflow and time management. Also, as an artist experiences success, it's even more important to keep their life and art centered in a vital relationship with Jesus.
This artist is living the dream, having moved from hobbyist to emerging artist, professional and now thriving in their chosen pursuits. Thriving artists create what they love in a dedicated studio space while selling their work for top dollar to clients who seek out their work. Their life is marked by creative fulfillment, financial abundance, meaningful relationships and spiritual connection. These artists have developed a niche of clients who authentically connect with them and their work as reflected by their willingness to purchase and refer them to their circle of influence. Main challenges facing these artists include balancing time with family and friends vs time given to their business and art pursuits, cultivating a thriving relationship with the Holy Spirit and taking time to give back to others along the journey who need to know what they've learned over the years.
No matter where you are on your journey as an artist, God wants to use you for His Glory in order to release His Life and Light into the world. You can be the thriving artist God designed you to be... if you're willing to start aligning with Him.
If that's you, I'd love to show you how I've helped hundreds of artists just like you achieve and surpass their goals and live the life they were created to live. Find out more...
Check out this podcast interview I just completed with my friend and colleague in ministry, Stephen Roach on his podcast "Makers & Mystics". Just click the image to go directly to the podcast recording.
I've had the privilege since 2009 of making my living primarily from making and selling art to what many would call the luxury market. My clients are typically people who have multiple homes around the country (and internationally) and enjoy purchasing and commissioning unique pieces of art for their homes ranging from several hundred to tens of thousands of dollars. Although many of them could probably afford anything they wanted, price is almost never a part of the initial conversation as they determine whether or not they want my work. For many artists, this begs the question... if price is not really a main issue, then what DO they care about? What are they really looking for? How do I know where to sell my art? Here's my top 4 things I know every art buyer is looking for:
Understanding and practicing these four principles are core to the success of my business and any art business who wants to thrive over the long term. Comment below and share your thoughts. I'd love to hear them as you share your insights on how to sell your art!
Let me be honest. As much as I would love every artist to really start thriving in their life, art, finances and spiritual life, that's just not realistic for some... and it hurts me to say because I'm an eternal optimist and believe deeply in the divine calling of artists to do big things! It's not that I don't believe it's possible, I do! I completely, 100% believe breakthrough is possible in the life of every artist but what I know more than possibility is the fact that thriving as an artist and experiencing breakthrough into that life is a choice. A personal choice that can only be made by a the artist.
Sometimes, I wish it wasn't the case but it is. You either choose to thrive or you choose to live life the way you've lived it and get what you've always gotten. As I think back on tons of emails and conversations with artists, I've heard these three reasons over and over and over from phrased a little differently for each person of course to fit their "unique" situation. As we say in the country, "You can't put lipstick on a pig". An excuse is an excuse and these are 3 of the biggest. Here we go:
Some of you may be reading this right now saying "Wow Matt, this just got real..." Yes, it did and I love you too much to sugarcoat things. God's invested too much in each one of us to let momentary troubles and pressures take our focus from the goal He's set before us.
I also know this to be true: people always... ALWAYS do what they want to do. If you want something bad enough, you'll find a way to see it happen. The simple fact is many people like the idea of breakthrough and thriving but aren't willing to lean into the process.
To those that do lean into the process, who keep going even when things get difficult and who prioritize their life the align with their dreams and design, the sweet feelings of knowing they held on, leaned into God's grace and trusted in the face of fear will usher them into reaping the rewards of the process. To them it will be said "Well done good and faithful servant. You've been faithful over little, not I will make you ruler over much."
(PS... If that's you right now, the kind of artist that is willing to set a course and see it through in the context of community with other artists and me as your mentor (even if you've failed at this before), then I'd love for you to consider my Created to Thrive Artist Mentoring Program. I can help you make this year be your breakthrough year. I can help you make this year the year of no more excuses... the year you start thriving!)
One question I get all the time is "Matt, how can I take my artistic calling to the next level and really start thriving?" Yep. Many well-meaning artists have asked this question and most believe that it's a single answer... like there's some shortcut or secret ad you can run to make everyone buy your art and make a million dollars. Spoiler alert.... There's no silver bullet for learning to thrive as an artist. However, after working as a creative now for over 20 years, speaking to thousands and personally mentoring hundreds of artists via my books and online artist mentoring program, I've come to understand some of what it takes to really thrive. I'm going to share some of those with you here.
Since I also believe no one person as the corner on success, I reached out to several of my thriving artists friends who are creating beautiful work and selling the heck out of it all while living an incredible life. Based on their input and my experience, here's my curated list:
As you probably know by now, information doesn't create change. Real change only happens when valuable information meets action and interaction; action on your part and interaction with others on your journey and an experienced mentor. Why, you ask? Most of the time, there are things in your life you just can't see by yourself. For those who are willing, God uses mastermind and mentoring relationships to bring you to the next level of growth.
If you'd like to make this year your breakthrough year and really start thriving as an artist spiritually, artistically and in business, check out my Created to Thrive Artist Mentoring Program and read some of their stories! Literally hundreds of artists just like you have made the decision to be a part and it's changing lives.
Thanks again to all my artist friends who contributed to this list. Each one is creating great work, thriving as a professional artist and a joy to call friend!
Artists can be some of the biggest procrastinators around. Believe me, I know! Because of some of our innate perfectionistic tendencies, we love to put things off indefinitely. We tell ourselves all sorts of things couched in what seems like wisdom when in reality, it's just just plan ole fear; fear of not "doing it right", fear of "not being good enough" even fear of succeeding. In my own life and as I have the great pleasure of mentoring hundreds of artists through my books, conferences and artist mentoring group I've found 3 really common and really paralyzing lies that most artists struggle with, especially as they are getting ready to breakthrough into their next season of growth! Here they are...
Once you begin to understand your identity in Christ, solidify a Kingdom-oriented vision for your life and begin pursuing your artistic expression without these limitations, you'll start to taste what the abundant life is all about. If you're a believer in Jesus, you already have everything you need to thrive living inside of you. It's called the Kingdom and it's active and available to you now. All you have to do is start aligning with His divine design for your life.
Share your thoughts below! I'd love to hear where you are in your creative journey! Also, find out more about my online artist mentoring program here.
I make my living as a full-time vocational artist, speaker, author and leader of an artist mentoring group. Because of that dynamic, I get asked one question a lot in almost every situation I find myself. It goes something like this: "I'm a (fill in the blank) artist and I want to start selling my work (or start making money, start thriving, etc) but I just can't seem to choose a direction. I like everything. What should I do?"
This question and ones like it encapsulate the dilema in which many emerging artists find themselves; that is how to go from the proverbial here to there. How do I move from being a hobbyist to a more serious part-time or full-time artist. It's a big frustration for many that keeps them up at night, causes confusion and even anxiety about their purpose in life. However, it doesn't have to be that way.
I want to compare and contract the way hobbyists approach their art practice vs the way professional artists approach theirs. This is not to say that all hobbyists are immature or that all professionals have 'made it'... However, in my experience in working with artists and from my own journey, these attributes are true for many. Hopefully this comparison will give you some insight into where you are now and how to start moving in the direction you want... to be a thriving artist!
Find out more about my online artist mentoring group where I'm helping artists of almost every creative medium learn to thrive creatively, spiritually and financially.
Over the years, I've met so many artists who struggle in their lives with everything from creative expression to finances, relationships to addiction, spirituality and their relationship with God. Most of the time, the overwhelmingly popular view of life among these friends tends to lean towards one of two areas; mailbox mentality or starving artist.
On the Christian side of life, many believers embrace a popular fallacy that says something like "get saved, obey God and He'll do the rest because God's in control." Everyday, these artists go out to their proverbial mailbox hoping that today is the day God blesses them with the desires of their heart, only to be disappointed.
The other view of life among almost all artists is one I call the starving artist mentality. This one is pretty familiar to most creatives in that it presupposes that life as an artist is hard, you'll never make money, to sell your art successfully is to "sell out" and you just have to settle for an existence laden with poverty or at least the lack of prosperity.
Thank goodness, I found a better way based in God's Word that is based on how the Kingdom of God works. Here's the 5 ways you can choose to thrive as an artist in God's Kingdom:
Matt Tommey is a world-class sculptor, speaker and author who is passionate about helping artists to thrive spiritually, financially and creatively.