Kick Start Your Art Career

A 10-Point Plan to Launch Your Art Career

Do you dream of being a professional artist? This 10-point plan lays out the basic steps you need to follow to turn your dream into reality. As you follow these steps, allocate a couple of hours each week to maintaining and developing your portfolio, marketing and networking. This time away from the easel can be refreshing, as you review your recent work for the folio, think about your philosophies for your statement, or enjoy other artist's work and social contact.

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Develop a Plan

Artist's hand and sketch.
Craig Cozart / Getty Images

Identify achievable short-term and medium-term goals and create a timeline. Make them tangible: for example, have an exhibition with friends in 14 months, or create a small comic of your own by a certain date. Identify some steps along the way: times to produce works, contact galleries or job prospects, do framing, design invitations. Consider your strengths and weaknesses - what training or skills do you need to obtain your goal? How can you overcome obstacles?

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Create an Artist's Statement

An artist's statement explains in a few brief statements who you are, and what your art is about. Don't try to be overly artsy - use simple, clear language. This can help you define your goals, and may need to be re-written from time to time as you develop. Try using questions to help you decide what to write: WHY do I draw? WHAT do I draw? WHERE do I get my ideas? WHO do I hope to touch with my images? Use the statement to maintain your focus and to help explain your work to others.

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Create a Body of Work

This might sound obvious, but often artists get too involved in the peripheral activities - going to galleries, reading about art, dressing the right way - and forget that being an artist is about creating art, preferably on a daily basis. Sketchbook ideas won't cut it either - start producing finished, frame-worthy pieces on good quality paper. If working digitally, find out the format of professional standard work in your field, and create to those specs.

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Produce a Portfolio

The portfolio is like a visual resume. It should contain your best work, representative of your style. It may display the development of key ideas, or your breadth of style, depending on the intended viewer. Choose moderately sized, finished works, mounting small ones on the card for ease of handling. Use a commercial plastic sleeved folder, or have pieces loose in a card folder, both need a handle and must tie securely. Digital work should be organized on DVD-ROM in standard formats.

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Create Slides of Drawings and Paintings

Most exhibitions and competitions require submission by 35mm slides. It may be worthwhile to have a professional photographer make slides of your work, or you can do it yourself. Check entry forms for labeling requirements of events: this usually includes the name of the artist, the title of work, dimensions, and medium. Use a slide marker pen, not sticky labels. You'll need to have copies of slides - don't send originals, as they are often not returnable.

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Document Your Work

As well as slides for submission, keep a photographic record of all your work. This is especially important once you start selling pieces. Scan or photograph your drawings, and if keeping an archive on the computer, backup to DVD/CD-ROM. You can use these files to create CD-ROM or printed hard copy catalogs of your work, selectively organizing to suit the viewer: prospective portrait customers, craft galleries, contemporary dealers, and so on.

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Know Your Market

Before you can negotiate with dealers or galleries, you'll need to research your market. Different styles of work, originals, and prints will be in different price brackets and require appropriate marketing strategies. Use internet forums to find out about other artist's experiences. Be honest about your own abilities. Before signing up with any agent, dealer, publisher or gallery, read the fine print yourself and get your financial or/and legal advisors to check any documentation.

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Find a Gallery

There is no point approaching a traditional, domestic art gallery if your work is bleeding-edge contemporary. Look for art like yours in commercial galleries, and find out which are likely to be interested in your work. The best way to do this is on foot - find them in the phone book then get out there and eyeball the gallery. Does it look like it is doing business? Is it a good location? Who are they representing?

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Approach a Gallery or Publisher

One time-honored way of getting into a gallery is through recommendation by one of their artists. If you are lucky enough to know someone who shows with a good gallery, ask them to look at your work. Otherwise, you'll need to 'cold-call' the gallery and ask them to view your portfolio. Cartooning is difficult to break into, so you may need to find an agent, or pester publishers until they look at your work. Computer game companies, often publicize vacancies on their websites.

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Consider Alternatives

Be pro-active. Take any opportunity to gain exposure. Select competitions which are suited to your style of work. Do unpaid work for charities, do your own desktop publishing, or collaborate with an amateur game designer or film-maker. Approach local businesses and cafes to display your art. Ask to be put on the mailing list of your favorite art galleries, as you can make valuable contacts at exhibition openings. Check magazines and newspapers for art competitions and shows.