Are you an artist who feels the need to make the leap and go pro? I get it! I was there about ten years ago, and I am happy to say that since then I have had four different galleries represent my work, was in a show curated by Judy Chicago, have had my work in multiple group shows, and have a page dedicated to me in the book Contemporary Art of the Southwest (2014). I also have collectors around the country, some of whom have multiple pieces of mine. My advice below comes from my experience as a professional artist, and I recommend that you seek out advice from several different professional artists before making the move.
To start making the move to the professional artist world, you will need to take some important steps. You will want to consider having your artwork professionally photographed, create and maintain a website, presence on social media platforms, and should have an artist statement, biography and digital portfolio. You also need to learn about pricing and framing art, and business/marketing skills. I will go over each of these in more detail below.
Let’s first address whether it’s the right time to go pro. You should feel like your work has improved substantially over the months/years, and that it’s ready to be shown to the outside world. You should also have at least one complete series. Generally speaking, a series of paintings is usually comprised of multiple artworks that share thematic or aesthetic qualities. You might also get validation from other people who genuinely admire and want to own one of your pieces.
Obviously, moving from amateur to professional will require a much higher level of dedication to both the artist’s craft and time spent in the studio. You also need to be sure you are using quality paints, varnishing your work for UV protection, and deciding whether you want to frame your pieces or not.
The next step is to educate yourself about the art business and marketing side of things. These are often least fun for artists (for me, anyway), so this is something you can hire out if you are ready to really invest. At a minimum, you need to know about artist rights and contracts as well as how to promote yourself. You might consider hiring an art coach, art representative, or take art business courses (in your community or online).
Once you know the time is right to go pro, then here are the steps you need to take to officially enter the professional artist zone:
*Optional* Consider getting a professional logo so that you develop a visual brand. A logo also shows that you are professional and serious about your work. I got mine (see below) from Fivvr and am very happy with it. Alternatively, you could hire a designer or a digital art student from a local college to make one for you.
Have at least 1-2 completed series of paintings.
Write your bio and artist statement, and consider also writing a CV if you have a history of showings (even informal ones at coffee shops, university , etc.). Have a trusted friend review and edit your written work!
Create a digital portfolio. I think having at least 10 pieces is a good start, and I wouldn’t go over 20 pieces.
Put only your best artworks on your website and social media platforms.
Research galleries that you feel would be a good fit for your work. For example, if the gallery only shows realistic landscapes and you do colorful abstracts, you probably want to skip that one. Look in cities in which you want to show, and those that have strong art markets. This changes each year, but strong art markets are typically in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Scottsdale, Santa Fe and others.
Reach out to galleries with a brief email, copy of your digital portfolio, CV and artist statement. You can also send a price list if you wish, though some artists wait until the gallery shows interest to do this. Mention in the email that after reviewing the work they show in their gallery, you feel strongly your work would be a good fit. Galleries get hundreds of emails from artists everyday, so don’t be offended if you don’t hear back. Just keep pressing on, and know this step takes a lot of time and persistence!
Work on your self-promotion and marketing plan. I recommend listening to marketing podcasts to educate yourself about how to self-promote effectively. If you intend on selling work on your own (not through a gallery), then you can’t skip this step! Your work could be stunning, but no one will know about it unless you find ways to get your work out there.
Consider hiring an artist representative and/or artist coach. Having people who work directly in the arts could be hugely helpful to your business, especially in the beginning when there is a lot to learn.
Look for Calls for Art online, on social media platforms, and at local arts organizations. Submitting your piece to a Call for Art usually costs money ($40 or so), but you should start to see this as a necessary investment in your business. After all, what you want is exposure, and Calls for Art could lead you to getting your work in a solo or group show.
If you get a gallery to represent you, be sure to always be professional and engaged. Show up to openings for other artists in your gallery, and particpate in events. This is always important, but especially when you are new and don’t have a lot of history of sales at the gallery.
Moving from amateur to a professional artist takes a lot of time and commitment. Creating a website, writing an artist statement, making a digital portfolio, and researching galleries can feel like a lot of work, so don’t worry if you feel a bit overwhelmed. Give yourself plenty of time to reach goals as you see listed in the steps above, and be patient with the process.
You might also check out my blog post about setting SMART goals, as this could help you with specific goals that are measurable and thus more attainable!
I offer artist coaching for anyone wanting to sell their work in galleries. My expertise is on writing artist’s statements, CVs, digital portfolios, and approaching galleries. For more information on coaching services, click the link below.