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Fine Artist

Fine artists use visual expression to convey ideas, thoughts and feelings. They create original works of art, such as drawings, paintings, etchings, photographs, sculptures, linocuts, lithographs, screenprints, and computer-aided digital graphics. Artists often experiment with different art forms and techniques, and may work in two or three dimensions.

As well as experimenting and creating their own recognisable style of work, artists may also:

  • research topics and create a series of related works for exhibition
  • accept fee-paid commissions, which involves creating a piece of art to a specific brief
  • sell and promote their work through galleries, craft exhibitions, shops, markets and fairs and sometimes through an agent or dealer
  • display their work on their own website and online art galleries
  • apply for work on community projects that enable them to pass on art skills to others.

Other ways of earning money may include setting up local projects or art festivals, and teaching adults or children within community learning, further or higher education.

Networking with other artists and gallery curators and promoting their work is a crucial part of a fine artist's working life.

Most artists are self-employed and set their own working hours. They often work at weekends and during the evenings. Artists' residencies may consist of a few days of intensive workshops or longer periods, sometimes lasting several weeks or months. Relocation for the duration of a residency may be required. Although some artists rent a studio space, many work from home. They may work outdoors at times.

Income levels for fine artists vary enormously. Sample rates, excluding overheads, suggested by a-n The Artists Information Company amount to around £22,900 a year for new graduate artists, potentially reaching £37,000 a year with ten years' experience.

Artists need to have:

  • creativity and plenty of new ideas
  • self-motivation and commitment
  • technical understanding of form, colour and media
  • ability to express their ideas visually and write about their work.

Career development and gaining work involves constant networking to market their work and create new opportunities. It is a highly competitive field, with many more artists than there are formal exhibiting places or commissions.

Although freelance artists do not need formal training, in practice most have a qualification such as a HND, foundation degree or degree in art and design or fine art. These are offered across the UK in universities and art colleges. Some colleges or universities may offer places to applicants who lack formal qualifications but possess a good portfolio. Fine art graduates often progress to studying at postgraduate level, completing a Masters degree or Masters of Fine Arts (MFA).

Developing creative and organisational skills is a vital part of an artist's professional development. Although competition is fierce, scholarships, awards and bursaries can provide valuable research, studio time, networking and career development opportunities. Some academic scholarships and residencies are available overseas.

There is no structured career path. Success depends on an artist's reputation with curators, gallery directors, collectors, commissioners, critics and other artists. After group exhibitions, fine artists often seek to secure solo shows.

What is the work like?

Fine artists use visual expression to convey ideas, thoughts and feelings. They create original works of art, such as drawings, paintings, etchings, photographs, sculptures, linocuts, lithographs, screenprints, and computer-aided digital graphics.

Artists will often experiment with different art forms and techniques, and may work in two or three dimensions. Some work conceptually, creating installations or events that convey social or political ideas.

Fine artists may:

  • experiment and create their own recognisable style of work
  • research topics and create a series of related works for an exhibition
  • be offered a fee-paid commission, which involves creating a piece of art to a specific brief, usually from an organisation
  • sell and promote their work through galleries, craft exhibitions, shops, markets and fairs and sometimes through an agent or dealer
  • display their work on their own website and online art galleries
  • apply for work on community projects that enable them to pass on art skills to others.

Networking plays a huge part in developing an artist's career. Fine artists often spend a great deal of time in contact with other artists and gallery curators, promoting their work. They usually keep in touch with the art world and other artists by attending private viewings of exhibitions and through artists' networks.

Artists generally make a living through undertaking a range of activities. These may include:

  • setting up local projects or art festivals
  • teaching adults or children within community learning, further or higher education
  • undertaking residencies in schools, hospitals and community centres
  • working in a gallery, arts centre or art supply shop
  • developing ideas and bidding for funds to undertake their own projects in the UK and internationally.

Artists generally apply for grants and awards, or enter open competitions where prizes are offered, in order to cover the costs of researching new work or trying new media and materials.

Hours and environment

Most artists are self-employed, and set their own working hours which may include evenings and weekends. It is usual to work on several projects at a time.

Artists' residencies may consist of a few days of intensive workshops or longer periods of work, sometimes lasting several weeks or months. Artists may have to relocate during a residency.

Although some artists will rent studio space by themselves or with other artists, many work from home. Some artists work outdoors, for example when producing landscapes or murals. Specialised work may involve climbing on scaffolding and working from heights to install large-scale art work.

Artists regularly travel to attend arts events, art fairs and exhibitions in the UK and abroad.

Salary and other benefits

Due to the freelance nature of the work, income levels for fine artists vary enormously. The free online artist's fees toolkit, available at www.a-n.co.uk/toolkits provides a calculator for artists to work out their potential overhead costs and the amount they may be able to charge for their time. The following figures are only a guide, and are based on sample rates that exclude overheads.

  • New graduate artists may earn around £22,900 a year.
  • Artists with three years' experience may earn around £28,000 a year.
  • Experienced artists with over ten years experience may earn around £37,000 a year.

Only a few well-established artists support themselves financially from sales of their art alone. Most draw their income from a range of art-related jobs.

Skills and personal qualities

Fine artists need:

  • creativity and plenty of new ideas
  • commitment and self-determination
  • good verbal and visual communication skills
  • technical ability, understanding form, colour and media
  • good administrative, time management and project management skills
  • ability to express their ideas both visually and verbally, and write about their work
  • confidence and belief in their work
  • good research skills
  • to enjoy working both independently and alongside other artists
  • a willingness to work long, sometimes unsociable hours to further their career
  • a good head for business and marketing
  • to accept and respect feedback about their work, both positive and negative.

Interests

It helps to be interested in:

  • current trends in art
  • the role artists can play in society and in the community
  • building their professional networks as part of continuous professional development (CPD).

Getting in

As most artists are self-employed, career development involves constant networking to market their work and create new opportunities. It is a highly competitive field, with many more artists than there are formal exhibiting places or commissions.

Those wishing to work as professional fine artists need to bring their art to the attention of the right people. Many begin by starting a group or joining a network to create an exhibition or open studio event, or submit their art to group exhibitions.

There are many organisations that provide useful information for aspiring and practising artists. These including Artquest (www.artquest.org.uk) and a-n The Artists Information Company (www.a-n.co.uk) which provide information on awards, grants, prizes, residencies, exhibitions and international opportunities, alongside practical and self-promotion guides. Another useful resource, www.apd-network.info provides links to organisations across the UK that can advise and support artists.

Established artists may be taken on by an agent or dealer, who will market their work to potential buyers in return for commission from any works sold.

Few artists will support themselves totally by selling their work. It is usual to get involved with related work such as art teaching, gallery work, arts administration, illustration, web design and other creative consultancy.

Entry routes

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

Many fine art degree courses will expect applicants to have completed a one-year art foundation course such as a BTEC Foundation Diploma in art and design. Applicants to a foundation course will usually need at least one of the following:

  • a BTEC National Diploma in an appropriate subject
  • one A level in an appropriate subject and three GCSEs (A*-C) or equivalent.

The Diploma in creative and media may be relevant to this area of work.

Students with alternative experience or qualifications may gain accreditation for prior learning. Some colleges or universities may offer places to applicants without formal qualifications, but with a strong, varied portfolio of work. Most organisations will interview candidates as part of the selection process.

At degree level, it is possible for fine artists to study a combined honours degree programme that links art to humanities or another creative field. Subjects often studied in conjunction with art include performance, history of art, arts administration, and education and community studies.

Fine art graduates often progress to studying at postgraduate level, completing a Masters degree or Masters of Fine Arts (MFA). Artists wishing to work as lecturers in university art departments often study towards a PhD.

Fine artists working with children or vulnerable adults would need to undergo checks through the Criminal Records Bureau.

Training

Developing creative and organisational skills is a vital part of an artist's professional development. Although competition is fierce, scholarships, awards and bursaries can provide valuable research, studio time, networking and career development opportunities. Some academic scholarships and residencies are available overseas, linked to UK based art institutions. At the end of residencies, artists may hold an exhibition.

a-n The Artists Information Company often advertises academic and other professional development opportunities, including awards and bursaries. This information is also circulated informally through word of mouth, and the social and professional networks used by artists.

Some creative industries and arts organisations run schemes to pair artists with mentors. Artists need to constantly grow and develop their critical and artistic skills. Self-awareness and the ability to develop good relationships with other artists, curators, gallery directors and agents is an essential part of this process.

Getting on

There is no structured career path for artists. Success depends on an artist's reputation with curators, gallery directors, collectors, commissioners, critics and other artists. After group exhibitions, fine artists often seek to secure solo shows. This may bring about sales, commissions and other paid opportunities.

Within ten years of graduating, a successful artist may have his or her own studio. They may be represented by a gallery or be invited to undertake commissions or community projects. Artists represented by an agent or dealer may have their work presented at UK and international art fairs.

Further information

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

APD network. Website: www.apd-network.info

Artquest, University of the Arts London, 65 Davies Street, London W1K 5DA. Website: www.artquest.org.uk

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

Creativity, Culture & Education, Great North House, Sandyford Road, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 8ND. 0844 811 2145. Website: www.creativitycultureeducation.org

Creative & Cultural Skills, Lafone House, The Leathermarket, Weston Street, London SE1 3HN. 020 7015 1800. Website: http://www.creative-choices.co.uk/industry-insight/inside/visual-arts

Creative Partnerships. Website: www.creative-partnerships.com

Shape (disability arts), Deane House Studios, 27 Greenwood Place, London NW5 1LB. 0845 521 3457. Minicom: 020 7424 7368. Website: www.shapearts.org.uk

 Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

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