If you’re an artistic type living in our current era, then you’re probably well aware that it’s nearly impossible to make a living selling art independently, no matter how talented you are. This is doubly true if you are just starting out, don’t have any contacts and haven’t yet built a portfolio or a resumé.
While this all sounds a bit daunting, no doubt, we’ve got some good news for you as well. The current demand for commercial art – be it for advertising, magazine covers, environmental designs – is huge, as if you can get your foot in the door with a design studio, or as an independent contractor, you’ll be able to supplement and develop your artist’s practice.
No Piece of Cake
Before you charge out the door with your portfolio, let’s run through a list of factors that may give you an edge over the competition. While the market for talented commercial artists is hungry, there are a lot of folks out there who’ve studied art and design and want to snap up those jobs and contracts. Here are some important things to consider:
Copywriting Value-Add – If you’re a visual artist, take some time to work on writing; if you’re a copywriter, take some time to brush up on design. Familiarizing yourself with Adobe and the sophisticated digital tools that come with it can help you develop amazing images, even if you’re not exactly Rembrandt. Creativity trumps technical ability these days, so charge forth regardless of self-doubt. Even if you specialize in either writing or visual art, it will benefit you to know both.
Query the Big Dogs – Especially if you’re just starting out – or, ideally, if you have one or two jobs under your belt – it is advantageous to work with a successful design company in order to learn from seasoned pros and to gain access to serious clients and ambitious projects. Successful companies with a significant advertising budget understand the benefits of working with a graphic design studio that’s been around the block; even you have ambitions to open your own studio, you must accrue experience with an established one, young grasshopper.
Balancing Personal Work with Commercial Work
There is a grand fallacy that most young artists would do well to dispel, that creating art is a sacred, personal experience that is not to be tainted by commerce. As Steven Pressfield points out in The War of Art, however, it is actually healthy to have boundaries between your work and your personal life. Knowing how to clock out at the end of the day without bringing your work home is a crucial skill, and bringing the discipline of a nine to five job to your passion project also has its benefits.
Coming up through the ranks of professional design studios is the best way to secure a steady income, and it doesn’t mean compromising your art, unless you’re assigned a client you find morally reprehensible, of course. Artists like Adrian Tominé make a living crafting awesome magazine covers and slowly chipping away at intimate, inspirational art. Making a living as an artist in this day and age is a huge challenge, but if you keep an open mind, it’s by no means impossible.