From artist to entrepreneur

 23 November 2011

Making the transition from being a student to establishing an arts practice, business, or career within the creative and cultural industries is a challenging but exciting journey.

Images © Tim Bradford 2009
Images © Tim Bradford 2009

Alison Branagan, is an author and creative consultant in the business and the visual arts. She offers business advice to art and design students and recent graduates in her latest books ‘A Pocket Business Guide for Artists and Designers’ and ‘The Essential Guide to Business for Artists and Designers’ published by A & C Black.

Learning to network

"Your horizon always grows." Gareth Neal, Furniture designer

One of the first steps from moving from the student to the professional domain is developing friendships and contacts in your industry or arts sector.

If you are still an undergraduate student, start building relationships with potential employers or key industry figures whilst you are still at college.

If you are in your third year, now it is time to start planning who you would like to invite to your degree show. Guests could include potential clients, galleries, collectors, buyers, critics, journalists, agents and dealers to degree shows. 

Don't just hope that you will be talent spotted. It is vital to make an effort to cultivate some interest amongst potential employers or customers before your final show and create some openings for yourself.

If your degree show is in June and you wish to attract media interest, the larger glossy magazines will be completed in February, so it is not too early to start contacting these magazines with the ambition you might be selected for ‘Ones to Watch’ or ‘New Graduate’ features.

Smaller monthly lifestyle or industry periodicals may complete the editorial content for their June editions between March and May . If you leave it until later in the Spring Term it will be too late to attract the media and it is very likely you will be rushed off your feet with degree show preparations. For more detail on this please refer to my art and design business publications.

How to approach work experience

Most creative people undertake work experience, internships or volunteer for community arts projects.

There is much to be learned from such activities whilst a student or recent graduate. However, at the current time there has been much debate about payment for interns. It is true, especially in the arts that many talented graduates work for travel expenses and free lunch.

I would argue that gaining experience is vital but you should weigh up the benefits of committing long term to unpaid work. The current situation whereby recent graduates can get caught up working for free for years may be stopped by future changes to employment law.

Otherwise I would apply your common sense. If you and your friends keep working for nothing then it will be unlikely any of you will earn decent living in the future.

Presenting yourself as an artist

It is absolutely essential to learn more about business and enterprise.

Presentation is self-image. It is something you will need to pay attention to if you desire to be taken seriously in the workplace.

When a student it doesn’t matter if your clothes look a bit of a jumble and you cut your own fringe. However, when you are working for arts organisations or businesses that embrace a sense of contemporary style, then you may have to revisit how you plan to present yourself at interview.

Personal grooming and attention to detail in your appearance builds rapport with those you seek to impress. This doesn’t mean you have to spend lots of money on clothes, manicures, or hairdressing. There are plenty of fashionable high street stores and even charity shops that can provide inexpensive well designed garments and suits.

What is advisable to research the company you would like to work for and Google the directors. Then prepare yourself. First impressions matter.

Think about your hands, even men should consider having a basic manicure done or at least invest in manicure kit, especially if you are a showing portfolio or presenting products.

Starting a creative business

It is absolutely essential to learn more about business and enterprise. It is only through developing networks, marketing and understanding legal matters, taxation and money management, that you will be able to earn a living by freelancing, taking on commissions or selling your artwork, creative products or services. 

It is vital that you attend business start-up course at a local college offering professional development BTECS or other short courses focusing on marketing and enterprise skills.


Alison Branagan teaches a number of business start up and entrepreneurship courses at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design

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