12 Things Christian Artists Can Do Right Now to Start Thriving | Matt Tommey

Engage Art | Artist to Artist, Reflection & Growth | October 3, 2022

Since I have the great honor of working with hundreds of Christian artists in my artist mentorship program, I'm always getting questions.  One of the most common questions I get is, "what can I do right now to start thriving?" Here are 12 things you can do right now to start thriving as a Christian artist:

1. Just show up & do the work

There’s just no substitute. It’s been said it takes 10,000 hours to become a master at your chosen artistic medium. So whether you’re a painter or metal artist, potter or basket maker, you’re going to need to put in some serious studio time. 

The beautiful thing about it is that for the artist, the process of being in the studio is its own reward. Yes, many of us are also after profitable art that we can sell to make a living, but for the artist, the magic of creativity happens long before the sale occurs. It happens when we walk into the studio, turn on the music, prepare our materials, and get in the zone where the outside world fades into the background.

2. Push through the ugly

Many Christian artists I’ve known, including myself, go through periods of creating crap. It just seems like nothing satisfying—nothing of value—emerges. Sometimes this phase lasts a week; other times, it might last months. “Ugly ducklings turn into swans,” goes the story, and it’s true. These “stuck seasons” lay the foundation for something new to emerge. If you stop in the “ugly” phase, you’ll never get through to the place of creative resolution. Keep pressing, reworking, walking away and returning until you know that you know it is finished.

3. Encourage yourself and silence your inner critic

Ah, the inner critic. Every artist’s unwelcome yet ever-present companion. The voice of your inner critic will never go away simply because you wish it. The voice must be silenced by a greater voice, the darkness pierced by the purity of light. Who are you and what do you want? The dominant inner narrative in your soul can be guided not by your emotions but by your choices. Practice some creative visualization, create a vision board, journal your personal and creative affirmations daily and practice gratitude as the critic is silenced.

4. Take time to rest and renew

It’s been said that creativity happens best on the edge of order and chaos. That said, we can’t exist permanently in that place of tension. We also need time to reflect, rest and renew our physical bodies and our inner lives so fresh ideas can come to and through us. For artists, this is not a luxury; it is essential.

5. Fill your imagination

When it’s time to create, artists create from the heart. And we go inside our imagination to draw upon the inspiration and understanding that lies within. If we’ve not invited the Holy Spirit into our creative process, and intentionally filled our imagination with inspiration, then the work becomes mundane; studio time only makes us anxious. What exhilarates your spirit? What makes you stand in awe and wonder? Movies? Music? Sculpture? Great art or theater? Whatever feeds your inner life should be on your regular menu. 

6. Don’t eat seed

Over the years, I’ve found that emerging artists have one main question they are always asking: “How do I make money with my art?” The better question is: “How can I keep the money I’m making with my art?” For most people, becoming a successful Christian artist is about building a bridge to a dream—selling your work to the public until you can transition from a 9 to 5 job and create art vocationally. All of that takes money. I always encourage artists to take the money that’s coming in initially from selling or teaching and put it away in their “business envelope.” That way, when a big show, marketing need, or other opportunity comes along and they need capital to invest, they have it. Money invested at the right time in your business can be valuable seed that will later produce the harvest of success you desire.

7. Create what you love

We’ve all done it. You sell a couple of pieces that are similar, and you start thinking, “If I make 1,000 of these, I’ll be a gazillionaire . . . so I better get to work!” Only to find out that you sell a grand total of zero at the next show. While we should always keep an eye on what’s selling and what our clients are genuinely responding to, at the end of the day, we must make what we love. Otherwise, we become robotic craftsmen, replicating patterns instead of creating out of the place of inspiration and passion. Create what you love and trust that the money and opportunities will follow.

8. Reach up and reach back

We have each gotten where we are because of special people God placed in our life— at the right place and time—to teach, lead, guide, and inspire us to the next level. No matter where you are in your creative journey, you can do the same for someone else. In addition, there’s always someone who’s further along than you are on your creative path. Make a habit of reaching back to help others along, and reaching up to learn from those who have blazed the trail. As you purposely pursue these genuine relationships, you’ll become a river of inspiration, receiving and giving the abundance flowing through you.

9. Tell your story

Art is not a commodity. No one buys great art or fine craft because it is the cheapest or on sale. People purchase great art and fine craft because they desire connection with the maker, process, materials, and ultimately their own human experience. Your personal creative story is a huge part of the attraction, because when people connect to your story, they connect more deeply to your work. It’s no longer just a basket, mug, or painting; now, it reflects the story of the maker who poured their heart and soul into the piece. Art becomes like ancient cairns, pointing the way and commemorating significance in the journey. It becomes an intersection point where heaven meets earth and transformation takes place.

10. Dream your dreams

Most Christian artists I’ve met over the years are so completely overwhelmed with their present circumstances—creative, relational, and financial—that they’ve lost the ability to dream and imagine beyond their current life experience. What happened to the kid on the playground who believed he could climb to the top of the highest tree on the tallest mountain? What happened to the little girl who wanted to be a famous fashion designer in New York City? I’ll tell you what happened. Life happened.They got bogged down in the details and lost sight of their dreams. Without dreaming and imagination, we become robotic manufacturers of commodities. Dreams, desire, and imagination transform us into artists who allow all of life to converge in the studio to create beautiful objects that help others live with wonder.

11. Say no to the wrong things and yes to the right ones

You’re an artist, yes, but you’re also an entrepreneur, shipping department, marketing department and custodial staff, in addition to whatever personal and civic obligations find their way into your life. If you say yes to everything, you allow everyone else’s emergencies, priorities, and passions take precedence over yours. Design your life. Dream your dreams. Create what you love. Live a beautiful life and allow your priorities to be the measuring stick for everything else you allow into your life. That’s not selfish, it’s healthy.

12. Connect to your source

If you’ve been an artist for very long, you realize that your creative gift is not your own. It’s not even the result of your hard work. Your creativity is a gift from the Creator, and we have the incredible opportunity to collaborate with the Creatorin order to reflect His beauty. Without that connection, we die creatively because we cut off the source of our inspiration. When we’re connected to the Creator, we go further than we ever could on our own. With that connection, we sail with the current, leaning into the process of creative collaboration that was designed especially for us. We always prosper because that’s the design of the Creator. 

This article was originally published by Matt Tommey in 2017 and is adapted with his permission from https://www.matttommeymentoring.com/. Matt Tommey is an artist, internationally-known Christian speaker, and the author of 7 books who is passionate about helping artists thrive spiritually, artistically and in business. He is a mentor to artists around the world through his Created to Thrive Artist Mentoring Program and also hosts The Thriving Christian Artist Podcast. Find more resources from Matt at https://www.matttommeymentoring.com/

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