• Tom Shepherd

Any advice for an artist?

I was recently asked by a young artist just starting out if I had any advice for them. I started typing a short answer but it quickly turned into quite a long list of points. I posted them on Instagram along with deeper explanations, all of which you can see below...


Some points are more geared towards people making a living from art, either full or part time. However most of them would be of some help to any artists, and hopefully if nothing else, interesting.



Do it for the love, hone your craft and the money will come.

Follow your passions whilst quietly and consistently working on your craft.


A variety of strings to your bow, a website, social media followers, teaching, product, merchandise etc etc etc may all be important and some, in my experience very necessary, but never lose sight of what is at the core of all of this...which is you, creating art you love, sharing with people.



Treat yourself as an art business. It’s a simple shift in mindset that makes a huge difference.


Part time, full time or simply looking to make some money from your art in some way?


Changing the language you use about what yourself and what you do changes the way you act.


Obviously our art is very personal and we are very emotionally attached to it. There’s no way you ever want to remove this element from your business as you, your story and your reason for creating are the unique selling point of your business. They are as important as the ‘final product’


It was only a very simple shift in the language I used but it made an instant and noticeable change in my mindset and how I operated, and therefor the successful growth of the business.


This shift had various benefits for me:

  • I instantly started acting more professionally.

  • I became a business owner, an officially self employed person, which felt good. It gave me more confidence when talking to other people about what it is that I do and about my work.

  • I stopped taking everything so personally and stopped basing my business decisions on my personal life. For example what I could afford to do personally was separate from what the business could afford to do.

  • I started to think about what the 'business' needed, what direction the 'business' was going in.

All though me, my art and the business are completely entangled and inseparable having this mindset allowed me to manage everything more easily and manage my time better.


It helped me manage my finances better as I opened up a separate business bank account.


It made life much simpler and kept my creative mind free to focus on the art.

I found it easier to step between the two worlds of business and creating.



Act like a professional and you will be treated like one.


Value your skill and your time and others will too.


A simple and obvious one, but an important one.


I’ve certainly not always been like this.

For example organisation does not come naturally to me at all!! I’ve had to work at it (and still have the odd slip up)


  • You can still be you, but be professional about it.

  • Be organised, turn up on time, do what your say your going to do.

  • Try to avoid over promising and under delivering and instead go with under promising and over delivering.

  • Value your clients and your customers.

Don’t be afraid to confidently tell people what you do and give them a business card (I’m awful for remembering to always have business cards with me, but getting better!)


Get nice feeling and looking business cards. They don’t have to be fancy or expensive. Mine are matt finish, simple design (with my artwork on there!!!) and made with eco friendly card & ink, as that’s important to me.


  • I have pre-typed word documents for commission proposals, agreements and invoices etc as well as a ‘what to expect’ document so people know exactly where they stand when I have agreed a price on a project or commission, or if someone is paying for a painting in instalments.

  • Website and contact details at the bottom of emails.

  • Consistent use of a particular font across website, business cards, flyers, social media etc…

  • Have a diary and a year planner (might sound obvious) but it took someone else to tell me do this before I did!


Day book:

I also have a day book in which I write lists of things to be done. I then number prioritise the list, cross things off as they are done...not everyone agrees with lists but this really works for me. This way I can get the big jobs out of the way to free my mind to get on with painting, knowing that when I have the odd bit of time throughout the rest of the day I can cross off the lower priority jobs. Anything left at the end of the day gets rolled over to the next...simple


I also take large jobs and break them down into parts to tackle little bits at a time.

The pages at the back of more long term goals and jobs to be done. For example I have a website page with a list of things that need doing on the website, again prioritised.

I struggle with everything swimming around in my head, but written down I realise there’s not as many jobs as I thought and they don’t seem not as big.

The day book idea was passed on to me by my dad who has been a self employed architect my whole life...it’s probably been the simplest and single most useful tool for my organisation.


Mailing list:

Build a mailing list and keep it up to date. I use Mail Chimp. Any emails I pick up throughout the week go into the day book. They then get added to the email database at the end of each week. When they are added they get crossed off in the book.

All of the above and much more, whilst not the be all and end all, certainly present a professional front, which I think is important!


You will be treated more seriously and people will feel much more confident spending their hard earned money with you.


Overall it just feels better operating in this way. Some people will do this all naturally, others, like me, may have to work at it a little more (or a lot more!!)…


Most importantly being organised saves a lot of time which is then freed up to create!!!


Lastly….Have confidence in what you do!!


Make sure you value your skill and value your time.


If you don’t then no-one else will.!!


Work out how much your time is worth to you, and make sure you feel justified in charging that amount.


Don’t apologise for that being the price, whether its a commission project or just selling a single card...


...value yourself and others will too!!



Money & marketing are NOT dirty words!

They are necessary.


If you want to make a living from your art, or part time, talking about money and marketing is absolutely necessary.


It does NOT mean you are a sellout.


It means you’re passionate enough about your art to want to make money from it so you can do more of it more often!

Don’t listen to anyone that tries to bring you down for being an artist and talking about these things, you may well come across the odd person who does.


If it is you who has the problem with it, and I certainly did to start with...you basically just need to find away to get over it! Or if not then this whole process might not be for you! It's not easy to start with, but it gets much easier and actually becomes fun!


Putting your art and yourself in front of people and talking about it can feel scary and at times awkward and a bit ‘icky’ (a word that comes up a lot in reference to marketing your art).

Being forward with approaching people and telling people what you do can feel the same.

But trust me...the more you do it, the easier it gets and the more confident and comfortable you become.


The phrase ‘fake it until you feel’ seems relevant here?


If you can shift your mindset then marketing actually becomes fun and a creative pursuit in it’s own right.


As the previous posts you can do all these things but still be you, because you are your unique selling point and people loving meeting and chatting to the artist!!:)


There’s a great podcast interview with Cindy Hohman of the 'Art Marketing Project'

It’s an episode on a fantastic podcast from 'Your Creative Push. I highly recommend looking into both of these along with another fantastic art business advisor, Maria Brophy.

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Based in Warwickshire, UK

Works globally

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tom@tomshepherdart.com

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