How To Become A Successful Artist In 2020: 5 Essential Tips (& 5 To Avoid)

How to become a successful artist with prints, art marketing, freelancing, consulting and art patronage today. Diversify to find success as a best-selling artist and avoid making these crucial mistakes.

Mar 27, 2020By Carol Walden
A group of people standing in front of a building Description automatically generated Successful artist with art patronage, public domain, photograph by Bicanski
Successful artist with art patronage, public domain, photograph by Bicanski

While artists have different ideas about what success means to them, most would probably agree that selling their work is a good indicator of success. Many creatives want to become best-selling artists, making a full-time income and even becoming wealthy from their work. Whereas others might want to become well-known in industry or academic fields and make the art history books.

Regardless of what success might mean to artists, there are some tried and tested pathways to realizing those goals.

The following are five tips for success and five things to avoid. You don’t have to do everything on this list so don’t be daunted. Just choose one and take action.

1. Diversify And Prosper Through Even The Hard Times

Woman with printed tote bag, photograph by Artem Beliaikin
Woman with printed tote bag, photograph by Artem Beliaikin

Creating reproductions of your work can be fun, rewarding and lucrative. If you are selling your work already, then, by all means, continue to sell your original artwork. But imagine if you created a print run of those originals. By doing this you can increase your earning potential without more studio hours. Prints can be priced much lower than your originals which makes them more available to people who might not be able to afford original artwork.

This is a low impact, well-paid work that you can repeat with all your best pieces. After selling prints of artwork, you can sell the original for more because you will have increased its value.

Firstly, you must have your artwork professionally photographed. Ask for digital copies for the web, for printing, and a hard-copy print for your portfolio. Ensure your photographer has experience with photographing artwork. Some excel at this while others don’t.

 


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Photographing Artwork Workshop
Photographing Artwork Workshop

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Next contact three printers for prices including delivery. It is best to shop around as their prices will vary. I would go so far as ordering one print of the same artwork from each printer to compare their service and product. Do everything you can to ensure the quality of your reproductions.

Print on Demand (POD) simply means that when a customer orders a print from your website, the order goes straight to your printer via an app integrated into your site. The printer then prints the work and sends it straight to your customer. You pay the printer for the job and applicable shipping fees; the difference is now your profit.

Many artists choose a POD service to place their art onto merchandise like canvases, posters, fabric, clothing, a myriad of homewares and sell them on platforms like Shopify and Etsy. This way you can sell your prints without holding inventory and avoid large upfront costs.

Printmaking is an exciting field in which you can make multiples of your work and sell as many as you wish to produce. They are significantly faster to produce than making more originals. However, printmaking requires some expertise and expensive equipment. Therefore, it is best to find a course near you to learn the art of printmaking. If there is a community art center near you, you may be able to access courses, a printing press, and printmaking groups.

There are several forms of printmaking. Regardless of which one you choose you will end up with any number of reproductions that you can sell. Most of these processes allow you to do reruns if you sell out unless you decide to create a limited-edition print run. In this case, decide on the number in the print run, and then stick to it!

Screen printing at NTAS, North Tyneside Art Studio, CC BY-SA
Screen printing at NTAS, North Tyneside Art Studio, CC BY-SAScreen printing at NTAS, North Tyneside Art Studio, CC BY-SA

Art Licensing is about selling rights for your artwork to companies or people who want to use it commercially. When starting out it may be best to use an agent to help you find clients. They will often become repeat buyers. The agent will also deal with legalities like protection of your copyright, contracts and ensuring the quality of reproductions.

If you wish to license your work yourself you might want to do a course on how to license your art. There are many traps you can fall into when licensing your artwork so be aware and informed of what can go wrong before you begin.

Avoid spreading yourself too thin. It is important to remain focused. Diversifying as an artist doesn’t necessarily mean expanding across several genres. In fact, it can be advantageous to remain focused and niched in your style so that your artwork is branded and recognizable. If you only produce paintings for galleries, you may not make a living from that. But if you also make prints for example and sell them on social media you can make significantly more money.

 


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2. Art Marketing Expands Your Audience

Face Paint Street Artist, photograph by Armando Lazo
Face Paint Street Artist, photograph by Armando Lazo

In this digital age, remaining visible means displaying your artwork on a dedicated website and social media. Many artists blog about their work and post videos of their creative process and creating in public to several social media platforms. By engaging with people, artists build a community of fans and interact with them regardless of where they are in the world.

When exhibiting your work, remember your public relations and press releases. Local newspapers and the “what’s on” type of local websites and blogs welcome stories. Write about your art and your story and send it off well before the opening.

Once you have a following, you can make public commentary and invite interviews. In the meanwhile, write your own monograph, make artist books, comics, illustrated children’s books, or write your memoirs. These obviously take time, but it is rewarding and adds to your creative capital.

When you have a body of original work to sell, search for local, national and international Art Fairs where you can display and sell your work. Some fairs sell stall space and others allow you to exhibit one or more works. If you have a stall, you may also be able to sell your prints if you have them. Be sure to read all the literature they send you and stay within their guidelines.

Art Fair Zurich, 2017
Art Fair Zurich, 2017

Avoid becoming invisible. If you aren’t marketing your art, then no one knows who you are or what you do. Just having your art hanging in a gallery doesn’t mean it will sell. Holding one exhibition and going quiet for months or years will not sell your art. Many artists tend to be repulsed by the thought of marketing. Don’t let this feeling paralyze you. It’s best to diversify in your marketing efforts to understand which ones work best for you.

3. Freelancing and Consulting

Former Artist-in-Residence, Brooks Salzwedel, working on a drawing during his residency, via NPS
Former Artist-in-Residence, Brooks Salzwedel, working on a drawing during his residency, via NPS

Two great options to make a regular income. For writers, cartoonists, illustrators, and digital artists, there’s a significant amount of work on freelancing platforms, like Upwork. If you have a portfolio of work, you can upload your best pieces into your profile. Depending on the quality of your work you may find clients very quickly. The aim is to nurture these relationships so you can get repeat customers and regular work in your field.

Freelancing platforms take a percentage of your payments which reduces as you fulfill your jobs with good reviews. They have a robust mediation service and use a licensed Escrow service to ensure your clients pay you the contracted amount. The entire transaction with your client happens on the platform which provides safeguards that are difficult to achieve if working on your own.

There are job banks like Americans for the Arts, where you can apply for a myriad of jobs in the arts.

 


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Before you get excited, you must understand that competition on these platforms is fierce. But if you keep applying for work you are passionate about, and continue to improve your profile and portfolio, you will very likely start to win work. If both parties are happy with your work, you can ask your clients for repeat work. This is a ‘work your way up’ kind of deal so don’t give up too soon. You must be in it for the long haul to win the best jobs.

Alternatively, independent freelancing and consulting using your own website, blog, social media and LinkedIn to find and win clients might appeal to you. While this might sound like freedom to you, there are risks involved with finding customers, getting paid, miscommunications and contracts breached.

Avoid going into independent freelancing with your eyes closed as you will risk getting paid for your work, your copyrights may be breached, and potential lucrative relationships can be nipped in the bud before they blossom. This is not a get rich quick scenario. Expect to work like it is a regular job, but the payoffs are being able to work from anywhere and in your own time.

4. Emulate A Successful Artist You Admire

Shop Until You Drop by Banksy, photograph by Quentin, UK
Shop Until You Drop by Banksy, photograph by Quentin, UK

Instead of reinventing the wheel. Have a look at some successful artists’ websites that you wish to emulate. Read their biographies and ‘About Me’ pages for inspiration. Look at their social media accounts and do what they did. In other words, adopt their ‘success’ process.

Banksy, for example, has achieved great success for his unique graffiti art and his famed anonymity. Social media has enabled him to achieve great heights of success and ironically, to preserve his privacy and safety.

Avoid copying other artists’ artwork and written work. Copying others’ work and passing it off as your own is called plagiarism. It is illegal and if prosecuted, can result in significant penalties.

5. Art Patronage

Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Self Portrait, public domain, Patron - Marie Antoinette
Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Self Portrait, public domain, Patron – Marie Antoinette

Today is a business ‘partnership’ similar to sponsorship, between an artist and a person or business (patron) who wishes to help that artist. Help can take the form of financial aid, support, and access to the patron’s network and privileges. The patron may wish to acquire some of that artist’s work in the process.

In early modern Europe, patronage originated in the church and was significant in the development of art. One of the most famous examples is the enormous body of work the church and the wealthy Medici family commissioned from Michelangelo during the High Renaissance in the late 15th and early 16th century in Italy. Without those patrons, it is unlikely Michelangelo would have created such enduring and historically significant masterpieces.

Patronage was essential to many artists’ livelihoods by providing them with financial rewards, materials, and a place to live and work. Depending on who the patron was, some artists and musicians were rewarded with lasting fame. One such example is Squarcialupi, often described as the most famous musician of 15th-century Italy. Even though none of his music has survived, he is still famous in the world of music, because he enjoyed the support of a Medici family patron.

 


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To find your own patron, you can canvas businesses and philanthropists. If you need studio or exhibition space and collectors of your work a well-connected patron can expose you and your work to their networks.

An alternative is the online platform Patreon where you can build a community of fans acting as patrons by donating small amounts on a regular basis to fund your passion and work.

A rising number of businesses that are involved in creating a creative climate are choosing to invite art consultants to meetings and brainstorming sessions. Creatives are valued for their inspiration, creative powers and thinking outside the box. The business makes gains in their creative capital and the art consultant has valuable work which can set them up as experts in their field…it’s a win-win.

“How sketching has helped these five creators come up with successful ideas”
How sketching has helped these five creators come up with successful ideas, credit Sound United

Galleries can sometimes act as a patron for artists through enhanced representation, sending their work to art shows, fairs, and competitions. However, not all galleries do this and it’s an arrangement you must negotiate.

When you find a patron, remember that it may be a 2-way street. Ask if they want something in return and articulate what that ‘something’ will be. Formulate a contract where everything is stated, including your ownership of copyright. You do not have to hand over your copyright and it is best that you don’t unless you negotiate an appropriate price. Once you have sold the copyright to your work, you no longer own those images and have no usage rights unless otherwise stated in the contract.

Joseph Ferdinand Keppler (1838-1894), restoration by Adam Cuerden - The Pirate Publisher—An International Burlesque that has the Longest Run on Record, from Puck, 1886, satirizes the ability of publishers to take works from one country and publish them in another without paying the original authors.
Joseph Ferdinand Keppler (1838-1894), restoration by Adam Cuerden – The Pirate Publisher—An International Burlesque that has the Longest Run on Record, from Puck, 1886, satirizes the ability of publishers to take works from one country and publish them in another without paying the original authors.

It is best to register your copyright ownership immediately upon finishing each work. Always sign and date your work, use the © copyright symbol and document each stage/draft of your work with photographs and safe storage of those drafts.

In most countries and particularly in countries that have signed the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, you automatically own the copyright of your work immediately upon completion of that work. However, when it comes to litigating infringements on that copyright, the best way to prove your ownership is to register it immediately upon completion.

Make sure your agreements are contracted, via Simplecast
Make sure your agreements are contracted, via Simplecast

Avoid neglecting to have those daunting conversations about the terms of your patronage agreement, including the protection of your copyrights. While you will feel very grateful for the help a wealthy or well-connected patron can give you, having the agreement in writing is essential.

Miscommunications between business partners happen every day. A surprising number of people do not understand how copyright works. Reduce your risks by having an open dialogue and signed contracts. Most potential patrons will understand the importance of having a contract so don’t be afraid of initiating a written agreement.

You may feel nervous about approaching a potential patron about these legal details. But remember that in this process you will be creating provable paper trails of your own creative capital. This is of great value to you and your life’s work and legacy. Best of luck!

 



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By Carol WaldenCarol Walden has been producing art for most of her life. After completing a Bachelor of Media & Communications, Writing & Publishing she has dived into writing in the field of arts. Her father’s family were a French travelling circus troupe; multi-disciplined artists living in horse-drawn wagons and on ships in the Asia-Pacific Region. This ancestral journey has greatly influenced her life’s work and her passions for art, writing and physical performance.