How to Become a Professional Artist in the US


Professional artists combine artistic talent, creative ability and professional training to create compelling photographs, sculptors, illustrations, paintings and images. If you possess artistic talent, this article will enlighten you on how you can develop it into a successful career. Read on!

What do professional artists do?

The specific duties of professional artists vary by specialty. Painters, for instance, focus on painting portraits and landscapes, while cartoonists draw sports, political, comical and advertising caricatures. Sketch artists draw sketches of people, especially those used by the police to identify suspects of crime, and general illustrators create pictures for magazines, textbooks, greeting cards, and calendars.

Common duties include:

  • Generating creative ideas for their work
  • Sourcing the tools and substances they use to do their work.
  • Creating and presenting portfolios of their work to employers
  • Attending exhibitions to display and sell their work
  • Answering questions (from potential customers) about their works of art

Work environment

Many professional artists are self-employed, so they have flexible work schedules. Those who are in regular employment typically work from 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday.

Regardless of the nature of employment, professional artists create the works of art in brightly-lit offices or workshops.

They also travel regularly to attend exhibitions, galleries and other industry events.


According to Simply Hired, professional artists earn an average annual salary of $44,000.

Education and training

So, you have the artistic talent and creative ability. What next?

Obviously, you need to find a college program that will nurture your talent and polish your skills. As an aspiring professional artist, there is no better degree than fine arts. You should, therefore, pursue a bachelor of fine arts (BFA), and specialize in visual arts, illustration, drawing, printmaking or any other preferred field.

Here are some of the top institutions for a bachelor of fine arts:

  • University of Minnesota
  • New York Film Academy
  • The University of Tampa, Florida

Many institutions require prospective fine arts students to submit a portfolio of their artwork as part of admission requirements. It is important to submit pieces of your favorite artwork.

Finally, ensure the program you choose to pursue is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.

Important qualities

Apart from your talent and BFA degree, what else do you need to become a professional artist? You need:

  • Strong drawing skills
  • Self-belief
  • Storytelling skills
  • Strong creative thinking skills
  • Good computer skills
  • Good business skills
  • Good negotiation skills
  • Good communication and interpersonal skills
  • Dexterity
  • Customer service skills
  • The ability to work alone for long periods of time
  • The ability to concentrate for long periods of time
  • An appreciation for perfection.

Career advancement

Once you qualify as a professional artist, undertake the following activities to improve your competence and demonstrate professionalism to potential clients or employers:

  • Join a relevant professional association. Potential associations for you include the Association for Visual Arts and the National Cartoonists Society. As a member of a professional association, you will have the opportunity to network with other professional artists and secure invitations to industry events.
  • Pursue a master of fine arts to broaden your professional knowledge.

Job opportunities

Although many professional artists are self-employed, you can find fulltime jobs in:

  • Print and digital publishing houses
  • Motion picture and video firms
  • Performing arts companies
  • Art studios.

As an experienced professional artist with a master’s degree, you may be able to secure teaching positions in colleges and universities that offer fine art degrees.

If you choose to be self-employed, you can establish and run a successful art studio.

Other artists advance to become fine art appraisers and art editors.

Lastly, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 3 percent job growth (slower than average) for all craft and fine artists between 2012 and 2022.

See also: How to Become an Art Editor

To thrive in such an industry with slow growth, you must focus on creating pieces of art that have a high aesthetic value. This way, you will find it easy to attract clients or employers to your exhibits. Good luck.