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Artist Career Guide

What is an artist?

An artist is an individual who creates art to express thoughts, feelings, and ideas. This broad term can encompass many mediums, including painting, sculpture, photography, illustration, and performance. Artists contribute to society’s culture by challenging norms and inspiring people. Some work independently, creating pieces for sale or exhibition, while others work on commission, creating specific pieces for clients or organizations.

Duties and responsibilities

Artists create artwork using various techniques and media. They brainstorm and develop ideas, research and find inspiration, and may sketch preliminary work before making final pieces. When not creating, these individuals manage administrative tasks such as promoting their work, maintaining a portfolio, sourcing materials, and liaising with galleries, clients, or patrons. Those who do commissioned work must meet client specifications and deadlines.

Work environment

Work typically occurs in studios or dedicated spaces with room for creating and storing pieces. Depending on the type of art produced, this could range from a small home studio to a larger industrial area. Some artists, such as photographers or performance artists, may spend considerable time on location. Their work environment is often solitary but can be highly collaborative for large or community projects.

Typical work hours

Artists often have the flexibility to set their work hours. Some prefer to work during traditional business hours, while others find creativity peaks in the evening or early morning. The hours can fluctuate based on projects or deadlines. For example, they may work long hours to complete pieces as an exhibition or delivery date approaches. Despite the irregular schedule, many value the profession’s freedom and autonomy.

How to become an artist

Becoming an artist is more about developing and refining skills than following a rigid educational path. This career guide section covers the steps you’ll need to follow to achieve your goal: 

Step 1: Discover your artistic interests and talents

The first step is identifying what type of art you want to create. Experimenting with different mediums and styles helps to discover enjoyment and talent. 

Step 2: Pursue formal education or self-learning

While not always necessary, a formal education such as a bachelor’s or master’s degree in fine art can provide a solid foundation in art theory and techniques. Alternatively, you can self-learn through online courses, workshops, and mentorships with established artists. Regardless of the chosen path, developing and refining skills is essential.

Here are some online courses you may find helpful for skill development:

Step 3: Practice and develop your skills

One of the most important steps is practicing and refining your skills, dedicating a significant amount of time to creating art. The more you practice, the more you grow as an artist.

Step 4: Create a portfolio

A portfolio is a collection of work that shows skills and style to potential buyers, galleries, or employers. Your portfolio can be a physical book or hosted on a digital platform like a personal website.

Step 5: Network with other artists and professionals

Networking can provide opportunities for collaborations, exhibitions, and buyers. Seek out opportunities by attending art shows, gallery exhibitions, and workshops. Join local art communities or connect with other artists online to expand your network. 

Step 6: Showcase your work

It is vital to showcase or sell your work at local art shows, galleries, online platforms, or social media to gain recognition. 

Step 7: Keep learning and experimenting

Art is a field where ongoing learning and experimentation can lead to success. Keep exploring new techniques, styles, and mediums. Attend workshops or classes to learn new skills and stay updated with the latest trends.

Becoming an artist is a deeply personal and rewarding journey. It requires creativity, passion, dedication, and a continuous desire to learn and grow. While the path might not always be easy, the joy and fulfillment of expressing oneself through art can make it worthwhile.

How much do artists make?

Income can vary significantly depending on geographic location, level of education, years of experience, and the medium used. Additionally, many artists are freelancers, so their income fluctuates based on the number and size of projects. Some may supplement their income by teaching classes or selling art supplies.

Highest paying industries

  • Motion Picture and Video – $92,780
  • Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers – $75,130
  • Advertising – $72,680
  • Specialized Design Services – $71,400
  • Computer Systems Design – $70,530

Highest paying states

  • California – $82,150
  • New York – $81,660
  • Connecticut – $78,940
  • Massachusetts – $77,200
  • New Jersey – $76,820

Browse artist salary data by market

Types of artists

In this career guide section, we explore the different types of artists, shedding light on their unique responsibilities and areas of focus. 


A painter creates art using pigments and a medium, typically applied to canvas, paper, or walls. They may specialize in various styles and subjects, including abstract, realism, portraiture, landscape, or still life.


Three-dimensional works of art typically utilize clay, stone, metal, or wood. Sculptors may create standalone pieces or public installations, ranging from miniature to monumental in scale.


Illustrators create original artwork in books, magazines, websites, and other media. They often specialize in a particular style or subject matter, such as children’s book illustration, medical illustration, or concept art for video games and films.


Etching, lithography, screen printing, and woodcut are specialties in printmaking. Printmakers create art by printing designs onto paper, fabric, or other surfaces.


Photographers use cameras to capture images of people, landscapes, objects, or events. They can specialize in various types of photography, such as portrait, nature, commercial, photojournalism, or fine art.

Digital artist

Digital art includes video games, movies, advertising, and exhibitions that use digital technology, such as computer software or digital drawing tools. 

Mixed media artist

Mixed media artists use different materials and techniques in their work. They might combine painting, collage, sculpture, and digital art elements in a single piece, creating a unique interplay of textures and mediums.

Installation artist

Installation art is site-specific and designed to engage the viewer in a multidimensional sensory experience and transform the perception of a space. 

Performance artist

Performance artists use their bodies, often in combination with other media like video, sound, or sculpture, to create art. The performance, which can be scripted or spontaneous, is usually presented live to an audience.

Top skills for artists

Artists create visual art, using their creativity and technical skills to express ideas, evoke emotions, and capture the world around them. Essential skills for artists include creative thinking, technical artistry, insightful observation, perseverance and resilience, and communication skills.

Creative thinking is the lifeblood of their work. They must generate original ideas, experiment with different concepts, and take imaginative risks. Thinking outside the box helps to create unique, compelling works of art that resonate with viewers and differentiate artists from each other. 

Artists must master various techniques, tools, and materials related to their art form, whether painting, sculpture, digital art, or another medium. This proficiency translates ideas into tangible creations, enhancing the quality and impact of the work.

When drawing inspiration from surroundings, a deep awareness of details, patterns, and nuances can enrich art. Observing and interpreting the world uniquely contributes to the depth and authenticity of artistic expression.

Perseverance and resilience are vital for these individuals. The journey can include challenges like creative blocks, criticism, and slow progress. Determination, strength, and courage help artists stay true to their vision, and this mental toughness fuels growth and success.

Lastly, communication tells the artist’s story through statements, gallery talks, or patron interactions. While expression happens through their pieces, they must also articulate ideas, intentions, and stories behind the work. Effective communication helps to connect with the audience on a deeper level, enhancing their appreciation and understanding.

Artist career path

The path of an artist is unique and individual, often driven more by personal interest, talent, and creativity than by a conventional career ladder. Many begin their journey with a passion for art, leading to experimentation with various mediums and styles.

Formal education, such as a bachelor’s degree in fine art, can provide essential technical skills and an understanding of art history and theory. However, many successful artists are self-taught or have developed their skills through workshops, community classes, and continuous practice.

In the early stages of their career, these individuals often create a body of work while refining their unique style. They may start showcasing their work in local galleries, online platforms, or art fairs. Time must be invested in marketing and networking to sell pieces and build a reputation.

Some may take on related roles to support their pursuits, such as teaching art classes or working in art supply stores. Commissions, mural projects, and collaborations can also provide income and exposure.

As artists gain recognition, they may collaborate with galleries or agents, leading to broader exposure and higher sales. Successful artists may receive awards or grants, and art collectors or museums may acquire their work.

Advancement usually comes from increased recognition and income from work. However, many also find fulfillment in sharing their knowledge and passion, such as teaching art or mentoring emerging artists.

The digital revolution has significantly transformed the world of art. Traditional mediums are being augmented or replaced by digital ones, and software often plays a role in creating or selling pieces.

The growth of online platforms has changed how artists connect with their audiences and sell art, with social media and online marketplaces becoming crucial for self-promotion and commercial success. The rise of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) has also created new monetization opportunities. 

Employment projections for artists

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of artists is projected to grow by 6% through 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations. This growth is driven by increasing demand for artistic services in various industries, such as advertising, entertainment, and publishing.

Artist career tips

Create a compelling portfolio

A portfolio is a visual resume showcasing your work and demonstrating range. Regularly updating your portfolio allows potential clients or galleries to see artistic evolution.

Network within the art community

Building relationships within the art community can lead to collaboration, exhibition opportunities, and sales. Attend gallery openings, art fairs, and other community events. Join professional networks like:

  • National Association of Independent Artists (NAIA)
  • College Art Association (CAA)
  • Association of Medical Illustrators (AMI), if you’re a medical artist

Participate in exhibitions

Exhibiting work in galleries or public spaces can provide exposure and opportunities for feedback. Open studio events can be a great way to showcase your work and interact directly with potential buyers.

Understand the business of art

Artists are self-employed and must understand business basics such as writing contracts, pricing art, and engaging in self-promotion.

Seek out artist residencies

Residencies offer a dedicated space and time to focus on your work, often in a new environment that can spark inspiration. These programs also often provide the opportunity to engage with other artists and professionals.

Pursue continuous learning

Art is an ever-evolving field, so stay updated with new techniques, media, and trends through continuous learning opportunities. Consider these options:

  • Art workshops and classes
  • Online tutorials and webinars
  • Subscriptions to art magazines and publications

Apply for grants and fellowships

Many organizations offer grants and fellowships to support artists. These opportunities can provide the financial support needed to complete a project and gain recognition in the field.

Maintain an online presence

In today’s digital world, maintaining an online presence is vital. A personal website and active social media profiles can help you reach a global audience.

Take care of your mental and physical health

Artistic work can be both mentally and physically demanding. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and proper rest can help maintain your well-being and creativity.

Stay true to your vision

While responding to the market and client needs is essential, staying true to your vision is also important. Authenticity gives your work value and sets you apart from other artists.

Where the artist jobs are

Top companies

  • Walt Disney
  • Warner Brothers
  • Dream Works
  • Pixar
  • Electronic Arts

Top states

  • California
  • New York
  • Texas
  • Illinois
  • Florida

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • Glassdoor
  • Behance
  • ArtStation


What qualifications are needed to become an artist?

While formal education isn’t always necessary, many pursue a bachelor’s or master’s degree in fine art or a related field to hone skills and gain a deeper understanding of art history and theory. However, inherent artistic talent, creativity, and dedication to the craft are often more important than formal qualifications. An impressive portfolio is crucial in showcasing ability and style.

What kind of training does an artist typically undergo?

Training varies widely, depending on the chosen medium and style. Many artists start developing their skills during childhood and continue to refine techniques throughout their careers. Formal training can come from art schools, university programs, or more independent options such as apprenticeships, workshops, or self-study. Many continually experiment with new mediums and techniques to evolve their work.

What are the essential skills for an artist?

Beyond technical skills in their chosen medium, artists need creativity and imagination to develop original ideas. They should have an eye for detail, color, and composition. Persistence and self-discipline are also important, as creating art often involves long hours and overcoming creative blocks. Additionally, business and marketing skills benefit those who sell their work.

What does a typical day look like for an artist?

A typical day can vary greatly, depending on an artist’s specialty and whether they create art full-time. Tasks may involve sketching or brainstorming ideas, working on pieces, sourcing materials, and maintaining workspaces. Those who sell their work might also spend time marketing art, communicating with clients or galleries, and managing business aspects.

What are the primary responsibilities of an artist?

The primary responsibility is to create art, which involves generating ideas, choosing materials and techniques, and executing a vision. They often promote and sell work independently or at galleries through networking, marketing, and managing client relationships. They might also teach, apply for grants and residencies, or participate in shows and exhibitions.

What are the different types of artists?

They can work in a wide variety of mediums and styles. Some common types are painters, sculptors, illustrators, photographers, and digital artists. Other specialties include performance, mixed media, and installations. The kind of artist someone becomes often depends on interests, skills, and the message or aesthetic.

What is the role of an artist in society?

They play a crucial role in society by contributing to culture, sparking conversation, and challenging conventional ideas. Pieces can comment on social issues, express emotions, and provide new perspectives. They also contribute to the aesthetics of public and private spaces, providing personal enjoyment and inspiration to others.

How does an artist approach the creative process?

Some plan their work meticulously, while others work more intuitively. The process often involves brainstorming, sketching or making preliminary models, refining ideas, and creating the final piece. They often revise their work, responding to materials and concepts as part of the creative process. 

What challenges do artists often encounter?

Common challenges include finding inspiration, overcoming creative blocks, and refining techniques. Financial instability is ever present as income from selling art can be unpredictable. Other challenges include finding an audience or market, managing business aspects, and balancing artistic endeavors with other commitments.

How does an artist find their unique style or voice?

One of the best ways to find a unique style is to experiment with different mediums, techniques, and subject matter. Don’t be afraid to try new things and see what works for you. Look for inspiration in the world around you and pay attention to what you find beautiful, interesting, or meaningful. Mistakes can often lead to some of the most exciting and creative work, so take risks and be patient.