How to Become a Professional Artist

Four Methods:PaintingComputer imagingSculptureOther Options

Developing into a professional artist takes talent, discipline, effort, and willingness to sacrifice. You will need to develop skills and discipline in drawing, conceptualizing, and direct observation.


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    Get educated! It is likely that even if you are someone who is blessed with some natural ability, you still have room to grow and develop these talents.
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    Figure out your weak points, and attack them full on until you have overcome them! For example: if you are a classical portraitist who can not draw feet, then you probably need to draw as many feet as you can until you actually can draw feet.
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    Research your subject. Even an imagined piece must be developed from observational memory and knowledge. A scientific and structural approach is key for creating a successful illusion.
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    Research the style. Before you set out to create a piece of art, make sure you understand which elements of style are being manipulated, and how. Everything you produce must appear intentional.
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    Start loose and gestural; so much so, that all you are doing at first is simple shapes inside compositional borders (these borders should emulate the final piece's proportions). There should be several drawings before a final, locked-down piece is created.
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    Warm up! Before you can produce a good piece of art, you have to warm up! Your first drawing can not be as good as your last one. You have to get into the zone!
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    Pay close attention to your composition, the rough stage is for this very purpose. Make sure the edges of your image are not distracting, and be sure that the viewers eyes are going only where you want them to go.
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    Make the colors good. Learn about the nature of sight, and the science of light. Look at photos, but don't copy them. Understand color temperature and shadow coloring. Study color-theory!
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    Pay attention to the quality of your materials. Despite the fact that a good artist can make any materials look good, you should give yourself the best and most comfortable (unfortunately, often the most expensive) art supplies. After all, you want to be a professional, right? Wouldn't a professional use the good stuff?
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    Select and use only the details you need, the rest of added embellishment is just added distraction and wasted time. Use differentiation in detail to add emphasis to your pieces..
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    The more preliminary pieces and roughs, the better the final piece.
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    If it is a good piece, make sure people know who did it. If it turns out bad, don't throw it away. The actual amount of good art that a professional produces is quite small next to the sheer bulk of bad stuff they have to go through in the process. Never throw old or bad art away, it's good motivation for the future. Keep everything neatly stored, so you can come back later and see how much you've improved. This really helps if you're feeling down in the dumps, and if you can't pull yourself out of a depressed mood (which inevitably, all artists go through- it's a complex we all have) then you'll never become a professional.
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    Experiment and express yourself. An artist who sells a piece of art is ultimately selling a piece of him/her self. Let the paints blend, mix, and flow, if it feels good, and trust your talents and instincts.

Method 1

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    Find your media. Professional artists work in dozens of media, and finding one which is marketable and suitable for your style will be your first priority. Here are a few examples:
    • Painting in oils. For either skilled painters who create original artwork to display and sell at showings or in galleries, this is probably the oldest continually used media. There are too many things to list involved in becoming a professional oil painter, such as choosing a technique, style, and preferred subject, but you should research the styles and subjects which are marketable to succeed without living in poverty. Here are a few subjects which may offer some hope of a successful career.
      • Portraits. Some institutions commission portraits of their benefactors or previous executives and significant persons in their company history, and oils tend to create a dignified artwork for this purpose.
      • Landscapes (and seascapes). For the decorator and the collector, these pieces are sought after as investments or simple decoration. The size and quality of an individual work, and more importantly, the artist's reputation, help determine the value of the work.
      • Still Life. Much like landscapes, these are usually sought after for decorative purposes, and possible customers could be collectors and professional people for use in decorating their office waiting areas.
      • Abstracts. These are more likely to be sought after by persons with more discriminating tastes, or Art Nouveau ideas, and the market probably isn't as open for them, since one must be a connoisseur to appreciate well executed abstract art.
    • Painting in acrylics. This is essentially the same as painting in oils, except the materials are water based, tend to be less expensive, and dry more rapidly, allowing a work to be completed in less time. Similar subject exist for acrylics as do oils.
    • Watercolor. This is a faster media in execution, and with skill gives excellent results. A wash can cover large areas more quickly than brush strokes, and the paint dries very quickly. The media is not as suitable for portraits, but is commonly used for landscapes, seascapes, and still life. Because of the relative ease of creating a finished watercolor painting, these are commonly sold in venues such as sidewalk displays, vacation destination souvenir shops, consignment galleries, and art shows. They can be created and hence, sold more cheaply than oils and acrylics, and so they are thought of as a more affordable painted fine art.
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    Learn your media, from the basics of mixing paints, stretching canvases, working a palette, to finishing a completed artwork. Framing and matting may be done by a professional, but be aware these add significantly to the cost of your work, and this will affect your success in selling the painting.
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    Use your abilities to produce a portfolio that you continually update with your best work, and set up appointments to show your work to dealers and people who may be willing to display pieces for you. Libraries, restaurant, hotels, and other public places and businesses are often happy to exhibit works for you, if they are of sufficient quality and work with their atmosphere and climate.
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    Look for public shows and juried events to display your work, and enter them. Have a brochure printed with illustrations of your work, contact details, and other information available for interested persons.
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    Take notice of requests from people who view your work. Professional artists often find that commissioned work is more reliable for income, and a few successful commissions will open doors in many cases, since the person who commissions the work usually does so to display it, which creates advertising for you, the artist.

Method 2
Computer imaging

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    Learn about, and possibly look into educational opportunities in computer imaging, also known as digital imaging. This is an emerging field in art. Using sophisticated software and modern computers, digital images can be created, stored, and transmitted with relative ease when compared to paintings. These images are used in a wide variety of fields, including:
    • Advertising. Products can be displayed with digital imaging techniques to draw the consumer's eye, helping to build a successful product marketing campaign with minimal field expense, such as travel, models, and location costs.
    • Illustration for publications. Many businesses depend on online marketing and printed brochures to show examples of their products or business offerings. Magazines use digital images to illustrate conceptual ideas where photography cannot successfully accomplish this task.
    • Film making. With the increase in special effects in movies continuing to push the threshold of where movie making can take us, often the only limit is the ability of the graphic digital artist to create realistic film elements.
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    Working in this medium requires an extensive professional education, or long hours of self-study, an investment in hardware and software, and a keen sense of marketability.
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    Look for successful people in the field and talk to them about the steps they took to establish themselves in it. They may be looking for employees to work on projects, and besides drawing a "regular" paycheck, you will get a feel for the actual work required to succeed in this media field.

Method 3

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    Understand the field of sculpture, as it relates to art. There are, as in painting and digital imaging, many different venues for marketing your work or talents in sculpture. You will need to learn the techniques and develop your abilities to successfully plan and create sellable works of art in this field, just as you must in the previous media. Here are some examples of professional opportunities in sculpture:
    • Commissioned pieces. Here again is the old stand by, commissioned work. This is the backbone of sculpture art, since it often involves huge amounts of investment for materials, design and planning, and labor. You will find it very difficult to develop a portfolio of valid work in most disciplines of sculpture, with the exception of ceramics,or if you specialize in small pieces.
    • Craft type work. This may seem borderline to fine art, or even beyond the recognized borders of the fine art world, but craft shows and galleries all overspecialize in this low cost market. This would include pottery, woodcarving, and found item creations such as metal work. Here are some areas where sales potential exist for this field.
      • Craft shows. This is the obvious one, and with many communities celebrating various heritage festivals and events, the "booth" concept of art sales is becoming very rewarding to artists who are able to produce large quantities of reasonably priced works.
      • Juried shows. These are also becoming more common as "craft arts" are becoming more recognize as a legitimate form of art. Prize money from juries shows will not earn an artist a living, but will help him or her build a reputation and give them word of mouth advertising.

Method 4
Other Options

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    Teach. This is a word that "self respecting" artists hate to hear, but the reality is, many artists never find true success during their lifetimes, and many historical artists were penniless at the time of their passing.
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    Make art a hobby. This too, may be insulting on the surface, but unless you have sales receipts or support of a generous foundation, you may find yourself working a day job, and creating your art as a hobby in your basement studio for years, before success finds you.


  • Develop meaning in your work, try to tell a story, make someone wonder.
  • Take note of what you love about the art you have seen.
  • When drawing and painting, a scene with warm light needs cool shadows, and a scene with cool light needs warm shadows.
  • Warm colors move forward, cool colors move back
  • The more different styles, mediums, and forms you know, the more each of them benefits.
  • Look for unique venues to display and sell your work.
  • Don't be one of those modern "artists" who take a canvas of a solid color then just draw one line. That shouldn't even be considered art be like Vincent Van Gogh, carving pictures from colors.
  • Consider your market carefully before investing time and money in creating a piece.
  • Art serves intellectual needs, it is for the pleasure of contemplation.
  • Use divisions of 5 to develop compositions quickly!
  • Bright light comes forward, darkness moves back.
  • High contrast comes forward, muted tones and grays move back.
  • Find old texts (a lot of the good ones are out of print) on perspective, there is a lot of old information no longer being propagated due to artist laziness.


  • Study anatomy. People always know when a drawing of a person is bad, and the easiest way to make a bad person-drawing is to not understand their underpinnings.
  • Know your weaknesses. Keep a list of people who you can refer a client to if your skill-set isn't appropriate for the job.
  • Know how to do observational art. If you can't draw something, you absolutely must attempt to understand it with direct observation.
  • Don't show people artwork that is bad! A potential employer will throw your portfolio out the window as soon as they come across a bad piece.
  • Study those who succeed, they are very dynamic at overcoming adversity.

Things You'll Need

  • Art supplies.
  • A professional attitude.
  • A regular sleep schedule and other healthy habits.
  • Confidence.

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Categories: Visual & Written Media