Fine Artist

The Job and What's Involved

Fine artists create original work such as drawings, paintings, engravings, photographs, carvings, sculptures, linocuts, lithographs, screenprints, and computer-aided digital graphics.

Since there are separate job guides for Engraver, Graphic Designer, Photographer and Sculptor, this article will focus on fine artists who produce two-dimensional images by hand.

Most artists specialise in a particular subject: abstracts, portraits or landscapes, for example. Fine artists may create works out of their own imagination, to express their own ideas or their own response to experience. They may then seek out a buyer for the work. Artists with an established reputation are sometimes commissioned (hired in advance at a fee) to produce a piece of work to a required theme.

Creating works of art may involve any of the following:

  • Working with a range of materials including oil paints, acrylics, watercolours, charcoal, pastels, pencils or ink.
  • Stretching a canvas across a frame and setting it up on an easel, or applying art materials to other bases such as fabric or metal.
  • Painting a portrait and producing a recognisable resemblance to the subject, while also highlighting some of the inner character.
  • Painting a portrait or life drawing over several sessions while the sitter takes up the same pose.
  • Painting a portrait from a photograph or from memory.
  • Drawing ten-minute likenesses or caricatures of passers-by in the street.
  • Setting up an easel and seat on location and painting a street scene.
  • Producing an abstract work.
  • Painting an interior or exterior mural, perhaps having to balance on scaffolding.

Promoting and selling works of art may involve:

  • Displaying them on a personal website or in online galleries on the internet.
  • Taking digital images or slides of the artworks and submitting them to galleries at home or abroad.
  • Networking: making initial contact with gallery owners, agents and dealers.
  • Keeping up the contacts through attending private views and exhibitions, or by joining artists' groups.
  • Carrying a selection of work - some of which might be large and unwieldy - in a portfolio around exhibitions, galleries and shops.

Other ways of earning money from fine art include:

  • Taking up a 'residency', running workshops and classes for a fixed period in a school, hospital, day centre or prison.
  • Running local projects or art festivals.
  • Teaching adults or children privately or through community learning.

Salaries for artists vary widely as sales depend on contacts, current tastes in the art world, and the quality of work.

Most artists are self-employed and therefore set their own hours of work. They often put in long hours, including weekends and evenings, to complete a commission or build a portfolio.

Artists with a residency usually work regular hours during the teaching part of their week. Sometimes they run evening or weekend workshops.

They may work from home or in a studio, which they own or rent either alone or with a group of artists. Purpose-built studios are usually light and airy.

Some artists may work outdoors - for example, when producing landscapes or murals.

Some specialised work may involve climbing on scaffolding and working from heights.

Artists regularly travel to attend arts events either in the UK or abroad.

It is difficult to give an average salary for a fine artist as there is so much variation. The online Artist's Fees Toolkit guide on the Artists Information Company website gives ways to decide rates to charge.

Only a few well-established artists support themselves financially from their art work alone. Most artists supplement their income from related jobs.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are few vacancies for artists. Most artists continually network to market their work on a piece-by-piece basis.

The Crafts Council established the Next Move scheme, funded by NESTA, to provide recent graduates with the space to work, funds for materials, and careers advice from people established in their field. Such schemes can provide a fast-track start to artists' careers, launching them into art and craft markets and awards.

Once established, they may get commissions from organisations or even from individuals. In smaller towns, shops specialising in arts and crafts or restaurants may agree to exhibit smaller pieces for sale.

Few artists manage to entirely support themselves by selling their work. Most take on other work as art teachers, illustrators, gallery workers, arts journalists, and creative consultants.

Education and Training

Although freelance artists do not need formal training, in practice most have a qualification such as a degree or HND in art and design or fine art. These are offered across the UK in universities and art colleges.

Art courses are for people creating objects whose main function is their aesthetic appeal. Design courses are for people creating objects with both practical use and aesthetic appeal. Design courses usually have some technical content.

Some colleges or universities may offer places to applicants without formal qualifications, but with a good portfolio. However, most courses require five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3). In many cases, A levels/H grades are needed. In all cases, the applicant must also offer a strong, varied portfolio of work.

Courses include:

  • BTEC national awards - entry is with four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3).
  • SQA national certificate awards.
  • A BTEC/SQA national diploma - entry is usually with four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3).
  • A range of degree courses in fine art. In England and Wales entrants often need a foundation course and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent qualifications.
  • In Scotland, degrees may last four years, and there is no foundation course. The first year is usually common and then students choose a specialism. Entrants need five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) and two or three A levels/three H grades, or equivalent qualifications. Some students may be accepted onto a degree course with a BTEC/SQA national certificate.

Postgraduate courses in fine art are also widely available.

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Training usually means gaining experience and developing new styles, perhaps with the help of a mentor (a more established artist).

Arts organisations run schemes to pair artists with mentors.

There are also postgraduate courses in various specialisms.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Artists need to have:

  • Creativity and plenty of new ideas.
  • Self-motivation to complete work on time.
  • An understanding of form, colour and media.
  • The ability to work from instructions.
  • Belief in their own work.
  • Good communication skills.
  • A good head for business.
  • The ability to accept criticism and rejection of their work.

Your Long Term Prospects

There is no recognised career path. Success depends on sales and therefore on an artist's reputation with curators, gallery owners or collectors. With the establishment of a reputation, there are more likely to be commissions and residencies.

The residencies offered by public bodies usually run for two or three years. They require the artists to carry out some kind of part-time teaching in exchange for a salary and, perhaps, studio space to carry on their own projects. Residencies can be based either in the UK or abroad.

Get Further Information

The Arts Council of England,
14 Great Peter Street, London SW1P 3NQ
Tel: 0845 300 6200
Website: www.artscouncil.org.uk

Arts Council of Wales,
9 Museum Place, Cardiff CF10 3NX
Tel: 029 2037 6500
Website: www.artswales.org

The Artists Information Company (a-n), First Floor,
7-15 Pink Lane, Newcastle Upon Tyne NE1 5DW
Tel: 0191 241 8000
Website: www.a-n.co.uk

Arts Council of Northern Ireland,
77 Malone Road, Belfast BT9 6AQ
Tel: 028 9038 5200
Website: www.artscouncil-ni.org

The Association of Illustrators (AOI),
2nd Floor, Back Building, 150 Curtain Road,
London EC2A 3AR
Tel: 020 7613 4328
Website: www.theaoi.com

The Crafts Council, 44a Pentonville Road,
Islington, London N1 9BY
Tel: 020 7278 7700
Website: www.craftscouncil.org.uk

Creative and Cultural Skills, 4th Floor,
Lafone House, The Leathermarket,
Weston Street, London SE1 3HN
Tel: 020 7015 1847
Website: www.creative-choices.co.uk

Creative People,
PO Box 2677, Caterham CR3 6WJ
Tel: 01883 371112
Website: www.creativepeople.org.uk

National Society for Education in Art and Design (NSEAD),
The Gatehouse, Corsham Court, Corsham, Wiltshire SN13 0BZ
Tel: 01249 714825
Website: www.nsead.org

NESTA, Fishmongers' Chambers,
1 Plough Place, London, EC4A 1DE
Tel: 020 7438 2500
Website: www.nesta.org.uk

The Open College of the Arts,
Registration Department, OCA, Freepost SF10678
Tel: 0800 731 2116
Website: www.oca-uk.com

The Scottish Arts Council,
12 Manor Place, Edinburgh EH3 7DD
Tel: 0131 226 6051
Website: www.scottisharts.org.uk

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