How to Become a Professional Artist in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a professional artist. Learn about the education requirements, job duties, job outlook, and salary to find out if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Art degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is A Professional Artist?

Most professional artists produce artworks that may be displayed or sold. Professional artists include painters, illustrators, sculptors and craft artists. They may create commissioned pieces, such as painting or portrait of a specific person or place, or they may create images used to illustrate books or animate television shows, commercials or movies. The professional art field also encompasses multimedia artists and animators and art directors. Multimedia artists focus on digital art, and their work may end up in projects like computer games and films. Art directors create the overall design and style for everything from packaging to magazines to movies.

Education Required High school diploma; bachelor's degree required for multimedia artists and art directors and recommended for professional advancement for fine artists
Education Field of Study Fine arts, art, computer graphics, design
Key Responsibilities Represent ideas visually by using various mediums, create drawings, organize work in portfolio
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 3% (for all craft and fine artists); 6% (for all multimedia artists and animators); 2% (for all art directors)
Average Salary (2015)* $54,170 (for all fine artists); $70,300 (for all multimedia artists and animators); $101,990 (for all art directors)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Professional Artists

A professional artist depicts people, places or things through visual works created by various materials, such as clay, paint, pens and computers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that as a professional artist, you will generally provide artistic services as an art director, crafts artist, fine artist or multimedia artist (www.bls.gov).

If you serve as an art director, you develop design concepts for different types of visual communications. If you're a craft artist, you manually create items or products for exhibits or commercial sales. If you become a sculptor, painter or illustrator, you would be categorized as a fine artist. If you serve as a multimedia artist, you use film and various forms of electronic media, such as computers and video, to create visual images, including animation.

Step 1: Get Trained

The BLS reports that to work as an art director or multimedia artist, you need a bachelor's degree. While formal training may not be required if you're a fine artist or crafts artist, it is advantageous for employment and professional development.

Associate's and bachelor's degree programs that are consistent with your profession include those titled fine arts and related disciplines. Coursework in fine arts may include subjects, such as 3-D design, sculpture, digital photography, printmaking and electronic imaging.

Step 2: Assemble a Portfolio

A portfolio is a compilation of samples of your artistic works. Your portfolio provides visual evidence of your expertise for potential employers or clients. While completing a portfolio may be part of your degree program, you can also add and subtract pieces as your career continues.

Step 3: Acquire Work Experience

When you're a professional artist, you may choose to provide services as a freelance, independent contractor or as an employee. Possible clients or employers include software and print material publishers, video and motion picture companies, advertising agencies and design service companies. The BLS reported that the employment growth for fine artists was projected to be 3% from 2014 through 2024, while multimedia artists and animators should see 6% growth and art directors should see 2% growth.

Step 4: Join a Trade Association

By joining a trade association, you gain access to benefits, such as professional networking opportunities and industry updates. You can join a national association, such as the National Association of Independent Artists, and/or one of many regional trade associations, such as the Artists Association of Nantucket.

Step 5: Stay Current

Staying abreast of industry trends, tools and initiatives is important to your day-to-day work activities. Some artists will change artistic focus or mediums over time, and this practice could help you find new clients and opportunities, as well as help you acquire new skills. You can receive continuing education through some employers, but it is also available through educational institutions and trade organizations.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Graphic designers do design and layout for things like packaging and advertisements, and they primarily perform their work using computers. Web developers design websites and need a good visual sense of proportion and style to create their designs. Photographers use cameras to capture images, which may be strictly for artistic purposes or for commercial purposes, like stock photography. Graphic designers need a bachelor's degree, while Web developers need an associate's degree. There are no degree requirements for photographers, though many earn a bachelor's degree.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

  • 1. Degree Options:

Popular Schools

  • The Art Institutes

    The Art Institutes responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at The Art Institutes:

    • Master
    • Bachelor Degrees
    • Associate Programs
    • Certificates

    Campus Locations:

    • Virginia: Arlington
  • Regent University

    Regent University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Regent University:

    • Master
    • Bachelor Degrees

    Online Programs Available

  • Penn Foster High School

    Penn Foster High School responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Penn Foster High School:

    Online Programs Available

  • CDI College

    CDI College responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at CDI College:

    • Certificates

    Campus Locations:

    • Anywhere: Point Claire
  • Howard University

    Campus Locations:

    • Columbia (D.C.): Washington
  • Towson University

    Campus Locations:

    • Maryland: Towson
  • Stanford University

    Campus Locations:

    • California: Stanford
  • Georgetown University

    Campus Locations:

    • Columbia (D.C.): Washington
  • Harvard University

    Campus Locations:

    • Massachusetts: Cambridge