Making Art Progress, not Art Products

A fundamental distinction all developing artists need to know

The title is a slight paraphrase of Tim Packer’s words, during one of his mentor-ship YouTube videos with Brooke Cormier. At first, it might not make much sense, however after letting it sink in for a while you will realise it is actually fundamental for any beginner or developing artist’s learning process. Tim talked about a clear distinction between an artist’s work phases and this is exactly what we will look in slightly deeper detail in this article. To enrich the text with some visual content, I will be sharing corresponding pieces of my own work below.

What is progress mode?

If you have tried making art you will be well aware that not all your art works can be equally successful. “Progress mode” is when you start working, acknowledging that your final creation won’t necessarily be a masterpiece, but it will actually offer you a few opportunities to learn and make progress as an artist. This is the phase where most of the learning takes place, since you are allowed to make mistakes, experiment, try new approaches and materials or even fail. Observing other people’s style and incorporating elements into your work in order to create your own unique style is part of this process.

In brief, “progress mode” is when you experiment and you are allowed to make mistakes in order to learn. The pictures below, are extracts of my sketchbook and show exactly this learning process.

What is product mode?

This is when things get serious. Your aim in “product mode” is to produce a finalised piece of art of the best quality you can achieve. Don’t be confused though; product doesn’t necessarily need to be something you want to sell; it might be something you are aiming to present in an exhibition or even something you are making to gift to someone. Regardless of the outcome type, as long as it is important to be of certain quality – it counts as a product.

The sketches below, come from my sketchbook too and although they are not meant to be for sale, they count as products since I tried my best to achieve good quality. (I was aiming for something good).

Why would you go into one or the other mode?

Hopefully, by this point the difference of the two modes is quite clear. You might be wondering though, why should I bother making a distinction between the two and not just try my best to create nice paintings? Fair enough, however the two modes serve two completely different purposes.

The first (ie. progress mode) is necessary for you to learn, develop and make progress. Having no pressure to achieve something awesome, you are actually free to create something new, think out of the box and break your comfort zone. It does not need to be good; but it needs to explore new boundaries, techniques and ideas. This is what will help you move a step forward and become a better artist.

Product mode is also essential for a number of reasons.

  • Many people need to make a living, so creating “products” to sell is not a choice – it is necessity.
  • Others, set specific aims they wish to achieve; for instance put up an exhibition, present something at university, or prepare a descent quality outcome so they can promote themselves on social media.
  • Or finally, someone might want to produce an artwork of best quality, purely to test themselves and sort of prove they can make it happen. It is acceptable..!

Can the two modes be combined?

It is my understanding the two are and should remain fundamentally different. When you decide that your are in progress mode you should keep your mind clear of any concerns regarding the quality and success of the final piece. Literally, let yourself loose and allow your creativity to flow. If at the end, you are very happy with the result and it is up to your standards, feel free to sell it or use it as a finalized product. There is no harm in selling the final piece, however the creative process must be detached from the selling potential.

On the other hand, when working on a “product”, employ your knowledge and best techniques to produce something of highest quality, according to your skill set and experience. Although we always learn during the creative process, your focus here shouldn’t be new knowledge but a good quality outcome. If you want to learn…switch to “progress mode” and read the previous paragraphs again!


This is just my quick take of what I heard yesterday watching the video. I hope it helps, and although it might be going over old ground for some of you, I am sure that many still hesitate to dedicate time to self development and they only try to produce Art Products. Give yourself time to develop and soon your “products” will be of much better quality!

20 thoughts on “Making Art Progress, not Art Products

    1. Hi Stuart I agree! If you think about it, making art is a never ending learning and exploration process anyway. Sometimes our “experiments” and practice works are the best ones exactly because they represent this freedom and lack of worry for a good final product.

      Do you you split your time between “product” and “progress” work, or always try to create something that is good and saleable?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have been learning about the issue of progress versus product through making. I spent a period of several months, possibly a couple of years making work with progress as a focus. I wanted product at the end but I felt I had so many potential ideas I need to work them through without fear of what the result would be. Often repeating the same work if I made a so called mistake. I tried to remove judgement while I was progressing. It was highly insightful and educational. I was free of fear of the outcome. I was willing to experiment and try new things out. I still often return to those drawings and paintings looking for potential products. It came to me that I could be in artistic heaven if progress accidentally turned into product. Unfortunately what I found that hindered my progress. I need to paint on stretch canvas, use the best paints, basically always allowing for the outcome to be a product. The cost of progress, storage and waste makes it challenging. Working on paper is a good solution. However, if you try to lift the ideas to another canvas it is never as successful as the free work in progress mode.

        Liked by 2 people

  1. I understand this. It sounds like a balance between the two must be found to allow both progress and also some reward in terms of producing finalised art pieces.

    Storage is a big issue, that I am experiencing myself too. I am planning to stop using stretched canvas for practice purposes and use canvas boards or canvas sheet blocks instead. It is cheaper and definitely less tricky to store.

    Sounds like you have gone through this before, so please don’t mind me asking you this. Do you think that dedicating a vast amount of time (ie a year or two) on progress and learning only before you proceed to making products, is a good idea? Building a solid foundation before you promote yourself as a “good, professional artist”…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have been reading and this topic on ‘how long does it take’ has popped up many times. In two years is it possible to start to uncover some interesting directions and ideas about which direction to go in. I think it depends on what you focus on. How many, and how wide the techniques you are working on. If it is figure drawing with pencil then two years of regular practice. Good solid drawings will start to come out. In figurative oil painting it could 10 years, 10,000 hours of practice. Ericsson – studied the time and characteristic of practice.
      In the Cambridge handbook of expertise and expert performance (I haven’t read this). I took notes when someone else was talking about this issue. They said;
      * 10,000 hours of committed practice is needed
      * He called it deliberate practice
      * Working on technique, seeking constant critical feedback, and working ruthlessly on the shoring up weaknesses

      10000hrs over 10 years – 1000 hours over 1 year – 20 hours a week

      Liked by 2 people

      1. This is such an interesting theory and break down of the time one is expected to practice! It sounds like a massive amount of time but if you think about it months pass so quickly!

        I think especially if you set specific goals and intermediate milestones it probably makes it a bit easier to stay on track. At least my brain works better this way…having smaller goals in the meantime rather than looking at the big picture…10 years sounds soooo long!!!

        Thanks for sharing this information! Did you have any interim goals? Like preps for an exhibition or selling something etc?

        Liked by 2 people

      2. The Helinski bus theory helped.
        It completely messes you up if you over think. I would say this as this as one of things I have found the hardest to learn. I still have problems with it.

        I start out with a good idea for a series or a new direction of work. I hardly ever get to the end. Because I have hundreds of different ideas on the way. I need to fix this and stay on the f***ing bus myself. But it is hard when your not making work everyday single day to stay focused. I don’t think beyond 6 months to try to control this. Setting an date and a event for a solo exhibition is the best goal ever! It is amazing what you can achieve with a 6 month deadline looming.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Some good points raised, along with Stuart’s comment “…I think the ultimate would be to accidentally make ‘art product’ while making progress…” as I think that’s kind of what I do.
    I try and push my comfort zone and advance on every piece I produce, whether that’s a quick sketch or something aiming to be a final product. I consider myself very much in ‘training mode’ all-the-time at the moment, I sometimes call it my “ten-year” plan though of course that goalpost is constantly moving and you never stop learning.

    In one way it bugs me that I can’t spend more time with my artwork but at the same time it’s good that I don’t NEED to produce art for a living, this year I haven’t even earnt enough from it to go out for dinner. At McDonalds. Seriously !!

    What that does mean though is that I’m in the fortunate position of being able to mess up nearly every artwork without it being anything other than a learning experience. Obviously I’d love to be cracking out the image that’s in my head onto the paper but at the same time I can detect progress on each one that doesn’t achieve that goal.

    I’d say that when I set out on something in the sketchbook I’m definitely in that “progress mode” though I haven’t named it as such, perhaps I will now.

    Certainly some of the sketches I’ve done that have gone well I’d wished I’d done them on proper paper that I could sell as a product. In fact, when I now consider it, the enquiries I can recall that are of the nature “would you sell this?” have always been for sketches in the sketchbook. There’s one from a couple of months ago on a Ferrari drawing that springs to mind. I wouldn’t sell those as I’m aiming only to sell stuff of a certain quality and sketchbook paper isn’t it.

    I think I’ll start sketching on the posh stuff from now on, just on the off-chance a bit of genius falls onto the page 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Steve, first of all it is good to know that you are on the same boat really. I feel I am in a constant progress mode.

      I would love to sell my art but i feel there is so much to learn before you actually get out there and confidently present your work as something that people would pay to get. That’s why I have given myself a specific time frame of about a year or os to get myself comfortable with the basics of fine art and then try again to promote my work.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. On Steve Kid’s comment, I think progress needs to have no aim other than daily progress. The trick is to always work on good quality paper and canvas if you want options for it to be a product later. As you have stated at the end of your comment. If there is an intention for perfectionism in ‘progress’ it all falls down. Ego is the enemy as Ryan Holiday says. I published a blog post on the book Art and Fear by Bayles and Orland this week.
      The point I took away from this book about the ceramics class relates to this.

      There many artists that can’t afford, don’t have the storage, don’t have the time, to push through to the other side. To where 1 in 10 studies/artworks is successful. The next question is how many successful artist make a perfect painting every time? From what I have researched and read, very few do. I think comes down to learning to not be judgemental. Not worrying about product. This post relates to this;
      Trusting it will come on its own over time. I often have no idea I have made something that could be a product until 6 months later. Only then I can tell if that study was successful. The idea of making a painting a day or week and going for good enough, having a quick reflection and moving on to the next painting the next day has worked for me.

      I talk I’m a professional but I am still learning like the rest of us.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks Steve. I have been in my bubble working through lots of these issues. I am happy to be sharing with like minded artists. There is a massive amount of mindset and psychological issues to overcome to turn out good work. Apparently it is 30% skill and 70% psychological. I found that really interesting.

        It is really weird how when you focus on the outcome, making a product or thinking about where I will be in 2 years time the art work starts to fail. Keeping fun in a daily practice is so important. I have learnt through experience, getting into the studio and being completely present on the task, not the outcome, brings back chances of a strong outcome.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Stuart I went through your perfectionism blog and I agree with your thoughts! Trying to compare your work to the others is a tricky one. If this comparison only beings inspiration and motivation to try harder then it is acceptable. However, if it makes you feel miserable and demotivates from making more work, then as you say it is counterproductive.

        I think, as you say on your comment above, maintaining happiness and fun while working is fundamental. When stress for perfectionism is added to the equation then this is recipe for disaster in art. It always works better when you are free and relaxed to create without any concerns about the final product. This where it comes to play probably the “making products through the progress mode…”.

        I want to read through the other articles you included in one of your comments and I will reply gradually as I read them! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. I really liked the way that Stuart went through his experience visiting the gallery in the first place. I totally agree that comparing your work to others and feeling bad about it in the end is counterproductive. For me it has worked the opposite way and by looking at other peoples work, I gauge where I stand. I don’t necessarily want to reach their level but I can at least position my art somewhere and be happy about it or decide to work harder to move on somewhere better. I have included some of my thoughts on the topic here:

        Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a very interesting topic. I must say that I probably spend too much time in product mode even though I am only creating for myself, knowing that an image of the completed piece will be posted to social media.

    I realize that I need to give myself the freedom to move into progress mode. Often this can be a difficult transition for me to accomplish. I want to live in the moment and create on a whim. But, for me, it can be a difficult frame of mind to enter. I think part of me may even look at it as a waste of materials to do so. I realize that this is simply a self-imposed hurdle that only I can eliminate.

    I plan to view the video this evening with hopes of gaining additional insight. Thank you for posting this topic.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Michael, firstly thank you for taking the time to read the article and comment. As I was saying to Steve on the previous comment, I feel I am now in constant progress mode nowadays.

      When I started spending more time making art about 2 years ago I had a constant worry that all of my pieces needed to be as perfect as possible. Not only for selling stuff but also for posting on social media. That lasted for a while but I was so draining that in the end I couldn’t take the pressure. I decided I wanted to make art at my own relaxed pace, learn a few things and if occasionally something was good enough, I would post or put it up in a local exhibition. It has been working brilliantly the past few months.

      As said above I am now dedicating most of my art time to progress. I sketch for the sake of learning and developing and I only post the drawings that are reasonably good.

      I believe that with practice, at some point even the “sketchy” drawings are good enough to post or sell. It does take patience though.

      Please watch the video and let me know your thoughts. I am planning to follow those sessions myself, hoping to get some ideas and guidance out of it, since I don’t have a real life mentor…do you having anyone helping/guiding you?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks for the reply. I have watched two of the videos and plan to watch the entire series over the next few days or so. I can definitely see the benefit of process mode and agree that it is essential for growth. Even though I’m not a painter I fell that the topic of the videos and discussion between them can be applied to any medium.

        I do not have a real life mentor to hold me accountable or to offer encouragement. However, I have found that the creative community here on WP and the art community on Instagram to be extremely supportive and encouraging. I also, gain a wealth of inspiration from these communities and the interaction that can be had with other contributors such as Steve and yourself. Support and constructive feedback from these communities is an invaluable resource for someone such as myself.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. That sounds good! I am planning to watch them too within the next few weeks. I might be writing another article depending on topics. I find it useful writing about things I have heard or found online because it helps me remember and sort of make an archive.

        It’s good you feel the same way about interaction on social media. I was having the same thoughts, especially about blogging. I wrote an article you might relate too. Here it is if you wish to have a read though 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

    1. It is a brilliant way of thinking for someone who is trying to develop in painting but also any other form of art! Thanks for stopping by. Do stay in touch!

      Kind regards,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.