Emma Writes; I was chasing advice from professional artists (who have established a reasonably steady income) about how they get their start as a professional. I am about to be made redundant where I work. A friend told me it may be the universe pushing me to pursue my real goals/dreams. The thing is, I haven’t really a clue where/how to start (making money). I thought I could make art and then make prints (sell both if possible)? Start a Youtube channel? (But I am reluctant to ‘teach’ because why should anyone listen to me haha). Work towards getting a Patreon channel? (It is far better to have an audience with YouTube before doing that). I really don’t know where to start. If you could lend me your wisdom I would much appreciate it. The economy is rough at the moment so I do not know how long I will be out of work for…but that does mean I can devote myself entirely to my art career!!!

First I want to address the idea of “why should anyone listen to me” about teaching. We all feel that way at some point. The term “imposter syndrome” was invented for teachers! For teaching art, start by teaching kids. Kids art channels are awesome on youtube and that can help with feeling not quite ready to teach everyone.

Now getting started with an art business requires a lot of eggs in a lot of different baskets. Here are some of my suggestions:

  • Start listing smaller paintings and drawings on Ebay. I say smaller for two reasons. First, smaller is cheaper to ship and shipping charges get pretty high really fast. Second, you can sell them for less which will normally do better on ebay. While I have sold paintings for hundreds, usually things around $50 or less sell better on that platform when you’re starting off.
  • Check to see if your area has any smaller art galleries for artists just getting their career started. Remember that it isn’t always about how great your work is when you start, but the name you’ve built for yourself, so spending a lot of time trying to get into bigger, more established galleries may not be the best use of your time right now.
  • Get your website up and running. You will not be taken as seriously as a professional artist if you do not have a website for people to look at your art. Social media is not enough, you need a home where people can always find you that includes your gallery, about page, contact info, prices (if taking commissions).
  • Figure out who your target buyer is and where they hang out. Spend time there. That may mean in online facebook groups or at art events. Are you a pet portrait artist? Look into setting up a vendor booth at a dog show and advertising for commissions.
  • Teach classes locally (check hobby lobby if you’re in the US). Start with kids classes until you’re comfortable with teaching. Kids are much less intimidating to start with and you can learn so much by figuring out how to word things so that they understand what you mean. If you can help a kid to understand your instructions, adults will be no problem. If you can get your classes going, this will likely be one of your most consistent sources of income.
  • Teach lessons on youtube, or even just walk people through your own paintings and the choices you made on it while working (why you chose burgundy instead of brown etc).
  • Get your social media sites going. You don’t have to be involved in all of them, just pick the ones (even a single one if that’s better for you) and really focus on getting good content on a regular basis (once a day) posted.

Patreon is an awesome platform that has allowed me to stop focusing on commissions and teaching classes in person and really put everything into my online videos and lessons there, as well as upgrade equipment. The thing with patreon is, it is a LOT of work. It would be better for you to build a solid following on youtube before you start focusing on patreon. I see artists all the time start their patreon accounts too soon. It’s not that their content isn’t awesome, it’s that no one knows who they are yet, so they only get a handful of sign ups. Is it worth it to you to put 20 hours of work a week (or more depending on how you set yours up), to make $100/month? Your time would likely be spent elsewhere at that point. I see artists do this, not get the signups they were hoping for and start flaking out on making content. That’s not fair to those who signed up now, and won’t keep people around. I think starting too soon can be very discouraging for everyone involved.

My biggest tip for you, if you’re going to be leaving your current job, find at the very least a part time job while you build all of this up. If you are starting from scratch with your art career, not having money to pay bills or buy quality art supplies can take all enjoyment out of the art. Making a living from your work almost never happens overnight. It’s a long process while you build a fan base and learn marketing and business all while improving and creating your own work. Expecting to make a living right away is normally a sure way to set yourself up for failure and discouragement.