Creating Art for Yourself

As working artists, creating art for yourself can be one of the hardest things to do. There is a slippery slope where one loses sight of creativity for your own sake and instead, only works on commissioned work. After all, that’s where the money is, right? With that mindset you might even start to feel guilty about working on something for yourself. But getting paid isn’t such a bad thing, is it? So what’s the big deal?

One word.


The Mayo Clinic defines burnout as “special type of work-related stress — a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.” And most of us know that mental and physical exhaustion can lead to any number of illnesses.

Not allowing time for your own artwork can lead to burnout as projects on the back burner can stay there for years. Or worse…are forgotten about. (Photo Credit: Copyright: dolgachov and Igor Fjodorov)

Yes, it’s all fine and good to make money creating art for someone else. But let’s face it, creating art for someone else is considered work. You might enjoy the work for the most part, but it isn’t the same as creating art for yourself. The work you do for yourself is for the pure enjoyment of creating and not because someone is paying you to do it. Granted, the piece might be sold later, but initially it was all for you.

Creating art for someone else can start to take its toll even though you might enjoy the work. Yes, it’s your creativity that brings your client’s ideas to life, but in the meantime you put all of your creative ideas for things you want to do on the back burner. Postponed until you “have the time.”

Time that you somehow never seem to have.

Keeping time for your own work is just as important the time you spend on commissions. (Photo Credit: Copyright: Sergejs Rahunoks)

Think about it this way…in corporate America, there are laws for businesses in regards to how much you can work your employees. In most cases, people work Monday through Friday for eight hours each day with two breaks and a lunch. These employees get Saturday and Sunday off. Studies have shown that we avoid burnout by taking breaks and having a couple days off to recuperate and restore ourselves. In turn, we are more productive throughout the work week.

Creating art for yourself may require working it into your schedule, such as working on commissions Monday through Friday and your own work on the weekends.

For entrepreneurs, which includes working artists, those laws don’t apply to us. And in fact, many work all week long. Others manage to keep very similar work hours. If you’re one of the all week long folks, consider keeping Saturday and Sunday for your own artwork. Even blocking out a short period of time to do a daily sketch can help you avoid burnout. Granted, you’ll still be working, but you’ll working on something fun and for yourself instead of what someone is paying you to do (ie. work).

And avoid feeling guilty about it by calling it a mental health break!



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Myra Naito

Myra Naito


Freelance copywriter who is passionate about art and fitness. Check out my art blog at or follow me @mnaito_fineart .