Ask the Art Professor: How Do I Change Careers to Pursue My Passion for Visual Art?

Final Crit

“What do you think of the idea of changing one’s career to pursue his/her passion for art?  I always thought that art was a very risky career move. I have a stable job right now that pays well but it’s definitely not fulfilling, and I just want to cringe with the thought that I’d be doing this for around 3 more decades.

I can imagine that if I do really want to switch fields, it’s going to be a gradual thing but then what are the steps in moving towards it? I like doing concept art and my goal is to finish a story I have now into a graphic novel.  Not necessarily to make money out of it, but just the fulfillment of immortalizing the story. If I were to switch into an art career, I’d be happy to do concept artwork, commissions and if I become really good at it, comics.”

Art can seem like a risky career move because we have to determine on our own what steps to take and what our ultimate paths will be.   By comparison, fields like medicine and law are relatively straightforward because those fields have pre-determined steps that must be taken in order to be able to be allowed to practice that profession.  If you want to be a doctor, you go to medical school, you do residency, etc. In the art field, it could not be more different for every artist out there.  That’s what’s so scary about it: the options for artists are infinite and can be incredibly overwhelming. The path is different for everyone.

Yes, you’re right that it is going to be a gradual process, one that evolves slowly over time, so patience will be key. In order to make that transition, I would advise that you keep your day job, while working on the initiatives listed below in your spare time.  Keep in mind that this is an ongoing process. The tasks listed below never really end- I know that I’m still doing #1, #2, and #4 all the time.   Even established professionals have to work on these tips below on a regular basis. And remember, very few people are able to support themselves exclusively on freelance work/their own independent projects in the art field.  The majority of artists hold onto their day job or have some other part-time job that is steady and reliable while they pursue their art career.

Intaglio Printmaking

1) Establish a strong, professional online presence. 
Buy a domain name ( is ideal) and set up a website that looks classy and professional. If you want examples of good artist websites, look up the websites of some professional artists whose work you admire and follow what they’re doing on their websites. Google yourself and see what comes up, hopefully your website is the first thing that shows up.  Make sure you are on at least one of the major social networking websites.  Facebook and Twitter are good places to start.

2) Have top notch, high quality artwork on your website.
Better to have a website that is more minimal with a few high caliber, polished pieces than a website that has lots of mediocre, half finished pieces. Many artists make the mistake of including everything they’re ever made on their websites, which consequently leads to a portfolio that looks scattered, aimless, and unprofessional.

The work on your website has to look focused and cohesive as a group of works. Be willing to edit your portfolio and remove pieces that don’t fit.  I see people all the time trying to present themselves as someone who works in five different fields of art, thinking that it will get them hired more quickly because of their versatility.  Actually, that approach has the opposite effect. It’s confusing to Art Directors and other professionals in the field if you market yourself in too many contrasting fields. They want to know what kind of results they’re going to get if they hire you for a job.

Gesture Painting

3) Say yes to every opportunity and occasionally work for free.
You don’t want to do this forever, but it’s a good way to get the ball rolling, and a way to add some examples to your portfolio.   I took a class with the illustrator David Macaulay my senior year at RISD, and I remember him saying that at the very beginning of his career, anything that anybody offered him he would agree to do. That was how he jump started his career. Once your career is more firmly established, you’ll eventually be able to be more selective about what jobs you take on.

4) Don’t wait for jobs and opportunities to come to you.
When you’re ready, start sending out hard copy, promotional postcards to companies or publications you want to work for letting them know that you’re available for work. Always send your materials to a specific person, don’t ever send it to “Editor” or “Art Director”. Be sure to do this at least twice a year so that you can keep people updated on your most recent work. One of my colleagues said he went to an Illustration conference where he heard another professional say that he started getting results when he stopped asking for things, and started offering things.

ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy

Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.

Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.

ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.

Related articles
“What are the career opportunities in fine art?”
“How long did it take you to jump start your career after graduation?  What was your first job?”
“Should I pursue a career in fine art?”


4 thoughts on “Ask the Art Professor: How Do I Change Careers to Pursue My Passion for Visual Art?

  1. I presently enjoy the rare chance to teach drawing in my math class. We have discussed perspective and symmetry so my math students are working on drawing in perspective. After teaching high school math classes for almost ten years, I am more than ready to get out. I would like to teach art or digital imaging at the high school level. However, I feel trapped in this high-demand, high-pressure, test-obsessed field with no room for advancement or creativity. Although I could obtain a certification to teach art in my state, I have never been to art school. I suppose my question is about how feasible this is. Could a math teacher teach art?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s