Set Goals, Make Your Art Happen!

Do you set goals for your art practice? We were talking about goal setting and doing annual reviews as part of our Turning Up Art Camp in IGNITE!* this month. I know a lot of people struggle with getting to painting. They end up doing anything and everything to avoid the one thing that feels so important to do! 

One of the things that helps me to turn up is to set goals. But this alone isn’t enough to make them happen. I need to make sure to block off studio time in my calendar. Yet even then, that precious block of time has a way of being eroded by things that seem more urgent. Because of this experience, I’ve found I also need to understand why these goals are important to me. Knowing this helps me stay motivated and keeps me on track and focused on taking action toward my goals. 

My art practice goals ultimately stem from my deep desire to paint and what it will mean if I don’t turn up. If I stay away from art-making too long, there’s an ache that rises from deep within. I feel tormented by the not doing, by my not turning up. Everyday I don’t do this thing that is bursting to come forth, my soul withers. Yes, that may sound overly dramatic but it feels that way. On the other hand, when I paint, no matter the struggles in the actual doing, I find myself smiling with the joy of it. 

And so, in the quiet between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I take time to set goals and figure out how to make them happen. I review the past year and then dream for the next by asking myself a number of prompting questions. I find these questions helpful so thought they may be of use to you too. They can help to clarify what you want, to understand what drives you, and to decide what you want to accomplish in the new year.

Reviewing The Year

First, let’s look back at the past year. Here are some of the questions I dig into:

  1. What did you accomplish/achieve this past year that you’re most happy about?
  2. What did you do to make these accomplishments happen?
  3. What new things did you discover about yourself either positive or negative?   
  4. What was the biggest challenge you faced this year that prevented you from getting to your art-making?   
  5. What would you do differently about approaching that challenge?
  6. Which beliefs/excuses/fears/doubts stopped you from pushing forward   
  7. How do you feel about the art you made this year? (e.g. Are you proud? Disappointed? Ambivalent?) 
  8. What makes you feel that way? 
  9. Who and/or what are you most grateful for this year?
  10. If you had a word of the year – how did it influence your behaviour (or not) over the last year? 

Looking Forward

When you’ve answered those, it’s time to dream about what you’d like to accomplish in the coming year. Ask yourself:

  1. What are your BIG dream goals for your art and art practice? What do you want to achieve? Write down all your ideas! Don’t hold back. Allow yourself to imagine and ignore any ‘buts’ that pop up.  (“I’d like to do x but…”)
  2. What will you need to do differently to make these happen?
  3. What skills do you want to learn, improve, master?
  4. Who can teach you these skills? (If you don’t know, how can you find out?)
  5. What mental blocks do you want to overcome? How might you do that?
  6. Describe how you want to remember the coming year when you look back on it a few years from now. What are the milestones or fantastic things that happened? 
  7. How are you going to celebrate your goals when you achieve them? (I’m really bad at celebrating my wins!)
  8. What’s your word, phrase, or theme for the coming year? It should inspire and motivate you! 

Take your time with these questions, ponder and chew them over. When you’ve flushed out as much as you can, then it’s time to set your goals and make sure they happen!

Set Goals and Plan Them Out

Decide on your three big goals for the year and, as you do, consider making them SMARTER goals. (I took this idea from Michael Hyatt’s book, Our Best Year Ever.)

What are SMARTER Goals?

  • Specific goals. Vague goals don’t inspire us!
  • Measurable. How do you know when you’ve reached the goal?
  • Actionable. Goals are fundamentally about what you’re going to DO, what you will take action on
  • Risky. We tend to rise to a challenge so set goals that stretch and challenge you
  • Time-Keyed. Deadlines spur action!
  • Exciting. We stand a better chance to reach goals if we are internally motivated so go with what excites you
  • Relevant. These are goals that are relevant to your actual circumstances and true interests; goals that align with your life, your values, your ambitions

Got that?

Now let’s plan to make those goals happen! Goals without action are merely dreams (I think there’s a quote about that!).

Write down a goal. Below that, start listing the action steps you can take to make the goal happen. And if a step seems, in itself, too overwhelming, then break that step down into micro steps. Each step you tick off will help you feel like you’re making progress and moving forward towards your goal. And that feels great! So make sure to have some small easily achievable steps.

Now it’s time to get out a calendar. The first things to add are the known dates of say any workshops, holidays, exhibition deadlines, etc. Then start blocking off time to do those small steps. Working backwards from your goal’s end date helps to do this. 

Our days can get filled up so easily. We can get distracted off our art path, taken away from our art and all that it gives us. Your goals and accompanying actions will help you stay on your art practice path.

Consider these words by Steve Jobs (from his commencement speech at Stanford) in terms of your art:

“I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

This idea ties in with the beautiful John O’Donogue poem, A Morning Offering that I like to read from time to time as a reminder of what’s important in my life!

Tell me, do you set goals each year? What are the things you do to make them (and your art!) happen? If you don’t set goals, let me know if this post has inspired you to give it a go!! And for bonus points, feel free to share one of your goals for the new year 😁

Wishing you the happiest of holidays and some space and time to make brilliant and beautiful plans for the New Year!!

~Until then..


*IGNITE! is an art-making monthly membership. If you’re interested in joining, go ahead and join the Waitlist here. We reopen in the Spring!

PS. Here’s a link to the Michael Hyatt book

Another book I’ve found helpful is, Write It down, Make It Happen

PPS. I’ve written about this struggle before in November 2018 and November 2020

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9 thoughts on “Set Goals, Make Your Art Happen!”

  1. Thanks for the encouragement! I’m pleased with how 2021 turned out. Like you, I start to wither if I’m not painting…..For 2022, I plan to spend even more time in my art space (the former dining room) working, learning and growing……Happy New Year!

    1. Lori how wonderful that 2021 was a good year for you! Love that you are committed to spending more time with all aspects of your art-making. Now make that goal SMARTER 😁

  2. Thanks so much, Gail, for this kick in the pants (for me)…..I still have on my to-do list, sitting on my calendar, for THIS PAST YEAR — “set art goals” — and I never did!! I did accomplish quite a few things, but it was never in a consciously ordered way. I’m going to spend quite a bit of time reflecting on these questions in your blog, and set down some MEASURABLE goals for my art practice. Time is a wasting — we never know what time will be left for each of us, so Steve Jobs’s quote is very apt. My sister died just 10 years ago, at the age of 60, due to pancreatic cancer, which didn’t give her much time to plan for those last 11 months; in her honor, I will apply myself to my art — I know Connie would have liked me to do so, and was one of my biggest cheerleaders. Thanks, Gail!!

    1. Thank you soooo much Paula for sharing your reactions and your own personal journey. I nodded my head when I read about your note on your to-do list – to set art goals. Time has a way of getting away from us and before you know it, we are at the end of yet another year. I love that you are going to set some measurable goals and that you are going to honour your sister Connie by doing so. Feel free to record any here. Visibility and accountability are too ways to make sure you get things done!
      Thank you again for sharing such a personal story. Let’s do this thing!!!

  3. Dear Gail,
    Thank you for this post, so full of thought and spirituality. And the poem is a keeper, lovely in all aspects.
    Might I contribute this idea, on the subject of goals. You write “Goals are fundamentaly about what you DO”.
    That certainly is a part of it, but more fundamentaly still is, one can have the goal of what one thinks. I really believe our thought determines our experience. How does this apply to art? If we realize that we ourselves are not the source of “our” creation, this frees us from ourselves and opens a much wider horizon. We can never lack inspiration because the source is inexhaustible. That doesn’t mean each piece is a masterpiece but we can have the courage to begin all over again and one day, success will be there.
    With many thanks for all the work you do for us and best wishes for the coming year.
    Nancy Malard

    1. Nancy, thank you so much for your own thoughts on this topic! I love that you’ve taken us deeper still. And yes, I agree with you about the relationship between our thoughts and our experience. And I think your meaning, when relating it to the art experience, is that when we think/believe that inspiration is everywhere, that creating comes through us, we can then let go of our own need to be the master of our creations and detach ourselves from the outcome. This in turn gives us courage to start again another day. And it’s by this continuous work that success will be inevitable. Please let me know if I’ve got this right!

      Thank you again for adding your thoughts here. I also want to thank you for leaving comments as it’s reader responses that rewards me and fills my soul, keeping me going on this blogging track!
      Best wishes to you!

  4. Yes Gail that’s exactly it. When we shift our thinking from being the “master” to just being the “passer”, great things can happen. Remove our “self” from the creative process and the outcome will follow (well, not always as we would wish). But we will have the courage, as you say, to start all over again. To paraphrase Stefan Zweig, we become the unwitting passer of a power higher than ourselves.

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Gail Sibley

Artist. Blogger. Teacher.

My love of pastel and the enjoyment I receive from teaching about pastel inspired the creation of this blog. It has tips, reviews, some opinions:), and all manner of information regarding their use through the years – old and new. Please enjoy!

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