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Starting Your Art Career: A Beginner Guide for Students & Emerging Artists

Starting Your Art Career: A Beginner Guide for Students & Emerging Artists

Thinking about turning your love of art into a career? Are you a student who is trying to pursue your creative passion? This is your quick career guide to help students and emerging artists get started with their art career. 

Creating Your Signature Style 

It takes time to discover your style and build a creative practice. Younger or beginner artists often juggle multiple mediums of artmaking, this is normal. It can feel frustrating when a fellow artist seems to have it all figured out with a distinct body of work or style, however, focus on your art and creative exploration. This is a time to play and experiment with ideas and mediums. 

Building Your Practice & Habits

You will learn what you like and do not like about your art making through trial and error. Regardless of what you learn about yourself and your work habits, embrace your discoveries and build this into your creative practice. Do you prefer to make art in the mornings, or evenings? Do creative habits or rituals? Is it helpful to work during large spans of time, or short bursts of artmaking? Learn how your practice facilitates your creative flow and output. Remember you don’t have to feel inspired to make art.

Managing Day Jobs

Tons of artists have day jobs. Probably some of your local favorites have a day job. The dream of hiding out in your studio by yourself and following your goals of being an artist is a bit of a myth. While working for yourself sounds nice, it’s not all artmaking. Running a solopreneur requires a lot of business skills, financial management, and time management. The studio time can sometimes be more lonely and boring than dreamy and relaxing. 

Some creatives enjoy a day job because it keeps them social and provides daily structure. Many employers offer benefits that can be helpful, especially health insurance, and matches for 401(k)s or 403(b)s so you can save for retirement. Both health insurance and retirement planning are expensive and can be harder to plan as an independent artist so a job with employer matching can be beneficial. 

The trick to balancing the day job with pursuing an art career is finding a job that feeds your creative side, aligns with your values, and gives you flexibility so you can make art and make ends meet. Financial pressure can often kill your inspiration. 

Start Your Resume Now

Keep a paper trail, take notes, write down dates, and track everything. Keep all of your press mentions and note all the exhibitions you take part in (even coffee shop shows). This information is important for when you begin to build your artist resume and your CV. You will thank yourself later for this. 

Payment in Exposure Opportunities

Be careful of PIE – payment in exposure. When you are first starting out, it’s common to get these types of offers, but they usually fall short of the exposure and sales that are promised. I have an entire blog post teaching you how to navigate these requests. Read about payment in exposure here (link).

Realistic Expectations 

Social media makes it appear like creatives make work overnight. It creates a false sense of positivity and glamorizes entrepreneurship. What you don’t see are the hours of work, failures, and struggles of working independently. Set realistic expectations for what you can accomplish with your creative output and business management. Comparison stifles creativity so focus on your own journey. 

Managing the Business 

Not every artist loves all aspects of running a creative business, however, if you want to work professionally, you will need to learn how to be an entrepreneur. From managing your copyright and writing contracts, to applying for grants and talking to the press, you need to be able to navigate all of these areas. By knowing your strengths and weaknesses, you can then determine when to hire help, and when you need to further develop your business skills. If you are super passionate about being a full time artist, begin learning about business operations and financial management now. The sooner you develop these skills, the easier it is to make the transition into a full-time professional artist.

Brand-grabbing Your Assets

In the age of social media, it’s important to create user accounts for all the social networking sites with your business brand name. This is called brand-grabbing. Do this even if you don’t use every social network so nobody else can open an account under your name. You then have the opportunity to use those brand assets and accounts in the future. 

If you are deciding between a few brand or company names, brand-grab all of the possible account names (and domain names too) so you have control and choice. You may even grab names that are similar to your artist name or business name so someone can’t copy or mimic you.

Take Feedback, Leave Criticism, Rejection Happens 

Feedback, criticism and rejection are all three different forms of feedback. Feedback that is appropriately delivered when you are open and receptive to advice. It usually leaves you feeling inspired and ready to get back into the studio. A good mentor or a supportive peer artist is great for feedback. 

Criticism will make you feel defeated and is often unwelcome feedback. Protect your new work from criticism and don’t rush to share all of your ideas with others before you feel ready to share. Social media opens the door to comments and unwelcome criticism that can detail your progress. Refrain from using social media for reassurance. 

Rejections are a part of the creative process. You will relieve a lot of rejections when applying for creative opportunities. This is normal and something artists in all stages of their careers experience during their lifetimes. Keep applying and trying to get your work out there. 

Seek Guidance & Community

Find a mentor, consultant, support group, or someone you can turn to when you need some creative guidance. Support can help you navigate creative blocks, expose you to the art market, encourage creative risks, build your network, give you feedback, or make resource recommendations. Sometimes these relationships are paid, but worth every dollar. 

It’s also helpful to get involved in the community and be an active member of the local arts culture. Participate in events around your city and get to know the creative entrepreneurs you look up to. 

If you are a student (currently enrolled in an equivalent creative program) who is trying to figure out their creative career, I offer free informational interviews. This is a perfect opportunity to practice networking, get to know a fellow creative, ask good questions, and receive some guidance for your career. 



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