How do you get into art school

How do you become a professional artist?


The first question to be answered is whether you want to work as a freelance artist or as an employee.


There are many ways to make a living as an artist, with many being employed in some industries and typically non-corporate (i.e. freelance) in others. Here are some industries.




Those who design advertising usually work for an advertising agency and are responsible for creating visual materials for marketing campaigns. It's a fairly structured job where creativity is guided through existing work processes and management structures.



Animation designers became famous in the last century when the Disney and Hanna-Barbera studios began creating their cartoons and films. Back then they drew and painted every single image of an animated scene on transparencies, which were then recorded on film.


These days animation software makes life a lot easier, but the work is no less exciting. There are more types of publishing than there used to be, including web animation and video games, and therefore more job opportunities. A degree in computer animation, graphic design, or the fine arts is often required.



Comic artists write stories, traditionally for print media or online for webcomics. Although this industry is dominated by major publishers like Marvel and DC, there are plenty of free internet hosting services for independent cartoonists to grow their fan base and build careers.


As an example of a draftsman, Kim Jung Gi can be mentioned here - a South Korean artist (born in 1975 in the city of Goyang-Si) who today has a large fan base. At the age of 19, the budding artist enrolled at a school for fine arts with a focus on art and design.



We all know what an architect does for a living, but the work of an architecture designer is less well known. You create project layouts, plans and drawings, often using what is known as "CAD" software. Most countries require at least a bachelor's degree in architecture, civil engineering or technical drawing.



Layout / graphic design

Graphic designers work in a variety of professions. You are either employed by an advertising agency or work for several clients as a freelance designer, as is the case with the "Fortune 500" companies with large internal marketing departments. Layouters usually design the layout of brochures, annual reports and books and can also be used independently or as a freelancer.


Visual arts

Visual artists mostly work as freelancers to create original art. Many successful artists are self-taught and specialize in a certain type of art such as sculpture, painting, or photography. In the past, painters studied for many years as apprentices with a master. (Just think of Caravaggio or Rubens). With a degree as a visual artist, you have learned not only about painting or drawing, but also about art history, philosophy, and so on. Salaries range from pennies to a few million dollars a year.


Keep in mind, however, that it takes between 10 and 20 years to earn a living selling your art in large galleries.



Many illustrators also often work freelance. They illustrate books, magazines, greeting cards, etc. As with a visual artist, a degree is not required, but many professional illustrators have at least a bachelor's degree in illustration or visual arts.


Heikala, for example, is an illustrator based in Finland. She mainly works with ink and watercolors. On her website, she sells products from prints and books to clothing and accessories.


Video games / film

The digital and film production sector is another industry that employs artists. As films increasingly depend on VFX (visual special effects) and the convergence of the video game and film industries, game designers and concept artists are in great demand. Here you have to decide whether you want to work in pre- or post-processing.




The fashion industry has many types of jobs for creatives and artists. In large companies, you usually start as an assistant to a designer and in the best case scenario you end up as a chief designer or director (like Karl Lagerfeld, for example). Other jobs in this industry are fashion illustrators and pattern tailors. Some art schools offer a Masters in Fashion so you could eventually run your own fashion house.


Improve your own skills

For visual artists, a studio is a great way to improve their skills undisturbed. A studio allows you to concentrate on your artistic skills or exhibit your art in a quiet environment.


Furthermore, aspiring fashion designers and illustrators should consider an international internship. Some of the leading companies like The Intern Group and Global Experiences offer programs around the world for all phases of an academic or professional career. They offer to connect you to an organization that matches your profile, organize accommodation and provide 24/7 support throughout your program.


Existing careers include fashion design, art, publishing, film and television, visual arts, graphic design, and more. Note, however, that such an internship can get expensive - you pay a fee to potentially work for free, and employment isn't guaranteed in the end. But many people see added value.


There are also internships for game designers and concept artists. Studios like Epic Games, for example, regularly offer internships.


Challenges before your art earns you a decent income

The first challenge is to develop a business strategy. Most strategies are based on a three-step model: 1. First, identify an unsaturated market. 2. Develop a product for this market. 3. Make this product available and make the market want this product.


For example, a niche for a concept artist could be “VR” (Virtual Reality - the niche is about Liz Edwards). This product has the extraordinary ability to adapt to given storylines and at the same time to reposition itself in the market with significant influence.


For an illustrator like Kate Rowland, the niche was an easily recognizable design based on a TV show. The product is bespoke jewelry and is offered on its own website and Etsy shop.


But even if you specialize, the economic climate and the law of supply and demand will still determine whether you will find work quickly and easily or whether you will be successful.


The price rises when the demand grows and the supply stays the same.


It is even more difficult if you are a visual artist, although it helps if you are sponsored by your art school or "discovered" by an important art collector.


The reason for this is that freelance careers are financially unstable. This includes - if at all - low income for long periods of time, no secure job, and a small chance of putting some money aside for retirement each month, and so on.


For example, many freelance graphic designers complain about companies that do nothing but earn a reputation and make a name for themselves. In the advertising industry, it's not uncommon for companies to agree on a fixed price for a particular project, but keep asking them for some "quick fix" without paying more for the extra work. It is therefore a necessity to have your terms and conditions drawn up by a lawyer or agent.


Artists who do not have financial support from wealthy parents or benefactors must have some kind of job to survive. In the age of social media, however, artists have an additional resource to fall back on: the general public online.


Start your own business

Websites like Patreon give you the opportunity to encourage people you've never met in flesh and blood to continuously sponsor you with a small amount of money, and to subscribe to your work, so to speak. Platforms such as Etsy and Behance support the sale of your art online and enable a direct offer to interested buyers.


There are also many art galleries online, some of which will criticize your work first. They sell your artwork just like a real gallery would.


Singulart, Artpal, Displate (sells art printed on metal plates), Artfinder, Azucar (curated art only), Saatchi, Society6 and, Shairart (curated art only) and ArtPlease are some of the most important.


Promote your art on social media

In order for a social media platform to work for an artist, you need people who are willing to make you better known, such as B. Family members and friends who are interested in what you are creating through their connections with other people.


On LinkedIn® you have several channels through which you can connect with potential employers and customers.



First, you need to build your credibility through referrals, which are an easy way to get third-party validation. Most people trust reviews and recommendations posted online by strangers, just like recommendations from people around them. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that collecting endorsements and recommendations will get prospects to work with you. From my own experience, I would say that LinkedIn® is not very helpful if you are interested in something other than an employee.


If you don't mind that Facebook uses your personal data and information for marketing purposes, the platform can support you on your way to success. Facebook even has its own marketplace right now, so you could even try selling art through this channel.


Note, however, that the company is primarily interested in increasing its profit margins and is doing everything in its power to achieve its goals - possibly through unethical means.


Any type of digital artist and freelance illustrator is likely to find Twitter, Instagram, and other social media great for building a fan base. Turning this fan base into a source of income requires even more “business” work, such as sending out regular newsletters with MailChimp (a service that allows you to keep track of your reach), constantly updating the mailing list and sending direct messages to them dedicated fans on Twitter, regularly inviting fans to workshops, etc.


ArtStation offers a marketplace, job exchange and portfolio functions for concept and 3D artists.


Often overlooked opportunities to market your art

Another platform that you should check out is YouTube. Creating a video of you painting or drawing while explaining how you will get certain results can help you demonstrate your knowledge and skills. However, you have to be a bit of a storyteller to be successful.




Other marketing channels include your social media profile, your portfolio, your “work with me” page with the most important information about you and your email signature.


It is also worth using Quora. (Answering all kinds of queries highlights your skills and knowledge, just like a YouTube presentation.)

And don't forget to network so you can enjoy the word of mouth too.


How it works for most

Some visual artists probably dream of becoming as famous as the contemporary painter Luc Tuymans (Tate Modern), or as important to illustrators as graphic designer Michael Bierut or Kate Moross. While Tuymans is one of the most influential painters of the moment, Bierut, who has won hundreds of design awards, has been a partner at Pentagram, one of the world's best-known design agencies, for 28 years. Kate Moross is an art director, illustrator, and graphic designer whose work ranges from artistic direction to moving images to typography and illustration (according to her biography). In 2012, Moross founded Studio Moross, a multi-faceted design agency based in London whose most recent work, at the time of this writing, is for the Spice Girls Spice World Tour 2019.


Moross has received several awards, as has Bierut, who graduated summa cum laude from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning. Tuymans' career begins with art schools in Belgium and the Netherlands, a degree in art history and much more.


However, this does not always apply to all. People like Bierut, Tuymans, and Moross may be considered pioneers for those starting out in art school. But you shouldn't feel bad if you're still having trouble paying bills many years after graduation! That doesn't mean your artwork has no value.


Rubens may have been wealthy, but he wasn't just a painter either. Between 1627 and 1630 he had an active diplomatic career. Closer to our times today is perhaps the most famous concept artist at the moment, Feng Zhu, who began working on computer and PS1 games in the nineties and who now runs his own concept art school in Singapore.



About Erik Vlietinck

Erik Vlietinck became an independent writer and editor 30 years ago creating high quality content in both English and Dutch. He is familiar with industrial print, video and audio production on the Mac platform, as well as graphic design, digital publishing, color management and much more. As a journalist and reviewer, Erik has contributed to a number of publications in the US and UK while serving as a technical copywriter for Fortune 500 companies and SMBs worldwide. He is an avid amateur pencil drawing and painting with acrylic paints and has had some of his works of art exhibited in his hometown Antwerp.