Countless people paint or draw for a hobby, and a large number of these will at some time consider changing their pastime into a profession. The encouragement of well-meaning friends is often the catalyst for this metamorphosis: they will frequently offer comments such as "you could sell this", or "you could do this for a living".
The truth of the matter is that becoming a professional artist has very little to do with artistic ability: the transition is wholly about becoming a businessperson, and learning to sell yourself.
If you are considering turning your hobby into a career, the starting point should be to write a business plan ("fail to plan, plan to fail"). This concept may be alien to many, but a plan is little more than putting your thoughts down on paper, and in so doing, attempting to recognize every aspect of business that you need to consider, and the steps you must take to fill inevitable gaps in your knowledge.
The single most important element of a business plan is a simple statement of what you intend to do, and why. Whatever your reasons, as you progress towards your goal, you need to constantly check that your aims are being fulfilled. For example, if you want to become a professional artist primarily for enjoyment and gratification (and you don't envisage making a fortune along the way), you need to check that your movement towards professional status is giving you pleasure and fulfilment. If it is not, you need to re-think, or even stop what you are doing.
Your business plan next needs to address all the issues of marketing and finance: what type of people are you going to sell to, how will you advertise your services to them, how much money will they pay, how much will they buy, etc? Writing your business plan may take a long time (weeks or months), and require much research. There are lots of sources of information on business planning, so I will not dwell on the detail, but rather offer some general tips.
1. Don't include friends in your market research. They are too likely to provide the answers they think you want to hear. You need objective information and opinions.
2. When pricing your work, use the Internet to establish what similar artists charge. However, do your own sums to validate whatever your research reveals. Work out what your hourly rate would be for a typical artwork, and decide whether you are willing to work for that amount of money. Don't forget that, a considerable amount of time can be spent negotiating a sale or commission, and packing/posting/delivering completed artwork. You may find this adds several hours work to each picture sold.
3. When considering marketing, never overlook the obvious. Just telling people you meet that you paint or draw is marketing. If you are going to invest time or money in advertising, make sure it is targeted specifically at your intended customers. For example, if you paint dog portraits, target the places dog owners will be found (vets, pet shops, dog training clubs, dog shows, etc).
4. Don't overestimate the worth of the Internet as a marketing tool. It can take a colossal effort to become visible on the net; there is massive competition, and relatively few searches are made using keywords relating to artwork. It is a worthwhile marketing tool, but should not be your only marketing tactic.
5. Marketing is an ongoing job that you will never finish. Plan to make it part of your weekly work Ã¢â‚¬â€œ forever!
6. Give some considerable thought to customer service, and how you can create customer confidence. Many artists seek no deposit on commissions, and palace no financial obligations on the client to buy work if they are not delighted with it. Ask yourself, how can I encourage customers to choose me above all the competition?
7. You will need to do some financial planning. As a minimum, you should develop an accounting system. It is critical to record all your income and expenditure, and have a true picture of how much profit (or loss) you are making.
You may need a small seed fund to get you started. Banks, the Arts Council, and Local Authority Business Start-up schemes may be able to provide you with funding. But guess what? The first thing they will ask to see is a business plan, and financial forecasts. Estimating your expected income can be extremely difficult. Don't assume that, because you are capable of produce two paintings a week, you can sell 104 paintings a year from the outset!
8. It is highly probable that you will experience times when you have no work, no sales, and no income. March and September are always quiet times for me! Explore alternative types of work that you can undertake when you have no artwork jobs (like a part time job, or some other skill), and consider diversification (you may prefer to paint dogs, but perhaps you need to do cats too?).
9. The hardest part of self-employment is remaining focused and self-motivated. Having a work plan can help. This can be simply a list of tasks to be complete by specific deadlines.
10. Seek-out all the help and advice you can. Don't assume you know the answers to every question, because the chances are you do not. Another advantage of having a business plan is that it allows someone else (maybe a professional business adviser Ã¢â‚¬â€œ freely available in most towns) to check that you have thought of everything, and developed sound proposals.
Portrait artist working mainly from clients' own photographs.