Fine Artists
Use a variety of materials and techniques to create art for sale and exhibition. Fine artists, including painters, sculptors, and illustrators, create original works of art for their aesthetic value, rather than a functional one.
This is what you may be doing
  • Use techniques such as knitting, weaving, glass blowing, painting, drawing, or sculpting
  • Develop creative ideas or new methods for making art
  • Create sketches, templates, or models to guide their work
  • Select which materials to use on the basis of color, texture, strength, and other qualities
  • Process materials, often by shaping, joining, or cutting
  • Use visual elements, such as composition, color, space, and perspective, to produce desired artistic effects
  • Develop portfolios highlighting their artistic styles and abilities to show to gallery owners and others interested in their work

Artists create objects that are beautiful or thought-provoking. They often strive to communicate ideas or feelings through their art. Fine artists typically display their work in museums, commercial or non-profit art galleries, corporate collections, and private homes. Some of their artwork may be commissioned (requested by a client), but most is sold by the artist or through private art galleries or dealers. The gallery and the artist decide in advance how much of the sale proceeds each will keep. Some craft and fine artists spend much time and effort selling their artwork to potential customers or clients and building a reputation.

Only the most successful artists are able to support themselves solely through the sale of their works. Many artists have at least one other job to support their craft or art careers. Some artists work in museums or art galleries as arts directors or as curators, planning and setting up exhibits. Others teach craft or art classes or conduct workshops in schools or in their own studios. Craft and fine artists specialize in one or more types of art. The following are examples of types of craft and fine artists:

Specialties

Cartoonists draw political, advertising, comic, and sports cartoons. Some cartoonists work with others who create the idea or story and write captions. Some create plots and write captions themselves. Most cartoonists have comic, critical, or dramatic talents in addition to drawing skills.

Ceramic artists shape, form, and mold artworks out of clay, often using a potter’s wheel and other tools. They glaze and fire pieces in kilns, which are special furnaces that dry and harden the clay.

Fiber artists use fabric, yarn, or other natural and synthetic fibers to weave, knit, crochet, or sew textile art. They may use a loom to weave fabric, needles to knit or crochet yarn, or a sewing machine to join pieces of fabric for quilts or other handicrafts.

Fine art painters paint landscapes, portraits, and other subjects in a variety of styles, ranging from realistic to abstract. They may use one or more media, such as watercolors, oil paints, or acrylics.

Furniture makers cut, sand, join, and finish wood and other materials to make handcrafted furniture.

Glass artists process glass in a variety of ways—such as by blowing, shaping, or joining it—to create artistic pieces. Specific processes used include glassblowing, lampworking, and stained glass. These workers also decorate glass objects, such as by etching or painting.

Illustrators create pictures for books, magazines, and other publications, and for commercial products, such as textiles, wrapping paper, stationery, greeting cards, and calendars. Increasingly, illustrators use computers in their work. They might draw in pen and pencil and then scan the image into a computer to be colored in, or use a special pen to draw images directly onto the computer.

Sketch artists, a particular type of illustrator, often create likenesses of subjects with pencil, charcoal, or pastels. Sketches are used by law enforcement agencies to help identify suspects, by the news media to show courtroom scenes, and by individual customers for their own enjoyment.

Jewelry artists use metals, stones, beads, and other materials to make objects for personal adornment, such as earrings or bracelets.

Medical and scientific illustrators combine drawing skills with knowledge of biology or other sciences. Medical illustrators work with computers or with pen and paper to create images of human anatomy and surgical procedures, as well as three-dimensional models and animations. Scientific illustrators draw animal and plant life, atomic and molecular structures, and geologic and planetary formations. These illustrations are used in medical and scientific publications and in audiovisual presentations for teaching purposes. Some medical and scientific illustrators work for lawyers, producing exhibits for court cases.

Printmakers create images on a silk screen, woodblock, lithography stone, metal etching plate, or other type of matrix. The matrix is then inked and transferred to a piece of paper using a printing press or hand press to create the final work of art. Workers who do photoengraving are called printing workers

Sculptors design three-dimensional works of art, either by molding and joining materials such as clay, glass, plastic, or metal, or by cutting and carving forms from a block of plaster, wood, or stone. Some sculptors combine various materials to create mixed-media installations. For example, some incorporate light, sound, and motion into their works.

Education

Formal schooling is rarely required for craft and fine artists. However, it is difficult to gain adequate artistic skills without some formal education in the fine arts. Most craft and fine artists have at least a high school diploma. High school classes, such as those in art, shop, or home economics, can teach prospective artists some of the basic skills they will need, such as drawing, woodworking, or sewing.

Many artists pursue postsecondary education and take classes or earn degrees that can improve their skills and job prospects. Many colleges and universities offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine arts. In addition to studio art and art history, courses may also include core subjects, such as English, social science, and natural science.

Independent schools of art and design also offer postsecondary training, which can lead to a certificate in an art-related specialty or to an associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree in fine arts. In 2011, the National Association of Schools of Art and Design accredited approximately 300 postsecondary institutions with programs in art and design. Most of these schools award a degree in art.

Medical illustrators must have both a demonstrated artistic ability and a detailed knowledge of living organisms, surgical and medical procedures, and human and animal anatomy. They usually need a bachelor’s degree combining art and premedical courses. However, most medical illustrators also choose to get a master’s degree in medical illustration. Four accredited schools offer this degree in the United States.

Education gives artists an opportunity to develop a portfolio—a collection of an artist’s work that demonstrates his or her styles and abilities. Portfolios are essential because art directors, clients, and others look at an artist’s portfolio when deciding whether to hire the individual or buy his or her work. Those who want to teach fine arts at public elementary or secondary schools usually must have a teaching certificate in addition to a bachelor’s degree. An advanced degree in fine arts or arts administration is usually necessary for management or administrative positions in government or in foundations, or for teaching in colleges and universities.

Training

Craft and fine artists improve their skills through practice and repetition. They can train in several ways other than, or in addition to, attending formal schooling. Some craft and fine artists learn on the job from more experienced artists. Others attend non-credit classes or workshops or take private lessons, which may be offered in artists’ studios or at community colleges, art centers, galleries, museums, or other art-related institutions. Still other craft and fine artists work closely with another artist on either a formal or informal basis. Formal arrangements may include internships or apprenticeship programs.

Advancement

Artists hired by firms often start with relatively routine work. While doing this work, however, they may observe other artists and practice their own skills. Craft and fine artists advance professionally as their work circulates and as they establish a reputation for a particular style. Many of the most successful artists continually develop new ideas, and their work often evolves over time.

Many artists do freelance work while continuing to hold a full-time job until they are established as professional artists. Others freelance part time while still in school to develop experience and to build a portfolio of published work. Freelance artists try to develop a set of clients who regularly contract for work. Some freelance artists are widely recognized for their skill in specialties such as cartooning or children’s book illustration. These artists may earn high incomes and can choose the type of work they do.