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Treating Your Art Like a Business: A Guide to Becoming a Professional Artist

Treating Your Art Like a Business: A Guide to Becoming a Professional Artist

Though going to art school can help you to hone your craft and make connections, it isn’t a guarantee that you will find paid work after graduation. Likewise, untrained artists the world over are making a name for themselves. What separates respected artists from novices is discipline and professionalism. You can spend your days creating sketches, but if no one sees them how are you going to get paid commissions? The answer is in treating your art as a business and putting together an art portfolio. You don’t necessarily need to carry your best works around with you in a leather portfolio if you create a digital space to showcase your work.

Developing Your Artist Statement

People tend to come to their own conclusions upon initially seeing an artist’s works. Whether your art is gritty and primal, delicate and ethereal, or steeped wholly in realism, your artist statement should seek to boldly proclaim who you are. Write a few hundred words describing your background, training, and the purpose of your art. Make sure that your online art portfolio includes a headshot with your artist statement, so visitors put a face to your name. Developing an artist statement that is concise yet descriptive is as important as each and every work that you choose to present to the public.

Compiling a Body of Your Best Work

What you chose to include in your art portfolio today can change by tomorrow. In fact, there are many artists who spend months creating entirely new bodies of work for the purpose of putting together a portfolio. It isn’t to say that their existing work isn’t good enough to be showcased. Instead, compiling a body of work with a singular theme can make a portfolio much more cohesive. Then again, other portfolios include work from various stages of an artist’s career, showing a clear evolution of skill. Try to include works in different mediums, as you want to show what you are capable of in various forms. Existing works can also be touched up and improved upon so that you put your absolute best foot forward.

Photographing Your Original Works

If you draw, paint, or sculpt, your pieces of art need to be photographed correctly. Professional artists with the funds available often hire a professional photographer to take pictures of their works. In the old days, these photographs were converted into slides that would be shown on projectors. Now, artists just take pictures of their artwork and put them online. Decide on how to present these photographs to make a powerful statement. That might mean converting your pictures into black and white, using filters, or color correcting pictures. Digital artists can do more to present their works professionally, as they can change their art in whatever way they wish.

Putting Your Art Online

So, you have created some art that you want to present to the public, you have taken pictures of it, and you are preparing to put it online. You can host your art portfolio almost anywhere, but you do want to choose a setting that will allow you to get the most visibility and control over your works. You can get a basic website and then upload both your artist statement and portfolio on the same page. Then there are free web services that you can use to showcase your art portfolio free of charge. The most important factor to consider is navigation. People who want to see your portfolio are going to want to have an idea of what they are looking at before they click on any links or thumbnails. Arrange your portfolio with this in mind.

Creating an Online Portfolio

Will your online portfolio contain 10 of your very best works and nothing else? Have you decided to create a more expansive portfolio that contains a larger body of works? There are artists who put almost everything they make into their portfolios, from doodles to more intensive works. Their portfolios can literally contain thousands of pieces. Depending on the type of work you are looking to get, it has to be determined if you should take a more sparse or inclusive approach. Additionally, choosing where you host your portfolio is of high importance. Some websites are specifically geared toward artists, so they have features that make it easy to create high-quality portfolios. These kinds of websites are also perused regularly by businesses and individuals who need the services of professional artists.

Updating Your Professional Art Portfolio

After creating an art portfolio, you can’t just forget about it. It is vital that you at least occasionally update it. You may link a blog to your art portfolio or include updates about upcoming exhibits. Sometimes it is necessary to completely overhaul your art portfolio, getting rid of anything that is outdated or no longer represents you aesthetically. Sometimes artists include newer headshots, change mediums, or simply want a fresh start. By updating your art portfolio, you give visitors a reason to check out what you are up to. As an artist, the last thing you want to do is appear dull or forgettable.

Promoting Your Work

Getting as many eyes on your art portfolio as possible is critical if you are intending on working professionally. Your art is essentially your business. So, create business cards that include the web address to your art portfolio. Online, you should promote your art wherever you go. In your email, be sure that you include a line about being a professional artist in your signature line and always link back to your portfolio. The more that your portfolio is visited, the more your work will be promoted and discussed. Creating the actual art is one part of the job. Inspiring people to become interested in your message is something that you have to work much harder on.

Polishing Things Up

You can do everything right, put up your portfolio, and then end up hating everything about it. It is okay to be critical of your work. It is also alright to make some changes that will make your portfolio even better. A simple change of layout or theme can make your portfolio look more professional. In other words, even after you have posted everything online, you might want to take a moment for yourself before coming back and polishing things up. It might be a matter of mood or perspective that could be influencing your thoughts, so don’t be quick to jump to conclusions or to start over from scratch. Ask other people, including artists, for a critique so you can get some outside feedback. What you might dislike about your portfolio might be the thing that attracts the most positive attention.

Artists in the professional world can be paid handsomely for simple illustrations and existing works in their portfolios. Those who are fortunate enough to have works commissioned can end up working on advertising campaigns and eventually see their artwork on oversized billboards. You can have control over the trajectory of your career by developing a great online art portfolio. Consider who will see it and when. Think about the kinds of clients you want to attract. Although staying true to yourself is critical, you also have to keep in mind that being a professional artist is still a business. So, present yourself professionally, always.


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by Harvey Carr // Harvey Carr is a contributor to Businessing Magazine.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.