If you think you've got the talent to work as a fine artist, discover what you need to do - aside from creating art - to pay the bills
Fine artists create original works of art, through a variety of media. They often specialise in a particular medium, which may be categorised in the following ways:
- two-dimensional work (drawing, painting, collage)
- three-dimensional work (sculpture, installation)
- four-dimensional work (moving images, performance).
Many artists also specialise in a subject and may concentrate on areas such as landscapes, portraits or abstract.
Fine artists can be commissioned to produce a piece of work or they can create their own pieces, which they then sell on, either directly to the public or through an intermediary such as a gallery or an agent.
They may also run art classes or be involved with community art projects.
A fine artist will usually be involved in researching, planning and creating art work and their activities may include:
- generating ideas, idea development, sketching, making models
- creating or developing a piece of work in response to a brief or commission
- meeting deadlines
- working in a studio or off-site and adhering to health and safety procedures
- sourcing materials and developing relationships with suppliers
- researching, visiting locations, interviewing people, using libraries and the internet
- administration, correspondence, creating publicity
- project planning, creating and managing a budget, financial planning, calculating expenditure
- managing tax and self-employment issues
- organisation and administration tasks associated with running a studio
- applying for residencies and competitions
- writing project proposals for galleries, competitions or artist residencies
- writing funding applications (public and private)
- liaising with contacts, gallery owners, curators and other artists
- curating individual and group shows
- negotiating a sale or commission
- self-promotion, networking, attending private viewings and other events
- writing press releases
- maintaining a portfolio which will typically include a website
- evaluating a project and feeding back to the main funder or sponsor.
Salaries vary widely for fine artists and are dependent on their talent, experience and the level of intricacy used in their work. For this reason, it is difficult to put a set figure on what an artist can earn.
- For emerging artists who are displaying at degree shows, it is standard to expect no more than £1,000 for a BA level piece of work and no more than £2,000 for MA work. This does of course vary if the piece of work is very large or extremely intricate.
- In order to place a value on your work you should consider how much experience you have, any awards or professional accomplishments you have, and high-profile partners or shows you have worked with. Also look at what other comparable artists are charging for their work.
- You can expect to increase your prices with experience. The increase could vary between 10 to 20% with every major achievement, e.g. having a sell-out show, winning an award, etc.
- For more advice on how to value your work see Artquest.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours do not usually follow a fixed pattern and fine artists may work at any time and for any number of hours per week. Some may need to fit it around other work commitments. However, artists assisting or working in other artists' studios may keep regular hours, such as 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday.
What to expect
- Fine artists usually fund their practice through a full-time or part-time job, often in the creative industries or education, e.g. teaching in schools, colleges and universities.
- Working environments vary greatly and include studios or workshops, outdoor or public spaces, a physical exhibition space or online.
- Studios may be located in a converted industrial space such as a warehouse, loft or office building. Some artists work from studios in their own homes. It is common for artists to share studio space and to show their work from there.
- Within the UK, the majority of exhibition spaces exist within London and other major cities such as Newcastle and Manchester. However, there are vibrant and active communities of artists all over the UK and internationally.
- Although many artists find satisfaction in being their own boss, it also carries a lot of responsibility in terms of self-promotion and business management.
- The flow of work can be very irregular and there is generally a lack of stability and benefits usually associated with full-time employment.
- Fine artists exhibit all over the world, but particularly in Europe and the USA, and therefore travel to events and galleries outside the UK is fairly common.
Some fine artists do not have professional qualifications and may have started producing their own work after discovering they have a talent. However, to have an increased chance of success it is useful to be formally trained and to take relevant qualifications.
The following degree subjects may be useful in developing your career as an artist:
- art and associated crafts
- art criticism
- art history
- design for performance
- fine art
- fine art critical practice
- interdisciplinary fine arts
- public art
- sound art
- visual art and communication.
Fine art can be studied in many forms including painting, new media, photography, printmaking and sculpture.
It is possible to study art as part of a combined honours degree programme, usually with a humanities or another creative subject. These may include performance, history of art, arts administration, education and community studies.
Fine art graduates can go on to further study in art and design at postgraduate level, completing an MA or MFA (Master of Fine Arts). This may help to increase prices for work, although this still largely depends on your talent and skills. Search for postgraduate courses in fine art.
It is possible to enter a career as a fine artist without a degree. Some artists learn through a combination of short courses such as evening or weekend classes, one-week intensive courses and other qualifications such as diplomas or certificates.
As well as artistic talent, you will need to show evidence of the following:
- determination and commitment
- idea development
- good visual communication skills
- business and self-promotion skills
- technical ability
- good verbal communication skills
- organisation skills and the ability to meet deadlines
- research skills
- ability to work independently and with others
- stamina and a willingness to put in long hours.
Fine art is a highly competitive field with many more graduating students and artists than there are formal opportunities to exhibit. Fine artists must be resourceful in order to create their own opportunities and seek out new and interesting places to show and sell their work, such as artist-led spaces, bars, museums, shops, events and public spaces.
However, gallery owners, curators and private collectors are always looking for new artists with exceptional talent who they think are collectable and would produce a good show.
Recent fine art graduates have usually completed some relevant work experience, work shadowing or voluntary work in the creative industries.
Fine artists are usually self-employed. They often combine freelance work or practice with another salaried job. This is often in schools, adult education colleges, universities, studios, galleries and across the creative industries.
Some artists produce work during artist residencies or are commissioned to make a specific piece of work by an individual or institution.
Artists may also sell their work independently or through a gallery and, as such, are expected to maintain a good working relationship with the gallery.
Another arrangement is to have an agent sell their work on their behalf. This may achieve more sales and wider exposure but the agent will take commission on what they sell an therefore reduce the fee an artist receives.
Advice and details of residencies, funding opportunities, competitions and full or part-time vacancies can be found at the following:
- a-n: The Artists Information Company
- Art Review
- Arts Council England
- Arts Council of Northern Ireland
- Arts Council of Wales
- Arts Culture Media Jobs
- Arts Professional
- Blouin Artinfo
- British Council - Arts Group
- Crafts Council
- Creative Review
- Creative Scotland
- The Guggenheim Foundation
- Writers' and Artists' Yearbook
Vacancies and opportunities are often not advertised at all and you should be prepared to research and uncover opportunities for fine artists through networking and by having the confidence to approach organisations and individuals.
Some fine artists may decide to complete a postgraduate qualification such as a Masters or postgraduate diploma. There are many subjects available in the art field at this level. There are a number of short courses available and it is possible to study for various BTEC level awards.
You should also seek out professional development opportunities in order to further your skills and make useful contacts.
Many artists find that they learn through collaborating and working with others. Developing good relationships with other artists, curators and gallery owners can provide a forum for criticism and improvement. Artists are constantly growing and developing their own work and practice through improved self-awareness and an increased knowledge of what is happening in the world around them.
Recent fine art graduates may work as an artist's assistant or studio assistant, which provides good training and learning opportunities. These include learning new technical skills and transferable skills such as time management or leadership. There may be opportunities for promotion to the role of studio manager.
New techniques can also be learned by working as a fabricator, which involves making and constructing other artists' work on their behalf.
Since many artists work freelance or run their own business, it is useful to get training in business skills and self-employment.
There is no standard or structured career path for a fine artist and so career development is not easy to predict.
The success of an artist is highly dependent on their commitment to the work. They need to explore different opportunities and push their work into the public domain, either through their own self-promotion or the use of an agent. They should also try to participate in as many solo exhibitions or group shows as possible.
Within five to ten years of graduating, a successful artist may have their own studio, gallery representation, regular shows and a network of important contacts. They may be recognised as successful by their peers and be able to devote themselves to making work on a full-time basis. They may employ other people to work in their studio or make work on their behalf.
Some fine artists are satisfied with carrying out their art practice in conjunction with part-time or full-time work in a related arts field. For example, they may go on to teach in schools, colleges and universities or may work in paid projects within the community.
There are also a number of artist residencies in the UK and abroad that may appeal to established artists. An artist in residence is engaged over a period of time by a gallery, space, organisation or institution to make work and possibly to contribute skills and knowledge. In return, the artist may receive remuneration in the form of a wage or a bursary, resources and materials, living accommodation or studio space and facilities.
At the end of, or during, the residency the artist is expected to show the work they have produced. The duration of a residency varies but usually ranges from three to 12 months. Residencies are advertised in arts magazines, journals and newsletters, on the internet and via word of mouth.