Painting generally begins as a hobby. It seems cool or interesting and we decide it's something we want to try. At this stage there are no expectations other than the sheer excitement of perhaps one day painting amazing art. That vision empowers us to keep at it even when the struggles appear.
Eventually, if you persevere through the beginner burnout stages, you come out on the other end with some good art. Your friends and family admire it but of course you still have questions about the quality. Is it good enough?
You put your head down and get back to work.
Months later the comments start to shift from 'That's cool' to 'Wow! That's really awesome. Is it for sale?'
That's when you have arrived! Now the innocent hobby is all grown up. It's matured into a marketable product and you now envision making money from your paintings.
Going pro simply means you are making an effort to gain profit from your art.
Unless you are a prodigy, or perhaps the next Picasso, chances are the income will be supplemental. You can also consider this a part-time gig. You may have aspirations of quitting your day job and painting full-time but this is a completely different level of going pro. So, chances are you will need to start small and set your sights on expanding in the future as business grows.
For now let's stick with supplemental income as your starting point.
Going pro is all about income and expenses. The money you make is offset by the money you spend. The remaining cash, if any, is your net-profit. Pretty straightforward information but it's important to clarify the parameters even when they're as obvious as this situation.
What you need to consider before going pro.
At first glance it seems easy to start making cash, right? Your art is marketable now. You've done the hard work and it's time to be rewarded.
Why not pop-up an ETSY shop, or list a few pieces on eBay and 'ta-dah' you are in business. Now you can sit back and get ready to watch the cash pile up.
As you may know it's more complicated than that so let's look at reality for a moment.
Here's the truth about selling art.
Before you even post art for sale you need quality images. That takes time, good lighting, photo taking skills, a tripod and a suitable camera.
Once you have quality images you need to edit them. This means having software to do the job and investing more time into cropping the edges so they look neat!
Descriptions are necessary for each image, too. So, you need to write a few compelling lines about the art that will entice potential buyers to add it to their cart.
The descriptions need measurements so you need to measure every piece unless you are using generic size canvas and paper.
After all that you finally post the art. You can kick back wait for the cash register to ring!
Eventually you get your first sale!!!
Once you have done a victory dance and posted your success on social media you realize the art needs to be shipped. So, stay calm! It's just beginning of the 'going pro' chain of events.
Now you need to pre-package the art to prevent damage, put it in a safe shipping box, or container, buy a shipping label, and get it in the mail for delivery.
Tip - If you find yourself running around the house looking for spare cardboard so you can ship a painting then you are not prepared to be a pro.
Once you finally get it in the mail then there's always the stress of whether or not the postal service will handle it with care. Will it get damaged, or will it arrive safely? Tick, tock...time will tell but it's out of your hands now and hopefully you did a good job packing the art.
To avoid future confusion and hassle you realize you need a good system in place for shipping art.
This article isn't about having a good shipping workflow. So I will not go over the system I have in place. But just know that when sales happen you need to get the art boxed and ready to ship in minutes. Not an hour. No need to waste time and stress out about something as easy as shipping art. That's being a pro!
That's it! Now you are a professional artist! You have arrived! Oh wait, I almost forgot...
Actually now you are a business. You have sold art with the intent of making profit. This means the State and Government want their cut of the pie. Damn, that sucks, right?
But it's the way it is. When you finally start making money things gets more complicated. But have no fear because this too is manageable if you have good organizational skills. However, if you are disorderly then it can be a real problem.
What does it mean to have an art business?
There are laws in certain Countries and States that require sole-proprietors to file paperwork. So you need to do some research to find out what is required. A quick Google search will answer many questions. I would advise you to have a look before you get started.
My situation goes like this. I live in the beautiful State of Virginia which is in the USA. The State doesn't require me to fill out any paperwork to establish my art business. Nor does the IRS. Also I have no employees. So, it's pretty easy to setup shop and start making money.
If you are curious to learn more about what your State requires be sure to check out this link.
The easiest way to start my business is to claim that I'm a sole-proprietor. There are other business types. But for now let's just say my only business is painting art in my home, and I have no foot traffic, or open-house setting where customers walk in to buy my work. I have no employees and I sell online only. That's it!
To establish my sole-proprietor business it's as easy as claiming profit and/or losses on my tax return when I file.
As a sole-proprietor you furnish what's called Schedule C reports to the IRS and State Tax entities. This is basically a breakdown of your income, expenses and profit for the year.
If you have a part-time, or full-time job you would file this in addition to the W-2's you receive from your other employer(s).
This is where it can get complicated.
Now that you are selling art you must track expenses, income and profit. You need a good system for logging each sale, expenditures and other things like receipts, mileage records (if you want to write-off trips to the art store) and so on.
In the past I have made many mistakes. Receipts were tossed in a drawer, crumbled up and stuffed in my jean pocket and washed with the other laundry, lost and other knuckle-headed stuff.
This means when it was time to file taxes I had to scramble to get my records in order. I had to go back and check twelve months worth of bank statements. Highlighting each sale and expense to the best of my recollection.
This is very confusing since what happened ten months ago isn't exactly fresh in the memory bank. It was a nightmare to say the least! Late nights and early mornings trying to get my shit together before a tax deadline sucks. Trust me you don't want to be that guy.
I learned the hard way. But thankfully I have a great system in place these days and my records are basically done without liftting a finger.
Okay, so keep good records and that's it, right?
Not exactly. There are other issues you need to consider.
You may want to consider a separate bank account.
Perhaps not a must but it may make it much cleaner to manage and track every transaction. The IRS prefers this since it looks more legit and it's easier to see what's personal and what's business. However, it's not mandatory. You don't have to have it! If you are organized and have a good record keeping system in place you can use a personal account.
You have to prove to the IRS and STATE that you are designating time to run, build and manage a business.
This can be more difficult to track, or see, but the IRS generally wants to know if you are serious about making money and genuinely interested in building a business. If not then they will consider your business a 'hobby'. I will go over this more later on so keep this in your back pocket for now.
Making profit over time.
The State and IRS parties realize that making money isn't always easy in the first few years. But over time you need to eventually start making a profit, or you may get audited, or sent a letter stating that your art is no more than a 'hobby loss'.
If they see you have a list of expenses and only a few sales year after year then they will feel that you are only doing it as a write-off against your other personal income.
The IRS will eventually frown upon you writing-off expenses against your other income for what appears to be a hobby. If flags go up they could audit you which would be a hassle to say the least.
The Pros and Cons of going pro.
The pros would consist of the obvious and that's the write-off's and making money. No reason to overcomplicate that!
The cons would be all the work that is required to manage an art business. You know now that it's much more complex than just making a sale. You have to be prepared to take quality images, pack and ship the work, and have a reliable system in place for tracking the money. You need to file taxes and have an intent to make profit over time.
If you are unorganized you will pay the price and cause yourself a lot of heartache. This will trump any amount of money you make from a sale.
If you have a muddled work environment, like not have a shipping and accounting system in place, then don't bother. It's best you paint for fun until you are prepared to take it to the next level.
If you are organized and treat your art as a business you will have the luxury of writing-off supplies and other expenses. This will offset the cost of painting so that you have some support for making art.
If your art is really good, or marketable, you will in all likelihood make a profit. Extra income can be very sexy! Plus, how cool would it be to paint for profit?
I hope you learned that being a professional artist isn't as glamours as it appears. There's a lot more to it than just making art. But if you setup shop the right way you will have success. Making and selling art will be fun and profitable.
Before you go
I hope you enjoyed to read. Be sure to check out my teaching website by using the link below. There you will find a wealth of knowledge designed to help artists like you that want to stay on track and paint extraordinary art.
Click here to learn more.