How to Become a Successful Artist – The Five Year Plan

Published Sep. 28th 2010


Last year when I seriously began pursuing my artistic career, I started building up my art portfolio with consistent, quality artwork.

At the time, I had the mistaken mindset that if you do good work, others will come to you. When that didn’t work, I quickly realized there was something else I should be doing, but I didn’t know what.

Desperate for answers, I typed “how to become a successful artist” into Google and read every article on the first two results pages. Much of the advice was how to improve your techniques, and nothing to do with the business of art. . . but at the end of one of the articles a comment by Corey Michael Blake caught my eye.

I liked the comment so much that I emailed him with some questions about the next steps I should take. He gave me an excellent five year plan, which I’ll paraphrase:

Year 1: Create comprehensive marketing materials

Your marketing materials should include a website that looks and feels like you (and your art), business cards, letterhead, brochures, everything. All of it should match and look beautiful, with words that emotionally inspire people to want to hire you or buy from you.

Probable investment? $5,000. Yes, it’s a lot. . . but find a way to save up, because it’s an investment in yourself, and it will pay off down the road.

After all, if your website feels like a hobbyist site it doesn’t matter how good of an artist you are. No one wants to hire a hobbyist, at least not for legitimate wages.

Year 2: Build relationships

Jump into social networking, start putting together a database of contacts, and have in-person meetings with potential buyers.

You should also begin showing people the marketing materials you created, and start a regular email newsletter to keep your fan base up-to-date on your latest projects.

Years 3 and 4: Switch to a part time job

Or just back off from your regular job a little bit and do more on the art side of things whenever you can. The first two years are investing years—years 3 and 4 are the years when you build up your art business until it can support you.

Year 5: Quit your day job and work on art full time

Sounds good, right? Well, you’ll only get to year 5 if you start at the beginning.

Building a website and creating professional marketing materials is imperative because it tells people you’re serious. That’s why you HAVE to do it first.

With Corey’s five year plan ringing in my ears, I set off to work. I ordered my business cards and letterhead. I hired a professional photographer to take pictures of my art. I had a website designed.

I did everything as cheaply as I could but still had to dip in to my savings a bit. Did it cost me a lot of money? You bet your hat it did. But was it worth it? Undoubtedly.

I feel good about handing out my business cards and sending people to my website. I feel good about typing up a professional cover letter on my beautiful letterhead when I send my art out for review. I know that these materials are a reflection of the care and quality that go into my work.

The lesson I’ve learned in creating these materials is that if I want my art to be a thriving business, I need to treat it like a business. I need to invest in myself; I need to market myself.

There is no shame in being a hobbyist, but if you really want to become a successful artist, you have to be an entrepreneur as well—and THAT means putting your money where your mouth is.

To learn more about Rachel, and to see her art, please visit RachelRolseth.com.

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