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How to become a professional artist

22 June - 2022
by Vincent Moleveld
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You’ve got the talent and want to become a professional artist. But how do you get there? The first thing to remember is that professional art is about more than creating beautiful objects alone. You need to market and sell your art and keep accounts. Even Rembrandt had to deal with these issues. Money seemed to be no object for the famous Dutch 17th century master, but he went bankrupt in later life - although he did think about his invoices when painting The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp (1632). One of the surgeons depicted was known to pay late and Rembrandt only added him to his painting at a later stage.

As a professional artist you need to think about money because you need to live, and most art schools now offer courses including business modules. A few hours of painting each week is great, but will not normally make you a professional artist. What you need is a professional approach. And this is how you do it: 

Develop your skills

  • Develop your skills. Sign up for art courses, read about art, look at art, discover what you are good at and what type of subject matter is close to your heart. Take your work seriously, put the hours in, practice. Do not underestimate the public viewing your art. The skills of the artist are visible, and so is a lack of skills.
  • When you feel you are at the right level, start testing your work. Enter your best work in a local art show and observe how the public reacts. Listen to what they say. Look at what they buy. Talk to people, welcome feedback. Do not be afraid of negative comments, they are part of the learning curve, and you can use this to your advantage as an artist.
  • Start building a base of artwork you are happy with, of at least ten pieces. Be strict with this selection: only include quality works, if possible with a similar theme.
  • Now your work needs to be seen by as many viewers as possible. Show your work on online art galleries. Ask cafes or restaurants to display your art, connect with an art group, take part in group exhibitions and art competitions. Art fairs are a good way to reach more viewers, as long as you are prepared to travel, and transport your work. When you notice your work is liked and respected, the next step is to link up with higher end exhibitions and events, for even more exposure.
  • Art galleries may be interested in representing your work. This is a great option, but this may cost; commission can be (very) high. National and international art fairs are another excellent option, but taking part can be expensive.

Take good quality photos of your work

Part of the professional approach is marketing and this also means presenting quality photography of your art. In this day and age a portfolio with printed copies of your art is no longer enough. A professional artist presents his/her work digitally and this must look good. Bad quality photos will not convince your potential buyers, even though your art itself may be great. So, in your presentation include excellent photos: with the correct exposure, in focus, straightened, and well framed. Use natural (day)light, no flash. In your photos, show the entire artwork, also details. You could consider including a ‘view in room’ image: of the art work on the wall near a piece of furniture, to show the dimensions.

Important! Do avoid using watermarks. It is a common misconception watermarks are needed in photography to make your work appear more professional. This is not the case. A watermark distracts from your work. Or worse: a watermark may prevent magazines, blogs or social media channels to feature or share your work. To prevent piracy online, there are other ways. (For instance, use low dpi -dots per inch- so the image is hard to print).

Create a website – easier and cheaper than you think

This is the 21st century and you really need your own website to showcase your artwork. This is easier and cheaper than you may think. A website through Online Gallery for instance, linked to your account, is very easy to set up. You can choose between themes, colours, fonts, customise the default texts and upload your art. Done! All you have to do is keep your account up to date on Online Gallery, and your website will be updated automatically. It couldn't be easier.

Price your artwork

What do you put on the price tag of your art work? A difficult question for many. Online Gallery advises to count the hours you spent on producing the work, decide on an hourly rate and add the costs of the materials used. Many artists overprice in relation to the quality of their work when they first start selling. Be realistic. When you get better, prices can go up.

More tips

  • Be organised. Set up a database from the beginning to keep track of all you produce and exhibit, including years and titles of your work. This will help you keeping an overview.
  • Use social media. To show art, LinkedIn and Instagram are very suitable. Don’t use too many social media platforms to avoid losing your focus and overview.
  • For your marketing, you need texts. At the very least, you need a biography and/or and artist statement. Make sure it is a good text, concise, interesting, grammatically correct. A messy content with spelling mistakes will make your text -and you- look unprofessional. If spelling or editing is an obstacle, professional services are available. Online Gallery also offers this service.
  • Of course, you need a decent portrait of yourself as an artist, to be included with your marketing. No selfies in your car or on the beach! Present yourself as a professional artist, in front of artwork, or holding a brush or other art equipment.

More roads lead to Rome

There are more ways to become a professional artist. A good option to earn money being an artist is to accept assignments, or to teach art. Even for just a couple of days a week. May be this limits your creative freedom a bit, but there are advantages: it could be a welcome addition to your solitary work in your studio, you meet people and will learn more about working as a professional. And it helps earning a living in art.