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.
Table of Contents
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.
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.
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:
It helps to process the meaning of important concepts and events
It helps to bring beauty and inspiration into our lives and communities
It can foster a sense of community and belonging
It can evoke a deep sense of awe, wonder, and transcendence
It can challenge our ideas and offer new perspectives
It can present ideas in a fresh way and capture a desired audience's attention
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.
By understanding the characteristics of a good artist, you can learn how to become an artist and create an actionable plan for yourself based on your goals. Make sure your plan includes the following:
There are many ways to develop your skills as an artist. Studying some art history and learning about what art came before in your field can help you better understand your field and determine what direction you want to go in as an artist.
Going to museums and galleries is another way to immerse yourself in your chosen art form. Exploring artist portfolios that inspire you is another option that you can do from the comfort of your home.
Art schools are a popular choice for aspiring artists after they graduate high school, and getting to spend a few years just creating and learning about art can be a fantastic way to develop your skills.
However, art school can be expensive, and it's definitely not a must. The fine arts and other fields all have people in them who never formally trained. You can also take one-off art courses, which is a more cost-effective way to get some instruction.
Many artists rent studio space or build a dedicated space in their homes just for art.
You don't necessarily need a whole room, but having a space that you associate with working on your art can help you get in the right mindset when it's time to start working.
For example, if you paint, you may want to set up a painting area in a part of your living room with an easel, your paints, some canvases, and any other tools you regularly use. Remove other objects that might be distracting. The only thing you'll do in that area is work on your paintings.
You can develop your unique perspective as an artist through the process of creating and testing out new ideas.
Another facet of developing your voice as an artist is becoming a thought leader in your field. A great way to do this is by maintaining a blog.
Not only will this help grow your audience by driving more traffic to your website, but it can also give you a chance to write about the concepts or themes you explore in your art, share your artistic influences from art history and the present, give you an opportunity to interview other local artists you admire, and more
Creating is an essential part of succeeding as an artist, but selling and promoting are equally important if you want a career as an artist. Make sure you spend some time every week on the business side of your practice.
Whether that means contacting galleries that showcase fine artists to display your work, contacting magazines to get your work published, writing articles to improve your online portfolio's SEO, or attending an industry event to network, self-promotion has to be a regular part of your schedule.
You should also have an artist portfolio website where your work is showcased. This shows professionalism and makes it much easier for potential clients to connect with you.
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.
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