Your Art Career

 Stepping onto the Professional Art Path

becoming a professional artist cover with text white and gray drawings
Your Art Career Starts Here...


This week, we take a look at the art world, digging deep into the labour market data to see just how easy or difficult it is to become employed in the creative sector as a professional artist. Welcome to 2021 everyone!


With so many people looking to the creative sector to provide them with an alternative career that seems on the surface to be built for working from home, many are suddenly finding out that a career as a professional artist is more than lazy days spent in front of an easel. It’s not the easiest of careers to forge during regular times but throw a pandemic into the mix and it can become a whole lot more challenging.

Should you become a professional artist right now?

There’s no doubt that the arts more broadly are going through a whirlwind of a moment, galleries that haven’t been able to open physical brick and mortar premises and who haven’t been able to make the transition to providing online sales and experiences, have certainly been feeling the pinch. Many of the major art exhibitions have either been cancelled or have moved to online virtual exhibitions which are fine at first, but they’re different and don’t at all feel the same. Across the art world, there have been multiple reports that art market sales have fallen by as much as a third across the industry, and many artists who have relied on physical events have seen more dramatic dips in trading as shows have been closed or cancelled.

The biggest test for 2021 will be whether or not the more traditional art fairs will be able to stage a comeback in some way. Virtual viewings and cutting edge changes to online experiences filled a huge gap left behind during the events of 2020, whether or not they will be enough to keep an art market enthused for the entirety of 2021 is another question entirely, a number of these online events have certainly started to look and feel like they have run their course. Some of the biggest names in the fine art world are looking to the emergence of a vaccine and spring as a potential return date to some level of normal, though I would be minded to say that if they’re thinking spring, they might want to look towards spring 2022 instead, there might even be broad sections of the public who will need to get used to the idea of going back outside and mixing with the wider population again.

What we all absolutely know, is that the economic outlook globally has declined over the past twelve months and times are more uncertain than ever for people who have found themselves without anywhere near the same levels of spending power that they had pre-pandemic. Sadly, that’s not something that only affects those who have lost employment, the cost of living has increased more generally. Yet, certain sections of the art world seem to be weathering the storm far better than others. People are still buying art, but they’re buying it differently, their behaviours have changed, and in some cases, entire markets have changed and artists are generally having to work much harder and smarter to make sales.

So is it a good time to throw your hat into the ring and embark on a new career as a professional artist, and if so, do you go it alone or work for an employer?

Regular readers will know that I like to dig deep in the research, so I poured through a heap of data and economic models to work out exactly how the numbers stacked. Whilst I only had access to data across the UK, the anecdotal information I could find from other territories seemed to reflect a similar picture around the world, wherever the location, there will always be some differences when you start to dig into more localised data.

Between December 2019 and December 2020 and across seven UK unitary and county authorities, Manchester, Birmingham, London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, and Belfast, there were just 255 unique job postings for the role of artist across those regions, and if we go back to look at the number of postings between December 2018 and December 2019, there was a total of 252 unique job postings, yes, there were more job openings (albeit only three) during a pandemic year.

data graph regional trends for art employment
Data spans seven unitary authorities in the UK


The regional trends across those regions show that in 2019, there were a total of 1,950 jobs with the job title artist, in 2020, it reduced to 1857, a -4.8% decline, so whilst the number of job postings increased, the overall number of employees with the title artist, declined, which would be explained by the pandemic. However, the prediction is that the number of jobs will stay roughly the same in those regions until 2027, but will decline nationally. Across the nation, there were 27,445 jobs as artists in 2019, and 27,615 in 2020, meaning that there was an increase in employment opportunities but the predictions are that this will decline more up until 2027.

job data for artists and creatives uk
Specialised Design Activities 


Specialised data for creatives
Specialised Design Employment Across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

specialist jobs growth data
Specialist Creative Design across the UK

creative arts across the UK data
Creative Arts 

creative arts data for the UK
Creative Arts in the UK - GVA worth £8.1 billion in 2016


Of course, the UK is made up from far more regions than just those six, and the arts is much broader than the job role of artist. The numbers looked very different for disciplines such as graphic designer, and when I looked at the more general term of specialist design services, the numbers began to look a lot less bleak across the UK. There were though some discrepancies, in that the industry is primarily male dominated, it attracts more 25-34 year olds, but the gross value added (GVA) to the economy was some £2.7b, so creatives absolutely do contribute significantly to economies. It was also interesting to see that the prediction for specialist creatives is generally on an upward trend until 2027 and employment in the sector overall, increased +3.3% between 2019 and 2020. (Source: Economic Modelling)

So if you want to pursue a career as a professional artist or graphic designer, there are opportunities to find paid employment, but you might have to specialise beyond those typical roles, or at least the roles that most people immediately think about when they think about the arts. It’s worth remembering that the arts are much broader than the terms graphic designer or artist. There will be many thousands of people employed in other creative roles, and indeed, neither of these specific disciplines might match your own skillset.

The numbers are even more buoyant when I looked at the Creative Arts, with jobs predicted to start becoming closer to the number of jobs available back in 2003 over the next five or six years, in fact, jobs increased between December 2019 and December 2020, a slightly older demographic (35-44) were employed and the GVA for the economy back in 2016 was some £8.1billion and the industry was responsible for providing 106,386 jobs in 2019.

When we break the creative arts sector down into job roles, they included, musicians, actors, entertainers and presenters, journalists, newspaper and periodical editors, arts officers, producers and directors, and authors, writers and translators. So again, this reaffirms the broad swathe of disciplines involved in the arts.

The art world more broadly is responsible for employing more people than most people might give the sector credit for, and the numbers unsurprisingly for anyone already working in, or connected to the arts, reaffirm the positive economic impact that the arts have on communities, both in terms of well-being and in terms of local economies. There will be even more creatives not working for employers who will be self-employed, which would provide a further increase to the GVA, and as I indicated earlier, whilst I only had the data for the UK, anecdotal evidence seemed to point out quite clearly that the numbers were as positive in many other regions around the world.

If you are serious about becoming a professional artist, it’s important to set some expectations around your chances of making it. Sadly, the old adage of build it and they will come has never applied to paint it and they will buy it or write a blog and they will read it. In short, there’s usually a journey from casual painter to professional artist, or more specifically, the journey that will ultimately lead to you becoming a commercially successful professional artist, as in having an art career that not only pays the bills but also provides you with a good standard of living that is made entirely possible by the work you create.

Success as an artist is subjective, it’s not and should never, always be looked at as monetary, but let’s also be honest here, you need to make a living. Commercial artistic success doesn’t happen overnight, it doesn’t happen in any other sector either, so you may have to consider a side or day job while you work out the incredibly important skill that is the business of the art business.

There are two important points here, firstly, that we are in the midst of a pandemic and the labour market is effectively shuttered in most regions around the world right now, and the second point is that there are many commercially successful professional artists who have and continue to work a second job alongside a professional art career, and let’s not forget, a professional artist can also be employed by an employer, as a professional artist. Being a professional artist doesn’t mean that you have to go it alone.

Adrift artwork, boats, sunset, Art by mark Taylor
Adrift at the Golden Hour - Art by Mark Taylor


The art world could never be accused of being the most stable work environment and the lure of working in the sector for an employer might give you a little stability, or it might give you a cold shudder. There is though, also a third point. Professional art supplies are expensive regardless of your discipline, you somehow have to have a mechanism to collect art supply tokens in the form of cold hard cash and at the same time, keep the proverbial wolves from the door while you are building your hopefully soon to be, empire.

There is another train of thought from some corners that suggests not going down the route of having a day job at all and focusing on only your art. Personally, that’s a romantic and noble view taken by those who can afford to not become a real-life living example of the stereotypical starving artist, there’s certainly nothing romantic nor noble about starving. Art sales are unpredictable, at least during the early stages of a career, and depending on what kind of art you create, sales can often be more seasonal.

That’s not to say that the ultimate goal shouldn’t be to focus on your art without the distraction of a day job. Absolutely, that’s the best way to go, but there are really only two choices, take a leap of faith and go all in from the off, or take a slightly more cautious approach by having the security of a more regular income while you build up your skills and confidence and a business. I would caveat this latter approach by suggesting that if you do take a day job while you are building your business, you should set some firm milestones together with a timeline and plan to make that transition from nine to five to full time happy, happen. A good general rule of thumb is that you at least want to start a business when you know you can cover your personal expenses.  

Adrift artwork by Mark Taylor, boat, beach, sunset
Adrift Under A Glowing Sky by Mark Taylor


Employer Skill Demand…

Despite a pandemic and the associated lockdowns that go with it, employers across the sector continue to look for a wide range of skills when it comes to hiring creatives and having an idea of the most in-demand skills will prove invaluable when looking to your own career development. Although employment is without question much more difficult to come by at the moment, those who are currently hiring are looking for employees to have a wide range of skills. Even if you have no intention of seeking employment, knowing what skills are in demand will help you to organise your own continuous professional development and getting skilled in the most in-demand disciplines, will help with bringing in commissioned work, especially where companies are outsourcing creative projects during the pandemic.

Throughout the research I carried out, I could find few openings for artists who don’t also have at least some digital skills. There’s a particular upsurge in the number of video games companies currently recruiting for creatives, not surprising as video games have found a new area in society for many people during the lockdown. There was a definite digital bias towards the range of skills needed, and whilst I looked specifically at six UK regions, the skills demand was broadly similar no matter how I shook the dice across other areas.

The top hard skills were:

Adobe Photoshop

Autodesk Maya

Visual Effects

Autodesk 3DS Max

Animation

Texturing

Adobe After Effects

Rendering

Python (Programming Language)

ZBrush

Scripting

Game Engine

Composition

Video Game Development

AAA Server (Authentication Authorization and Accounting)

Unreal Engine

Particle Systems

Painting

C# Programming language

The top common skills employers look out for, are:

Communication

Self-Motivation

Time Management

Sales

Management

Troubleshooting

Enthusiasm

Customer Service

Innovation

Research

Detail Oriented

Creativity

Problem Solving

Editing

Planning

Teaching

Mentorship

Creative problem solving

Proactivity

Prioritization

Organisational Skills

Presentation

How was the data compiled?

You might want to know if the data will be relevant for your region too, my relatively brief snapshot only looked at the UK as that was the only firm data set that I had access to, but knowing whether the data is relevant to your region would require you to do a little homework, although I wouldn’t expect skills to change significantly and neither would I expect that employers in one part of the world would be necessarily looking for anything different. 

This data was compiled using a combination of structured data (which leans towards being historic and predicts future trends and comes from sources such as the Office for National Statistics -ONS), which is then combined with data from a range of live job postings (big data from multiple employment sources), which then gives a much better snapshot of what’s going on right now. It also takes into account the number of employment benefit claimants in the area which is relatively up to the minute. All of the data is then modelled and the data is combined to provide what is probably about as good as it gets.

I’m certainly no economist, but essentially, the arts do seem to be broad enough for most skilled artists to be able to find some kind of work, whether you are working for an employer, as a self-employed professional or in the gig economy taking on commissions, and right now, the unpredictability of the arts is probably close to the unpredictability of any other industry. 

Maybe someone who is an economist might have a view on that, but I do know that the pandemic hasn’t changed my desire to look at great art, and I’m finding that I’m busier now than I have been for a while, and my own art sales have been up during 2020 compared to sales during 2019 which really kind of surprised me.

Being qualified in a creative subject might be important in some roles but the more I speak with employers in the sector, the more I hear a clear message that a proven track record of experience is just as, if not, often more important than a formal qualification. Many employers are now beginning to look towards digital credentials to validate skills rather than a traditional resume or qualification. A digital badge recognising current skills is for most modern employers, worth more than a resume that’s maybe ten years out of date, it’s much more difficult to embellish  digital credentials because they are often time-bound and verified at the point of issue.

For artists, it also means having a strong portfolio and a body of evidence that employers are able to see close up. I really can’t stress this enough, whether you are looking for an employer-based work opportunity or running your art practice as a business, your portfolio is the shop window to your work.

When qualifications are needed, they do tend to be at higher levels. In the UK, and from what I can find in other territories, the top entry-level qualifications to become an artist fall towards being at level 4-5, then Level 7 which would be the equivalent of say, a Masters Degree, and just ahead of level 7, where there is a need for a formal qualification, holding a level 6 qualification which is the equivalent of a Bachelors, is useful if you were to think about a day job or side career as an arts officer, and of course, experience is also vital in those kinds of roles.

Graphic designers have a need to be qualified between level 3, (a UK qualifications level) to Level 4 or 5, and Level 6 which is once again, the equivalent of a Bachelors. Having said that, there are plenty of creative opportunities where holding a lower qualification is fine. If you have experience and can demonstrate that you can perform the role, there are employers who give less currency to the qualifications held.

From experience, academia and major arts institutions will give more currency to formal qualifications, think arts officers, or curators, but for the vocational creation of art, the substance of the portfolio might be more critical to an employer.  

There is another question that seems to always crop up, and that is whether or not you need to formally study the arts or if you can still have a career from being self-taught. I certainly don’t think it’s as essential as it once was to have a formal art education and it was only essential back in the day because that’s how the gatekeepers to the art world preferred it.

Today, the gatekeepers only stand guard at the doors of the places we don’t absolutely have to be present in to make a living. Sure, it’s great to have that formal grounding that a formal arts education provides, but however many years you spend in art school, it will always only be the foundation, the real learning is achieved over a career that spans an entire lifetime.

The longer I have been in this business, the less I realise I know. After more than thirty years, I find I can learn as much from newcomers to the business as they can learn from me. Whilst I have to say, I did enjoy going back to college and gaining a formal art qualification, I can categorically say that for me, the most valuable qualification I managed to gain was one in business management. If I had to choose between gaining a formal art qualification or study business knowing that I would run my art practice as a business, as much as I love art, I would choose to study a solid business curriculum every day of the week.

glow over a dry stone wall art by Mark Taylor, Stone wall, art, sunset
Glow Over A Dry Stone Wall by Mark Taylor


Chase the dream, always…

If you want to progress your own dreams of turning what might currently be a hobby into a professional art practice, then taking note that there are also opportunities to work for employers, rather than becoming immediately self-employed in the business might make the transition into becoming a full time self-employed professional artist a little easier, at least on the pocket. It will also provide you with some additional experience and the opportunity to take some extra time to learn how the business of the art business works.

So, back to that earlier question, is now a good time to find your mojo as a professional artist? I would argue that it is probably one of the best times to start making the transition from happy amateur painter to a skilled professional artisan, whilst art doesn’t solve the same kinds of problems that an always in-demand widget would, it does solve other much more fundamental problems on a much deeper level. Essentially, the world will always need art and the data seems to be around to back it up.

Building a professional art career…

Is it possible to build an art career during the pandemic? Well, many already have and many of those new artists are already seeing some benefit in setting out onto the path of self-employment as a professional artist. Equally, there will be many who will have tried it for a week and will have already walked away. Art isn’t easy during regular times.

Whilst the pandemic has caused massive disruption to business, the biggest impacts are much more inclined to be around the kinds of businesses that aren’t deemed to be essential and haven’t migrated to digital platforms. Where businesses have been able to adapt and be more responsive to the changes that have needed to be made, the impacts and fallout in many cases will have been lessened by their agility and ability to respond, although it has still been incredibly tough for most of them.

For artists, in some sectors of the art world, life has been and continues to be tough and the demographic of buyers in the art world have been changing, along with their behaviour. For some artists in the fine art sector and where their incomes are very much at the whim of an industry that has for the most part been shuttered for almost  a year now, times have been incredibly tough especially, where they haven’t been able to exhibit and show and more importantly, get the numbers of eyes on their work that they usually would.

The majority of working artists don’t necessarily work in the sectors that have been most affected in comparison to many of the art markets that make up the entirety of the art world. The fine art collector market is relatively small in buyer numbers, it’s just that it’s slightly bigger in terms of income. Many independent artists are still finding buyers, my own experience was that 2020 wasn’t too different to 2019, and even at times, a little stronger, although for those who rely on the exhibition circuit, times have been more challenging as physical face to face shows have all but been cast aside in favour of virtual exhibitions over services such as Zoom.

Whether you decide to go it alone or go with an employer or a mix of both, might even need to be determined by what you create. Some niches are performing at better than ever levels, whilst some genres and subjects have lost some of their appeal. So the choice between working for someone else or working for yourself also depends on what you have to sell, how many buyers are looking for what you have to sell, and having an understanding of what sets you apart from every other artist working in the same pond.

The real trickery is in figuring out which of the many pockets of disciplines, styles and subjects, of the art world you and your art fit into and then working out who already makes and continues to make purchases within that area. If you are going it alone, you are going to absolutely and unequivocally need to work out who your market is, and where they’re hanging out, which might or might not be in your local area, and it might or might not be online or on social media.

It can be character building to dig through the market data at times, but it’s not impossible, the knack is in identifying what’s already selling where, and to who, and more importantly perhaps, noting what’s currently not getting sold, where, and why. There’s also a question that you need to ask of yourself before you commit either way, and that is whether or not you want to pursue gallery representation either now or a little later, knowing that will kind of already determine who your market might be, and begin to answer the questions around where your audience hangs out. I’ll caveat this too by saying, that gallery representation certainly isn’t something that is for every artist, and it’s not something that suits every genre and style of art, it’s certainly not the golden panacea that most new artists blindly think it is.

Adrift art by Mark Taylor, boat, turquoise sky
Adrift Under A Turquoise Sky by Mark Taylor


It’s certainly way easier today to get your work seen than it was back in the days when I first started out. The internet has made the world a very small place, and a global pandemic has done lots of things that we wish it hadn’t, but it has also been pivotal in accelerating an acceptance around buying art online that was inevitable one day, but expedited by maybe as much as a decade before any of us could have predicted. It is this acceleration of acceptance in buying art online that has caught a lot of artists and galleries out, but the pandemic has also taught us that a physical space such as a brick and mortar gallery is no longer the absolute requirement to sell your work, though I’m not entirely sure it has been for a while now.

There are two things that sell art, lots of eyes viewing it, and your ability to build relationships. There’s no room these days for casual encounters, relationships take longer than five minutes to build, and a career in the arts takes somewhat longer than a day. Patience is perhaps the one skill not identified as a top skill by employers, but trust me when I say that you are going to need it in heaps. There is also something that is needed even before patience and that is that you have to want to do this. Activity is the cure, inactivity is the disease, you have to make things happen.

Those who have managed to stay afloat have usually been the artists who have developed an entrepreneurial spirit and have managed to embrace the online world whether it is through their own website, a print on demand service or any combination of such things. 

Essentially, they have become agile, and they look for opportunities that sit often uncomfortably outside their regular box and they haven’t been afraid to embrace new technologies and push their business in new directions. That’s probably true for most other businesses too. Independent artists who are making it today, are generally the ones who have begun to master the art of the art business, rather than simply just the business of art and the process of painting. Art is much more than that, it always has been.

So whichever route you decide to follow to become a professional artist, you are still going to have to find your WOW! 

Firstly, let me explain what the WOW is! It’s that feeling an artist gets when someone likes their work enough to want to hand over their hard-earned cash, no matter if it’s the thirty-seven cents you made on selling a greetings card, or the ten or ten thousand bucks you made on selling a print or an original. 

It’s that moment when it doesn’t matter how broke you are, how close to scraping the floor you are, somebody just paid you for something you and your hands created. That’s a WOW moment, it’s as humbling as it gets, and the confidence boost, the small win, that no matter how small, should be celebrated every time it happens. Even the ten cent sales should be a celebration, especially during these uncertain times. Let’s see how we find this WOW then shall we!

 

My Top Ten Tips to Find Your WOW!

One - Learn the business of the art business…

Forget painting for just one moment, the fact that you can paint has to be a given, it’s the lowest price of admission into a professional art career. Take the time to learn about the business of art, the nuances of the many different types of art market, and then you will be able to more easily define your own space within it and start working towards owning that space completely.

Read a book, take a course, spend every spare moment you can to learn how the art world works, the nuances between what sells on Etsy and what sells in Christie’s, and the important differences between sales and marketing. Sure, learning this stuff might seem dull, but so was that nine to five that you didn’t enjoy!

Two - Consume more art…

Expose yourself (not in a take your clothes off sense) to every kind of art you can find. Figure out what message the artist was trying to convey, it doesn’t have to even be close to what they were conveying, art is supposed to be subjective enough for you to give it your own interpretation. As you become more attuned to the art world you will begin to find that your style evolves, your need to master new skills will evolve too, and more importantly, over time, you will begin to subconsciously adopt the success process that other artists have found. Consume it, but don’t copy it, although you will find that, given time, you will certainly find influence from it.

Three- Strive towards direct relationships…

Give me ten collectors over a hundred casual buyers, any day of the week. There are so many options to market and sell your art that will never involve you walking through a gallery door, and you can still find just as much, if not more commercial success. 

Print on demand (POD), is an ideal way to offer prints of your work to a global audience, or licensing your images and receiving regular royalties, all while growing a global audience and hopefully a global market. POD has a place, but the Holy Grail, for any artist, should always be to strive towards building direct relationships with buyers who will hopefully one day become collectors of the artist’s work.

If you want direct relationships, and you should, there’s something that you probably need to understand about the print on demand business. I use print on demand regularly, although it has become much more of an aside rather than a primary sales channel in more recent times. It still saves me a heap of time processing orders and because the orders can be fulfilled from local territories, it negates many of the issues around shipping and processing payments, but the real benefit is that I don’t have to keep any stock to hand.

Stock hanging around is always expensive both in terms of storage and in monetary terms. With print on demand, I know that I can rely on the quality being on a par with anything you would buy from a high-end print gallery and I don’t have to worry about minimum print runs, again, reducing the overall costs of doing business on a global scale and guaranteeing the buyer gets a quality product.

The upside of a potential global market is a no-brainer, the downside is that the buyers are never really yours and you have no say in the price that gets ultimately charged to those who buy your work. If your market is one in which you are selling ten dollar prints, that’s a market that maybe wouldn’t be suited to print on demand, the base costs charged by the POD service for each print would be much more expensive than ten dollars for anything other than a small print, so this would price your ten dollar print market, well, outside of entry point to your print on demand market.

I would always advise looking at POD base prices from the various services before you sign up, to ensure that your own direct pricing, away from POD can remain consistent. If you’re selling a ten-dollar print directly, and the same print will cost fifty dollars through POD, no one would go through POD. If they did, and then the buyer finds out that your direct pricing is cheaper and no one told them, that will tarnish your reputation. Pricing consistency is critical, especially when buyers are more attuned these days to doing comparisons around pricing, price comparisons are even made on multi-thousand dollar prints.

Another downside is that you will never get to know who has purchased your work unless those buyers reach out to you, and here’s the thing, most won’t. The buyer's relationship is with the print on demand service, artists simply provide that service with the art that the service then takes and prints on the base materials that the POD service sells. 

POD is the middle man between you and the print and fulfilment facility that brings everything together, coordinates the fulfilment and processes the payment. When they do this, they pay the artist an agreed commission, or a commission in some cases, that the artist has set.

It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement if the purchase costs from POD services align with the budget that your market is willing or able to spend, but you are still responsible for the marketing. In essence, you will be jointly marketing both your work and the POD service your work is available on, but there is a trade-off in benefits that will make this worthwhile if the numbers work for your buyers.

When you sign up to POD, you are really signing up to a service that supplies your work on their product and if you view the arrangement as a partnership where a third-party handles the headache of printing, payment processing and shipping, POD can be a great tool to have in your toolbox. But, before you consider going solely down this route, you do have to have a very good understanding of where your market is in terms of what they’re willing or able to spend.

One of the top mistakes I see new artists make all too often, is going blindly into a POD arrangement to sell their work and thinking that they suddenly have a global business when what they really signed up for is a mechanism to supply product on a global scale with slightly fewer headaches. The same work still exists in terms of marketing and getting people to view your work, arguably a little more at times because you are one artist in a pool of many thousands.

POD is a fantastic tool, and there is a potential to make a very healthy living from it, but POD in itself, is a service that removes many of the headaches, so it’s a trade-off. POD is often seen by new artists as the quickest route to selling work, sadly, that’s not how it works and for some markets, POD might not be financially viable at all, it really depends on your existing market or the market you plan to work in.

 While we’re on the subject of building direct relationships, that should also include building meaningful relationships with lots of other people too. It’s easier today to build a global business than a local business, we can set up an online store, get orders fulfilled around the world and do all of this from our desks before we even have a product to sell or a market to sell it into. 

Yet, the pandemic has begun to shine a light on the importance of local businesses, not just in terms of the local economy, but in building communities too. Using other local businesses to support your local business supports a local economy at the point of origin.

Think about using local printers, framers, and shipping companies, most will be able to offer way better quality than many of the large corporations offering similar services, and small businesses are often more competitive and can respond in most cases sooner. Not only that, when you have a local collector base using local companies, it keeps the local economy moving and adds to your legacy as a local artist where you can then own direct sales in a local market.

Evenings Low Tide art, sunset, night time landscape
Evenings Low Tide By Mark Taylor


Four - Master the art of marketing…

Tied very closely to business but also completely different. Art marketing is about expanding your audience and remaining visible. Marketing is way more nuanced than regularly posting on social media, it’s about appearing in front of your audience wherever they are, whenever they’re around, and sustaining it. It’s about setting out the value add that you bring, not just from your work but from you as a person. It’s about building a following and forging relationships and it has very little, if anything,  to do with the hard sell.

If people don’t know you or your art are there, people just won’t buy it. Make sure that they know where to find you and above all else, be just one percent better at what you do than anybody else. One thing you must never do is allow the thought of marketing put you off marketing, find your marketing zen, switch it up and down from time to time, and make sure that the next time someone needs a piece of art, they immediately turn to you. It will take time to master, but master it, you can.

Five - Never be afraid to diversify…

Never, ever, be afraid to diversify. Art is a tough gig and at least until you have a following that will sustain you and pay the inevitable bills that seem to continue to flow in regardless of the money that flows out, then there is no shame in diversifying your portfolio. More than ever you need an entrepreneurial spirit, and a willingness to step outside your comfort zone.

Diversifying what you create doesn’t mean that you lose that all-important consistency that we are programmed as artists to adhere to. Making your work available on smaller or larger canvas sizes or on alternative products will open the market up. Offering lower-priced options doesn’t mean devaluing your work, what it might mean is that you gain an aspirational collector base who are waiting for economic conditions to become more favourable for them so they can start collecting your work.

Consider taking on alternative commissions, not just the regular pet and family portraits, but think about extending your skillset into areas such as creating book covers, logos, beer can labels, restaurant menus and wall art, or even corporate theming. If you only sell a handful of originals each year, the small stuff like this can subsidise your passion to create the big stuff and it even has the potential to become the big stuff in itself. Restaurant menus have been paying some of my bills for the past decade, as have book covers, if anything this is how I have managed to grow my business and keep the lights on at times. Just one word of advice with commissions though, always get everything in writing!

eagle flying, art by Mark Taylor
Soaring Hunter by Mark Taylor


Six - Build a website…

I might sound like a broken record with this one, but this is just so incredibly important. Having a profile on social media is a risk that is fragile in that the longevity of that account is out of your control. If you have your own website, so long as you stick to the law of the land and as long as you stick to the terms and conditions set out by your hosting company, the control of it is within your gift. You’re free, number six – anyone remember Patrick McMagoohan?.

Make sure you have a custom domain name and don’t forget to add your contact details. That’s a small element that is often forgotten in the excitement of launching a website. Let’s be clear here though, an artists website is one more tool in the toolbox, although it is more of an essential tool than most. Buyers today will do their homework and will generally Google you before they commit to spending any amount of cash on your work.

Make sure you have a content strategy, make sure that the content you put on your site is relevant to what you do, and make sure it adds value to the visitor. You can use an artists website to promote your work, give a deeper insight into your process, tell your story and use it as a platform to build even deeper relationships with your community.

If you lack the technical skills, there are plenty of options designed to make things easier for you. Any web presence is better than no web presence, although the exception to that is a free web hosting platform that places adverts on your content that you have little to no control over and might very well detract from your work.

Services such as Shopify, Square Online and even Google Sites are great ways to get started, or you could go down the WordPress route. My advice is to look towards Shopify, Square Online and WordPress as these are some of the best options, but if you subscribe to Adobe Creative Cloud, take a look at Adobe Portfolio. With most subscriptions it’s a free benefit that provides a templated website builder that has a lot of flexibility and the templates have been designed specifically for artists and photographers, and if you don’t already subscribe, it makes the price of the lowest subscriptions worth it just to get access to this.

It’s also worth caveating this too, an artists website needs to be marketed just like your art. Generally, any artist website will never generate the volume of traffic that you would expect to find passing through say, an entertainment or news website, and you will be competing with a million and one click-bait websites and quizzes that harvest peoples data. The visitors who will be visiting - will be visiting it with the very specific reason of seeing who you are and what you do, so unless your name is Banksy, don’t get too overly hung up on the numbers.

Need ideas, think about blogging, make sure you have an about you page, those contact details are worth another mention, document your work and let people know how much your work costs, and make sure that you regularly update it, keep it fresh, and above all else, continue to add value by making every update count.

pool party art, jungle, flamingos, art by Mark Taylor
Pool Party by Mark Taylor


Seven - Think about showing your work in alternative venues…

I have exhibited in the past and I have started again more recently, but one of the best ways I have found, is to exhibit wherever there are people, rather than exhibit wherever there is art.

That means looking at some not quite so regular venues as a means to bring your art in front of the highest volume of people that you can. Remember when I said earlier that you need lots of eyes to sell your work, more eyes visit regular places that aren’t traditionally associated with art. For me, I prefer small independent businesses, providing the business with a commission and art to decorate their space, it’s a win, win, and I think more crucial than ever in building relationships in the community with potential local collectors.

The exhibition space is going to be different enough for a while longer. What I can see emerging, is a hybrid-model of smaller displays placed strategically, together with accompanying collections online. The reason, whatever this pandemic is, just isn’t going to go away anytime soon and we’ll need to adapt for a little longer.

Eight - Document your work and leave a legacy

I have written the following words many times before and here they are again, always document your work. Works in progress updates, what materials you used, what techniques you applied, and for digital artists, even what fonts you used. Everything about your work and you should be able to be packaged up and published, at first as a book, eventually as a volume of encyclopaedias. You know you and your work better than anyone else, own your story, don’t leave someone else to make it up.

Aside from that, this is about your legacy. If you want your work to continue, documenting it helps future generations not only find it, but to prove the provenance of it, and even if you don’t much care about leaving a legacy right now, your collectors certainly will.

paradise, island, tropical, sunny, palm tree, art by Mark Taylor
Upon a Breathing Tide by Mark Taylor


Nine – Look towards grants and resources that will help you continue to create

I meet a lot of new artists and some not so new artists who aren’t even aware that there are things like art grants and awards that are made available through all sorts of organisations and I also know that for some of these awards and grants, it will be the same artists applying for them time after time.

Whether you need funding for an installation project or to exhibit or strengthen your business, arts grants and awards are available and can provide a lifeline to artists, even those just starting out. Recently, I have seen grants being given to business start-ups and these would be ideal for those who wish to progress their professional art careers and turn a side hustle or hobby into a legitimate business.

My advice, if you go down this route, make sure you read the requirements of any grant or award and ensure you are eligible before you apply. Make your application as good as it can be, and make sure that you are applying for the grants that make sense for what you are trying to achieve. Never rush it, and if a deadline is noon, it means noon, if you are going to miss it, then you will have to miss it. Just be warned, any grants and awards being made available at the moment might be overly subscribed, so don’t let disappointment set in and try again at another time.

Ten – Quality Time, Not Stolen Time

How much time should you commit to running your business is a difficult question to answer, but why work 40-hours a week for an employer when you can work 80-hours a week for yourself. What I mean by that is that there will always be something that needs doing and you could happily spend all of your waking hours working. But you need to be smart about this, you need to spend only the hours you can afford to spend doing it. There is nothing that is written in stone that says otherwise, it’s all about how you manage your workload and priorities.

Think about using time tracking apps that run on your phone as you work. They’re especially useful for keeping track of how many hours you have been putting into that commission and even how many hours you have been watching funny cat videos on Netflix. I often get asked how I fit everything in alongside a day job and I can never really answer the question simply, other than to say, when you want something and believe in something, you find a way to make it happen, and knowing exactly where you waste the most time for the least amount of return is vital in being able to do this.

If you can commit 40-hours a week or ten hours a week, it’s your business, and what you are doing is spending time on your terms rather than borrowing or stealing time from something else.

abstract tree, artwork, art by Mark Taylor
Happy Summer by Mark Taylor


Make a career…

There is no doubt in my mind that the arts are more important than they have ever been at any time in recent art history.  It is entirely possible to make the transition to professional artist, even today in the midst of a global pandemic. The data I looked at really clarified it for me, but I’m under no illusion, those who are making it work for them, are working way harder than they were at any point in the past decade.

Data can be useful, as I think I have shown this week, we can certainly learn a lot about the industry by looking more broadly at what’s going on in the industry beyond our front doors, but we also have to be mindful that you can make data tell you exactly what you want to hear if you torture it in the right way, it doesn’t always mean that the data is right. It took me around three weeks to collate the evidence for this post and I’m sure if I had even more time, the picture would change again. All I can offer is a snapshot and anecdotal evidence and share what I’m seeing.

We need to be cognizant of what’s going on in the news too, some of which that comes out of the art world is more smoke and mirrors than reality, take millennials for example. Millennials have for a long time been a difficult market to entice, but depending on who you ask, more millennials are now allegedly buying art than at any time before. Are they really discovering art in the middle of a pandemic, or are they doing as I suspect the cynic inside me thinks that this line might be more of a ploy by the fine art world to entice millennials into buying more art. I’m not seeing huge swings in the demographic towards millennials, and I don’t think having spoken to a number of artist friends who work in the fine art sector, that they’re necessarily seeing it either. What we might be seeing is that people more generally and not just millennials, are turning online to buy work because there’s nowhere else to go when physical galleries are closed!

Can you make it in the art world? Yes, I believe you can, whether you run a business as a side job or as a full-time endeavour, you can make opportunities just like you make art, but what’s needed above all else is that you first have to believe in you.

That’s all for this week and once again, I was missing in action over the festive break, still struggling with a glass back I’m afraid, and I have been working on a huge series that has been pulling me in all kinds of directions, but I’m hoping to begin releasing those works very soon.

If you have any tips to share for artists who are just stepping out onto the professional artist path for the first time, leave a comment! It’s more important than ever for artists to stick together and support each other. Until next time, stay safe, stay creative and look after each other!

Mark x

About Mark…

I am an artist and blogger and live in the leafy landlocked shire of Staffordshire, England. You can purchase my art through my Fine Art America store or my Pixels site here: https://10-mark-taylor.pixels.com   and you can purchase my new works, special and limited editions directly. You can also view my portfolio website at https://beechhousemedia.com

If you are on Facebook, you can give me a follow right here,  https://facebook.com/beechhousemedia  You can also follow me on Twitter @beechhouseart and on Pinterest at https://pinterest.com/beechhousemedia

If you would like to support the upkeep of this site or maybe just buy me a coffee, you can do so at my Go Fund Me link right here

Any donations received are used to ensure I can continue writing independently for independent artists, and to make sure I can keep the pay walls at bay!

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