Craft Artists, Fine Artists, and Studio Artisan Careers

Craft and fine artists use a variety of materials and techniques to create original works of art for sale and exhibition. Craft artists create objects, such as pottery, glassware, and textiles, that are designed to be functional. Fine artists, including painters, sculptors, and illustrators, create pieces of art more for aesthetics than for function.

Also known as: Artist, Blacksmith, Fine Artist, Ice Carver, Illustrator, Muralist, Painter, Portrait Artist, Sculptor.

Craft and fine artists typically do the following:

  • Use techniques such as knitting, weaving, glassblowing, painting, drawing, and 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 criteria
  • Shape, join, or cut materials for a final product
  • Use visual techniques, 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
  • Display their work at auctions, craft fairs, galleries, museums, and online marketplaces
  • Complete grant proposals and applications to obtain financial support for projects

Artists create objects that are beautiful, thought provoking, and sometimes shocking. They often strive to communicate ideas or feelings through their art.

Craft artists work with many different materials, including ceramics, glass, textiles, wood, metal, and paper. They use these materials to create unique pieces of art, such as pottery, quilts, stained glass, furniture, jewelry, and clothing. Many craft artists also use fine-art techniques—for example, painting, sketching, and printing—to add finishing touches to their products.

Fine artists typically display their work in museums, in commercial or nonprofit art galleries, at craft fairs, in corporate collections, on the Internet, and in 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 artist, gallery, and dealer together decide in advance how much of the proceeds from the sale each will keep.

Most craft and fine artists spend their time and effort selling their artwork to potential customers and building a reputation. In addition to selling their artwork, many artists have at least one other job to support their craft or art careers.

Some artists work in museums or art galleries as art directors or as archivists, curators, or museum workers, planning and setting up exhibits. Others teach craft or art classes or conduct workshops in schools or in their own studios. For more information on workers who teach art classes, see the profiles on kindergarten and elementary school teachersmiddle school teachershigh school teacherscareer and technical education teachers, and postsecondary teachers.

Craft and fine artists specialize in one or more types of art. The following are examples of types of craft and fine artists:

Cartoonists create simplified or exaggerated drawings to visually convey political, advertising, comic, or sports concepts. Some cartoonists work with others who create the idea or story and write captions. Others create plots and write captions themselves. Most cartoonists have humorous, critical, or dramatic talent, 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 large, special furnaces that dry and harden the clay.

Digital artists use design and production software to create interactive art online. The digital imagery may then be transferred to paper or some other form of printmaking or made available directly on web-accessible devices.

Fiber artists use fabric, yarn, or other natural and synthetic materials 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 work in a variety of media, such as watercolors, oil paints, and acrylics.

Furniture makers cut, sand, join, and finish wood and other materials to make handcrafted furnishings. For information about other workers who assemble wood furniture, see the profile on woodworkers.

Glass artists process glass in a variety of ways—such as by blowing, shaping, staining, or joining it—to create artistic pieces. Some processes require the use of kilns, ovens, and other equipment and tools that bend glass at high temperatures. 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. Illustrators increasingly use computers in their work. They might draw in pen or pencil and then scan the image, using software to add color, or they might use a special pen to draw images directly onto the computer.

Jewelry artists use metals, stones, beads, and other materials to make objects for personal adornment, such as earrings or necklaces. For more information about other workers who create jewelry, see the profile on jewelers and precious stone and metal workers.

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, three-dimensional models, and animations of human anatomy and surgical procedures. 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.

Public artists create large paintings, sculptures, and displays called “installations” that are meant to be seen in open spaces. These works are typically displayed in parks, museum grounds, train stations, and other public areas.

Printmakers create images on a silk screen, woodblock, lithography stone, metal etching plate, or other types of matrices. A printing hand press then creates the final work of art, inking and transferring the matrix to a piece of paper.

Sculptors design and shape three-dimensional works of art, either by molding and joining materials such as clay, glass, plastic, and 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, such as by incorporating light, sound, and motion into their work.

Sketch artists are a type of illustrator who often use pencil, charcoal, or pastels to create likenesses of subjects. Their 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.

Tattoo artists use stencils and draw by hand to create original images and text on skin. With specialized needles, these artists use a variety of styles and colors based on their clients’ preferences.

Video artists record avant-garde, moving imagery that is typically shown in a loop in art galleries, museums, or performance spaces. These artists sometimes use multiple monitors or create unusual spaces for the video to be shown.¹

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It’s been said that an artist is born, not made. But while some are drawn from an early age to a particular artistic technique or material, or have a natural aesthetic sense, everyone must develop skill at their chosen medium through instruction and practice. Compared to more formalized careers with clearly defined educational pathways and professional accreditations, the paths to finding the right educational track and achieving artistic competence and employability are more freeform and up to individual choice.

The occupations listed in this section are a mix of visual fine arts, fine craft, and applied trades, but with the exception of work as an art historian or critic, all require the human hand.

Traditionally, fine artists created objects enjoyed purely for their aesthetic value (a painting), while craft artists created work that is functional. But these distinctions are not really useful; today’s BFA and BA degree programs incorporate all these subjects and more into their fine arts curricula, and some modern makers create work that eludes definition as fine or craft art, existing in both spaces.

For clarity, we divide artistic occupations into two groups, Fine Arts and Crafts, and Artisans. Fine Arts and Crafts comprise ceramics, glass arts, painting, printmaking, metalworking, photography, sculpture, textile/fiber arts, and woodworking; related professions and specializations such as critic or art conservator are also included. Artisans are where we have grouped makers skilled in functional trades such as floral designers, furniture makers, leatherworkers, sketch artists, tailors and seamstresses, tattoo artists, and upholsterers.

Education - Educational qualifications play a complex role in arts careers, depending on an artist’s objectives, including whether they would like to teach. But the work to access post-secondary fine arts training starts in secondary school, when a young artist builds a portfolio of original artwork that will be required to apply for admission to art school or a four-year college. To be considered as an apprentice to a master craftsman or artisan, you may also have to present a portfolio for review.

In addition to art classes, some secondary school systems, communities, and states operate magnet schools centered on the arts and schools for gifted and talented secondary school students. But other, under-resourced school systems and communities have cut their arts programs severely due to budget constraints. Because the federal government does not require services for gifted students or provide guidance on the subject, it is necessary to investigate resources on a state by state and community by community basis.

Aspiring artists have a variety of post-secondary educational options.

Artists or artisans seeking a focused, specific skill may find technical schools a good option, although the U.S. vocational system is not as well-organized or –resourced as some other countries’. Others choose to learn in workshops sponsored by art guilds and craft schools, from another artist, or by informally apprenticing with a practicing professional.

Online art schools offer certifications upon completion of varying lengths of study. Community colleges have two-year degrees that can also serve as preliminary credit for entry into a four-year college program.

Four-year college students may obtain a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in studio arts, although this type of degree usually requires more course credits in general, non-art studies compared to a BFA.

A four-year Bachelor of Fine Art (BFA) degree program is a more intensive way for undergraduate artists to fully immerse themselves in an academic program while honing artistic skills in different media and discovering where they wish to concentrate.

For artists who also wish to teach, additional degrees may be necessary. Public school systems may require a Master’s (MA) degree, or parallel certification in education while obtaining a college degree. To teach at the college level, a Master of Fine Arts (MFA), MA, or PhD is necessary. Non-tenure-track, adjunct teaching positions are now more common than tenured positions.

In addition to their purpose in sharpening artistic focus, intellectual depth, and craftsmanship in a chosen medium, MFA programs can also serve as important venues for making professional contacts while still in school, and learning how to present and talk about your work in a compelling and focused way to potential exhibitors and buyers. Some believe the MFA ‘prequalifies’ artists in the eyes of critics, lending additional credibility to artists as seriously committed to their vocation. This additional postgraduate educational credential may also weigh in an artist’s favor when their work is being considered for representation by a gallery, or when an artist is being considered for employment in an administrative or curatorial staff position by a museum, gallery, or arts-related organization.

Employment Path

Traditionally, after completing their education, an early career fine artist or craftsperson makes art full time, builds their resume with juried or group shows, and competes for critical attention, selection for solo shows, and gallery representation and sales of their work.

Artists in all stages of their career may also choose to compete for artist residencies with a stipend, fellowships, and grants from state and local arts councils, and possibly supplement their income with non-arts work and/or teaching.

Realistically, most early career artists—and many later in their career—work at second jobs to supplement their artistic earnings. A BFA or BA in fine art, or MFA, may increase an artist’s chances at being employed by a museum, gallery, cultural institution, or other arts-related institution. Some artists find gig economy work gives them the time and flexibility they need for making art. Others are able to translate their artistic or craft skills into commercial or industrial employment, such as metal artists who become jewelry designers, or sculptors who are skilled metal fabricators.

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The largest employers of craft and fine artists were as follows:

Self-employed workers51%
Independent artists, writers, and performers9
Federal government, excluding postal service7
Motion picture and sound recording industries4
Personal care services3

 

Work Environment

Many artists work in fine- or commercial-art studios located in office buildings, warehouses, or lofts. Others work in private studios in their homes. Some artists share studio space, where they also may exhibit their work.

Studios are usually well lit and ventilated. However, artists may be exposed to fumes from glue, paint, ink, and other materials. They may also have to deal with dust or other residue from filings, splattered paint, or spilled cleaning and other fluids. Artists often wear protective gear, such as breathing masks and goggles, in order to remain safe from exposure to harmful materials. Ceramic and glass artists must use caution in working with materials that may break into sharp pieces and in using equipment that can get very hot, such as kilns.

Work Schedules

Most craft and fine artists work full time, although part-time and variable schedules are also common. Many hold another job in addition to their work as an artist. During busy periods, artists may work additional hours to meet deadlines. Those who are self-employed usually determine their own schedules.

 

How to Become a Craft or Fine Artist

Craft and fine artists improve their skills through practice and repetition. A bachelor’s degree is the common for these artists.

Education

Most fine artists pursue postsecondary education to improve their skills and job prospects. A formal educational credential is typically not needed to be a craft artist. However, it is difficult to gain adequate artistic skills without some formal education. For example, high school art classes can teach prospective craft artists the basic drawing skills they need.

A number of colleges and universities offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees in subjects related to fine arts. In addition to studio art and art history, postsecondary programs may include core subjects, such as English, marketing, social science, and natural science. Independent schools of art and design also offer postsecondary education programs, 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.

The National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) accredits more than 360 postsecondary institutions with programs in art and design. Most of these schools award a degree in art.

Medical illustrators must have artistic ability and a detailed knowledge of human or animal anatomy, living organisms, and surgical and medical procedures. They usually need a bachelor’s degree that combines art and premedical courses. Medical illustrators may 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 their portfolio, which is 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 them when deciding whether to hire an artist or to buy the artist’s work. In addition to compiling a physical portfolio, many artists choose to create a portfolio online.

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. For more information on workers who teach art classes, see the profiles on kindergarten and elementary school teachersmiddle school teachershigh school teacherscareer and technical education teachers, and postsecondary teachers.

Training

Craft and fine artists improve their skills through practice and repetition. They can train in several ways other than, or in addition to, formal schooling. Craft and fine artists may train with simpler projects before attempting something more ambitious.

Some artists learn on the job from more experienced artists. Others attend noncredit 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.

Important Qualities

Artistic ability. Craft and fine artists create artwork and other objects that are visually appealing or thought provoking. This endeavor usually requires significant skill and attention to detail in one or more art forms.

Business skills. Craft and fine artists must promote themselves and their art to build a reputation and to sell their art. They often study the market for their crafts or artwork to increase their understanding of what prospective customers might want. Craft and fine artists also may sell their work on the internet, so developing an online presence is often an important part of their art sales.

Creativity. Artists must have active imaginations to develop new and original ideas for their work.

Customer-service skills. Craft and fine artists, especially those who sell their work themselves, must be good at dealing with customers and prospective buyers.

Dexterity. Artists must be good at manipulating tools and materials to create their art.

Interpersonal skills. Artists should be comfortable interacting with people, including customers, gallery owners, and the public.

Advancement

Craft and fine artists advance professionally as their work circulates and as they establish a reputation for their particular style. Successful artists continually develop new ideas, and their work often evolves over time.

Until they become established as professional artists, many artists create artwork while continuing to hold a full-time job. Others work as an artist part time while still in school to develop experience and to build a portfolio.

Self-employed and freelance artists try to establish a set of clients who regularly contract for work. Some of these artists are recognized for their skill in a specialty, such as cartooning or illustrating children’s books. They may earn enough to choose the types of projects they undertake.

 

Pay

The median annual wage for craft and fine artists was $48,760 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $22,290, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $106,000.

 

Median annual wages for craft and fine artists in May 2019 were as follows:

Artists and related workers, all other$64,490
Fine artists, including painters, sculptors, and illustrators50,550
Craft artists34,710

In May 2019, the median annual wages for craft and fine artists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service$88,460
Motion picture and sound recording industries75,350
Personal care services50,730
Independent artists, writers, and performers39,350

Earnings for self-employed artists vary widely. Some charge only a nominal fee while they gain experience and build a reputation for their work. Artists who are well established may earn more than salaried artists.

Most craft and fine artists work full time, although part-time and variable schedules are also common. In addition to pursuing their work as an artist, many hold another job because it may be difficult to rely solely on income earned from selling paintings or other works of art. During busy periods, artists may have long workdays to meet deadlines.

 

Job Outlook

Overall employment of craft and fine artists is projected to show little or no change from 2019 to 2029.

Employment growth for artists depends largely on the overall state of the economy and whether people are willing to spend money on art, because people usually buy art when they can afford to do so. During good economic times, people and businesses are interested in buying more artwork; during economic downturns, they generally buy less. However, there is always some demand for art by private collectors and museums.

Job growth for craft and fine artists may be limited by the sale of inexpensive, machine-produced items designed to look like handmade crafts. A continued interest in locally made products and crafted goods will likely offset some of these employment losses.

Illustrators and cartoonists who work in publishing may see their job opportunities decline as traditional print publications lose ground to other media forms. However, new opportunities are expected to arise as the number of electronic magazines and other Internet-based publications continues to grow.

Job Prospects

Competition for jobs as craft and fine artists is expected to be strong because there are more qualified candidates than available jobs. Competition is likely to grow among independent or self-employed artists, given that many of them sell their work in the same online marketplaces. In addition, competition among artists for the privilege of having their work shown in galleries is expected to remain intense.

Because the demand for artwork depends on consumers having extra income to spend, many of these artists will find that their income changes alongside changes in the overall economy. Only the most successful craft and fine artists receive major commissions for their work.

Despite the competition, studios, galleries, and individual clients are always on the lookout for artists who display outstanding talent, creativity, and style. Talented individuals who have developed a mastery of artistic techniques and marketing skills are likely to have the best job prospects.¹

 

Similar Occupations

Archivists, Curators and Museum Workers - Archivists and curators oversee institutions’ collections, such as of historical items or of artwork. Museum technicians and conservators prepare and restore items in those collections.

Art Directors - Art directors are responsible for the visual style and images in magazines, newspapers, product packaging, and movie and television productions.

Fashion Designers - Fashion designers create clothing, accessories, and footwear.

Graphic Designers - Graphic designers create visual concepts, using computer software or by hand, to communicate ideas that inspire, inform, and captivate consumers.

Industrial Designers - Industrial designers combine art, business, and engineering to develop the concepts for manufactured products.

Jewelers, Precious Stone and Precious Metal Workers - Jewelers and precious stone and metal workers design, construct, adjust, repair, appraise and sell jewelry.

Multimedia Artists and Animators - Multimedia artists and animators create images that appear to move and visual effects for various forms of media and entertainment.

Photographers - Photographers use their technical expertise, creativity, and composition skills to produce and preserve images.

Woodworkers - Woodworkers manufacture a variety of products such as cabinets and furniture, using wood, veneers, and laminates.

Related occupations

 

For more information about art and design and a list of accredited college-level programs, visit

National Association of Schools of Art and Design

For more information about careers in the craft arts and for a list of schools and workshops, visit

American Craft Council

For more information about careers in the arts, visit

New York Foundation for the Arts

For more information about careers in medical illustration, visit

Association of Medical Illustrators

For information about grant-funding programs and other local resources for artists, contact your state arts agency. A list of these agencies is available from the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies.

For more information about how the federal government awards grants for art, visit

National Endowment for the Arts

 

citations - 1. US Bureau of Labor Statistic OOH, US Bureau of Labor Statistics Career One Stop.