Making a Living from Your Art: 5 Factors all Aspiring Artists Should Consider

Making the significant step from amateur to professional artist can be incredibly difficult. Perhaps not surprisingly, only 10% of art school graduates end up making a living from their artwork.

Beyond obvious factors such as talent and networking with the right people, there are steps you can and should take to give yourself the best possible chance of succeeding. Taking inspiration from artists who have been there and done it, aspiring artists should keep these five factors in mind when trying to turn their hobby into a career.  

1: Find a niche

It might be the subjects they work on or the way they work, but all artists need a way to stand out from the crowd. Creating work that is uniquely your own is the key; the world’s best and most successful artists are all immediately recognisable from their work – think of Salvador Dali’s surrealist masterpiece, The Persistence of Memory.

However, this doesn’t mean you can’t take on existing themes. Katy Jade Dobson is known as the ‘girl who paints animals’, and while animals have inspired many works by many different artists in the past, Dobson tackles the subject in an entirely new way. Her distinctive paintings manage to tackle a broad and much-loved subject yet do so in a style that is uniquely her own.

Another example is Owais Husain, a contemporary Indian artist who works with the recurring themes of identity, loss and migration. Using iconography and urban mythology, exploring its evolution from one generation to the next, Husain has an immediately recognisable style that illustrates abstraction of a more traditional Indian aesthetic.

2: Maintain a consistent output

The idea that practice makes perfect may be a simple one, but there is truth to it. One much-touted theory suggests that practicing any skill for 10,000 hours is sufficient to make you an expert. Whilst this may or may not be true, all great artists have one thing in common: they work hard.

At the very least working consistently will leave you with a sizeable portfolio that you can show to galleries and perspective collectors once people do start to take an interest in your work.

3: Embrace social media

The role of social media has never been more important in promoting artwork. According to Vogue, artists regularly sell their paintings straight off their Instagram feed. They even go as far as calling the site ‘the world’s most talked about new art dealer’.

The practice of posting pictures on Instagram is both an art and a science. When you post and how often you post all impacts on how much engagement your posts receive. At a minimum, your posts must consist of high-quality images and represent your artwork.

Although art galleries still play a pivotal role in ‘getting the word out’ about artists, social media is a tool that can be utilised to find a wider audience, by professional artists and amateurs alike.

4: Be proactive and network

Talent alone is unlikely to get you noticed, sitting around waiting for galleries and collectors to come knocking is not a smart strategy. Meet people in the industry, ask advice and make contacts.

The Artwork Archive offers seven tips for artists looking to network, which include helping others, using business cards, looking to engage and not sell, and preparing an elevator speech.

5: Be patient  

Although many people who want to become professional artists don’t achieve their goals, aspiring artists shouldn’t be disheartened. Firstly, a career shouldn’t be your sole motivation anyway, the love of what you do should.

For those that have been painting for a few years and not seen the traction they had hoped for, take heart and inspiration from the great Cuban-born painter Carmen Herrera. The centenarian did not sell a painting until she was 89. Herrera still gets up every morning to paint, claiming: “You don’t decide to be an artist, art gets inside of you. It’s like falling in love.”