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Being a professional artist is a childhood dream for most. Something you vaguely dream of before life takes over. Then, it becomes something of the past. However, it’s not such an usual job as you may think. There are lots of ways to make it as an artist. Becoming a professional artist is not that peculiar an idea. It’s a career path like all the others. Although I’d argue it’s way more fun than most!

How do you define a professional artist?

One of the definitions of professional is “a person engaged in a specified activity, […], as a main paid occupation rather than as a pastime.”

If you make art, you are an artist. If you make art and you get paid for it, then you are a professional artist.

Now, people will have several ways to tell if someone is a professional and they won’t all agree with each other’s definition. But I think that we can all agree that if you make a living from your art, whether part-time or full-time, then you can be called a professional artist.

Being a professional artist doesn’t necessarily mean it’s your full-time job and main source of income, as long as it’s a source of income. In my opinion, the intention matters. You may have a “real job” and only make a few dollars out of selling a few paintings here and there, but if you treat it as a business, congrats! You’re technically a professional artist!

So, how do you become a professional artist? Where do you start?

The good news is, if you work on your art, improve, and have the real intention to make it as an artist, then you’re halfway there. Then, it’s all about scaling up.

Here are some tips to get started.

1. Develop your style

Practice makes perfect. Draw and draw some more. Get those paint tubes out, that notepad open, and tinker around with your art supplies. Just like with everything else in life, you have to practice to become good at it.

Some people have been making art since they were 5 years old, some picked it up later in life. It’s never too late to start. The ones that started younger may have a head-start but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it if you’re older. Becoming a professional artist is possible at any age.

Experiment with different styles, mediums, and subjects. Find what you like best and what you feel sets you apart from the crowd. Bring something new. Let your imagination, ideas, and personality create wonderful works of art. Then perfect it.

Your style will evolve and you may even completely change your technique down the line but don’t let that keep you from putting yourself out there today.

The best time to start is now.

2. Decide what type of artist you want to be

What type of artist do you want to be? There is no right or wrong answer to this one.

You can choose to only make original paintings and try to get into art galleries, or you may choose to create in quantity and license your artworks for commercial use. You may choose to be a traditional artist, or to only work digitally. Maybe you dream of making murals, or being a children’s book illustrator.

Either or, how you answer will determine a few things, namely:

  • Who your target customer is
  • How you market yourself
  • How you scale up your business

For instance, if you only want to create original pieces with a very particular style, you will need to find collectors. It would be a good idea to get to know your local art scene, reach out to galleries, etc. On the other hand, if you create more mainstream and popular artworks, you should definitely advertise on social media and try to keep up with trends.

Regardless, you need to make art that sells. Whether it’s selling to fancy collectors or the everyday guy. Your art needs to appeal to people.

3. Put yourself out there 

It doesn’t matter how good you are unless you actually show your art to people. The only way to become a professional artist is by putting yourself out there. Show your art to the world, whether it’s by way of art shows, craft fairs, or online. Or all of the above.

Networking with other artists is also important. They may offer you some advice and guidance, and you may find inspiration in their work.

4. Don’t fear critics

Not everybody will like what you do and that’s ok. Accept and welcome critics but don’t let them put you down. Take into account constructive criticism and ignore the haters.

Sadly, I’ve heard many people say that they were afraid of posting their art online for all to see out of fear of what people might say.

“What if they hate it?”

“What if they find it ugly?”

So what?

You can never please everyone anyway. And fear of the unknown is never a good excuse to not do something.

Ask for advice and accept the good and the bad. It’ll help you grow as an artist. A negative critic is always hard to hear when you’ve worked on an artwork for hours on end and poured your heart into it but in the end, it will help you. It hardens you and may unveil a new point of view.

Plus, honestly, and I speak from experience here, the art community is mostly incredibly supportive and 99% of the people are really nice and would never put you down. Nothing to fear, really.

5. Learn to market yourself to become a professional artist

Promotion is 80% of the job. If you don’t push your creations, if you don’t show them to the people around you, you will never make it as a creative entrepreneur. Most customers won’t find you, you have to find them. Use social media, local venues, any means at your disposal to promote your work. Success won’t magically come to you, you have to go grab it and make it yours.

It’s the nitty gritty part having your own business and the reality of selling art. Marketing is key.

You can be Leonardo Da Vinci, if you don’t promote your work, you won’t be successful (unless you’re incredibly lucky). Conversely, even if you’re not that good an artist, if your marketing is on point, you can still be very successful.

Listen to what your customers or potential customers want.

Again, unless you’re incredibly lucky, you have to create art that appeals to people. It has to meet a need, whether emotional or tangible. You are here to fill a void. Work on finding it and brainstorm how you can fill it.

6. Keep on growing as an artist

Keep experimenting and trying new things. It’s important to not stagnate in life. Change has to be embraced. I feel like this is just good life advice in general.

Explore new techniques, new selling venues, new ideas. Be open to change. Because you went one direction doesn’t mean you can’t adjust the course of your journey.

7. Create some more

Once all is said and done, maybe one of the most important things to become a professional artist is to make art and keep on making it.

More is not necessarily better but it in this case, it sure helps to have a well-rounded portfolio. The more artworks you have and the more chances you’ll have of having something of interest to someone. Now, don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean quantity over quality. I do think quality matters way more. Don’t compromise it.

However, to be a professional artist, you do need a good portfolio, which means several pieces of art and examples of what you can do.

So create and keep on creating.

And remember, have patience, and don’t give up.

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