Managerial Mode


Dear Artist,

One of the fun things about writing these letters is learning the various methodologies artists use. It seems some of us are of the “let-it-flow” school, dreamy, laid back and even lackadaisical about our work. Others think self-management and discipline are right up there with the cardinal virtues. Further, I’ve always been curious about the dual nature of many artists — the combo of manager and worker under one roof.

Did you ever notice how some employees don’t like their bosses? Did you ever stop to think the reason you’re an artist may be because you never did like working for one? Apparently, many of us are drawn to art because we don’t like being told what to do. And then again, some of us have trouble telling ourselves what to do.

Studies have shown lazy folks can become top managers. Getting others to do their dirty work in early life led them to later positions in management. On the other hand, working stiffs can grow comfortable with the worker mentality. Here are a few ideas:

Understanding and taking advantage of our lazy moments may be a significant path to creative success. Feet up in a hammock, a cool one at the side, imagination flies. This can also be a time when dates are penciled in and outrageous notes are made. Laziness breeds the plans and strategies for less lazy times.

Strategy is the heartbeat of management. As well as long and short term goals, both managers and self-managers need to project the idea of discovery. The opening up of opportunities for the worker is management’s job one. It’s become a motivational truism that top managers encourage innovation and creativity. When I snoop into the lives of artists I admire, I generally find people who at one time or another have taken charge of themselves and given themselves some sort of permission to act on their dreams. It comes as a shock to many to find discipline is key to creative freedom. In the words of the sculptor Constantin Brancusi, “Command like a king, work like a slave, create like a god.”

Best regards,


PS: “Your work is to discover your work – and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.” (Buddha)

Esoterica: Florida painter Eleanor Blair says, “One of the many blessings of being an artist is that you don’t have to wait for someone to hire you before you can work.” Fact is, self-employed persons need to learn to be their own bosses. Brian Tracy in The Power of Discipline writes, “Your ability to discipline yourself to set clear goals, and then to work toward them everyday, will do more to guarantee your success than any other single factor.”


Steady discipline
by Jack Winter, UK

Those of us who make our living by writing know the value of steady discipline. Producing 1000 publishable words a day is key to a decent career. For many of us this happens in the morning and takes as long as it needs. Some days things happen faster than others. The afternoon is reserved for the lazy business you were talking about, but they are not idle hours by any means. No matter what other activities may engage you, the subconscious is still grinding away. This is the nature of creativity. You need both.

There is 1 comment for Steady discipline by Jack Winter

From: Pia f. Walker — Jul 08, 2009

Thanks for this letter! I’m actually beginning to discipline myself, making mornings about the business side of art (marketing, sales, networking, etc.) and then allowing my afternoons to be the lazy drawing hours. Although I have a calendar of what to get done when, I’m also allowing myself enough flexibility to go with the flow of an art piece, or a sales opportunity.

Thanks for writing this!

Pia f. Walker

Artist, Owner of Attaining Creativity


Meant to be an artist
by Dorenda Watson, Columbus, OH, USA


“Black and White in Color”
original painting
by Dorenda Watson

For 20 years I worked for others in non art-related jobs and hated it with every fiber of my being. I loved the people I worked with. I loved the clientele. But I dreaded every day at the job du jour. I challenged every decision made by a superior and quit every job with a flourish and an “I’ll show you” attitude. What I learned from this, albeit rather slowly, was that I knew somewhere in my being that I was meant to be a self-employed artist and teacher, and the only person I had to convince of that was myself. The only thing standing in my way was fear of success and guilt for possibly having a job I loved… who has THAT?! Ten years ago I made the leap to self-employment after much soul- searching and self-inflicted angst, and I do not look back. Was it easy? No. Were there days of questioning what I had done? Yes. Is it a sacrifice? Definitely. Was it the best thing I ever did? Absolutely! As an artist you must be a manager, a secretary, a promoter, a business person, a critic, and most of all, a creator and a dreamer. To be a creator and a dreamer, one must have “down-time.” This is the life-blood of the creative mind.

There are 2 comments for Meant to be an artist by Dorenda Watson

From: Bev Searle-Freeman — Jul 07, 2009

You could be writing about my life … I haven’t quite got to the leap-of-faith part … but it’s there and I’ve thought of it often :)

From: Dorenda Crager Watson — Jul 08, 2009


Working harder for others
by Diana Anderson, Kent City, MI, USA

I have been on both sides of the fence, and admittedly I seem to work harder for others than myself. I have a difficult time allowing myself the luxury of relaxing. With a large house, an Autistic son and numerous other issues to deal with, maybe I feel the need to prove something to myself , as I am disabled due to a car accident. I have owned and operated two businesses, my husband was a professional athlete as well as having another job, my son needed home schooling and somewhere along the line I lost my own time to do what I love to do, paint. However when I was working for someone else I had to perform and so, it wasn’t for me.

Could be guilt, not wanting to be selfish. Could be that I blame myself for being disabled. Could be that I am afraid to fail because I have been so successful in the past. Who knows the real reason for not having the time to feed my needs. All that I do know is that I must do what I must to be satisfied with myself ! If this means revamping my home and family issues then so be it! Until I read your letter I certainly never saw what I was doing to myself and in the end I believe that the other issues at hand will alter as well. Possibly it will take a bit of time but I believe it will happen. It is a matter of respect for my family as well as myself.

There is 1 comment for Working harder for others by Diana Anderson

From: Liz Reday — Jul 07, 2009

I know the feeling of being an artist with a son having autism, and you can feel very cut off and stressed out. I have no disabilities besides the ever present chronic stuff that comes with aging, arthritis and a lifetime of working with my hands at printmaking, gardening, stretching my own canvases, etc. But: SILVER LINING! Had to quit printmaking, took up painting, love it! My son needed so much therapy that I had to quit my “day job” of cranking out interior decorator art/monoprint multiples and found the time to make the paintings I’ve always wanted to without the pressure of making commercial hotel art with designer’s colors and generic subject matter. My son is now a joy who helps carry my paintings/sets up shows when he’s not making films for YouTube. He has more of a following than I do. I’m taking my husband and son to India for three weeks the day after tomorrow. My husband needs a break for slogging in an office and my son can ride all the trains he wants. Meanwhile, my mother is dying very slowly of cancer (2 years & counting), and this India trip has been the shining light at the end of a very dark tunnel


Freedom and discipline
by Kittie Beletic, Dallas, TX, USA


“Black and White in Color”
original painting
by Dorenda Watson

Driven by one and resisting the other. Those who have experienced this know the combination can be a recipe for angst and frustration. Add current society’s obsession with linear thinking/training as the ‘right’ path to success, confusion and self-doubt enter into the mix. The first time I experienced what I would call a mature attitude about this dilemma was the turning point, not only in my professional life, but in every corner where it was hiding. I’m a team player and I love collaboration. I work extremely well on my own. I’m a leader in many parts of my life. I am a good parent. Those are just some of the benefits that come from applying discipline in my days. The first change that had to happen was my definition of ‘discipline.’ Once I took the punitive quality out of it and saw it for what it really is — an excellent tool for focus — I was on my way! I began by substituting the word FOCUS for the word discipline. It opened up all sorts of possibilities: keeping myself physically fit through the focus of exercise, starting and completing large projects through the focus of perseverance, discerning what feeds my spirit and focusing myself in both my work and my play. It wasn’t long before they became one. Discipline/Focus is a joyful process and for a person who requires absolute freedom — will do anything in the world to have it — it is the key that unlocks the door!

There is 1 comment for Freedom and discipline by Kittie Beletic

From: Cynthia Wilhelm — Jul 09, 2009

I love your shift of words from “discipline” to “focus.” What a great concept! So simple and yet so freeing. Thanks very much for sharing that. I, too, have felt the punitive quality of the word discipline and am happy to make the shift to focusing. My yoga teacher spoke of yoga as a “practice,” which is also a good approach to life’s endeavors.


Life lessons in self-management
by Cathy Harville, Gambrills, MD, USA


“Hiding places”
acrylic 10 x 14 inches
by Cathy Harville

I spent many years as a manager for a large company, including having to manage myself when my boss was preoccupied with other things. Those experiences helped me to learn to do the tasks that I do best, and leave the rest to the folks who reported to me. In making art, we have to do it all — shop, keep records, pay taxes, update websites, advertise, and make art — paint, frame, fix, and hang. I have embraced being the manager of myself. After all, who knows me better? I do solicit lots of consultations from willing artists, and it is nice to have such a collegial atmosphere to keep me going. I find that while I am framing, or cleaning, or working on advertising, my subconscious works on the next painting; or figures out what to change on a piece on my easel. And I have also found that when I get lazy — not wanting to organize my studio, for example — I set a small goal, with painting as a reward. Otherwise, my husband would have no clean underwear! Sometimes I wish I had an agent. But if I did, I would never have learned as much as I have. And, I would miss out on so many life lessons.


Not lazy
by Xiang Luk Lee, China

Discipline is into our nature and we seem able to be steady at hard task. Over and over. There is good life in learning many years academic training for not easy for many to hold the ground. When have accomplished this training after much sufferings and debt for school, there is nothing but to be discipline. As a young man in China not lazy I hope to be great and happy one day that is my only dream.

There is 1 comment for Not lazy by Xiang Luk Lee

From: Gentlehawk James — Jul 06, 2009

Hello and a pat on the back from California. It’s good to hear from young people who are just starting to create their life. Don’t forget that life is supposed to be fun! Enjoy it! I wish you well…..Gentlehawk


Plan your work, work your plan
by Sara Genn, Santorini, Greece


watercolour painting, 9 x 12 inches
by Sara Genn

Scheduling can be a powerful antidote for arty self-esteem dips… but it muscles out strategic dreamtime. Maybe entitlement to “lazy periods” is the artist’s General’s star. Earning it is both a psychiatric exercise and a matter of artistic maturity. Laziness, unfortunately, is a pejorative term, and there’s also that expression “don’t work hard, work smart” which can be distasteful — we’d all like to see ourselves as the hardest of workers. Further, strategy can be poo poo’d by dreamers, but it’s probably where it’s at… I follow the “plan your work, work your plan” and add to it “sandwich this planning and working between serious and committed dreaming.”


Putting miles on the brush
by Dennis Marshall, Paterson, NJ, USA


“The Creative Habit”
a book by Twyla Tharp

I have found that unless I push myself to the easel nothing will get done. Once there, seated with the palette at one side and brushes in hand, I dive into the work. For myself the only way to put those miles on the brush is discipline. This may not sound romantic but as it was pointed out by Twyla Tharp one has to make creativity a habit. Yesterday I took a 12 x 16 painting from a few years back. It was obvious that the painting did not work. Except for two plein air excursions with paint and one or two to sketch, the past few months have seen sporadic activity in the studio. Picking up that paintbrush and working over that painting was like a waterfall flowing again after a drought. The end result was a fairly good painting. It is not easy but eliminating the roadblocks that we put in our way is one of the main keys to painting. I read of artists who put in a day’s work in the studio -how I envy them! I have been in that hammock too many times. My immediate goal is to get out of the way and put in that full day. I will, though have to move some boulders that I placed on the path to my easel.


Flirtations with madness
by Olinda Everett, Matlock, Derbyshire, UK


mixed media
by Olinda Everett

Planning ahead to follow a thread is easily done; working to a schedule, is normal. But selecting and prioritizing is a problem. My work is about feeling and emotion and I use clay and glazes. To drive towards an expression of myself that goes beyond words, I need to press an idea from all sides and that means usually working on several types of form at the same time. Having made my plans and allowed for this, I then find that halfway through a piece, a new idea takes hold and off I go, completely off track. As a boss, I would have fired me long ago for undisciplined conduct. I find, though, that these flirtations with madness produce my most creative and meaningful work.




Fallow times
by Catherine Stock, France


watercolour painting
by Catherine Stock

I refer to my non-productive periods as fallow times. I think they are essential. One reason I left New York to live in the French countryside is to give myself more time to think and be truly creative. I have established a life-drawing evening every Monday for local artists in my studio, and some of my best work, I think, are the light quick sketches I make during the warm-up two minute poses. But I know that their freshness and minimalism is partly a result of long hours spent on illustration assignments.




Roots of discipline
by Sheila Norgate, Gabriola Island, BC, Canada


“Wren of unprecedented proportions”
acrylic painting, 18 x 24 inches
by Sheila Norgate

I was thrilled to learn that the word ‘discipline’ is connected in its origins, to the word ‘disciple.’ Ever since I found that out, I have felt so much better about the concept of discipline since now I see it being less about enforcement and regimentation, and more about becoming a disciple to myself, my muse, my artistic practice.


There is 1 comment for Roots of discipline by Sheila Norgate

From: Shelley R. Vancouver — Jul 06, 2009

Love your wren! A gorgeous bird and such a funny piece.

Really made me smile.




Parliament Hill, Ottawa

oil painting, 18 x 24 inches
by Bernard Poulin


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Susan von Ammon of Dunnellon, Florida, USA, who wrote, “You mentioned Brian Tracy’s book entitled The Power of Discipline. I am very interested in reading this book but was unable to find it under the title or under his name. Can you tell me if this is a new publication?”

And also Janet Morgan of Brooklyn, NY, USA, who wrote, “For a delightful read, take a look at How to be Idle, the Loafers Manifesto by Tom Hodgkinson — lots of good thoughts to chew on, like the benefits of staying in bed.”

And also Martha Faires of Charlotte, NC, USA, who wrote, “One of the best resources out there to help artists see the little steps to the big goal of artistic success is Alyson Stanfield’s book I’d Rather Be in the Studio. Your post is another reminder that I need to get my nose back in Alyson’s book and start applying her words of advice day by day.”

And also Ann Wheatcroft of Victoria, BC, Canada who wrote, “I have a problem with authority and have always disliked management on principle. Yet I am a very good organizer and can get people motivated. I’m in love with painting and every process connected, including my morning pleasure of coffee, your letter, then off to my studio or painting group.”


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Managerial Mode



From: Jackie Ivey-Weaver — Jul 03, 2009

It never seems to amaze me that anyone could be bored and have nothing to do.

I don’t seem to be a very good manager of my work(play), because there is so much to do all the time. To paint is a reward to me, computer work is fun sometimes, but mostly work to me because I have to figure out how to do simple things like how to crop a picture or get it in the right file. Wish I had a teacher who would let me take notes, and when I needed to do that task, I could retrieve my notes from my file. A secretary would be nice- I know how to run an office (even enjoy it) but would rather paint.

Well, I’ve rambled on when I should go to bed.

When you reach 78 and aren’t able to get around really well, couldn’t someone else fix the meals, clean up and let me paint?

Enjoy every day, is my wish for everyone.

From: Rita — Jul 06, 2009

Sometimes I almost feel you have peeked into my mind, seen what is there, and written in reply! It’s utterly uncanny.

We are an assorted bunch of people who get together on weekends to sketch.. paint.. And I was just having this discussion with one in the group. He thinks I am too serious.. He feels I ought to take it easy – like him. I reply that the trouble with me is that if I don’t consciously pursue it, I let it slide into oblivion, which I have done all my life. I discovered this part of myself very early in life, and did nothing about it. Therefore I make an effort to take it seriously at least now, and see how far it takes me. That doesn’t mean that I’m fretting about it. I’m pretty relaxed, but I have decided to be tenacious about it as well. Self development, like everything else – say, meditation for self awareness (or god awareness) – does not happen by itself. One has to keep at it diligently, only then does the mystical light of the inner eye open.

From: Marjorie Feldman — Jul 06, 2009

love this…Speaks to my thinking of what to “do” for my 60th. I thought Perhaps a “disciplined time” with someone who paints in this way daily…just to see how it is done! Any recommendations as to who? It would be after Labor Day Sept 5-10 or so.. I live in Oregon but could go almost anywhere.

From: Russ Hogger — Jul 06, 2009

This managerial mode sounds like another ploy to tell most of us how inept we are in marketing our own art. Artists are not usually known for their marketing skills. Call me old-fashioned but I always thought that once an artist got accepted by a gallery(s) that in it-self would take most of weight off the artist’s shoulders in that respect. Leaving the artist free to create.

From: Hank — Jul 06, 2009

Does this article does hit home. I’m a retired roofing contractor, who had to manage his own business. Do you think I can find time every day, to paint or read about art?

This article has given me the push I need to use a little discipline in managing my time.

From: Dorothy Wing — Jul 06, 2009

Thank you so much, Robert. for the understanding and support. I find it hard to be creative in Art – and do the managing. business side as well. It needs mental changing!!

From: Julie Mitchell — Jul 06, 2009

I just read “Managerial Mode”…loved it and the quotes. I’ve been blogging about getting in the studio and doing the work of art…how hard it can be and how many distractions I can find on my way to my studio…all the times I say yes to those distractions and no to the work of creating art….and where are those managers and promoters anyway?

From: Camille — Jul 07, 2009
From: Jackie Knott — Jul 07, 2009

Few of us have had the luxury our art supported us adequately over the years. Most of us have had “day jobs” at some time or another. We more than likely developed our work ethic from those jobs and, unconsciously, apply them to our art.

A lazy manager will never be a good one. Managers are paid to think, to delegate, to organize. As artists we are more or less small business owners. And as most small business owners will tell you they’ve never worked harder and longer hours in their lives. The business will thrive or die by our hand.

I love Catherine’s concept of “fallow times.” Indeed. We are thinking: building strategy, seeking ideas, resolving problems, and developing marketing.

We artists tend to be lone wolves in our work. No one tells us to go to the studio. We just go. It isn’t that we don’t play well with others. We can delegate only so much to our spouse or gallery to manage the business side of our art. The work itself is a quiet pursuit, alone in the studio or on site, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. And that takes discipline.

From: Brenda Murray — Jul 07, 2009

Hi Robert, I always enjoy reading your letters, full of various information, a dash of humour to add spice, and encouragement some of us needs from time to time. Thanks!

From: Sylvia Williams — Jul 07, 2009

I wonder if anyone else has had this “problem”. A neighbour commissioned a piece of art to go in her bathroom (specific colours, of course!) and now a year after she has had it hanging, she has decided to change the colour of her bathroom and wants the new colours put onto the collage/painting (“just slap on a bit of paint to match”!) I have told her that I do not do that and it would ruin the painting. She has now taken umbrage. She obviously does not want to fork out for another painting, and I don’t want to lose a friend. What do I do? Tell her to jump in the lake?!

From: Jackie Knott — Jul 07, 2009


From: Liz Reday — Jul 07, 2009

Having had to paint in “colour de jour” I realize that it’s a bit annoying, but if she’s a friend (and it doesn’t require complicated reframing/mats/glass) why not slap on a few new colors and see how it looks? If it looks awful, oh well….she’ll have to fork out of another painting. In today’s economy, it’s the folks who go the extra mile in “service” who get the jobs. I know this comprimises your artistic integrity….but you may find it surprisingly fun-some of those colors we never use can turn out to be really cool, especially in combinations that we would otherwise never use. What have you got to lose? As a good will gesture, it may net you more sales in the long run. And while you over at her house, you might find the perfect wall for one of your other paintings, so bring some extras. Do the paint matching at her house so she can see how difficult and time-consuming her request really is.




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