How to Plan for a Successful Year of Art

By Padraig McCaul in Art Business Advice > General Art Advice

January is a strange month for me, full of ups and downs, paralysing fear and adreneline-fuelled excitement. I can honestly say I hate and love January in equal measure.

It’s the time of year that I sit down and wrap up the previous year, update my spreadsheets and accounts, and put them into the archive folder until it’s time to send in my tax return.

It’s also the time to count the number of new contacts, subscribers and clients I have added to my contact list over the past year, and the time to weigh up whether or not I’ve met the career goals that I (sort of) set for myself at the start of the year.

If it’s been a good year then I clap myself on the back and have a sip of wine (always advisable when doing this exercise) as I remind myself of some of the big sales I’ve had or the good press coverage I managed to get or the helpful contacts I have made.

And that’s when the paralysing fear kicks in. . . Because now I have to start all over again. Last year’s successes are gone, which means last year’s money is gone, too. The income column in my spreadsheet reads NIL. And to make things worse the recession is just getting worse.

So I take another sip of wine. And then I start planning.

I believe the very act of building a new plan for the year is what keeps the fear at bay and allows you to stay positive and excited about the future.

My starting point is always to give myself some goals to aim for—financial, career, professional and personal goals.

My basic financial goal is to make the same as the previous year, but I always plan to make a little more.

My career goal this year is to continue to grow my profile and attract new collectors and admirers.

My professional goal is to create a number of paintings over the course of the year that I think have moved me forward as a painter, which ensures my work is evolving and continues to excite me.

And my personal goal is to make sure I can fit all that I need to do into a regular working week, and not to take on anything that will mean having to be away from home for long periods.

Once your goals are set you can begin building a plan to meet them. My own approach is very simple:

In my notebook I draw twelve columns, one for each month of the year.

Then I draw a number of rows, one for each of my income earning activities, such as gallery exhibitions, art fairs, painting workshops, career coaching workshops, art cards, online sales etc.

This gives me a grid, with a box in each month that corresponds to each income earning activity.

I then start to fill in those boxes, starting with my annual “main events.”

These are the important ones; the ones that I expect to generate the most income from: Wexford FRINGE festival in October, the RDS Dublin Art Fair in November, a solo show sometime in March that I’ve been working towards, etc.

I then add any gallery group shows that I need to have new work for (usually Summer and Christmas shows) and mark the month that those paintings need to be delivered by, as well as the number of paintings I plan to have.

And with that, my simple twelve-month calender shows painting commitments for March, May, June, October, November and December. In a glance, I can come up with an estimate of the number of new paintings I will need to create each month.

I can also get a rough idea of how many frames I will need, and when I will need to order them. The plan is coming together and the grid is starting to fill up. But it’s not finished yet.

I still need to add my series of summer painting workshops to the calendar, making sure that they do not clash with any major painting commitments. The same goes for my Art Coaching workshops. I try to place them so that they will not interfere too much with my painting schedule.

And finally, I add any new projects or opportunities that I might want to take on.

This year I hope to have a public gallery show on the East Coast over the summer, so I’ll provisionally mark that in for June. This will include some of my limited edition prints, so I make a note that I will need to order and frame a collection of prints for this if the show goes ahead.

Also this year I plan to produce a range of art cards which I will sell through the galleries I exhibit with, the art fairs, my painting workshops, painting demonstrations and through my website.

They may not generate a huge return but they will help to promote my work and my website, and hopefully help to generate some future opportunities. I mark that down in the February column.

And with that, my plan for the year is finished, drawn up on a single page in my notebook.

It’s all I need for now. . . I will draw up more detailed timelines for each of the activities marked in the plan, working backwards from the end date to make sure I allow myself enough time to complete everything that needs to be done (e.g. getting invitations printed, ordering frames, getting into listings, etc).

If I want to go one step further I can estimate roughly how much I expect to sell through each of the gallery shows and art fairs, how many people I expect to sign up for the workshops, and so on.

With my experience of previous years I can come up with a reasonable guess, making sure to allow for the fact that this year will probably be harder than ever because of the resession. So I can see if the activities I have planned for the year are enough to generate the income needed to meet my financial goals.

If they aren’t, I can immediately start looking for ways to make up the shortfall. And that’s the single greatest benefit of preparing a plan at the start of the year—it allows you to stay in control and to be proactive.

Just like that, the paralysing fear is gone.

Unfortunately, now it has been replaced by blind panic. How am I supposed to get all this work done in just twelve months?!?

But we’ll leave that for another day. . .

For more articles from Padraig, please visit his blog,


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