If you find yourself daydreaming about filling your days with creating art, there’s a good chance you’ve wondered about how to become an artist professionally.
Figuring out how to build an art career for yourself can be tricky since there isn’t necessarily a clear path to becoming an artist. The journey can look different for different people depending on their field, geographic location, goals, and more.
We’ll help you untangle the basics of becoming an artist so that you can come up with a plan that works for you.
Launching a career as an artist is all about following your passion. It’s about creating art as a vehicle used for self expression, to communicate ideas, thoughts, and feelings. Art can be used to bring people together and shape society — like with art, the opportunities for becoming a full-time artist are limitless.
From sculptures, photographers, tattooists, make-up artists, cinematographers, graphic designers, illustrators, craft artists, etc., we’ve developed a framework to get you started as an artist. Learn what it means to create art, scroll through some of the best examples of online portfolio websites for artists, dive deeper into the different kinds of artist, and learn how to price your work.
Before getting into how to become a professional artist, we should understand what an artist is.
The dictionary definition of an artist is someone who uses sculpture, music, paintings, or writings to express their creative imagination. A professional artist, then, is someone who earns an income from the art they create using their skills and imagination.
This definition is helpful but broad since there is a wide range of types of art and a long list of potential professional artist jobs within each field.
The importance of art in how the world functions should not be overlooked. Art has been present for as long as humans have been on this beautiful planet. It is found throughout history in cultures and societies across the world. Dating back to 3100 B.C., hieroglyphs were once one of the only way humans had to keep a historical record, a cultural story, apart from an oral history that would be passed down throgh generations.
Art serves a number of purposes, such as bringing beauty or inspiration to a place, people, or communities. It can act as a vehicle for change or political critique. It can also help foster a sense of community or belonging in different cultures. Sometimes art is used as a form of self-expression or a way to communicate concepts and ideas. There are times that art can be so powerful and moving that it challenges the way you think about something, change your perspective on it. It can also help you signify an important milestone or moment in your life, whether you are the artist or whether you are being asked to create that for someone else.
There is no right or wrong way to make art and because of that, there is no one path to becoming an artist or one single definition to what that means. What an artist does need to be is authentic and have their own unique vision of what they want to create and how they want to do that. The personality of an artist should be able to shine through their work — it is their creative outlet. Making art can be a form of self expression and will need to be paired with the confidence to showcase that art to the world. After all, art is meant to be seen, and experienced.
Whether you love making art as a hobby or are looking to make your art a full-time career, with persistence and tenacity you’ll be able to mold the career path of your dreams.
While it would be difficult to list every type of artist in this article, we can look at some of the most common types of studio art. These include:
There are, of course, other artists working outside of these categories. However, the type of artists listed here are among the most common, and they represent a very wide range of real-life careers.
There are so many different types of artists ranging from painters and sculptors to photographers and videographers; tattooists, make-up artists, graphic designers, illustrators, craft artists, and more. While this list isn’t comprehensive, these are some of the most common types of artists. We will dive deeper into each of these types. In each of these categories, an artist may be in the stages of being a beginner artist, emerging artist, mid-career artist or an established professional artist.
A painter is someone who uses paint to create their artwork. The paintings can be on massive canvasses or they can be tiny images painted on a surface. They are an artist who creates art using oil paint, watercolor, gouache, acrylic or even spray paint to create their work. This broad range of art can cover creating landscape images, large murals, abstract paintings, etc. Like with many forms of art, the type of painting is up to the creator and the style will often be the artist’s personal signature.
Drawers have been a fundamental part of society since the beginning of time, sketching and drafting moments or characters of our history. This type of art is usually defined as producing images on a surface – usually paper – by means of marks, which are usually created using ink, graphite, chalk, charcoal, or crayon. This form of art is one of the most accessible, as all you need is a drawing implement and a surface to mark up. Drawings come in a variety of different forms, from abstract to realistic. They are done both in a variety of colors as well in black and white. Four of the most popular art movements are known as surrealism, impressionism, realism, and abstract expressionism.
This form of art uses moldable materials to create three-dimensional objects as works of art. Sculptors use materials in a variety of ways to create their art, whether that is carving, modeling, molding, casting, wroughting, welding, sewing, or assembling. There are four main types of classical sculptures, being stone carving, bronze casting, wood carving, and clay firing. Sculptors will often specialize in one of the four main types and will hone their craft.
A photographer is someone who creates art using their camera or light sensitive materials. Professional photographers cover a broad range of industries from commercial to landscape to sports to weddings etc. Whether you are photographing people or animals, inside buildings or the outdoors, the job of a photographer is to capture stunning and unforgettable images that tell a story.
A tattoo artist’s job is to draw and apply tattoos on people’s bodies with ink . The large majority of the time tattoos are used for decorative purposes and very often tattooists have their own shop or parlor or they work under someone who has one. The job of a tattoo artist comes with its own unique challenges because you are creating art on a surface that is not flat and on an object that can move. Tattooists often also have their own style or specialty — for example, they may be known for their coloring or their intricate details and fine line work.
The canvas of a make-up artist is mostly someone’s face, although it can also sometimes be extent to more body parts when doing special effects makeup for movies, television, theater, or other productions. Make-up artists are used most commonly for applying cosmetics to performers or artists. They are also hired on a freelance basis for large events such as weddings, graduations, and important milestones.
Cinematography is about overseeing and directing the photography of film making. A cinematographer is a moviemaker who specializes in operating a camera. They are in charge of the framing of each shot and creating the look, color and lightning needed to get the perfect shot. Cinematographers need to have a creative image in mind and then be able to make that vision come to life using the environment and actors. Cinematographers can tell stories in full length feature films, television shows, or in short films.
Although graphic design falls more into the realm of design, we will discuss it in terms of art as the two are intrinsically connected and graphic designers also have to use their artistic vision to bring their work to life. A Graphic designer is someone who creates art by combining typography, graphics, and photographs, for use in advertisements, books, magazines, websites etc. Graphic designers are often used for marketing and commercial purposes, as well as relied upon for social media and other digital resources. This type of artist is heavily needed within businesses for their external marketing and internal communication.
An illustrator can sometimes be referred to as a narrative artist. They are someone who draws or creates images for magazines, books, advertisements, posters, birthday or greeting cards, medical material, and much more. Illustrators create artwork that functions as a visual representation of a piece of writing, whether its in the form of storybooks, infographics or anything in between. The artwork accompanies the writing and is used to complement or enhance the text.
A craft artist is someone who uses a variety of different types of materials and techniques to create art that is for sale. The definition of a craft artist is to create handmade objects such as pottery, glassware, textiles, or other objects that are either for aesthetic use or for a purpose or function. Craft artists also sometimes have their work used only for exhibitions. While crafts can sometimes be a hobby, a craft artist is also a trade in itself.
Art can be found across all the cultures of the world and through the millennia beginning with our paleolithic ancestors. While art may not seem as immediately important to society as other, more practical professions, it’s clear that art serves a deeply important function.
Humans are drawn to making art and derive great benefit from experiencing art. Some of the ways in which the role of the artist is significant include:
Art is also essential within other commercial fields that aren’t explicitly focused on art. For example, manufacturers and brands of all kinds rely on artists’ work to help make their products more appealing and market them.
Since the artistic path can look different for different artists, there are many ways to be a good artist. However, there are a few common threads you are likely to find connecting all experienced artists. These are personality features and skills that will increase your chances of finding success as a new artist.
If you don’t see these traits in yourself, it’s never too late to start developing them. Some of the best traits you’ll find among good artists include:
The creative process isn’t always easy, and most artists struggle at some point in their careers with a lack of creativity, technical challenges, conceptual challenges, difficulty promoting their work, and more.
Finding success as a professional artist requires being persistent and developing the grit to work through those challenges. It requires having the patience to practice again and again to master new techniques, being a firm believer in your worth even when you face rejection, and challenging yourself to improve when you know you’re not living up to their potential.
All of this requires developing persistence, patience, and grit.
Being able to take constructive criticism in stride, and to apply it to your art as you improve, will serve you well as an artist.
Sure, not everyone will “understand” your work, and their criticisms may sometimes be misguided. However, exposing yourself to criticism from people you admire and trust, and learning to view your own work with a critical lens, will make you a better artist.
As an artist, you can always get a little bit better at your craft. The best artists see themselves as lifelong students and are always curious and interested in ways to get better at what they do.
Learning how to become an artist isn’t just about obtaining a formal education or mastering certain technical skills and different mediums. All of that can help, but the best artists also develop their creativity.
Many artists are able to build a career primarily through technical skill, but if you want to really stand out and improve your earning potential, spend some time thinking about your unique vision and what you want your art to say.
To become an artist professionally, you also have to be able to market yourself and advocate for yourself.
The best artists are able to get organized and build time into their schedule for marketing, networking, and seeking business opportunities.
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To get started as an artist you will need to learn your craft, get yourself a dedicated workspace, practice lots to develop your art, and build an online website portfolio website to help promote yourself as an artist. Many artists are freelancers and may be working on a number of different projects or exhibitions at one time. Sometimes people may start out doing art as a side hobby and then move it into a full-time gig. While it can be scary to follow your passion into a career as an artist, fewer things may be more fulfilling.
Developing your skillset as an artist is the first step. To do this, you may want to do formal training in an art school where you can spend time learning about art, art history, and the foundational elements of your craft. Most of the time, an art school program will be a couple of years long which allows you the freedom and time to be fully immersed in creativity while also being surrounded by like-minded people. Without a doubt, you will leave art school with a number of skills you didn’t have when you started, plus a plethora of new concepts and ideas, and a network of peers to lean on in the future.
It’s not absolutely necessary to go to art school to become an artist. There are other ways that you can establish yourself as a self-taugh artist by doing your own research and learning. You can enlist in a workshop run by an artist you admire or take online courses. You can also explore museums or galleries of the artwork you want to specialize in. Learning from other artists’ online website portfolios is another way for you to gather knowledge and inspiration.
Regardless of whether you go a traditional route with a fine arts program at school or take the self-taught approach, always remember that your learning as an artist is going to be something that is ongoing for the rest of your life. To grow as an artist you will always want to soak in new skills and concepts and explore new elements to implement into your work.
Next up is creating a workspace for yourself to develop the art. When you start out, you may not be able to dedicate an entire studio or room in your place just for art, but carving out a dedicated space – even if it is just a canvas – will be help you get into a creative mindspace. You want to let your mind know that when you are in your art workspace you are there to create art. Be intentional with your spaces and the energy that you put into it. As you move through your career as an artist, your workspace will probably grow into its own studio, but remember that it is okay to start small. Depending on where you live there may also be artist-run studio spaces, or art collectives you can be a part of to share a dedicated workspace.
The next step in molding yourself into an artist is to hone your craft. In this stage of the process (which one could argue is always), you will need to practice your craft and play around with materials and ideas and how they work with your artistic vision. You may find yourself feeling out what your style as an artist is and start developing your own signature. Do you fall into one of the categories of surrealism, impressionism, realism or abstract expressionism? Or are you something altogether different?
A very important piece to becoming an artist is developing your online website portfolio. For a lot of people and potential clients, this is going to be the first time they are learning about your artwork and who you are as an artist. Your online portfolio website needs to be a highlight reel of your best work and it should also be an insight into who you are as an artist, as well as the type of work that you want to be doing. To get started, Format has put together some tips on building an artist portfolio website and developed a comprehensive guide to help you do so. Some important takeaways are to highlight your best work, to always focus on quality over quantity when curating your portfolio, showcase your vision as an artist, and tell your story. You may also want to share your artist C.V. so visitors can know your history of exhibition and publication and what art organizations you are affiliated with.
The last part, and one that will always be ongoing, is to promote yourself as an artist. You will want to build up your network so you can further your reach, whether that is to potential clients or other artists who may want to work with you. In terms of art, there are always new galleries, exhibitions, markets, workshops, or studios who are looking for new artists or collaborations. The more you can get your name out there, the more success you will have making it as a full-time artist. Utilizing a professional social media account to promote your artwork and link back to your website is a great way to get your work out there. You can also build your network by reaching out to other artists or potential clients you want to work with via LinkedIn or by emailing them. Building your network can be hard, but also very rewarding. It’s a tool that can lead to your own self growth and to more opportunities as an artist.
The skills you need to have a career as an artist will differ depending on the type of studio art you want to specialize in. We’ll break down some of the most important skills by popular specializations.
Across all visual art specializations, it’s important to have some understanding of concepts such as primary colors, secondary colors, the color wheel, and the rules of composition. These apply to both the fine arts and the decorative or applied arts, and while these concepts can be deviated from, an artist should first understand them well.
Next, you’ll need the technical skills that apply to your chosen field. If you’re a photographer, this means understanding how cameras, lenses, and editing software work.
If you’re a graphic designer, you’ll need to understand the software that you choose to work in. such as Adobe Indesign and Illustrator.
As a sculptor, you’ll need a strong understanding of materials and modeling, casting, carving, and assembling techniques.
Whatever your area of applied or fine arts, it’s important to develop the technical skills to produce what you envision.
We’ve mentioned this before, and you’ll see it come up again and again as a key skill if you want a career as an artist. You’ll have to go through lots of trial and error and many failed attempts until you start to create art you’re seriously proud of.
The patience to get to that point is one thing that separates those with a successful art career from those who never give themselves a chance.
In your career as an artist, you’ll need to be able to meet your clients’ deadlines reliably and also make and set deadlines for yourself.
Setting your own deadlines and holding yourself accountable to them can be even harder than meeting a deadline for a client since there is nobody but yourself to hold you accountable. A game-changing skill for any artist is to become extremely organized and reliable.
The stereotype of the scattered genius artist may be a nice thought, but it’s not likely to help you get your career to the next level.
Commercial artists, fine artists, and decorative artists alike all need to be able to develop concepts and come up with fresh ideas. Even if you work for corporate clients who give you a well-defined brief, you still need to be able to create and present original interpretations of that brief for approval.
A good way to do this is to challenge yourself to come up with 20 ideas for every project. It’s okay if some of them are unrealistic or not quite on the mark. The point is to develop your ability to explore lots of ideas and see where they lead you.
The potential income of an artist will vary depending on their field. In creative fields, it’s not uncommon for the top earners to be making much more than the median for the field, while the bottom earners may not make a living wage.
The potential earnings will also vary dramatically based on where you are in the world. However, with the advent of social media, it is becoming more common for people who live in areas that are not normally associated with the art world to make a name for themselves.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average income for fine artists, including painters, sculptors, was $65,020 in 2020. The top 10% in the field earned around $120,000, while the bottom 10% took home just under $20,000 on average.
The same source indicates that photographers earned an average of $50,290, with the top 10% averaging $86,850 and the bottom 10% averaging $22,410.
These incomes indicate that you can certainly earn a living as an artist, while making large amounts of money would require reaching the top of your field.
Within each type of art that we listed above are many potential career paths. Here is a non-exhaustive list of ideas you can pursue within some of the major art specializations:
Painters can pursue careers as fine artists, painting instructors, or commission painters.
Graphic designers can pursue careers in book and magazine design, packaging design, brand design, and more.
Illustrators can specialize in children’s books, decorative illustration, and freelance commissioned portrait illustrations among many other options
Artists specializing in textiles may pursue fashion design and construction, textile fine arts, or home textile design.
Artists working in film can pursue narrative filmmaking, documentary filmmaking, commercial videography, or conceptual art cinematography.
If becoming an artist is your calling, there is a wide array of potential jobs you can pursue. Now that you know how to get started on your journey of becoming an artist, it’s time to take your first steps towards creating the career of your dreams.
Artists who are building their online portfolio need to make sure that they are showcasing their best work and giving people insight on the type of art they do. Very often, this is the first time someone has ever seen your work as an artist so it is important that your first impression is strong and memorable. To get you started, we’ve pulled some of the best examples of artists’ online portfolio websites to give you inspiration. If that is not enough, be sure to check out the 15 best artist portfolio examples of 2022.
Maggee Irene Day is an award-winning artist who combines traditional painting techniques, with the digital realm, and loose brushstrokes to create complex paintings that blur the line between illusionism and abstraction. Her art challenges traditional conventions of landscape painting by exploring new ways to utilize tools in our contemporary painting world. Day has used the Peak template to create her website, which is an easy to navigate grid screen — it works best when displaying lots of images at once.
Template used: Peak
Paula Parole is a contemporary artist who uses colorful work that embraces mixed media — painting, illustration, photography and filmmaking. The German London-based artist mostly creates artwork with an edge of contemporary social sarcasm. Parole’s online portfolio website was created using Ora, which is a clean template with a vertical scroll — it works best for highlighting a few of your best images.
Template used: Ora
Felix Treadwell is a London-based award-winning artist who is always high-spirited and somewhat child-like. Treadwell’s paintings and visual language have become intense, using both brushwork and simple comic-like imagery starring big-eyed characters. His online portfolio website was created using the Horizontal Left template, which is both an intuitive and easy-to-navigate template that allows you to view your work like a film strip. It is best when used to highlight a few of your best images.
Template used: Horizontal Left
As a new artist, pricing your artwork can be challenging so it is important to remember that you are deserving of being well paid for your time and hours. When pricing artwork, you should keep in mind that you want to make sure you cover the cost of all of your expenses and also that you are taking into consideration the number of hours you’ve spent on the project. For a full breakdown of how to price your artwork you will want to start with some market research, follow a simple equation, have confidence in your work and its worth, and be consistent with your pricing regardless of where it is being sold.
To get started, it is a good idea to get accustomed to the going price of artwork in your area. Since there are a number of different types of art, you are going to want to find the best comparison — whether that is similar type of paintings, photographs, or videography work. Where you are located, the experience you have, and what you are selling will all be important factors to consider. Do as much research as you can, whether that is scouring social media sites, Etsy, or talking to galleries and local artists. Consider the artists that are most comparable to you — this should give you a great jumping off point.
The next step is the actual equation to come up with a price. The basic equation you should follow is: Expenses + Hours (x Hourly Rate). It is important that you work out what that hourly rate looks like for you, because this will heavily affect the outcome of your pricing. As a benchmark, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has the median hourly wage for fine artists (including painters, sculptors, and illustrators) at $25.16, where the mean hourly wage is $31.26. One of these two numbers, or somewhere in between may be a good starting point for you hourly wage. Remember, as your experience and reputation grows you’ll want to adjust your hourly wage.
Finally, it is important to cover the cost of the expenses or, in other words, the materials you’ve used to create the art. You are going to want to make sure you take into account everything you used to create your artwork so that you are properly paid for your work. This also includes things like studio rental fees, and other tools like laptop or phone plan, if they are part of your process or business.
Part of pricing and selling your artwork is having the confidence to do so. You should have the confidence in the price that you set, so that even if people push back on the price you stand strong. This can be challenging to do and it often comes with internal thoughts of self doubt or imposter syndrome, but always remember that you are worth your time. And so is your artwork.
Finally, you are going to want to make sure that your pricing stays the same regardless of where it is being sold — whether that is at your studio or in a gallery. The same goes if you are selling your work on different websites, whether that is on your own or on a third-party site. For one thing, the lack of consistency would upset customers or potential customers, and there is also the potential that it will upset a gallery if your work is listed with a cheaper price tag if selling from your studio. Whatever price you set, is the price it needs to be across the board.
Keep in mind there are many other complexities to pricing your artwork. For example, you can have a tiered pricing model with editioned artwork. As the editions sell, fewer pieces will be available on the market and your pricing should be reflective of that scarcity.
Of course, we have only scratched the surface of what it means to be an artist and to have a career in the art world but this guide should give you a good starting point. Working as an artist has its challenges but is also incredibly rewarding and gives you the freedom to explore so many different practices and types of work in order to inform your artwork. One thing to keep in mind is that your art is meant to be seen. The best way to do that when you’re starting out is to have a strong online presence by using social media and building a website where you can host your portfolio. Once you have a website you can use that to share your work with potential buyers or to submit your work to exhibitions, calls for submissions, and galleries.
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