Detail from Tara Will, Sedona Roots, 16×20, pastel.
There are lots of roads to becoming a professional artist and very few signs to follow. However, if we had to pick three starting points, they’d be the following (in no particular order).
1. Make exceptional work and do not shrink from showing it to the world. Okay, this isn’t really step 1, but it is the essential foundation for the practical 3 steps that follow. Work harder than anyone else in the room. Make a lot of work and only show your best. Remember that, to your viewers, you are only as good as the worst painting they see. That means you need to make a lot of paintings before you have enough really good ones for a decent body of work. A body of work consists of 20-30 or more paintings, preferably consistent with each other and in a style identifiable as yours.
- Have a solid, up-to-date, dedicated artist website that at the very least shows your work and contains a bio and contact information. Hire a pro. Or look into the many companies that provide ready-to-go web designs (and marketing plans too) for artists. FASO is the most popular, they keep getting better, and their website is full of helpful advice and programs for on-the-verge pros and newbies.
- Pick a social media platform, hold your nose, and work it, baby. Everyone says you have to use social media to promote your work, you know they’re right, but how? The “social media landscape” may seem less overwhelming if you realize that you don’t have to use know and use all of them, just one or two. Do a little research and decide what social media platform (Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc) feels the most comfortable to you, learn how to use it, and use it consistently. Post every new work you finish, post updates on this or that – post several times a week if you can swing it. (BTW, the secret key to gaining followers at first is liking and posting on other peoples’ pages.)
- Take every local opportunity you can find to show your work in person – not just stores and galleries online, though that’s great too. Show IRL (in real life). Join your local artist association, make connections with other artists, ask them for advice, and enter the association’s shows. Reach out to all kinds of places and just ask if you can display your art – your local library is a great place to start. Church basements, cafes, retail stores, restaurants, public parks, craft fairs, and festivals are all good places to display your art and get noticed. Doing so gives you more to post about on your chosen social media channel, too. Once you start getting invitations to show your work, take them. Consider nothing “beneath you” or not worth your time because you don’t think it will make you enough money – you never know who will see it or what connections will eventually lead to a sale. I have never regretted showing my work anywhere or donating to charity auctions or even just giving it away to people I like.
Tara Will’s pastel, Tucked Away (Zion), is a riot of vibrant color and mark making.