How to become a freelance artist in 9 steps (plus skills)

Updated 14 November 2022

If you have a passion for art, consider turning your creativity into a career by working as a freelance artist. Working as a freelance artist is a unique career choice, and it's important to know what steps you can take to work in this role successfully. Knowing what your interests, strengths and future goals are can also help you decide if freelance work is the right choice for you. In this article, we review the steps to become a freelance artist, explain what a freelance artist is, where they work and the skills that are useful to them.

How to become a freelance artist

Follow these steps to find out how to become a freelance artist:

1. Develop a business model

If you want to make money from your art, it's important to identify how you plan to do it. A business model can be as simple as choosing how you want to make money from your art based on your talents and the type of work you want to do. For example, if your passion is photography, offering your services for events might be a great way to turn them into a source of income. Alternatively, if you're an illustrator, selling products you've made, like greetings cards, prints or personalised artwork, might be an effective business model.

2. Build your portfolio

If you want to be a freelance artist, it's vital to showcase your work properly through your portfolio. Your portfolio is a key sales tool because most potential clients look at it, so making a good impression really matters. Many freelance artists use their own websites or social media accounts to host their portfolios. Building an attractive website gives potential clients an understanding of who you are as an artist and is a great way to advertise and sell your work. Having a website also makes it easier for clients to contact you.

Also, working as a freelance artist means balancing business and creativity, so in addition to thinking about a business plan, it's important to continue producing creative work for sale. Monitoring this balance helps you to improve your creative skills but also lets you develop a portfolio that communicates your creative vision.

Related: How to make a digital portfolio and tips for success

3. Find your first clients

Look for contacts in your own network who might need your services or who might know other people who do. You can also look for freelance jobs from people looking for services like yours. For example, a client looking to commission a mural or portrait may contact you.

If you're selling items you've made, like greetings cards, online selling platforms can be a good way to get exposure to clients. There are platforms aimed specifically at artists and craftspeople that are likely to expose your work to people looking for art like yours. This can also help showcase your work and increase your customer base.

Related: How to build an e-commerce website (and the benefits)

4. Advertise your work

Advertising and marketing your work is important for reaching clients. Networking with other artists, either in your local area or more widely on social media, is another great way to promote your services. Your website is a fantastic advertising tool, but you can also post examples of your work on freelance art websites. Clients who are looking to commission freelance artists are likely to discover your work on sites like this.

Attending local markets or craft fairs is another way to promote your work. You can also use paid advertising online to promote your work in your target market. Paid advertising on social media sites can help to increase engagement and also allows you to target easily the type of customers you want to sell to. It's straightforward to track how successful these campaigns are so you can manage your spending.

Related: 10 social media tools to manage your social media presence

5. Be open-minded about opportunities

When you're in the early stages of your career as a freelance artist, it's important to stay open-minded about opportunities. The priority is to generate as much business as you can, so take on as many projects as possible. Being open-minded about opportunities and commissions is important, even if they're different from the type of work you'd ideally do. As you become more established in your career, you can be more selective about the types of opportunities you pursue.

Related: What is an art model? (With definition, steps and skills)

6. Focus on client satisfaction

As with many businesses, delivering client satisfaction is important for freelance artists. Paying attention to customer feedback is important, even if this differs from your opinions about your art. When your clients feel satisfied, they're more likely to give you repeat business in the future or recommend you to others. Clear communication with clients is a useful way of building relationships and ensuring that they're satisfied with the outcome of a project.

Related: How to get customer feedback with methods and tips

7. Develop your business skills

If your skills focus on creative work but you want to be a successful freelance artist, consider developing your business skills and knowledge. Finding a business coach or taking a course to improve your business skills can help you succeed in this area. It can also help you manage and sustain your business effectively.

8. Diversify your income streams

You can grow your career as a freelance artist by diversifying your income streams. Consider printing images of your art on products like mugs, clothing or other merchandise you can then sell online or at craft fairs and markets. You can also diversify in other ways, such as teaching your skills to others using educational or skills-sharing platforms. Much like your original business plan, think about strategies for diversifying that you'd enjoy and that help your business to grow.

Related: What are streams of revenue? (Types, benefits and examples)

9. Keep creating

Regardless of how you choose to make money from your art, it's essential that you keep on making art and being creative. Continually making new work means your skills stay up-to-date and you can maintain a portfolio that's full of recent examples of your work. If you're making items to sell, this also ensures that you have a full inventory of products to keep your business running.

Related: Small business marketing: effective strategies and plans

What is a freelance artist?

A freelance artist is a self-employed creative professional who sells their own art. This could be your full-time occupation, or it may be a part-time job you do alongside other paid work. Being a freelance artist offers you plenty of flexibility and freedom, but also requires real dedication, commitment and hard work. Besides being creative and producing artwork, understanding how to manage a business is essential to being successful as a freelancer. Work that freelance artists typically do includes:

  • photography, including for weddings and events

  • mural painting

  • commissioned portraits or other artworks

  • illustration

Related: Types of illustrators: what role fits your career goals?

Where do freelance artists work?

Many freelance artists rent studio space outside their homes in which to work. Alternatively, others use part of their home as a workspace. Sometimes these spaces are private, although some artists also use them to meet clients or visitors. Some artists, such as events photographers or mural painters, make their work outside the studio and therefore may travel to specific sites to work. For example, artists who travel for their work may also need their own workspace at home or in a studio, which may include a darkroom for photographers who process film.

To sell their work, freelance artists may go to places like art galleries, markets or craft fairs. Many freelance artists sell their work online on their own websites or via social media and dedicated selling platforms. If you decide to sell your work online only, it might be possible to manage your entire business from your studio space or from home.

Related: Freelance work: everything you need to know about freelancing

Useful skills for freelance artists

Besides having strong artistic abilities, there are various other skills and qualities that are useful to freelance artists. They benefit from having a good balance between creativity and business acumen. Determination and perseverance are also important qualities to have because it can be challenging to make a living as a freelance artist. Having patience and commitment to your vision whilst you're building your business is vital, too. Some of the skills that are essential for freelance artists include:

  • creative and artistic skills for producing artwork

  • creative thinking skills for developing and diversifying your business

  • advertising and marketing skills for promoting your work

  • customer service skills for ensuring customer satisfaction and repeat business

  • communication and interpersonal skills for building relationships and developing projects with clients

  • time management and organisational skills for running your business

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