How to Make a Living with Your Art


Summer Breeze (pastel, 18 x 24 in.)

“When I first dipped my toes into the world of becoming a professional artist, I must admit I was a bit naive,” says Jill Stefani Wagner. “Looking back I realize I had the silly notion that ‘If you paint it, they will come.’ Duh, not so much.

“Over the years I’ve learned that for most painters, making a living from art is a multi-layered challenge. Depending on just one way of creating income is precarious … and downright scary at times. So, in self-defense, I’ve spread my efforts across various opportunities to keep the cash coming in.

Cumberland Days (pastel, 12 x 12 in.)

“The number one task is always to create. I know, obvious, right? But it must be said. I paint all the time both en plein air and in the studio. And I do it for many reasons. First, I love it and can’t live without it. Second, painting constantly improves my work. Third, even though I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the number of canvases that pile up, I must keep inventory in stock. And you never know what subject matter an art lover might be looking for.

“Then I try to monetize those paintings through various outlets and products:

  1. GALLERIES: In this time of dwindling brick and mortar galleries, I’m lucky to be represented by four fine art establishments. I consider them my partners and do everything I can to make selling my work easy for them.
  2. ART CONSULTANTS: Over the years many art consultants from around the country have contacted me to provide original or printed art for their projects in hospitals, restaurants, corporate offices, residences and even cruise ships.
  3. PLEIN AIR FESTIVALS: My personal obsession with painting outdoors has led me to an exciting life of participating in festivals in many gorgeous locations. Between the awards given and art sold, it’s been a lucrative experience for me.
  4. NATIONAL COMPETITIONS: I enter 10-20 (mostly national) competitions each year. When accepted, these shows boost my income with awards and sales, but also help promote my work to a larger audience. Many galleries also keep an eye on competitions when considering new artists to bring in.
  5. SOLO AND GROUP EXHIBITIONS: I try to do a solo show of my work every couple of years, but also exhibit in events with other artists.
  6. TEACHING: I’ve started teaching workshops and giving demonstrations recently and have been honored to be on the faculty at the Plein Air Convention & Expo five times. These events often result in painting sales and allow me to meet new collectors.
  7. COMMISSIONS: I’ve heard that many artists don’t enjoy doing commissions. But I value the opportunity to meld my skills with a patron’s vision to create a unique piece of art.
  8. STUDIO VISITS: I hold Open Studio Hours during the holiday season but invite art lovers to make appointments to visit my studio any time.
  9. PRINTS: Many of my paintings have been photographed in super high resolution, which allows them to be printed in tiny and huge sizes. I know that reproductions may be considered “crass” by some painters, but I find they provide welcome income in times of slow art sales.
  10. NOTE CARDS and CALENDARS: I have these items available for sale but also use them as thank you gifts to art patrons and others who help get my art out to the world. With my contact information on the back of each, they also serve as promotion pieces.
  11. WEBSITE: This is by far my most valuable asset. I regularly receive inquiries and sales from my site, often from people I’ve never met. Galleries, competitions, and festivals also check in to evaluate my work online.
River Radiance (pastel, 12 x 9 in.)

“I haven’t even touched on advertising and social media, which also bring in many interested art patrons, or mailing lists, or myriad other marketing opportunities, but I hope that I’ve given yout a start. Launching and maintaining a successful art career requires a multi-pronged approach.”

Jill Stefani Wagner

In Pastel Painting from Photographs, Jill shares her process for creating a compelling painting from photographs.


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