by Joelle Steele

Whether you are successful in your creative career has a lot to do with how you manage it. Here are a few tips that might help you along the way.

1. Create every day. If you want to be a professional artist, illustrator, sculptor, or whatever, you have to pursue your craft daily. It has to be an integral part of your life. This means you have to make room for it somewhere, somehow, every day, even if it is only for a measly little half-hour. Don't just talk about creating a painting; do it! Never leave home without a sketchbook and a pen or pencil. Make brief sketches, designs, or even just notes on colors or shapes or subject matter to flesh out an idea for a future work. You become more proficient through practice. Keep a file of ideas that you can review periodically to see if you get any new inspiration from them. Don't feel that you have to complete your project within the space of a single day. Sometimes you work on a few things simultaneously, or one or two might get pushed to the back burner for a few days or even a few months. Doesn't matter. Just work on whatever strikes your fancy at the moment — or whatever has a deadline attached to it if you're trying to do a show or finish a job for a client.

2. Expand your creativity. Take every opportunity you can to tackle a variety of interesting projects. Stretch your creative muscles by trying your hand at abstracts if you are normally a realist; take a stab at copper if you usually work in clay. With diversity comes more skill and proficiency, as well as the flexibility to tackle greater and more complex projects, and that is like an open invitation to more opportunities that will come your way and help you earn a living with your art.

3. Approach art like a business. That's exactly what it is. In the 21st century, when you become a freelance artist, you automatically join the ranks of the self-employed. Take a second job, if necessary, to pay for the basic tools of the trade: the best paints and other materials you can possibly afford, plus a computer, a printer, high-speed Internet and E-mail, and the necessary software to run it all. Find yourself a quiet place to work and always keep organized records and files. If you scan or photograph your work, be sure to back up the files onto CDs or an external hard drive on a weekly basis, if not more frequently.

4. Assemble a good reference library and use it. This is essential to any profession. You might want to start with books about basic color theory, art conservation, the use of hazardous materials, and then add books that pertain to your specific genre. My own library includes numerous books that I have collected over the years, many purchased second hand from used book stores, and I read and re-read them regularly and refer to them often. I also keep an extensive clippings file of photographs and artwork that I admire, and I look at it from time to time for reference as well as inspiration. You can keep a good library on your computer. Just keep it well-organized so you can find what you're looking for when the time comes.

5. Market your work. There's a saying that goes something like this: "If you don't advertise, it's like blinking in the dark; you'll know you're doing it but no one else will." It does no good to make great works of art that never see the light of day. That's for hobbyists, however gifted they might be. For professionals, you must market your work, let the right people know what you are creating. Who are the right people? Galleries, artist's agents, publishers, and art collectors — just to name a few. Write and call them, and don't give up. It can be very hard to match yourself up with just the right representative or just the right collector, but it will happen. Set aside time every month to do your marketing. Every business does, and it is the only way to ensure that you always have something in the works that can bring possible exposure to your work. Prepare to spend at least one-fifth of your work time marketing.

6. Read and learn. Read everything: books, magazines, poetry, and especially a daily newspaper. Some of the best information and greatest inspirations come from the pages of the morning paper. Learn what the latest trends are. Read articles and books about what you do and about how to do it better. Read about business and how to handle writing letters or talking to people on the phone. Take classes on art or any other topic that will help you as an artist. Study other things that interest you and try to become an expert in at least one other field. Your work will come alive with the diversity. Spend time online and at the library or local bookstores to see what's new in your field.

7. Surround yourself with positive, supportive people. Stay away from negative people; they will suck the very life out of you and keep you from achieving your dreams. Don't let anyone dump their negative attitudes about art or creativity or anything else on you. And don't listen to the naysayers of the world who tell you it's impossible to make a living as an artist. It isn't. If you hone your craft and diligently market your work, you will make a living at it. There's no "magic" required to be a professional in any field, just lots of old-fashioned perseverance and hard work.

8. Get your act together. Responsible adults make good professionals. Expect and accept criticism and learn from it. Meet all your deadlines. Return calls and answer E-mail promptly. Develop self-confidence and good people skills. Seek professional help for whatever you need, whether it's psychotherapy, bookkeeping, framing, or legal advice. Cut out the drugs and alcohol. Believe in yourself and in something greater than yourself. Do things. Participate. Meet people. Volunteer. Make a life for yourself and then go out and live it to the fullest. Your art will come alive as a result, and you deserve a great life, no matter what you choose to do for a living!

This article last updated: 08/03/2014.