How to Become a Professional Artist

I remember my very first sale. It was one of my first shows, and I remember being shocked that someone would pay money for my artwork! I called my mother, who is also an artist, and she said, “Now, you’re a real professional!”

My mother was taught this definition when she was studying. Since then, I have learned that becoming a true professional artist can be a bit more difficult. There are probably many different views on this but I will share what I have experienced, and what I believe is a typical step-by-step process.

Hone Your Skills

To become a professional, the first step is to improve your skills. Take classes, study expert work and practice to improve your brush handling skills and knowledge. You need to reach a certain level of quality in your work if you’re going to become a professional. It is a difficult thing to define. It’s similar to the difference between an experienced cake decorator with years of training and experience. The difference between skill levels is visible.

Test Your Work

Test your work once you’re satisfied that it is up to par. Enter your best piece into a local art exhibition to see if it is ready. As the audience views it, you can get a feel for how they react. Even today, I still like to remove my artist badge so that I can listen and watch the reactions of viewers. Was your work sold? This is also a good sign.

Ask people who know you well and are not afraid to tell the truth, but also aren’t always critical. You can also observe people who have an exposure to your work, but no personal relationship, like the person who helps you frame a piece. Are they genuinely interested in your painting? Remember that everyone’s tastes are different. Get multiple opinions.

Find out what you’re good at

What are your areas of expertise? After many failed attempts, and nearly giving up painting, I decided to paint a portrait. As a child, I sketched people constantly and was not bad. It turned out that portrait painting was much easier. It seemed to fit the way I think. Find your strengths, whether it’s in subject matter, medium or style of painting. Try another way if one doesn’t feel natural.

Create a body of work

Build a solid foundation of 10 to 14 pieces in which you are confident. These pieces should be well-coordinated and show a high level of skill. You want to make sure that each piece has a similar style of painting and a similar subject, if at all possible.

Learn how to photograph artwork

It’s not as easy as it seems. It is important that the photos you take are high-quality because they will represent your work.

1. The lighting should also be consistent. There should not be any blurring (you may want to consider using a tripod).

2. Many photographers recommend taking pictures outside on a sunny, but temperate day. It creates an almost natural white box. The mid-day light is also the most neutral, so try to shoot between 11am and 2pm.

3. You should only show the image of the painting – no mat, frame or wall. You can easily crop out these items using photo editing software.

Create a basic website

Create a professional-looking website using the initial collection of photos. Websites are yesterday’s portfolio. I believe that if you want to compete, you must be online. The site can include your name, some information about you, what you do, and your contact details. Create a simple website using a template from a website builder such as or Many websites offer a free version with a basic design. It’s fine to start, but you will eventually need to upgrade. You should also consider creating an online presence on selected social media platforms. Select a few social media platforms that you like and create an account.

Start an Artwork Database

It is also a good time to create a database on your computer to keep track of your exhibitions and work. This is something you should do early on in your career to avoid losing track. Artwork Archive is my personal favorite, but there are many other options. It is important to organize your work if you are a serious artist. The earlier you start, the better.

Create Your Resume

It’s time to create your resume. You have a good body of work already, you have a website that is ready to go and a way to track your career. It’s time to start building your resume. This could mean entering local shows, joining art groups in the area (and taking part in their group exhibitions), or working with small venues like a local coffee shop or library. Now is the time to show your work in public.

Extend Your Marketing Efforts

After you’ve gained some experience in the field of show business, it’s time to upgrade your website and other marketing materials. You will need an artist bio and statement that are well-written, along with a professional artist photo. This is you, the artist.

A bio is a brief description of your artist history (education, exhibits, etc.). It’s a way to tell the reader what your work is about, or to express what you hope viewers will feel when they see it. A biography is a brief history of your work (education, exhibitions, etc.). If your website does not have all of these things, you will need to add them to it. You may also want to upgrade your site to allow for your own domain. The domain name of a website is its address (such as Many free websites will require that you use an extension, such as Consider purchasing a domain with just your name. You can choose to use your name or the artist’s name. Make it easy to remember.

Now that you have a better idea of the pricing, it is important to be consistent. Prices should be increased slowly, or only after an honor or association with a professional body. Business cards are used to tell people your website address so they can view more of your work, or contact you.

Improve the quality of venue and group

You should see your skills improve as you gain more experience in both exhibiting and painting. You may start to look into art associations and higher-end shows if you are receiving local awards or praise for your artwork. Try entering your best work in a nationally recognized show, or look for a solo exhibition at a reputable venue. Don’t limit yourself to what is locally available.

Always present yourself as a professional

I believe that being a professional means more than simply achieving certain goals. You should also consider how you present yourself. You can tell by the way you carry yourself and dress, as well as the confidence that you display in your work. Dress well, keep your work clean and present it in its best light. Have professional marketing materials. You would be surprised at the negative effect an unclean mat and frame, for instance, can have. On the other hand, a well-dressed, confident persona could have a positive impact.

Decide what direction you want to go

You need to decide where you want to concentrate your efforts now that you have reached a professional level with your work. As a professional, you have many options. You can’t do everything, or from every angle. So I suggest you focus on two or three. These are the paths I am referring to:

  • Exhibitions and participation in the arts community
  • Images of the Gallery
  • Outdoor art markets
  • Art fairs in the United States and abroad
  • Teaching
  • Plein air competitions
  • Commission work

Chat with artists at certain events to get an idea of how their career has impacted their lives. Traveling is required for plein air competitions. Commission work requires contracts and a way to communicate with the client. Outdoor markets require travel, and you will need to buy a tent and hanger materials. Ask questions and observe. You will find that certain things appeal to you more.

Because every artist (…everyone) is different, there are multiple paths to become a professional. You can use the information in this article as a guide to get you started and find your own path.

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