How to Become a Professional Artist

There are plenty of creative people out there, but most see their hobby as an indulgence rather than a career. That’s fine if you are happily producing work for yourself, loved ones, and friends, but if you want to monetise your hobby, read on for some advice.

Be Honest About Your Talents

Most people can be taught to paint, draw, make textiles, and do other artistic things, but not everyone has an innate talent for it. To be a professional artist, you need to sell enough work to make working full-time on your art a viable proposition. Be honest about your work. Do other people love it, or do you do it purely because it’s a great way to de-stress after work?

Family and friends may be indulgent about your artwork and tell you it’s great. However, you can’t rely on them to be objective, as they won’t want to hurt your feelings. For a more objective appraisal, post images of your artwork online and see what kind of feedback you get. If the overall response from anonymous strangers is positive, then it is worth pursuing. Otherwise, stick to the day job and make artwork in your spare time for fun.

Treat Your Art as a Business

To be a professional artist, you have to treat your art like a business. This means focusing on creating art as often as possible and being professional in all your endeavours. Artists are no different to anyone else. To make sales, you must market your talents, talk to clients, seek out commissions, and do your accounts. The CRA won’t look too kindly on you if you forget to pay tax on income earned from selling artwork.

Act like the CEO of your business because that is what you are. If you don’t take your artwork seriously, nobody else will either.

If all goes well, you might be asked to carry out a commission for a client. Treat this with the professionalism it deserves. Draw up a contract that clearly states what your fee is, how long you expect the commission to take, and whether extras like framing are included in the price. That way, you and the client know exactly what each other expects.

Be polite and professional when dealing with clients and galleries. Just because you are a creative person, it doesn’t give you the right to be flaky and rude.

Create a Portfolio

As an artist, it is very important that you have a portfolio of your work. This will be essential when you look for commissions or apply for space in a gallery. Since it is wholly impractical to carry around samples of your original artwork when you visit galleries or clients, a portfolio is the next best thing.

Many artists these days set up online portfolios. This makes it easier to market their work online. You can use a blogging service like Tumblr to set up a website and publish photos of your work, buy a domain and create a website using WordPress, or pay for a dedicated artist portfolio from a service such as Format.

To be effective, an artist portfolio must contain high-quality images. If you have a decent DSLR camera and a tripod, take your own images and edit them to remove any extraneous borders. There are plenty of helpful online videos that provide detailed tutorials about photographing artwork. Useful tips include taking photos in daylight, using a tripod to minimise camera shake, and cropping images with photo-editing software.

If you have no clue about photography or your camera is ancient, ask someone else to take the images for you.

Be careful not to mess around with the colour balance of any images you upload. Photos should be accurate representations of your artwork.

Seek Out Opportunities to Exhibit and Sell Your Work

Always look for opportunities to exhibit your work, online and offline. This is your chance to connect with new clients, make sales, and grow your fanbase. Look for art shows in your local area. These are the best place as an unknown artist.

Always review the submission guidelines before you send off an application to be included in a show. For example, if the show is aimed at contemporary artists and you produce traditional Dutch-inspired still life work, then your work is probably not a good fit and will likely be rejected. This is not a reflection on your talents, so don’t take it personally.

Once you have a few successful shows under your belt, consider approaching a few galleries to see if they will consider exhibiting your work. If your art is a good fit for them, it could work out well for both if you. Do remember, however, that galleries take a commission on any sales they make, so bear this in mind when pricing your work.

Some artists try selling their work online. This is helpful if you already have a decent fanbase, as selling direct to clients means you are not paying commission, but it isn’t easy for a non-established artist to reach potential clients online.

Websites end up buried in the search engine listings and sites like Etsy are saturated with artwork. Nevertheless, it is worth creating accounts on creative sites like Etsy, as it’s cost-effective and might net you some visibility, especially if you sell cheaper artwork, such as gyclee prints.

Marketing Your Work

Marketing is critical for artists. Unless you market your work, you are relying on word of mouth to make sales and gain clients. This can be effective if you are extremely talented and catch the eye of influential people or the media, but don’t count on making a big splash – there are many artists out there all competing for the same space.

Use social media to build up a buzz about your artwork and gain some loyal fans. Post photos of your artwork as it develops, talk to fans and discuss your thoughts, influences, and where you plan on taking your ideas.

Pictorial sites like Instagram and Tumblr are good places to start. It is also worth creating a Facebook page and asking friends and family to share it.

Join Professional Organisations

There are professional organisations for artists. In Canada, there is the Canada Council for the Arts. If you live outside of Canada, check for organisations in your home country. When you find one that seems like a good fit, consider becoming a member. Professional bodies are very useful. They provide support to up-and-coming artists, give advice in exhibiting your work, and even offer insurance.

Joining a professional artists’ organisation can help you connect with other artists, which is useful if you are struggling to make your way in the art world.

Have Faith in Your Artistic Abilities

Always have faith in your artistic abilities. Art is a very subjective thing and not everyone will like or understand your creative talent. Plenty of artists struggle to make it in their own lifetime. Some die a complete unknown and their work is only given the recognition it deserves after their death – Van Gogh being a good example!

There will be good days and bad days, but if you push on and keep producing work, your talent will develop, and people will want to buy your artwork.

When you have made your first sale, celebrate – you can now call yourself a professional artist!

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