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What Makes A Professional Artist Professional

Updated on September 22, 2020
PAINTDRIPS profile image

Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

Characterizations for a young adult book.
Characterizations for a young adult book. | Source

What Does Make a Professional a Professional?

It is a good question. For a doctor or dentist, it is opening their own clinic and having patients. For a small business, it is creating a storefront, either online or in reality, and having paying customers. For artists who work mostly alone and long hours, what does make you professional? I saw this question asked recently and many of my friends answered with a variety of answers.

No clay becomes a beautiful pot without going through some fire.

— Anonymous
Charcoal Portrait
Charcoal Portrait | Source

One Year Consistency

Vince: As a customer, a professional photographer is someone who has been consistently shooting over a year and have a good understanding of editing software. Also, have a business website/Facebook page with pricing and booking information for potential clientele.

For a visual artist, I would say you need more than a year of consistent practice. Often it takes a lifetime to hone those skills and talents to something a clientele would want to pay for. Sure, I know a lot of people with raw talent and can get some pretty significant gigs with it, but there is always a point at which that same talented person has to honestly say, “I don’t know how to do that, sorry.”

Musicians are the same way. I’ve seen so many talented musicians play by ear and even create original music that is phenomenal, but if they can’t write it down or read music, they are limited. That is where the background education comes in handy.

However, education costs money, and there is no guarantee that it will pay to get that education. How do you know if you will be able to make enough money with your new education plus raw talent to pay back the student loans you may rack up? The arts are so iffy when it comes to employment. Many people with business and other degrees have trouble finding better than cashier jobs or barista jobs, so it is doubly hard for artists. There is a lot of debate as to whether or not artists should even pursue higher education and although I have a master’s degree in illustration, I am standing in the middle of the road on the subject. On the one hand, I love the things I learned and the confidence it built in me. On the other hand, I may not live long enough to ever see the end of the exorbitant student loans I have to pay off. Still, I think that the education and the degree gives me a more professional air that the folks relying on raw talent alone.

We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.

— Maya Angelou
The Lesson, ink drawing
The Lesson, ink drawing | Source


Kevin: A big watermark. It has to be pure white and as huge as possible.

Does a watermark on art or photography make you look professional? I’m not so sure that is right. This guy is apparently impressed with watermarks. Most professionals hate using them but they have become a necessary evil obstruction. We mostly feel that it takes away from the art and keeps you from seeing what we are so proud of. The answer is not to post any original art on social media if we don’t want it stolen or use a watermark. I know I would prefer to make my watermark small and non-obstructive but then it defeats the purpose. Anyone can then steal my art and crop out the watermark to use for his/her own purposes.

There are several ways of looking at this problem. The first is that publishing our work on social media in small sizes so that if it is stolen it is going to be blurry and not very versatile. If it is stolen it means to us that our work is worthy and that someone/many someones like it enough to commit a crime over it. The second way of looking at it is that the honest paying customers that are attracted by our postings are more than the dishonest thieves ripping us off and it all evens out.

Do you have a thought on this problem?

Art is meant to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed.

— Unknown
Characterizations of my cousin and neice
Characterizations of my cousin and neice | Source

Paying Gigs

Melissa: They get paying gigs.

Certainly, this is the difference between hobbyists and professionals. It isn’t necessarily the difference between amateur and professional. The average amateur can get paying gigs the same as a professional. Although I have to admit when someone hires you to do their artwork it is because they have seen some of your work and find your style appealing enough to pay you for it. That is professional.

The best way to build momentum and create a movement is to tell a good story.

— Daron Roberts


Denny: Reliability (living up to any and all promises) and professional manner.

I remember a friend of mine who is a professional freelance illustrator who said that she had to really work at keeping a professional tone to her emails. The temptation is to be/sound too friendly and laid back with your clients and that is when you lose your professional status. The client must still think of you as a professional providing a service even if they are being friendly.

As for reliability, I know first hand how the artistic time can be terrible procrastinators and flakey people in general. I know I am. I have to force myself to keep a calendar and stick to my promises. If I say I’m going to do something or agree to a deadline, I had better work hard at keeping that deadline. I had a friend who would always wait until the last minute to produce work expected of him because he said he worked better under pressure. That’s fine with schoolwork for a grade but a client won’t sit still for that twice. They just won’t hire you again. And then where will you be?

Characterizations for a young adult novel.
Characterizations for a young adult novel. | Source

Final Thoughts

I struggle with the professional demeanor or reliability, punctuality, and consistency, but I want those paying gigs so I am working on it against my natural tendencies. I want to be better tomorrow than I am today. Each day is an opportunity to be a better me.

What do you think makes a professional artist, writer, musician, etc? I would love you hear your thoughts on the subject in the comments below.


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    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      17 months ago from Fresno CA

      Lawrence Hebb,

      My art hardly ever pays all the bills but somehow I don't care. Well, I care but it doesn't deter me from keeping up what I love to do. Thanks so much for commenting.



    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      17 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      When reading these 'criteria' I wonder how masters like Van Gogh, Da Vinci and Michaelangelo would measure up?

      Whats important is that you can do what you love, and if you can pay the bills by doing it so much the better. But that's not always the case.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      18 months ago from Fresno CA

      Audrey Hunt,

      How dear you are. I'd love to get up your way someday. I love the name of the town. I hope you continue to practice and keep up the good work. Thanks for commenting.



    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      18 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      I love these questions and your answers. But, most of all, I love your drawings. You are beyond gifted! One year ago I began to teach myself how to draw. Now, I can't get enough of it...even though I struggle and practice every day I'm not very good.

      If you ever get up my way, I'd love to take some lessons. Thanks for this wonderful article.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      18 months ago from Fresno CA

      Umesh Chandra Bhatt,

      I appreciate your visit. Thanks for commenting.



    • bhattuc profile image

      Umesh Chandra Bhatt 

      18 months ago from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India

      Very elaborate and useful article.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      18 months ago from Fresno CA

      Ann Carr,

      You got exactly what I was going for. Well stated. I think we can be professionals even when we feel amateurish. Thanks for commenting.



    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      18 months ago from Fresno CA

      Lorna Lamon,

      You are filled to the brim with kindness. If I made a mistake or missed something, you would be too kind to mention it. I like that about you and all my friends. Thanks for commenting.



    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      18 months ago from SW England

      So many facets to being 'professional'. There's the difference to me - are we 'professional' or 'professionals', or both? I would hope that we are all professional in our outlook, our public persona, our attitude to our work. To be a professional in our field means we have to hit certain standards, always be our best, maintain our output and not shy away from consistent work or let anyone down (be it in quality or deadlines).

      You've really made me think here, Denise; a valuable exercise in evaluating and valuing ourselves!


    • Lorna Lamon profile image

      Lorna Lamon 

      18 months ago

      Writing is a hobby for me which I find very relaxing, however, if I became a professional writer then I would have to make the necessary changes in order to achieve this. I don't think I would enjoy the experience as much if I had to adhere to deadlines etc. All the points you have made are very valid and sum up what a professional artist should strive to be. An excellent and thought provoking article Denise.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      18 months ago from Fresno CA

      Bill Holland,

      I think it is a matter of mind. If you think you are, then you are, whether or not you make money at it. Thanks for commenting.



    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      18 months ago from Fresno CA

      Eric Dierker,

      Thanks a good job: professional father. Too bad it doesn't pay as well as it should! Thanks for commenting.



    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      19 months ago from Olympia, WA

      It's a fascinating question with regards to writing as well. I just pronounced myself to be a professional writer. If others disagree, so be it.

      Happy Thanksgiving my friend!

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      19 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Very cool. I would rather be a slob. But then again not. I guess 4+ years of writing my sermon has been like my 6 years of stand up preaching. We like to say "Suit up, boot up and show up no matter the price"

      I just reckon I am a professional father and writing for what many call a "living" is a hobby.


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