Deep Thought Thursday: Working 9 to 5?

How many hours a week should a full-time artist devote to his or her career?

This Deep Thought comes from a recent guest post in which Michael Shane Neal mentioned the importance of working art–citing 12-18-hour days. (He didn’t mention if that was 7 days a week or 5 days a week.)

What is necessary and how much is too much?
Picture 11  

Image ©Caroline Roberts, Killing Moon.

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17 comments to Deep Thought Thursday: Working 9 to 5?

  • Michael is surely blessed to be able to spend so much time on his art… For my part, since I am still holding a 30h/week job, I find I can only work about 15-20h a week at my art, be it painting or other. When I have an exhibition coming up (which is the case now) I then spend every evening and days off at it, but I find that I cannot paint for longer then 5-6 hours in a day, I just get too tensed and my eyes get tired, so I switch to other tasks.

    I have suffered the consequences of being overtired before, so I do watch out for this not to happen again! I think everybody has to listen to their own rhythm and limits.

  • This is a very interesting question. I think that this will vary a lot from person to person. You want to work enough so that you have time for art, sales, marketing, and other related activities, but not so much that you burn out. For some people, perhaps a few hours per day (or week?) is enough, for others, much more.

  • Everything you do should be intentional and necessary. If not, then why do it? Too much for one person may be the a passionate pursuit for another. Or the 80hrs/week could be you spinning in a rut while the rest of your life falls apart.

    Anyways, I probably spend 50-60 hours a week on my art business. Although, what is work and what isn’t is sometimes blurred. Does going to openings count as work? What about hanging out with other artist friends, or reading art related writing? These are things I’d do for fun anyways.

  • Most artists I know who make a living with their art easily work 40-60 hours a week, if not more. They treat their art business just like any other, and that means full days and dependable painting hours. It also means figuring out a system to prevent burnout – whether that means taking a break to exercise halfway through the day, or setting hours for painting/phone calls/emailing etc.

    I split my painting time with being a stay at home mom, so I only have have two full days per week to paint. I find that I spend about 16-25 hours per week painting, and at least 5-10 hours doing business stuff. I know that if I had 20 more hours to spend painting and marketing, I’d be that much more successful – just waiting till the kids are older =)

    Michael Shane Neal was very successful at a relatively young age, and I’m sure his drive had a lot to do with it. I guess the answer to your question is, how bad do you want it?

  • Good question Andy…what constitutes work for an artist? I find that when I am not painting I am thinking about the painting I am working on or compositions and approaches for paintings on the horizon. I cannot turn that off. Is that work? It is creative thinking and part of the process so it must be work albeit one of the most enjoyable aspects of an artist’s work. So who can count the number of hours dedicated to that?

    However, the discipline of working a set schedule physically in the act of painting is necessary for me. I am a professional but not full-time artist although I aspire for my work to have the quality that a full-time artist would produce and to produce a reasonable body of work. Therefore I need the discipline to block out painting time (for me it is one weekday 9AM-6PM and one weekend day 3-6). I do some painting during other evening hours, and all of my business, promotion and other related activities happen in the evenings, early morning and weekends. Total art biz hours a week between 15-25.

  • I have a “day job” too. And a family. And other community obligations. Plus I need to exercise and see friends and read. I schedule my studio so it doesn’t get “bumped.” Studio time is usually 12 hours a week. But I also work the art festival circuit which means lots of weekends away from home. And like others have mentioned if I’m not physically in my studio, I’m there mentally. I’m a full-time artist with a full-time life filled with all those wonderful people and events that inspire my work. I’m always working–just not always in my studio or my booth.

  • For over twenty years I have squeezed my professional art career between kids and loads of laundry! and magically i get painting done…but, art has to start in the head before it makes it to the canvas anyway. i do a lot of thinking first.

  • When I run 10km , & I run real slow, it can take something like an hour, (I don’t clock it), then I walk for a while just to stretch it all out…The next day, I’m ok, a little faded, & then 48 hours later, it hits me & I have to sort of nap & do a bit of not so much…When I am in the painting phase, it is like that for me…Really intense, but I need at least 3 days in between takes…I found I have too many accidents if I try to work at that intensity without rest breaks…
    The thinking part, which is my prep, is all the time…Also, the being nice to strangers & giving them a business card, or the reading & internet marketing…
    This is my life, but for me, working too hard is just as bad as not working enough…(also, some of my best work was the quickest?)

  • I admit I work in Bursts like Sari as well, I will paint frenetically for days then be out of the studio for a week. I should schedule time in the studio but it never seems to work out. I have to fit time around my disability, when I am physically up for the strain of painting.

    when I am not I put in full hours marketing, posing my models and getting references, thinking up new ideas, pushing submissions, all that usual stuff. then there is the social media, the blogging, the learning. all of this would easily consume a full working day.

    the joy of doing what you love is that it never truly feels like work. individual parts do, but as many people here have said, we’d be doing it all anyway. sometimes I actually feel guilty for loving what I do so much.

  • All you have said above is very encouraging to any serious artist. I thought much and moved from watercolour to acrylics and from there I am now doing oil painting and I enjoy it very much. I only wish that my paintings would be bought and that I will soon have the necessary connections. Do help me in more ways to become a great artist. I believe in myself befor believing in God and his creative powers which i share with him in arts. Bye and God bless you.

  • This is what I like the best about being an artist. There is no “one size fits all”. There are no rules – only what works best for each one of us.

  • Whenever an artist thinks about how many hours, they cease to be an artist.

  • Ooh, AnnaMaria, I love that idea. Fiona and Jennie, I agree.
    Historically mankind has expressed a need to know ‘how much’. It is a way of measuring something that has value that is hard to place. How much money is enough money? How much time is enough time?
    Enough is when you are satisfied you’ve done all you can do.

  • I believe a full-time artist needs to think in terms of what other (successful) business owners put in timewise, then do the same. Wishing and hoping won’t create success but hard work may. I also think the time needs to be well spent; including time for networking, research, record keeping and visiting galleries etc.

  • “Whenever an artist thinks about how many hours, they cease to be an artist.”

    I’m sorry, but I hate statements like this because they’re deliberately insulting to anyone who has different work habits than the poster.

    I know artists who are very regimented, and artists who are very free with their work schedule – it often depends on the personality type of the artist, and has little to do with the quality of art being made. I disagree that it is their manner of setting work hours that determines whether what they produce is “art” or not – to say that an artist who works 9-5 ceases to be an artist because he watches the clock is demeaning and hurtful, and a bad message to send to a lot of beginning artists who want to know what it takes to make a living in this business.

  • I don’t think you can answer that. If you are a full time artist you don’t look at the clock and calculate such things. At least I don’t. I think everyone is too obsessed with schedules and keeping track of what they did and for how long. I don’t look at the clock and keep track, what is the point? To me, a full time artist works 24/7 whether or not they are ‘in the studio’ or on the internet or in the gallery. You eat, drink, breathe, sleep ART.

  • I believe that if you treat your art seriously then you will work hard at it…the hours will happen. I schedule regular painting days and then the other stuff is fit in between them. The more you paint the better you get. I don’t feel guilty anymore about my other obligations, etc. I also have to manage my husband’s business, my business, and then our home…just keep your priorities.