Top Traits of Successful Artists

by Carolyn Edlund

What’s the secret of success? Here are some traits of artists who know.

Picasso QuoteThey have a plan. Successful people in any business, including artists, have a game plan which they have thought through carefully, and they act on that plan. Some artists say they want to become successful, and  actually float along without really having a goal and a strategy. But without a vision and a plan to achieve it, success cannot follow.

They have a mature body of work.  To stand out from the crowd, artists need a well-executed, recognizable portfolio in their own style – not something derivative, or work that was created to try to fit into a trend or to please everybody – which ends up pleasing nobody. Successful artists spend hundreds of hours in the studio, developing their natural signature style which expresses  their authentic personality.

They create a network.  Many times it’s the people you know who can help you succeed rather than how talented you are. Successful artists seek out beneficial relationships and build on them by following through, and by giving – referrals, feedback,  friendship.  And, they are open to receiving as well.  Connecting with a mentor, a supportive peer group, potential collectors, gallery owners, and others, is easier when you take a genuine interest in them and in their businesses. What goes around comes around.

They act professionally. Successful artists know they are in business, and act accordingly. They invest time, money and effort in getting the best possible photography to present their work. They have a thoughtful, well-designed website to show their portfolio to its best advantage. They show up on time, and do what they say they will do. Their business etiquette is well-honed, and they communicate well with customers.

They go the extra mile.  It’s one thing to seek business, but sometimes it doesn’t work out. That’s just a speed bump to artists who are in a success mindset. They think of ways to take advantage of opportunities in any situation, and take bold steps to get back on track.

They manage their time effectively. It’s easy to get distracted, but successful business people avoid this by prioritizing, and focusing on their most important tasks. They learn to delegate smaller duties, and to schedule themselves. And they know that a regular, consistent studio practice is crucial to success, as is creating a work/life balance.

They don’t give up.  Highly focused and set on their goals, artists who are successful stay the course even during tough times. They know that they need to be consistent and persistent to gain traction, and start selling.



  1. Great reminders of what any dedicated artist should already know, but often forgets. I think the plan part is the hardest to stick to. Taking the time to go back over a written plan is often (at least in my studio) set aside for other, seemingly more import, things. Thanks, Carolyn, for the jumpstart. I will review my goals today!

  2. Excellent article, Carolyn — thank you for sharing these little pearls of knowledge with us!

  3. What a brilliant post, Carolyn! What truly foundational ideas.

    I humbly add one more important ingredient: confidence. If we don’t believe in ourselves and believe we have something great to share with the world – it is so hard to do any of the other listed actions.

    Picasso is the perfect example of someone who had immense success (read confidence) despite doing work, that, at the time (and still today!), was at best considered “innovative” but at worse – was “weird” or even totally disliked. But – how many actual “schools of art” did he start? 2 – 3? Amazing.

    Surely we all can learn from such great historical figures. Which is one other ingredient that I find has guided my successful 20 year art business: learning more and as much as I have time for – every chance I get.

    I have been involved in small business/entrepreneur activities for over 50 years, but I would never miss reading your sage advice! We all need constant reminding of what it takes to succeed and to CONTINUE to succeed.

    But be careful what you learn: there is a lot of garbage being put into cyberspace these days since anyone can start a blog for free. So just be careful who and what you source for mentors and other skills needed to grow an art business.

    Carolyn is an excellent and solid mentor. Your cousin who is in grad school learning how to write a business plan for opening a chain of fast food restaurants might not be as valuable. And someone who blogs but has never ever needed nor tried to run a full business in the art field might be another waste of our precious learning time. I read (regrettably) a blogger who actually proposed that it would be “smart” to just copy other people’s work until they got their own style. OMG. The person said it would be a way of learning techniques and doing something that was already successful would help them get sales. My jaw dropped. Still drops when I think about that “advice”.

    As usual…THANKS Carolyn – for never wasting my time and always giving us solid, well-established, and legitimate food for thought.

    • Thanks so much for the feedback and your insights, McKenna. I think we could definitely add more traits to this list. In fact, that might be a good group discussion!

  4. Tips from the masters. Love it. Excellent ideas to remember when things get hectic. Thanks so much!

  5. An interesting post after just reading The $12 Million Dollar Shark! What I gleamed from the book is what you’ve said about networking. The top artist in the world, Warhol, Hirst, Richter, etc networked and got in with branded galleries and became branded artists…their personas becoming more important then their art. Fascinating book…I learned a lot about the art market from it!

  6. Great advices, Carolyn. Like everything great, they seem simple, obvious, or easy after they are said or done. As Janet Glatz said, it is a reminder of what every artist should know, but as it often happens, we, artists, might remember this or that from your list of’ “must do”. Your article get them all together so wonderfully that I want to have them on the sticky-notes posted on my fridge as a daily reminders. Thank you! I feel lucky I found your blog.

  7. A wonderful refresher course…you know of all this, but forget to implement it, getting carried away by other tasks. Thank you.

    • Thanks for your comment, Albine – I’ve often had the experience of reading about art and business, or hearing a speaker, and thinking – yes, I have intuitively known this. And it seems this has been a validation of what you know to be true as well. So in that the article is a success.

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