Professional Development

Professional Development

Five Ways to Jumpstart Your Art Career

An art career cannot happen overnight. Becoming an artist takes dedication, hard work and a plan. Unfortunately, many people who would like to start an art career have no idea how to proceed. Learning to develop your skills, attract clients, and turn a healthy profit can help you make a career out of art. Art jobs can span a wide range, from painting to illustration to graphic design. Still, in many ways all art careers require the same amount of hard work, planning and networking.


1. Develop Your Skills

Before you can begin a successful career in art, you must first develop solid artistic skills. It’s highly likely you’re already a creative person, with an appreciation for line, form, color, and texture. Your passion for art is only a starting point.

Skill development requires hard work and commitment. If you haven’t spent the last several years honing your skills, take the time to master the medium of your choice. You may have natural talent, but without hard work, your raw skills may not take you very far. Many artists are self-taught or learn through a hodgepodge of classes and workshops from local schools and organizations. There’s no one way to find out how to do art.

Take a Few Courses

You aren’t required to spend four years immersed at an art college to develop your skills or become successful. However, enrolling in traditional classes or workshops in the medium of your choice is an important way to learn some of the technical aspects of art creation.

Potters, for example, must know more than how to create elegant forms from clay. To be a potter, you’ll need to learn how to spin on the wheel as well as build pots by hand. You’ll need to know the difference between the different types of clay, how the various types of clay are fired, how to glaze, what it means to score the clay and so on. A few courses will teach you the basics. Once you have a foundation of information, you can build your knowledge from there.

Practice on Your Own

You’ll get more out of your experience in class or school if you practice on your own. Block out time every day to work on skills that you’ve been taught in class. If possible, spend some time developing core competencies that aren’t directly related to your medium of choice.

For example, you may be a graphic designer in training. As such, you may spend hours at a time in front of a computer screen, learning various programs and techniques. Mediums like paint are unrelated to your trade. However, spending time painting will teach you about mixing color, making textures and so on. The skills you learn painting apply to all forms of art, and will inform your work as a graphic designer. Practicing in a variety of mediums like paint will help you grow as an artist and craftsman.

Go to Museums, Galleries, and Shows

Exposure to art will inform your work and make you a better artist. Visiting museums, galleries, and art shows will open your eyes to the types of art in the world as well as the different ideas and theories that drive the various forms of art. Studying the art of the past will give you ideas that will help you formulate a more mature style.

If subjects like modern art and art history are not covered in the classes and workshops you’re currently taking, conduct an independent study of art history and topics related to your craft. When viewing a new piece of art, force yourself to think critically about the artist’s motivations and techniques. If you like a piece of art, ask yourself why. In what ways is the piece successful? What could the artist do to be more successful? Knowing the answers to these questions can help you improve your art.

Seek Constructive Criticism

Accepting constructive criticism is one of the things that many beginning artists struggle with most, but constructive criticism is critical for learning and growing. Many artists naturally become very attached to their art. Criticism can be a bitter pill to swallow.

However, constructive criticism is one of the most valuable learning tools for new and experienced artists. Criticism helps open your eyes to the reality of your work and can help you see your art the way it is. Once areas of weakness are identified, you can address these problems one at a time.

Therefore, as a beginning artist, it is your duty not just to accept constructive criticism, but to seek it out. Spend time after class talking to teachers to ask them their opinion. If you have artistically inclined friends, show them your work and get their honest opinion.

Whenever showing your art to others, don’t forget to ask for thoughts and opinions. Gauge their views by their expressions as well as their words. If possible, engage your critics in conversations to find out more about their feelings.


2. Make a Studio Space

Studio space is critical. To make your living as an artist, you’ll need space for working on multiple pieces at once. You’ll also need space for storing old pieces and organizing your materials. Even a graphic designer, who may have little need for a traditional art studio, will still need a space to do work free from distractions.

Keep It Private

Privacy is essential for maintaining productivity and focus. In a studio without privacy, you may find it difficult to keep your mind on the task at hand. This can stand in the way of making breakthroughs that lead to better ideas and personal growth as an artist.

If you live in a house, you may be able to find a private space in your garage or outdoor shed. If you do not have a private room or outdoor space where you can spend time, or if you live in a small apartment without any private space, renting a studio space may be a better idea. If you do not live in an urban area where studio space is available for rent, then you may be able to rent studio space from a local business or a friend with an extra room. Get creative. You’re going to need as much room as you can get.

Consider Indoor Air Quality

Many mediums create fumes, dust or chemicals that can be harmful to human health. Oil painting, woodworking, and metalworking or welding are all examples of art mediums that require sufficient ventilation to keep the artist safe. As you search for studio space, look for a large area with ventilation, windows that can open and close, and a large door (like a garage door) that will allow a good breeze to enter the room.

Work with as Much Light as Possible

You may need multiple bright lights or lamps to have enough light to work with. Even if you’re a graphic designer, keep a good desk light on hand for sketching ideas or making lists by hand. If your studio space is lit primarily by natural lighting, remove any curtains that would prevent light from passing through the room. Keep the windows clean.

Collect Materials

Once you have sufficient space, you’ll likely need a broad range of materials to keep yourself busy. It’s important to work with quality products, especially once you’ve moved beyond the training stage and have moved into the phase of producing professional-grade work. Use of quality materials will help you create archival quality work that will last for years and decades to come. If you’re concerned about the cost of buying good materials, shop for sales and acquire the materials slowly over time.

Store Your Old Work Safely

Having a safe storage space is important for any artist. Leaving your work in the sun, in damp areas or an exposed area can eventually lead to ruin. Larger pieces of work will need larger spaces for storage while art pieces of a unique shape may require a functional storage cabinet. For example, painters should store canvases on a slotted cabinet where the paintings can stand up safely without leaning against one another. Taking these actions can prevent the canvases from becoming warped, bent and damaged.


3. Find Your Artistic Voice

Once you’ve developed your technical skills, it’s time to hone your creative voice. The original voice is not a voice at all, but rather your style and technique. Your artistic style will reveal itself over time as you discover your true talent and passion. The road to finding your creative voice will probably be a circular one and will come after years of hard work, practice, and study. Self-discovery and interaction with great artists are both keys to finding your “voice.”

Explore New Ideas, Subject Matters, and Methods

The world of art is an expansive one. Art is a vehicle that is used to explore ideas, teach history, express political views and so on. In the search for your artistic voice, you may need to explore a variety of subject matters with your art. Allow art projects to take different directions and explore different themes as they pop into your head. Never sequester yourself from the outside world, but learn from it, and allow outside influences to show up in your paintings, sculptures, drawings and so on.

Keep a Journal

Keep an art journal detailing your new projects, your past works and your successes and failures. Keeping an art journal allows you to learn from your experience, explore your emotional connection to your art and make new discoveries about yourself and others. In your journal, record ideas, evaluate your work, discuss your method, ask open-ended questions than search for answers. This exploratory process will help you make connections that will lead to more ideas and a greater understanding of yourself as an artist.

Learn to Talk About Art

The ability to talk about art is the mark of a true artist. It’s not enough to make art; you must also understand art and make your art understood by others. To do this, you must be able to talk about art. Expressing yourself through words can help others understand the method that drives your work. As you climb the ranks of the art world and sell your work or your services to others, you’ll be expected to talk about your product and process.

Talking about art can also help you interact with future clients, which can contribute to making you a better business person. Talking about art is difficult for many artists and comes only from practice. Keeping your art journal is one way to learn the vocabulary and the lingo. Attending art events, talking to peers, taking classes and engaging in the art community where you live will help you develop these skills as well.

Make Friends with Artists

Having friends in the art world will influence your work in ways you can’t even imagine. Having art friends will help you mature in style and will also broaden your horizons. You will learn from your art friends just as they will learn from you. Be open to their criticisms, ideas, and interpretation.

If an opportunity arises, enter into collaborative projects with other artists. You’d be surprised at the ways that interaction with others can have an influence on your progress. Your friends may also tip you off to art events happening in your area, which will give you opportunities to grow personally as well as professionally.


4. Make Yourself Known

You could be the most talented artist in the world, but if no one knows who you are or what you’ve produced, then your career will not be successful. Many artists are surprised by the way that marketing and networking plays a huge role in the success of an artist.

Making a living as an artist is dependent upon who you know in addition to what you can do. Making yourself known is one of the biggest challenges of beginning artists. Once you’ve established yourself in your community, networking will become second nature and clients may seek you out rather than the other way around. In the beginning, however, you’ll spend a lot of time talking to people, plugging your work and showing off your talent to everyone who will pay attention.

Enter Art Competitions

Local art competitions draw a crowd of buyers, art lovers, artists, and judges. Entering art competitions is an easy way to show off your work while you collect helpful criticism and meet other artists.

The trick to entering local art competitions is to find those that feature work similar to your own. Some art shows will focus on an art-and-craft style of art, while other art shows can concentrate on modern art, traditional forms of art, photography or even digital art. Entering the competition will help ensure that your art gets the exposure that you desire.

Sell Your Work at Craft Shows

Craft shows, local fairs, farmers markets and other venues for selling artisanal goods are all places where you’ll meet local buyers, tourists and people ready to spend money. These events charge a fee for anyone who sets up a table, and fees often pay for themselves in sales made at the show and in the exposure to the public.

When participating in a craft show, bring examples of your best work. Put up a sign on your table that clearly identifies who you are, what you make, your contact information and other specifics. Make the table presentable. When interacting with people from the public, smile. Be a salesman. Your interactions with the public will do as much to sell your products as the quality of the goods themselves.

Make Business Cards and Postcards

Business cards and postcards make excellent tokens to leave with clients, gallery owners and other contacts that you make in the industry. Whether you choose to make a business card, postcard or both, it’s important to maintain a standard of quality. Edit your cards for grammatical errors and content. Make them visually appealing and in full color. If possible, print a picture of one of your best works on the card. Check the cards for accurate contact information and readability.

Avoid using small fonts or hard to read typefaces. Keep the cards visually clean, straightforward and elegant. Keep your cards in good condition and replace them if they become scuffed or stained. Do not give out cards that are dirty or unattractive in any way. Re-read your business cards and postcards regularly to ensure that the information is still accurate. Include your website, email address, phone number and a simple description of the type of work that you do.

Take Your Work to Galleries

Get used to going to local galleries, introducing yourself and plugging your artwork. When you go galleries, bring your portfolio and the postcards or business cards that you made, and distribute the cards generously. Dress well and look respectable. Think of a visit to a gallery as a job interview. Come prepared to talk about your work, answer questions, give information about your work, work ethic, style and technique and so on. Do research about each gallery that you plan to visit so you can be sure that the galleries you visit show the kind of art that you typically make. When you approach gallery owners and curators, be humble, earnest and sincere.

Sign up for a Local Art League

Local art leagues help artists form communities. Depending on the size of your town or city, there may be several different art groups in your area. Picking the right art group for you will help you make friends and meet people from the area. Before committing yourself to a single group, learn about it. Inquire about the level of activity and participation that you can expect from each group.

Find out what kind of events each group hosts or participates in, and what kind of work the members produce. This will help you find a group that makes you comfortable. Once you’ve found the right group for your needs, participate regularly. Volunteer to work at events, engage in activities, and become an active member. Joining a group without participating defeats the purpose and may give other artists in your community the wrong impression.

Develop a Network

Art is often a solitary activity, so networking does not come naturally to many artists. However, networking helps artists make contacts that can lead to sales, gigs and local exposure. Get active on social media. Start a blog and update it regularly. Discuss topics like local art-related news, art shows and your personal experiences with art.

If someone leaves a message or comment on your blog, respond to your readers. If you sign up with a social media site, fill out your profiles completely. Assume that the people who see your online profile will be potential clients. Cultivate a list of potential customers and industry contacts, and stay in touch with those contacts. Send mailings or email blasts to your contacts to keep them up to date with your activities. Notify your mailing list when you have a show, when you’ve released a new set of work or when you’re launching a new line of products, and so on.


5. Learn to Run a Business

Artists must learn to be good stewards of their own business, good bosses to themselves and good workers for local clients. This is one of the most challenging aspects of being an artist because business ownership often runs counter to the mindset of a typical artist. Good organization and communication are required for meeting the needs of your clients. Also, artists must learn to keep themselves motivated and productive, even when no one is around to push them to work harder. Artists must learn to motivate themselves.

Set Goals

As an artist, you’ll need to have long-term and short-term goals. Your long-term goals may come naturally. A common long-term goal may involve developing a steady client base, quitting a part-time day job, earning enough money from art to pay the bills, and so on. Short-term goals will help you reach your long-term goals.

Short-term goals must have deadlines. They must be specific. Your short-term goals may involve increasing your number of industry contacts, marketing your website, finding a web designer to make a website, boosting your portfolio and so on. Establishing your goals will prevent you from wasting time or wandering off course. As you work on your goals, re-evaluate your progress on a regular basis and make adjustments as needed.

Create A Budget

Budgeting is an important part of managing a business. Many artists struggle to answer questions like, “am I making a profit?,” “am I charging enough to my clients? ” “Are my prices appropriately competitive?” and “how can I make more money over time?”

Budgeting can help you answer these questions. Tracking the money you’re bringing in and comparing that to the money you spend on materials, bills, studio space and so on can help you determine how much money you’re making in profit and whether or not you’re charging an appropriate amount for your time. To learn how to budget, try taking an accounting class and purchasing accounting software. If you still feel lost, consult with an accounting professional.

Be Reliable

Many artists struggle to maintain open lines of communication with clients. Answering emails, sending updates about your progress, sticking to deadlines and giving advanced notice about changes in schedule or direction is an important part of keeping good clients. Whenever possible and appropriate, talk to your customers on the phone or in person. This will help you develop a good relationship with your clients, and will contribute to ensuring that your clients would like to continue working with you.

Budget Your Time as Well as Your Money

Wasting time either by working too hard and too long on a single project or by not dedicating enough time to the production of art can be devastating for your career. Budgeting your time wisely is essential for staying productive and making progress.

The longer you are an artist, the easier it will be for you to determine how much time is necessary for completing a single project, when you can realistically be expected to have completed a project, how many hours each day you should spend practicing making art, how much time you should spend networking and so on. To keep yourself on task, develop a timeline and revise your schedule on a weekly or monthly basis.

Reevaluate Regularly

One of the things you’ll need to ask yourself on a regular basis is, “is this working?” This is a complicated question that could have many meanings. Do you feel successful in your endeavors? Do you have enough contacts? Are you selling enough work? Are you busy enough with paid work? Do you feel good about the work you’re doing? Are you enjoying yourself? Re-evaluating your situation on a regular basis will help you decide whether or not you’re on the right track.

Remember that all artists feel lost from time to time, but this feeling should be broken up by small successes, sense of productivity and so on. Step back from what you’re doing on a regular basis to ask yourself if what you’re doing is working. If you decide it’s not, this could lead to a dramatic change or small adjustments that result in greater success.

Study with a Mentor

Mentors are an invaluable resource for artists. A good mentor is experienced, confident in his or her abilities, and far along in his or her career. Some mentors start off as tutors, and others are just good-hearted friends. A good mentor will offer constructive criticism, helpful advice, and a listening ear.

You can ask your mentor about technique and style, but ideally, your mentor’s greatest contribution to your career will be advice about going into business as an artist. Setting rates, handling clients, managing finances and other aspects of being an artist can all be challenging for beginning artists. Your mentor will be a person who has been down this road in the past and who has learned from old mistakes. Learning from your mentor will give you a leg up as you find your way as an artist.

Good Luck!

Nothing can prepare a person for the significant challenges and rewards that await them in their art career. As an artist, you’ll grow as a person and touch the lives of others. Creating beautiful works makes the world a more beautiful and enjoyable place. Still, a career in art is not easy. You may take years to find your way and bring in steady, reliable income. Hard work and dedication is required. With determination, tenacity and smart decision making, you can have a successful career as an artist.


  • Anna Ortiz
    Anna Ortiz

    Mural Hunter, Photographer, & Writer | Anna is a writer and lover of urban street art who attended San Francisco State University. She is self-taught in digital and film photography, and spends most of her free time fueling her photography obsession by researching vintage cameras.