Are You Ready to Take the Leap of Faith and Become a Professional Artist?

Becoming a professional artist
Gallery Henoch in the Chelsea Arts District of Manhattan

Have you always wanted to be a professional artist, but you’re waiting for the right time?

Maybe you intend to become a professional artist when you feel you are good enough, or when you’re in a better financial position, or when your kids have grown up and left home.

When will that be? 5 years? 10 years? 20?

Let me tell you, if you’re waiting for the perfect conditions before you can become a professional artist, you will be waiting a long time.

The right time never comes, and there will always be some condition that is not quite right, and you’ll have to wait a bit longer, then a bit longer, and a bit longer still. Before you know it you’ll be retired. Maybe then you can be a professional artist.

If you don’t feel like waiting that long, then you need to take action now. That doesn’t mean you should necessarily quit your job today, but you definitely need to start taking steps towards your creative career, or it will never happen.

Nobody is going to come to you one day and say “Ok, conditions are perfect now, you may be a professional artist.”

What you need to do is accept that there will be obstacles, and then do the best you can to overcome them.

So How Do I Become A Professional Artist?

The fact is I can’t give you a step-by-step guide to making the transition to a creative career, because everyone’s situation is different, so everyone will have different obstacles to overcome.

What I can do is tell you about my own creative journey, and give you some guidance.

So here are the factors I considered when deciding to become a professional artist.

Recognizing The Need For Change

The first thing that happened for me, was that the dissatisfaction with my current situation began to outweigh the benefits of having a regular job.

Eventually my dissatisfaction grew to a point where a regular monthly income was not enough for me, and I started to think seriously about making a change.

There will always be voices in the back of your mind telling you you’d be crazy to give up a paying job for the uncertainty of an art career. Those voices never really go away (and some of them are actually the voices of real people.)

But when these doubts start to overwhelm me, I can always rely on 3 simple words to get me focused again: “Life’s too short!”

Life is too short to put off doing what you really know you should be doing. It’s a cliché, but it’s true.

Steve Jobs used to get up every morning, look in the mirror and ask himself “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And when the answer had been “No” for too many days in a row, he knew he needed to change something.

So ask yourself the same question. Maybe it’s time for a change.

Assessing Your Financial Needs

Obviously, we all need enough income to buy food to eat and pay the mortgage, rent, bills etc. so you need to think about how you will make money as a professional artist.

Personally, I was fortunate enough to have saved up some money to ease me through the transitional period, but not everyone will have this luxury, so you may need to do things differently.

Maybe you already have people lined up waiting for you to put your artwork on sale, or to start taking commissions. If so, that’s great, you can start earning money from your art straight away.

But it’s more likely that you’ll have to build up sales gradually, do some self-promotion, and work hard at finding your target audience and getting your work in front of them. So you may need an extra source of income to begin with, until you are more established.

You could potentially keep your current job, but go part-time, or find another part-time job that is in a more creative field. There are plenty of ways to earn money from your artwork too, so with a bit of hard work you can find a way to support yourself.

If you don’t already have one, the best thing you can do to start earning money from your art is to get started with your own website or blog.

Assessing Your Ability

Another thing you need to succeed as an artist is some level of artistic ability.

That’s not to say that you need to be a master painter with a fine art degree. In fact you don’t really need any formal qualifications to make a living as an artist. But you do need enough skill to produce consistently high quality work. And you need the confidence to be able to sell it.

If you don’t feel like you’re at that level yet, then you may need to get some more training.

One important thing to note, is that just because you are still learning, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be earning at the same time. An artists never stops learning.

You will never reach a point where you have nothing left to learn. So you don’t need to wait until you are an ‘expert’ before you can make money from your art.

I have sold art in the past that wasn’t as good as the art I sell today. And the art I sell today won’t be as good as the art I sell in 5 years time.

You are constantly growing as an artist, even as a highly successful professional artist.

The Right Time Is Now

So that was about what I went through to get where I am today. To recap:

  • Acknowledge the need to make a change in your current situation.
  • Figure out how you will make enough money as a professional artist.
  • Determine whether you need any more training to increase your confidence.
  • Take action!

Sounds pretty simple when you break it down like that, doesn’t it?

As I mentioned, everyone’s situation will be different, and there may be other obstacles you will meet, but this is a good starting point for you to consider today.

There’s an ancient Chinese proverb that says “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

So stop waiting for that mythical ‘right time’, and do something today to get your art career started.


This Post Has 20 Comments

  1. Claire Decker

    Hello, Could you tell me where you would suggest as the best place to have prints made? Thanks, Claire Decker

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      Hi Claire, There are many places to have quality prints made. I suggest that you work with someone local in your city. That way you can be completely involved with the quality aspects of the print. You can build a relationship with a local print shop and get their feedback and give them your suggestions. I think you get a much better product this way.

      1. Claire Decker

        Hi Gary, As you have stated you are back in Louisiana, you may or may not be familiar with Lafayette, La. I have had a lot of problems with locating a quality, reasonably priced printer locally. Maybe they are around, but I haven’t found them yet. 🙂 thanks.

        1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

          Hi Claire, I am currently living in New York City at the present moment. I was back in Louisiana for a couple of months in the summer due to a knee injury. I know of Lafayette. If there are not any good printers near you, you might try New Orleans or Baton Rouge. Call the Chamber of Commerce in those cities and get them to recommend a good print shop for you.

          1. Claire Decker

            Ok, thanks, Gary. And good luck with your knee.

  2. Claire Decker

    What is your opinion of ATC’s (artist trading cards)?

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      I think ATC’s are great. I have used them as business cards, but it’s better than a business card because you can put images of your work. Thanks for your comments.

        1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

          You can put a couple of paragraphs of biography on the back, as well as your artist statement. You should also put your contact information, web site address, phone number, facebook, twitter addresses, etc.

    2. Claire Decker

      Thanks, they look quite interesting and filled with potential.

      1. Claire Decker

        Thanks again, Gary. You are a fountain of knowledge as well as talent!

  3. GilRobles

    Something I struggled with for so long is how to jump from where I’m at to where I want to be, I put up a blog of my stuff that gets a lot of compliments and incouragement and sometimes people ask to purchase something but I have not sold anything because I feel there are better things to come or selling a piece here and there means to little because I want a career and not an occassional sale. The blog is called Art In A Busy World and is more about continuing to be creative while raising two son’s, paying the rent and bills on one salerie. Would be nice to take that leap though. Enjoyed your article, much food for thought. If you can spare the time I put in my blog on the space provided bellow.

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      Thanks for your comments. Finding the balance between work and your art career can be a challenge. Your blog is a great start and you should be blogging consistently. Thanks again.

  4. Jeremiah True

    I started making this transition a year or so ago, starting with exposure on Flickr and Facebook. I then reached out to local places that show up-and-coming artists and have had several shows with a couple of sales. The thing that I found was to develop a niche or particular style that distinguished you from others who might be doing similar work. For my work, I do night photography and have developed a style that is somewhat recognizable but there aren’t many near me who do this same thing so it sets me apart.

    Getting people to pay for your work is certainly the hardest piece. As I am considering returning to school for a MFA in photography one of the comments I have heard several times is that in order to sell the work, you need to be passionate about it and able to talk about it. I do this professionally as well as artistically so I had to draw a line in the sand about where my commercial work would end and my artwork would begin as I don’t want my art to feel like work. Of course there is some overlap but the approach, mentally at least, is completely different from one to the other.

    In regards to Artist Trading Cards, I am not familiar with them, but I use a printing service from the company MOO ( who will print your artwork (up to 50 different images) on the back of your cards. I find that they are great conversation starters and the quality is top notch.

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      Thanks for your comments. It looks like you are doing a great job at building your career. Selling is an important part of the artist career path. Your selling skills (presenting and closing) should be top notch. There are many places to have quality post cards made of your work. I have used Modern Post Card with great success. They are inexpensive and good quality. Thanks again.

  5. Dave

    Gary, I saw your link on the CA discussion on MAC/PC preference. I have been a graphic designer since graduating with a VisComm degree in 1979. I’ve worked in a number of agencies, as well has marketing departments, and am currently freelance. I keep weighing the pros and cons of starting an illustration career, and doing fine arts on the side. This is not a decision to be taken lightly as I have a family, and moved to my wife’s home town three years ago, after establishing contacts in Dallas for 24 years. I have numerous questions on the transition from “commercial” artist to “fine” artist:

    • Is it possible to transition methodically and minimize stress and strain on everyone involved?

    • Should I always keep my day job, which often runs into night, as a freelancer?

    • Should I do what comes naturally, style-wise, or research galleries and find out what is selling?

    • I make decent money as a graphic designer. Do I have to start at the bottom of the food-chain again?

    I appreciate your input.

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      Hi Dave,
      Thanks for commenting. You pose a lot of really challenging questions here. As far as style and creating a body of work, you should always follow your heart. Following the money or what is selling will always lead you astray. Making the transition to full-time artist is a different journey for each individual. There is no magic bullet. Use your common sense and gut instincts. You will need to contact galleries that sell the kind of art you are producing. Stay in touch with these galleries, as it may take 3 to 5 years to establish yourself in a quality gallery. Polish your selling and presentation skills. As my friend Helene says, “It’s all about the schmooze when it comes to getting into a gallery. You really have to schmooze the gallery directors and owners.” Thanks again for your comments.

  6. Mike

    I can’t tell you how much I want to make a living as an Artist. I have been told time after time after time that my style of work is dead…American Folk Art. I have never been as down as I am right now. I have tried everything I can think of. I want to get into licensing, but I’m told all the time that folk art has no market. I am very, very close to just walking away from all of it, and I’ve been painting for the last 14 years.

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