So you want to be a professional artist?
Getting started as a professional artist doesn’t have one direct path. There are many outcomes of practicing art. Every artist does things a little differently, and few know what they are doing right away.
If you aim to be a professional artist, you may consider working various art fairs throughout the year, applying to galleries for group or solo shows, selling primarily online through your website, or adding products to a site like RedBubble or Society6. You may consider teaching community education art classes or pursuing a master’s degree to teach art at universities to supplement your art income. Or maybe you prefer graphic arts and want to do contracted work for different corporations.
You maybe don’t even want to be a professional artist, but just love to create and want to share it with those around you. There is a path for every artist, but there are a few things that every artist can do to get started.
1. First and foremost: Do the work and make art.
It may seem obvious, but in order to get started as an artist, you have to make art.
You can’t just plan your art career in your head. I was guilty of this when I was younger. I thought “I’m just going to make awesome art without any struggle, then sell that art. Easy.”
I was daydreaming all the time without actually putting in the work to DO art on a daily basis.
Create a schedule and stick to it. Don’t just think about all of the awesome art you are going to create and sell someday. Don’t think about the artist you will be in the future. Sit down and make things right now and whenever you can.
If you suck at it, keep practicing. If you have no idea what you are doing, then keep exposing yourself to new things to help find your direction. You’re not going to find your path by thinking about it. Make art.
2. Start a Journal/Sketchbook.
Write every creative idea down and doodle all the things. You will inevitably have days where you don’t feel like creating and lack inspiration. Your sketchbook will help stimulate your creative side. Art art career is a kind of intangible thing at times and it’s important to take ideas and make them tangible by putting pen to paper.
3. Start thinking about who you are as an artist and find your style.
This is easier to figure out when you are actively putting in the work.
Discovering who you are and developing your unique style takes time. When you finish a piece, ask yourself a few questions. What does the piece mean to you? Why did you choose your materials? What can this piece teach you about yourself?
As you learn more about yourself and discover your style, you will be able to more easily market your work and define your brand. When you are just getting started, it’s okay to have no idea what your style is or who you are as an artist, but just keep those two things in your mind as you create.
You’ll figure it out over time.
4. Create a Studio Space
Whether it’s the corner of your bedroom, a room in your house, or an actual studio you rent. Have a space that you can go to and create. Make it easy to create.
It’s simple, but it will help keep you productive.
5. Get your work out there and build your following.
Nobody wants your art right now. It doesn’t matter how good it is when you start out, because selling art is about selling your story as an artist and creator. So, get your story out there. Create a Facebook page, Instagram profile, post on Reddit, try out Tumblr and Pinterest, or build your brand with Twitter.
Get your work out there and show the world what you have to offer. We all have something interesting about us that people can relate to. For the moment, pick one platform like Instagram and start curating an attractive profile. Then, become a part of the community by interacting with other artists.
You might not grow quickly, but putting your work out there consistently is just as important as creating work consistently. Have patience. Your following is out there, and as much as the reclusive introverted side of me doesn’t want it to be true, you need that following.
6. Professional art supplies do not necessarily make you a professional artist.
You don’t NEED the good stuff to be a good artist. You especially don’t need the good stuff to get started.
Some artists want to start with professional and expensive art supplies because they think they will add more value to their work. In my opinion, if you don’t have any idea what your style is yet, if you’re not selling anything, and if your skills still need to be polished–then spending a bunch of money on professional-grade materials may be a waste of money.
More importantly, expensive supplies may prevent you from creating as much and as freely as you should. When I bought expensive supplies at the very beginning of my career, it brought so much fear into my work. I was afraid to ruin the good stuff because I didn’t have the money for more. This fear prevented me from creating.
It doesn’t make sense from a business perspective to invest in expensive supplies when you are just starting out. If you have the money to burn, go for it! But if you ever find yourself feeling apprehensive to use your materials because you might ‘waste’ them, then work with the budget materials until you are more confident in what you do.
7. Have a place where people can learn more about you.
Social media and websites are so very important! Make it easy for people to find out more about you. There are plenty of free website options out there when you are starting out. Just Google it.
The easiest thing to do is to create an Instagram account and include a link in your bio to your website.
What do people want to know about? A little about the artist. What you create. What your goal/call to action is (selling art, getting commissions, finding gallery representation, etc.). And how to contact you (email and phone number).
Start with the basics, and take advantage of the free options.
8. Can people buy your work online?
This is the ultimate goal, right? Making money off your work without having to leave your studio. You don’t need to create an elaborate online storefront right away. You can list items on Etsy for super cheap or use a basic free e-commerce option. Or, you can invoice customers through Paypal or SquareUp and just include “DM me to purchase” on Instagram.
There are a lot of options for making your work available for sale, but try to make it as easy as possible for customers and remember that stores are not a “build it and they will come” situation. Unless you have a large following or have mastered SEO and have money to burn on paid advertisements, your store likely isn’t going to get attention.
In 2010, I built an online store and I checked my email every day thinking I was magically going to get sales. I had no following. I had no social media presence. Silly, naive little Kelly.
As you build your following, you will have an easier time driving traffic to your store. Just remember to always make it simple for customers to give you money.
9. Apply to local events.
Whether it’s a small craft event, a group gallery show, or a tent at an art fair, get out into your community and start practicing your customer service. You will learn a lot about yourself and your art when you interact with people face to face.
As an introvert, this always makes me anxious. I don’t want to be around people. It’s exhausting—but it’s also a really rewarding experience.
You may not make sales. You may not know exactly how to present your work or how to speak to customers. The important thing is to start getting out there. I suggest starting small and working your way up to the big shows.
10. After you’ve done all of this and it feels like nothing is happening, stay focused on your goals.
Unless you emerge onto the art scene with a four leaf clover up your rear, it’s going to feel like you’re doing a lot of work for little reward. I struggle with giving up on things when I don’t get an immediate reward. I want results now, and that doesn’t happen easily when pursuing a creative profession. Getting started as a professional artist is intimidating, but baby steps can accomplish a lot.
These things take time, a ridiculous amount of patience, and wild optimism.
Do the work, follow your artistic passion, and don’t give up if being an artist is what you really want to do with your life.
Please leave questions and comments below while commenting is open or reach out to me directly through Instagram or email. I’d love to hear from you! Make sure to sign up for my email list below to never miss a blog post.
P.S. You probably know by now that I am here to help artists with these posts. If you need help with your online branding, Instagram account, or just want a creative accountability coach, then check out my consulting services. You can easily add a session to my online calendar now.