Sunday, November 25, 2018

5 qualities of successful artists

Sue Bleiweiss

I’ve seen a lot of blogs posts about artists and inspiration – where they find it and how they used it to create their art but I haven’t seen a lot written about what’s under the surface of the creative process.  I think that there are also 5 qualities that an artist needs in order to transform inspiration into art…

1: Passion

If you don’t have a high level of passion for what you’re doing then you’ll never be able to generate
the commitment necessary to make your ideas take form. Being successful at something (whatever your definition of success is) takes practice and in order to make good art you have to make a lot of it. Why? Because experience is the best teacher. Experience allows you to fully understand and master the techniques, tools and materials that you use. If you’re not excited about the materials, ideas or techniques that you’re using or the direction that you’re headed in then it’s time to take a step back and reevaluate.

2: Commitment

In order to take your ideas and inspiration from conception to form you must commit to trusting yourself and the process.

Over the years I have made a lot of quilts and a fair amount of them have wound up in the trash bin but I have remained committed to the techniques, materials and processes that I’ve chosen to use and I’ve pushed myself to master them. That’s not to say that I haven’t changed things along the way and adapted to new ways of doing things but if I had given up after the first few failures my artistic journey to this point would have probably looked a lot different. If you want to get good at something you have to take it seriously and stick with it. If this is something that you struggle with you might find it helpful to reach out to a mentor, coach or a fellow artist and form a group that will help hold you accountable to your studio practice.

3: Focus

If you want to build a successful studio practice as well as develop artistically then you have to stay focused. That means you have to learn how to learn how to say no. If your calendar is filled with appointments and commitments that keep you from being in the studio then it won’t matter how
committed you are to an idea because you won’t have time to work on it. My studio is in my house and I know how easy it is to get distracted by dirty dishes, laundry and vacuuming. But here’s the thing: I know that my most productive creative time is morning and early afternoon and you know what? The world does not stop turning because the breakfast dishes stay in the sink until after lunch and there’s nothing wrong ignoring the laundry until after dinner so I don’t let either distract me from getting into the studio.

You have to make studio time a priority! For some that may mean only getting 15 – 30 minutes in the studio at a time. If that’s the case then you have to commit to making those short bursts of time as productive as you can. If you have only 30 minutes in the studio then before you step in declare your intention for that time – I will spend 30 minutes working on sketching some new ideas, quilting the piece I have on the worktable, auditioning fabrics for my new quilt etc. Decide how you will spend those 30 minutes and then don’t let anything distract you from doing it.

4: Patience

Making art is a process and it takes time. You can’t rush it! I know what it’s like when you are feeling so inspired and excited about something you are working on that you find yourself not paying much attention to what you’re working on because you are already thinking about the next piece. The process of turning inspiration into art is not about working fast, it’s about working at it day after day. It’s an ongoing dialogue, a give and take dance where you don’t always get to lead. You have to be willing to nurture it and give it the time it needs to reveal itself and take form. Rushing to finish will show in the final piece in the form of an incomplete design, sloppy technique and an overall unsatisfying result.

5: Trust

This is probably the most difficult for a lot of artists to master because that nasty inner critic is always nipping at the heels of trust. When the inner critic is combined with self doubt it can create a
paralyzing cocktail for an artist and you might hear it say things like:

  • This is terrible and I have no business calling it art
  • I didn't go to art school so how can I call myself an artist
  • I'll never make anything as good as ...
  • All I managed to create here is a mess
One of the most useless black holes in the art making process is to compare yourself or spend time evaluating your work and what you do in relation to someone else. It’s a lesson in futility and will yield nothing useful for you. Time spent on worrying and fretting about what someone else is doing is time you’re taking away from your own studio practice and artistic development.

You have to learn to rise above the noise of the inner critic and your own self doubt. I know that is easier said than done but you have push through it and learn to tame or at least quiet that noise. Force yourself to dig deep into your well of passion, commitment, focus and patience and let those qualities carry you over the noise of the inner critic. The next time your self critic starts whispering in your ear respond by saying to it:

“I hear you but I am not listening. I am busy working and I am going to see this through, we’ll talk when this piece is finished”

Sure I know it sounds a bit simplistic but it might help to acknowledge the voice and give yourself permission to dismiss it so that you can redirect your focus on doing the work instead of how you are feeling about it. Unfortunately there is no quick and easy fix but the more art you make the more you allow yourself to develop self confidence and that is the antidote to the self critic and self doubt noise.

Being an artist is a journey, not a destination

I've enjoyed being your host on the 52Quilters blog for the past week!  Going forward you can keep up with me by subscribing to my blog or newsletter.


  1. Sue...thank you so much for all the terrific insights you brought to your week on '52 Quilters.' I truly enjoyed and learned from what you shared.

  2. Very inspiring post here. passion, commitment, focus, patience and trust.

    1. Thank you, glad you enjoyed it!

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