You want to be an artist, but there is an overwhelming amount of options for becoming a professional artist. Many people go to university, which can be a great option, but it isn’t for everyone. Whether it’s too expensive, you don’t do well in a structured environment, you’re physically or mentally unable, or whatever happens to be the reason, it’s okay to not go to university. You can still make an art career for yourself!
Hello there, my name is Nadia Rausa and I’m a fine artist and illustrator in Alaska. I won’t spend long telling you my story because I want to jump into some ways I think you can make it in an art career without universities, but I figured it’d be good to give some backstory.
I went to university aspiring for a Bachelor’s degree in art. I was in school for about 3 years before leaving to study on my own and find my own path in an art career. I can say the transition was difficult, mostly because one of the reasons I left my degree behind was due to mental health struggles (if you struggle with mental health disorders, you’re not alone). But I knew it was what I needed to do.
I was incredibly unhappy in school and felt like my progress was ultimately slow in a structured environment. So, I began figuring out ways to make this work, and trust me when I say there are so many ways to do that.
One of the most affordable and accessible ways to an art career is self-studying. If you can hone in your skill, you and your work become so much more desirable to curators, collectors, ADs (art director), etc. You definitely want to learn your fundamentals. I know, you’re probably sick of hearing that, but it’s true.
Use free services like YouTube to watch anatomy videos, or videos on color theory, or videos about form, value, and composition. It’s all there — you just have to take the time to find it.
Set yourself goals and assignments to stick with a plan to teach yourself artistic fundamentals (i.e. practice anatomy on Mondays, color mixing on Wednesdays, etc). You can also use paid online services like Skillshare, Udemy, whatever site has art classes (and business courses, because as artists, we wear many hats).
Another great thing you can do to learn is attend life-drawing classes, or just sit somewhere you can draw people and objects from life. Now, I can honestly say I don’t really do these because my anxiety tends to win in social settings, but these methods can be very helpful to some people. If I could do them, I definitely would, and maybe one day I will.
But this is an amazing way to see with your own eyes—not through a camera lens—how things really look, like how light reacts with skin or leaves, how our eyes mislead us when certain colors are next to each other, and so much more.
Or maybe you deal with social anxiety, too. Set up a still-life at home, mess with some cool lighting effects with a lamp, and go ham. Or go out in nature where there aren’t tons of people and draw the nature you see. I promise there are so many accessible ways for you to learn without paying tons of money, and learning is the first step in anyone’s art career.
GET YOURSELF OUT THERE
Now that you’re learning and honing in your skills, it’s time to get yourself out there!
University can be great for connecting and networking with fellow artists, but luckily, we have the Internet in our modern day and age to do that, too.
Joining and being active on social media is definitely what jumpstarted my career. I met so many amazing artists in the Instagram community and many of us have become friends. I know there are a lot of negative thoughts around Instagram right now, but I think it’s still worth making an account and posting your work.
Start talking with other artists in the community, join art events like #inktober, #mermay—any that inspire you and allow you to meet other great artists. But also use these events as way to improve your skills, and a pretty important thing to remember: have fun!
A quick note/tip for social media: remember to choose a name you will professionally use as an artist for your username across all social media platforms (I just use my real name), and keep it consistent across all platforms as much as you’re able to. You want people to easily be able to find you across all platforms, including if they just search your name in a search engine like Google. This includes on forums or Discord servers.
Speaking of forums and Discord, joining these can be a great way to meet more artists and join more events, or make your own like I did (feel free to join me at Wolves of Antimony: https://discord.gg/FnAxTFU)!
NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK
Like the header says, NETWORK! This is the absolute most important thing to remember if you want to have an art career (well, any career, really).
As I mentioned in the last section, engaging with people on social media and making friends is so important. Friends can offer you great networking opportunities because you never know who knows who (but please don’t make friends just to get an “in” somewhere or with someone, or to gain something—it’s really hurtful to use another person). There are many ways to network with people, including entering calls for art.
Quick story-time: in 2017, I entered a call for dragon art (Tiny Dragons by The ArtOrder). Do I draw dragons regularly? Nope. But the theme interested me enough to try my hand at a dragon piece and I was very excited for the opportunity to work with this publisher. My art was accepted and since then, I’ve built a relationship with the founder of The ArtOrder and now I’m included in their next book about mermaids (another creature I am not well-versed in drawing).
Entering calls for art can be an amazing way to network with professionals in the industry that you want to work in, so do your research and find affordable calls that interest you and your aspirations.
Furthermore, you can shoot an email to people you want to work with, such as galleries or publishers or studios—whatever it happens to be (but do research to see if they are accepting portfolio submissions first). For example, I had been wanting to be a part of the SALUT show at Gallery Nucleus for years. I sent an email to someone at the gallery who explained the show is invite-only, but they asked for some examples of my work and they sent my work to the curator of the show. Guess what? Just the other week, I got an invite. A dream come true that likely wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t taken the step to reach out and network.
Another great way to network is joining courses taught by professionals in your industry. These courses can be a little less affordable, but an amazing way to learn and network, such as SmART School (taught by fine artists and illustrators who’ve worked with amazing studios and publishers), Make Your Art Work (taught by art directors in the gallery and publishing industry), and more.
Finally, if you’re able to, I think attending art conventions such as Lightbox Expo, Illuxcon, Comic Con, etc. can be an amazing way to meet artists and other industry professionals in-person. I have yet to actually do this, but I know many people who have been able to network with amazing people by doing this.
In conclusion, learn and hone in your skills, engage in the community, and network with friends and professionals! I hope this information was helpful for you and perhaps inspiring for you to begin working on or improving your art career. I believe anyone can do it as long as they put in the time, love, and effort. If you want to be a professional artist, get yourself out there and do it — I know you can!