Research shows that far too many artists don’t earn a living from their art. They spend time in offices as secretaries, in construction companies as laborers and walk dogs for their neighbors. Sometimes, they climb the corporate ladder to become managers and partners, and then when they have enough money, they leave for early retirement and finally fulfill their dream of being a full-time artist. That is, if they are lucky enough to still have some time left to enjoy it!
What is even more important is that art serves as a source of inspiration for other people. Artists are responsible for inspiration in our society. It’s a part of the natural cycle of life: art is a fuel for innovations, and for the development of humanity. Every day not spent in a studio, but somewhere else, means less inspiration and less growth. Besides, every artist’s greatest wish is to make art, not go to the office or any other job that is not related to art.
The archetype of the starving artist is still alive, although the world needs art more than ever: for web interfaces and with the personalization of just about everything, people are crying out for nice-looking things. As a result, there are now plenty of possibilities to earn money with art besides selling in galleries or at art fairs.
Artists can skip the time spent working hard in the corporate environment, earning money and saving it for early retirement. Instead, you can be a full-time artist sooner—within a year or two. Here are 7 steps to becoming a full-time artist.
1. Decide what you want to do as an artist.
Choose your medium, topic, or theme, and find your voice. Some artists spend their whole life waiting for it, but you can start at the point where you are now. Your thoughts will change with the years, be ready for this. Define your values, what you stand for—they might be the most permanent elements of your personality and your art. Build everything around them and you will be set for a long time.
2. Define your target audience and future patrons.
Who are the people sharing the same values and passion as you? Marine artists should look at ship or boat owners and coastal dwellers. Wildlife artists should think about people with wildlife in their hearts—Greenpeace fans, safari lovers, hunters, landlords of large wild properties. If you love kids, look at their parents; if you love landscape, think about property owners and farmers. There is no secret—just 2% to 5% of society buys fine art: that part who has enough money and who values art. That doesn’t just go for visual art—music, dance, and the performing arts work the same way.
3. Build your portfolio.
Keeping in mind your topic and your potential patrons, build your portfolio. If your topic is closely related to some particular interest, approach your potential patrons and ask for non-monetary support in portfolio building. This can be access to a property or help through being a model. In many cases, it might result in your first sales. This is also the beginning of building your network. You can choose and manage your network to some extent. People attract like-minded people. Defining what kind of people you want in your network helps you to find them. It might sound like magic, but that is just a natural way for you to select people to talk to about your art.
4. Gain recognition.
This can be a show, a competition, or some other form of recognition. Take care to inform the press, your existing patrons and other admirers about this. Most people like to have an art piece by a recognized artist. Even if they bought it before the recognition came, it will please them. Maybe even more, they can take credit in discovering you and your talent before others. Give them this small treat!
5. Fine tune your brand.
Since the moment you decided to be an artist and began following steps 1 to 4, you have been building your brand. It is rooted in your values, your beliefs, and your view. It sparkles in your art, yourself and everything around you. Take the core message (as in step 1) and try to incorporate it in every single step you make. Your web page, your opinions, your business card—even the way you dress—might be a part of your brand. You are the brand! Be careful how you do it, though—be yourself and ensure you don’t trap yourself with your own brand.
6. Revise your pricing strategy.
It’s no secret that recognized artists sell their work for higher prices. So, as a rule of thumb, higher prices indicate that the artist is recognized. Don’t forget to reflect your level of recognition in your prices. Pricing is very sensitive thing—you have to find the right spot. Underpricing will result in fewer sales and less interest in your art. People love emerging artists, but you have to give them the message you are emerging not just starting. One of the hidden messages is your price. On the other hand, beware of overpricing. If prices are too high, people will start deeper investigation and will soon discover unreasonably high prices. In any case, you should calculate material costs and set a price that covers at least your material costs.
7. Think about sales and information channels.
How can people find your art? Do you have an online portfolio? Do you have a web page? Is your art exhibited somewhere? What is that place? Is it a gallery or a coffee shop in a disreputable street? Be careful when choosing a channel and place for your art. The context also sends a hidden message. You wont find the work of a top artist in a small corner café unless it is under their studio or belongs to him or her!
After step 7, look around: most probably you are already an artist who has their own admirers, network and sales. Set a goal for when you will quit your day job. Is it an amount earned per month? Or number of art pieces sold? Or number of blog visitors? Revise your strategy, sales, channels, target audience, branding and your work until you reach the goal.