Want a career as a professional artist?

Following on from our previous blog post on making money from selling art, this post will touch on some other ways artists are making money and some of the professional practice expectations if you want to be an artist.

Application time!

Are you hoping that the perfect opportunity falls on your lap? That you will get a phone call from a billionaire who saw your art online and wants to buy everything? That you will win the first prize you enter?

Let’s face it, that is unlikely.

A professional artist isn’t just working in the studio all day, they are also writing applications. Lots of them.

Artist Jim Carrey typing at a keyboard

Gallery shows

Showing at galleries is essential for some artists, but how do you get your art in there? Gallery open calls can be hard to find if you’re not already familiar with your local community. Most galleries will advertise open calls (they might also be called ‘call out’ or ‘proposals’) on their Facebook, Instagram, website and mailing list.

Read the open call carefully and check if the gallery is right for you. Carefully read your obligations, particularly around fees, insurance and commissions, before applying.

Here are some great sites for listings of galleries and submissions and proposals.

Applications typically require;

  • A proposed exhibition; This is generally a 300 word description of what you’re hoping to achieve.
  • A conceptual statement; This is again around 300 words about why you make what you make.
  • Support material; Images, videos and/or audio are expected, often around 10 examples.
  • Budget; A breakdown of costings may be requested .

Professional artists apply for grants

Grants are essential money makers for most professional artists.

For fledgling artists in urban areas, local councils often advertise community grants for developing public art or workshops. In remote and regional areas, similar opportunities are made available by state and territory governments as well as specific federal funding such as the Australian Government’s Regional Arts Fund.

Finding the right grant for your project and career stage might be difficult, as some grants are only offered in limited rounds each year. In that sense, it might be worth finding the grant before developing your project, or planning around pivotal grant dates.

Grants are often no small thing to prepare, so give yourself plenty of time. A successful grant will be clear and concise without seeming pushy or over confident. Spend time thinking about why this is the right project and right time for you to receive this grant. Allow plenty of time to develop your budget, as this often holds significant weighting.

Start your grant journey here and here.

Prizes, EOIs and commissions

Most professional or established artists can’t rely on grants, sales or exhibition artist’s fees alone to keep them afloat.

There are lots of ways to build an income and career, and prizes, commissions and expressions of interests whilst also making for an impressive and well-rounded CV. Like grants, it’s essential to keep an eye on the window in which entries are open.  Also it’s worth noting that most prizes charge an entry fee.

Expressions of interest and commissions are often one off opportunities and could be advertised by local or state government, galleries, festivals or business. Like grants, they require strong and convincing applications and often a budget.

For great awards calendars look here and here.

While you’re working on your professional practice as an artist, how will you make coin? We have some suggestions for you.

Side gigs that will open doors and make you money

While it might feel like giving up, there are lots of benefits to be had from working outside of your arts based practice, and it’s not just about the money. 

Working in an extended arts community can set you up with some of the best opportunities for your arts practice. Here are some jobs that will use your skills, earn you money and help you network.

Artist or studio assistant

One fantastic job that offers lots of additional learning is becoming an artist, production or studio assistant. You will see firsthand what running your own studio might look like. It will also teach you skills, new tools and process, marketing, production and the running of a small business. If you like what you see, you could always consider NEIS.

Be aware this work is often irregular, based on demand or commissions received by the studio hiring you.

artist pouring slip glaze over a large pot

Museums, Galleries and Cultural institutions

A big employer of artists are museums and galleries. Working in this industry can give great insight into the wheels of the machine and help you understand your part in the wider world of arts and culture.

There are a wide range of positions offered in these institutions that don’t require specialised art history, curatorship or cultural management degrees; front of house, ticket sales, digitiser, gallery general managers, invigilators, shop assistance and managers, administrators, installers and tour guides. Think of the options! Find listing for jobs in this industry.

Some of the jobs will be offered by state and federal governments, so check out our blog on How to get a job with the APS.

Dog helping some one hang a picture

Specialised retail

Another job you can find down the main street might be at framing and printing shop. These jobs often have a mix of retail and production and might seem a little less daunting than studio or museum work.

Painters will be in demand for their knowledge of stretching, print makers and drawers for their experience handling of works on paper and photographers and graphics designers will have the detailed eye needed for printing and photographic development.

The aesthetic eye of the artist might also help land you a job as a visual merchandiser.

Workshops and teaching

If you are real hands on people person, running workshops is another great option. There is a whole range of ways that this can be done, from running independent workshops from your studio, joining an organisation that runs short courses or a community group running open access classes.

You should make sure your covered by Public and Products Liability Insurance before running anything yourself.

Freelance work

This is fantastic option for photography, media arts and graphic design graduates. Consider partnering with a small firm, a buddy or going out alone. This line of work will requires to find your clients, engage them with your content and work with them to produce content. In many ways this is very similar to working as an artist and will offer creativity and flexibility but the same disadvantages, such as irregular work and income.

There is a chance you will try all of the employment options mentioned above! Consider all of the opportunities you might have from each job and how they will grow your skills as an artist and arts worker.

Don’t know what to charge?

The National association for visual artists has a Code of Practice available on their website. This covers wages and financial expectations for artists and arts workers. This information is free but you will need to create an account.

Come tax time…

If you are making money selling art, getting grants and prizes, you will need a ABN.

You will also need to record all money made from Commissions and Grants as well as everything you’re spending on your practice. Stay organised throughout the year.

Looking after yourself.

Making money (or trying to) off your art is hard work. Applications for exhibitions, grants, prizes and EOIs will often be met with rejection. It’s not uncommon to close up an exhibition with no sales. Make sure you’re taking time to look after yourself and your finances. These articles provide some great insight into ways to process these feelings and push on.

artist rolling his head with a paint roller

Images: iStock, giphy

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