So, you've decided to pursue a career as an artist - now what? Where do you begin, what can you do to progress in the art world, and how can you make yourself known? These are all tricky questions, with no 'one right answer' - but we've given it a shot!
We have compiled together a list of 8 invaluable pieces of advice for all aspiring and emerging artists, combined together with some top tips from artists of the Royal Watercolour Society and Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers.
So, if you're looking for a little help in establishing yourself as an artist then pop the kettle on, sit back and read on...
"A career as a visual artist guarantees variety, inventiveness, an introduction to a world populated by stimulating colleagues, people and places. It's a demanding, rewarding and privileged way of life.”
- Julia Midgley RWS RE
1. Draw every day.
Most artists will tell you it’s 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. Carry a sketchbook with you wherever you go and draw as often as you can. No matter your medium of choice, the humble pencil will help you through every creative block, as well as every burst of inspiration. Be disciplined with yourself and build a working pattern into your week that encourages you to continue your artistic practice whether or not you feel up to it. Being self employed isn't easy and motivation can often be a struggle, but amazing things can happen when you stop putting too much pressure on every mark to look 'good'. You might surprise yourself looking back at old sketch books, and perhaps even find inspiration for future pieces.
"Draw, draw and draw. Always carry a sketchbook, be head strong and keep going!"
- Akash Bhatt RWS
"Your sketchbook can allow you to get behind the scenes of some incredible lives & situations."
- Peter Lloyd ARE
2. Have an active online and social media presence.
Set up Instagram and Facebook accounts purely for promoting your work, using high quality images that showcase the very best of your abilities. You want to make it as easy as possible for people to find you online, view your work and learn more about you. Be sure to link your social media accounts through to your website, and ensure that your website is up to date, clear and easy to navigate.
Treat your website and social media accounts as a virtual extension of your physical portfolio. In this day and age, Galleries and individuals alike will look for emerging artists online, so it is very important to make sure there’s something for them to find when they head for the Google search.
“Read lots, visit exhibitions regularly, keep an open mind but also stay focused on your own direction. Culture and movements can be persuasive; be aware of them and try to find your own voice. And if you love art you’ll never need to be encouraged to work hard.”
- Rachel Gracey RE
3. Keep an eye on costs.
A practical, if slightly less glamorous top tip: it's good to keep records of both income and expenses - and make sure not to throw away any receipts. If you sell something, you’ll be able to offset these against income tax.
When deciding on your prices, try to get a good sense of what it costs you to create and exhibit your art, investigate the marketplace and see what comparable artists are charging. Try to be realistic and objective about your place within your field, as it's possible that artists who are more established and collectable will have earned a certain price tag.
4. Promote yourself.
Remember that art is a business as well as a passion; opportunities rarely fall into our laps without a little promotional elbow-grease. The simple fact is that you cant sell your art if you don't show your art, so invest some time and energy (and, alas, money) into entering competitions, art fairs and open exhibitions. The act of entering your work alone is a brilliant way of promoting yourself and making your work known - and, of course, being selected will open doors and build your CV.
"It’s very important to learn how to cope when your work is not accepted for an open competition or exhibition - this is something that happens to all of us throughout our careers… You are not alone - so never let this put you off trying again."
- Jill Leman PRWS
5. Practice speaking about your work - and try to get comfortable with speaking in public (yikes!)
You are your own best salesman! People who buy art want to know the story behind the work, and Galleries often like artists to give talks at openings, so it's good to get to grips with talking about yourself and your work in front of others.
Chat with close friends and family members about your work and encourage them to ask you questions. Perhaps practise by making a ‘Vlog’ (Video Blog) - this way you’ll become accustomed to talking about your methods, artistic practice and influences without the beady eyes of an audience looking directly at you. It is good to note that short and well edited videos are also a great way to sell yourself on your website and social media - so it's a win win!
"[Don't] expect people to come knocking on your studio door. Draw all the time, keep sketchbooks, promote yourself, enter competitions, be aware of the industry and embrace more than one medium. Versatility is good and useful."
- Julia Midgley RWS RE
Now... we feel it is important to caveat this particular 'top tip'. With physical events feeling like a rather distant dream, it is currently harder than ever to network. The digital world offers us many incredible possibilties - but it can't quite substitute physical interaction.
Nevertheless, no matter how impossible it might currently seem, things will get better. And once life has returned to some level of normality, this 'top tip' will only continue to increase in relevance.
So, here it is: never miss an opportunity to network! It is a simple but invaluable way of getting your name out there and attracting new fans, investors and followers. Turn up to exhibition openings and talk to other artists - you never know what doors you may open.
Remember that networking events are an opportunity to build relationships in the short-term, and grow your customer base in the long term. Use these functions to make friends in various sectors, sharing and collecting business cards.
"It really isn’t out of reach, but you do need a degree of tenacity and to know that you’re in it for the long haul.”
- Richard Pikesley RWS
7. Don't be afraid to ask for help!
Following on from the previous point, don't be afraid to talk to people and make use of others' experience. Whatever you are struggling with, chances are there have been many before you who have struggled with that exact same thing. Artists are full of little nuggets of wisdom - all you need to do is ask.
“Don’t forget to play, have fun and encourage happy accidents to help you to stumble across your own distinct and individual style.”
- Gertie Young RWS
8. Keep going.
Every artist has days where they feel like packing away the pencils, tools and brushes. Along the way you will gain a lot of experience in what doesn't work and you'll become accustomed to rejection and 'failure'. Be persistent, believe in yourself, embrace every happy accident along the way and don't be discouraged when things go wrong. If you are enjoying what you do, that will ultimately shine through - so keep going.
"First and foremost, I would say: keep going. If you are on a roll and you are feeling good about what you are doing, don't stop. And when you aren’t feeling good about it, don't give up... Also, it doesn’t matter if you think you are making rubbish, or that it’s not good enough. You are working towards something, so keep going.”
- Sally McLaren RE