What do artists do?

Today is a bit of a timely – and I guess personal – post, following the government’s announcement of support for the self-employed. It’s a bit long too, so bear with…

What do artists do and how do they make a living?

Like many professions, it covers a broad base. I like to compare art to football because there are easy similarities (although I know very little about football so cut me some slack here):

• At the top, there are the big name artists that have shows in leading galleries and command big bucks – let’s call them the Lionel Messis. There’s just a small number of those.

• At the other end of the scale, there are millions of brilliant hobby artists who dedicate regular hours to their craft in their free time – The Sunday League.

• In between there are plenty of sub groups ranging from semi-pros such as those who sell their art as a side hustle – The Conference League. And there are emerging artists starting out, seeing if they can make art their life – the Academy players. 

And in and around that, there are plenty of people spinning plates in portfolio careers. It’s very hard to make money from art but that’s no reason not to do it and not to do it on a professional level.


My portfolio career looks like this:

  1. Elements from my publishing career – writing features and developing magazine projects.
  2. Art that I make, show and sell.
  3. Teaching. Many artists go this route to help support the making and showing part.

Obviously, it’s not looking so good in parts 2 and 3 right now and probably pretty wobbly in 1 too.

All the plans I had in place for 2 and 3 this year have fallen flat but, do you know what? Artists are used to having to adapt and think on their feet.


I was due to have work in a show opening tomorrow in Maidstone running all the way through to September. Paper Trail is based on a brilliant idea set up by art organisation Appletye.

It is what is known as a ‘response’ project.

They sent 100 pieces of heritage paper from the last 100 years to 100 artists and asked them to use it to create an art work in response to the events of a specified year. I was given 1982 and you can find out more about my piece, Turning Tide, on my website.


Hopefully the show will go on – just a bit later than planned. But, in the meantime, I can invite you to a Private View of sorts. You can see many of works made as part of this project on the Appletye website here.


If you want to make a response project of your own, why not take the year you were born, do some research on the main events of that year, then find a creative and visual way to represent them?

And, of course, don’t forget to share!

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