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Artist Career Guide

What is an artist?

An artist is someone who uses their creativity to make art, from paintings and sculptures to photos and performances. They often explore new ideas and challenge what’s normal, either working on their own projects or making specific pieces for clients.

Duties and responsibilities

Artists are all about creating. They come up with ideas, get inspired, and sometimes sketch things out before making the final artwork. Apart from creating, they’ve got other jobs like showing off their art, keeping a portfolio, finding materials, and chatting with galleries or people who buy art. Artists doing commissions must produce what the client wants and meet deadlines.

Work environment

Artists usually work in a studio or a place set up for making and keeping their art. This can be a small room at home or a big workspace, depending on what they make. Some artists, like photographers or those who do performances, often work in different locations. They might work alone or with others, especially on big projects or community art.

Typical work hours

Artists often choose their own hours. Some like a 9-to-5 routine, while others are night owls or early birds. Their schedules can change a lot, especially when a show or deadline is approaching. They might work extra long days then. Despite this, many really like the freedom and independence their job gives them.

How to become an artist

Becoming an artist is all about growing your skills and finding your own path. Here’s a step-by-step guide to get you started:

Step 1: Find your artistic passion

Start by figuring out what kind of art you love making. Try different things—painting, photography, sculpting—to see what clicks with you.

Step 2: Learn your craft

You don’t always need formal education. You can study art in college or learn on your own through online courses and mentorships. Whichever way you choose, keep improving your skills. Check out online classes like Jeff Koons’ MasterClass or Annie Leibovitz’s photography course. You can even learn 3D sculpting with Skillshare.

Step 3: Practice a lot

The key to getting better is simple: practice. Spend plenty of time creating art to develop your style and skills.

Step 4: Build a portfolio

Put together a collection of your best work. This can be a physical book or a digital portfolio on a website. It’s your way of showing the world what you can do.

Step 5: Network with others

Get out there and meet other artists and people in the art world. Attend art shows, join local art groups, or connect online. Networking can open up new opportunities and collaborations.

Step 6: Show your work

Start showing your art at local shows, galleries, or online. Use social media to get your art out there and build a following.

Step 7: Never stop learning

Art is always changing, so keep up with it! Try new techniques and styles and take workshops to stay fresh and inspired.

Remember, being an artist is about expressing yourself and enjoying the journey. It’s not always easy, but it’s definitely rewarding!

How much do artists make?

Artists’ incomes can really differ based on a bunch of things like where they live, their experience, and what kind of art they make. Plus, a lot of artists freelance, which means their earnings can change depending on how many projects they have and how big those projects are. Some also make extra money by teaching art classes or selling art materials.

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

There are so many ways to be an artist! Here’s a look at some of the different types:


Painters create art with pigments, working on canvas, paper, or walls. They can use all sorts of styles, such as abstract, realistic, or landscape.


Sculptors make three-dimensional art using materials like clay, stone, metal, or wood. Their work can be anything from small pieces to huge public art.


Illustrators make pictures for books, magazines, websites, and more. They might focus on special areas like children’s books, medical illustrations, or artwork for video games and movies.


Printmakers create art by printing designs onto paper, fabric, and other surfaces. They might use etching, lithography, screen printing, or woodcut techniques.


Photographers take photos of people, places, things, or events. They can specialize in different types, like portraits, nature shots, commercial photography, or fine art photography.

Digital artist

Digital artists use technology to create their art. They could work in video games, movies, advertising, or digital exhibitions.

Mixed media artist

Mixed media artists experiment with different materials and techniques. They combine painting, collage, sculpture, and digital elements to create something really unique.

Installation artist

Installation artists create large-scale, immersive art that changes how a space feels. Their work is all about giving the viewer a cool, multi-sensory experience.

Performance artist

Performance artists use their bodies, and sometimes other things like video or sound, to make art. Their performances, which can be planned or improvised, are usually shown live.

Top skills for artists

Being an artist is not just about making art; it’s about having a set of skills that help you create and share your work. Here are some important skills every artist should have:

  • Creative thinking: They need to come up with fresh ideas and try new things. It’s all about being unique and standing out with your art.
  • Technical skills: No matter what kind of art you do—painting, sculpture, digital art—you’ve got to know your stuff. This means understanding the tools, techniques, and materials you use to bring your ideas to life.
  • Observation skills: Paying attention to little details and the world around you can make your art more powerful. Artists often see things differently, and this unique view can add depth to their work.
  • Perseverance and resilience: Making art isn’t always easy; there can be tough times, like hitting a creative block or dealing with criticism. Staying strong and keeping at it, even when it’s hard, is a big part of the job.
  • Communication skills: Artists need to share the stories behind their work, talk about their ideas, and connect with people. Good communication can really help people understand and appreciate your art.

Artist career path

The journey to becoming an artist is personal and varies from one person to another. It’s more about following your passion and creativity than climbing a traditional career ladder. Here’s a general idea of how it might go:

Discover your passion

Most start with a deep love for art. They play around with different mediums and styles to find what they like best.

Learn and grow

Some artists go to school for a fine arts degree, which helps them learn technical skills and art history. But, many teach themselves or learn through workshops and practice.

Build and show your work

Early in their careers, artists often create a lot of work while finding their own unique style. They might show their art in local galleries, online, or at art fairs. They also spend time marketing themselves and networking to sell their art and get known.

Side gigs

They might also take other jobs related to art, like teaching classes or working in an art supply store. Commissions or mural projects can also help them make money and get noticed.

Gain recognition

As artists get more famous, they might work with galleries or agents, which can lead to selling more art. They could win awards or get grants, and art collectors or museums might buy their work.


Success for an artist often means getting more recognition and making more money from their art. But many also love teaching or mentoring others, sharing their love and knowledge of art.

The art world is really changing because of digital technology. Here’s a look at some of the latest trends and what the future might hold:

  • Digital revolution: Art isn’t just about traditional tools like brushes and canvas anymore. Digital methods are becoming more popular. Artists are using software to create and sell their work. Digital art, including 3D modeling and digital painting, is on the rise.
  • Online platforms: How they share and sell their work has changed a lot. Social media and online marketplaces are key for getting noticed and selling art. Artists are now reaching global audiences right from their studios.
  • NFTs: Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are a big new thing in the art world. They offer a new way for artists to sell their work digitally and earn money.

Employment projections for artists

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of artist jobs is expected to grow by 6% through 2031. The growth is mainly due to the demand for artistic skills in the advertising, entertainment, and publishing industries.

Artist career tips

Craft a great portfolio

Think of your portfolio as your visual resume. Keep it updated to show your growth and versatility. It’s a vital tool for impressing clients and galleries.

Network in the art world

Connections can open doors. Go to gallery openings, art fairs, and events. Join groups like the National Association of Independent Artists, College Art Association, or the Association of Medical Illustrators.

Exhibit your work

Show your art in galleries or public spaces for exposure and feedback. Open studio events are great for engaging with potential buyers.

Learn the business side

Understand the nuts and bolts of being self-employed, like contracts, pricing, and marketing.

Consider artist residencies

Residencies give you time and space to focus, and you’ll meet other artists and professionals.

Keep learning

Art changes all the time. Stay current with workshops, online courses, and art publications.

Apply for grants and fellowships

These can give you financial support and recognition. Look for opportunities that fit your work.

Have an online presence

A website and social media can reach people worldwide. Show your work and share your artistic journey.

Look after yourself

Art can be taxing. Stay healthy with exercise, good food, and enough rest.

Stay true to your vision

It’s important to meet market and client needs, but don’t lose sight of what makes your art yours. Authenticity is key.

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. 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 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.

What are the essential skills for an artist?

Beyond technical skills in their chosen medium, they need creativity, imagination, an eye for detail, color, and composition, persistence, self-discipline, and business and marketing skills.

What does a typical day look like for an artist?

A typical day can vary greatly, depending on their specialty and whether they create art full-time. They may be 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?

Some common types are painters, sculptors, illustrators, photographers, and digital artists. Other specialties include performance, mixed media, and installations.

What is the role of an artist in society?

They contribute to culture, spark conversation, and challenge 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.