How did You get Your Start as an Artist?

A young printmaker recently talked about her experience in art school compared to the “real world” after graduation.




“Even though I attended a top ten art school, I felt shortchanged,” she said. “They taught me how to make art, and that was it. It’s almost as if they simply wished me good luck when I left. I didn’t have a clue who would buy my artwork, or where to sell it.”

She ended up applying to gallery exhibitions because it seemed to make sense, and she lived in a city where opportunities and venues were available. Her work was well-received, and she won two cash awards and sold a couple of prints during the three exhibitions she participated in. But, that was the end of her sales.

“You can’t make a living entering art exhibitions,” she said. “I took a business class at a community college during my art school years, and it helped, but it was very basic. The most helpful experience that I had was getting an internship at a small art press. That was eye-opening.”

That was where she learned how the press worked on an everyday basis, and how they managed their budget. She was part of a team that worked together to earn a living through creating and selling art. Today, she has started her own small business, a very different one than she originally imagined. But she has found her own way.

Every artist has their own journey, experiences, mentors and mistakes made along the way. For some, the chance to be a full-time artist never materializes, and they end up in another field to make a living. For others, a fortuitous meeting or a good network of connections helped to pave the way.


How did you get your start? What was that first encouraging step that helped you make the commitment to pursue making art and selling your work?


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  1. A friend of mine who was a professional artist for many years told me that I my art was good enough to sell. With her encouragement I showed my art at the Art Students League of Denver show which was, back in the day, a show set up for newbies. I sold 13 pieces. My friend was right; my art was good enough to sell.

  2. I loved this post! When I graduated from art school there was no formal business training, although I know this has changed recently. When I moved from Cleveland to NYC, my only instinct was to “hit the pavement” with my work. Walking into a gallery or store with my work I could tell immediately whether or not my work “was a fit”. This was the old fashioned way…back in the day you could contact editors and stylists directly, now it is a complicated path for direct contact. Making contacts is key. Encouragement from mentors, family and friends is imperative. Keeping on keeping on is the way to EXPOSURE!

  3. I’ve always dreamed of being either an artist or a writer since I was a little girl. Loved writing stories, drawing and painting. As a teenager I would ask my Mom if I could have some of her costume jewelry and with wire cutters, pliers and different colored electrical wire (‘borrowed” from Dad), I would fashion rings and bracelets that I wore throughout highschool.

    Then attended a fantastic art school (a/k/a liberal arts college) called Columbia College Chicago and stumbled into a jewelry making class with sheet cutters, acetylene torches, etc. That’s were my writing dream morphed into my jewelry artist dream.

    Early on, I never had the confidence to sell my jewelry. Gave pieces to my Mom, friends, and wore them myself. Basically shy and quiet, I stayed in the background but still worked at the craft and took classes at Lill Street Studios and even had a stint at SIUC in their awesome studio arts MFA program, taking metalsmithing and fiber art classes. Fiber arts is where I learned about color and color theory.

    Now, 10+ years later and after many years have passed confidence has slowly entered my bloodstream and now, making jewelry and selling online is getting me out there.

    Still learning about marketing, selling and stepping out of comfort zone, but am happy and dreaming about the possibility that maybe (still alittle scared) of being my own employer one day.

    Thanks for reading.

  4. I first sold my handmade things in about 7th or 8th grade. I started doing craft fairs when I was in high school and, after buying my first car, I was able to go to bigger and better (and farther away) craft fairs. I started out making dolls & stuffed animals in high school, got into weaving baskets in 1982 and did that for about 7 or 8 years before moving on to primitive schoolgirl samplers for 6 or 7 years and then back to sewing. I currently sell on Etsy, Etsy Wholesale, various selling groups on Facebook, and at the occasional craft fair.

  5. When I left university I was 37 and I did not have anyone to encourage me and I suffered from very low self esteEm when it came to selling my work. I still suffer from that occasionally today. Eight years after graduation I forced myself to find my business opportunity and two years later I have a few customers and I am growing the customer list by reaching out to businesses in my local area.

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