Can you make a living as an artist?
When you meet someone for the first time, there are some questions that one would expect. Given how jobs tend to define us as individuals, it is only natural that someone wants to know what you do for a living. But somehow I doubt that if you answer that you are a lawyer, the next question is ‘Do you have a second job?’ I have had so many funny conversations which start off with these two questions. It recently happened to me in a gallery where I was exhibiting and I felt like answering:
“Yes, I am a full time artist and don’t live on the street!”
Interior design challenge for The Sunday Times, London 2019.
Why do people assume that one cannot be an artist and enjoy a stable career? Of course, it is true that you need to work a lot (as with anything you want to be good at) and, especially at the beginning, you might need to generate additional sources of income. The difference is that art is fun and does not necessarily feel like work. But in a society that teaches you that only by suffering will you be successful, it can sometimes feel strange to other people.
It is not uncommon for me to get direct messages from young people on Instagram asking me whether it is possible, if I actually live from my art or I just post on IG as a hobby. A couple of other very common questions is what did I study and where.
In another post, I will be sharing the story of how everything started for me, but for now the important question is: Can you make a living as an artist? And the answer is yes, absolutely. But this does not happen overnight. You need to work hard on your skills, create something unique and be very proactive when it comes to learning and seeking new opportunities.
I wish there had been someone to answer this question when I was young and all I wanted to do was paint. The advice I received from my father was that I should study architecture and paint as a hobby. Of course, he was thinking of a career that gave me plenty of useful skills and a realist chance of finding a job.
I liked so many ‘artistic’ things at such an early age that I think my path was very clear from the beginning, but it got lost for a while because I did not realise all the cool things one can do as an artist. Luckily the internet now exists and you (future artist?) are reading this! If you wish you could paint, draw or make any kind of creative activity, all the while make a living from it, the following is for you.
Know that you don’t have to be in a gallery or museum to call yourself an artist. In fact you don’t have to call yourself an ‘artist’ to create whatever it is that you do. At the end of the day it is just a label, so don’t worry too much about it. A lot of people do not like it because it feels heavy but I personally love it!
There is no career that is going to teach you how to become an artist, everyone’s path is different. For example, I studied a Bachelor’s degree in Information Design and a Master’s in Publishing, so in fact I am a self taught artist. But studying a career and working in several office jobs has been very beneficial for multiple reasons:
- For years I worked in the publishing industry, where I learnt a lot about colour and production (super useful when I digitise my watercolours).
- Eventually I switched to a more fulfilling role as Brand Manager at a charity where I learnt about running a business with a very tight budget.
- I was able to build my own website and I never had the need to hire a designer.
- When I decided to become a full-time artist I was able to retain some previous clients until I did not need that extra income.
Do you want to be an artist? Before you do anything, work on your skills, look for workshops that will help you in specific areas, practice a lot and be original. When you do this, your voice as an artist will emerge and everything will fall into place at the right time.