I had an email yesterday from someone who writes:
“I’m now 60. Is it too late to become a full time artist? And can you give me some tips on how to do it?”
The short answer is it’s never too late to do something you really want to do, whether that’s being a full-time artist or something else entirely unrelated. I’d be saying the same thing to someone of 110. Perhaps there were things in your life that led you away from becoming a professional artist, or perhaps you didn’t fully realise until recently that this is what you want to do.
Either way it can’t ever be too late to try to reach your goals or dreams. The alternative is that you don’t make the attempt, you don’t achieve that goal and your life is reduced in that way as a consequence.
So, how to become a full-time artist. The usual advice on such matters is: just do it. This is good advice in a way, as if you don’t take that plunge you are unlikely to end up being a full-time anything. However this ‘usual advice’ is short on details, so here are some important aspects you need to work on:
1. Improve your artwork
Improve improve, improve and never stop trying to improve all of your life . After all, at the end of the day any sale of your work is probably going to hang on how good the specific piece is, and it’s probably only going to be good enough if you’ve worked very hard on your technique, composition and subject matter, to name but three. But how do you get better and refine your work. One way is by comparison. If you constantly (by which I mean daily) compare your work to the work of others you will find ways to make your own work better than it was. So study the work of those who have made it, and make this study a regular part of your life. View other’s paintings online on a daily basis and read books about how to improve your painting.
Another type of comparison comes about during the making of an artwork. If you paint figuratively rather than abstractly, you should seek to constantly compare the marks on your canvas with the actual thing or scene you are trying to depict. This is all about the artist’s ability to actually ‘see’ what is there rather than what their predisposed ideas tell them should be there. You see, we all have inbuilt concepts and ideas about what a river looks like, for example, as this helps us to identify a river the moment we see one. However, these inbuilt concepts, so useful in everyday life are of almost no use to the artist.
2. Join a group.
Another way to improve your work as well as to get inspiration and encouragement, is to join an artist’s group. In a group you will be able to bounce ideas off each other, compare techniques, and so understand more than you would working purely on your own. There are local artists groups almost everywhere. Other benefits include access to cheaper art materials, opportunities to exhibit your work and often opportunities to watch visiting artists giving demonstrations. There’s nothing quite like seeing how the professionals do it with your own eyes.
3. Know your customers.
How are you going to market your work successfully if you don’t know who your customers and potential customers are? you need to develop a clear idea of who your typical customer is. This may be difficult if you are just starting out and haven’t made many sales yet. However, if you market your work online then watch closely to what kind of people are responding to your posts. You should be able to build up a mental picture of who likes your work.
4. Promote and market your work.
Nowadays promoting your work is in many ways easier than it was in the past. This is largely down to the Internet which offers seemingly endless opportunities to share your work through social media, sites where you can post your work and methods to communicate with buyers and potential buyers.
Being a full-time professional artist has a lot in common with many other business professions. You need to understand that you will be running a business, which involves marketing, keeping accounts and so on, as well as the actual business of painting.
It’s hard work and if you want to get anywhere with it you have to keep at it and not give up. If you want to succeed then you will need to understand that actually painting may well constitue the lesser part of the time you devote to your business, as many well-known painters have pointed out. For sure if you spend all your time painting and none of it promoting your work then no one if going to know about your paintings, no matter how good they are.
So take every opportunity you can to promote your work, get it into local and national exhibitions, talk to people about it wherever you go and get it online! At the same time work hard to improve what you are doing and understand that nothing worthwhile comes on a plate.
Good luck, you have a lot of work ahead of you. Are you up for the challenge?