I get several emails every week from students and aspiring artists with various questions on how to become a full time artist. Therefore I decided to share part of an email from Courtney in Canada as well as my reply.
“As my art school career is drawing to a close, I'm becoming more apprehensive about someday being able to make a career as an artist. I was wondering, if you had time, if you could offer me a bit of advice, as someone who has become successful.
I have been told that as a figurative artist, finding a gallery that is interested in selling your work is more difficult. I was wondering if you had to apply to several galleries before you found one that was interested, or if it was relatively easy for you. And finally, I was just wondering if you had any additional advice for someone who is interested in pursuing a career as a fine artist. It would be an absolute dream come true for me, and any advice you could offer would be so appreciated!"
Let’s start with the question on subject matter
I don’t have any statistics, but like Courtney I often heard certain subjects are easier to market than others etc… I simply believe that you should follow your heart in regards to what subject moves you most. To make a career as an artist you need to be in it with all your heart and soul. Not following your heart in regards to subject or trying to create what you believe will be easy to market will be like trying to pretend to be a person that you are not. Yes, there are communities or galleries that will not accept nude work, but there are also many galleries that will not accept other subjects when it does not fall in their theme or style.
Put your eggs in many baskets
I believe in trying to be as diverse as possible. As a full time artist there have been so many times that I did not know where the next tube of paint or the next canvas would come from (never mind the next meal) In time I learned never to depend on one outlet or a single type of outlets but instead to market my work as wide as possible. Today I focus on having a diversity of galleries in a variety of locations, online outlets, I do art expos, I work with interior designers, art agents and I am still looking in diversifying myself further. Through the last 12 years my sources of income have changed drastically and I believe will continue to do so. A very true saying comes to mind; ‘the only constant is constant change’
It's darn hard. Don’t believe anyone that tells you differently. If they do, they’re lying. (Or perhaps they haven’t started with $5 in their back pocket, 5 small tubes of paint, 2 brushes and waist deep in study debt like I did) I think if I weren’t as stubborn as I am, I would have given up a long time ago. Luckily my stubbornness and determination pulled me through the starving times.
I think having a concrete plan is the best place to start. I aimed wildly in so many directions and would have saved myself a lot of time and energy if I were more focused. There are so many possible marketing plans one can discus, but for now let’s just talk about gallery do’s and don’ts since this is where most artists start.
-Do not walk into galleries with a portfolio under the arm asking for representation. Most gallery owners are very busy and may even consider this rude.
-Do not target just any gallery –there is no artist out there that would fit into every single gallery.
-Do not exhibit in ‘vanity’ galleries. (Unless you have a huge marketing budget and don’t mind taking highly shaky risks) We call galleries that makes their money out of artists instead of art collectors vanity galleries – they usually charges the artist thousands to exhibit there and have little incentive to actually sell your work. (The same goes for ‘vanity’ Internet galleries!)
-Never send work to a gallery on consignment without a proper contract signed by both you and the gallery. I have lost a series of works and I will most certainly not be the first or last artist to lose work. You may also be surprised by how many galleries do not have a contract –almost half my galleries signed a contract that I supplied.
-Always have a number of works available that is recognizable as yours. Exactly what that number is will depend on the scale of your work as well as how prolific you are. But if a gallery is interested in your work, it is great to be able to give them a choice of 15 to 20 pieces. (They will usually start with 2 – 8 pieces)
-As far as possible, visit galleries first to get an idea of what kind of work they exhibit and to make sure your work will fit before you even consider sending in an application. Galleries’ websites may also help.
-If available, get their submission guidelines –different galleries may require different submissions (digital, prints, slides etc.) and always comply with these guidelines. If there is none, send them quality prints or digital files as well as your artist statement, exhibition history (if any), biography and a cover letter.
-Remember that most gallery contracts will state that they will be your only representative in their area. Therefore it is important that you make sure you target the best gallery in a specific city or town.
-Once you get accepted, read the contract several times and ask a friend to read it as well in case you missed something. Never be afraid to ask if there is anything you are uncertain about.
-Most artists starting out cannot afford a lawyer, so contacting some of the artists that already exhibits in a gallery is a great way to verify their ethics. I do this often and usually at least half the artists I contact is kind enough to share their experience.
-Negotiate if necessary. Lately I’ve had several consignment galleries trying to push to get more than the standard commission. They often aim to impress you and tell you just how much of your work they are going to sell. I always suggest to them that we can see how much they sell and then we can renegotiate in 6 months.
-Keep in touch with all your galleries and if you are in their area try to stop by –this will help build a relationship.
I hope that this may help some of the aspiring artists out there! And if there is other artists with more ideas/advice please feel free to add your comments.
Above I share another photo Artemis and I created