Tips for Becoming an Artist Without Going to Art School

Two characters, one asian woman and one black woman look into the camera confidently illustrated by Lo Harris
Illustration by Lo Harris. See more of my work here.

Can you become a professional artist without going to art school?

Of course, you can!  Stop talking yourself out of your dream career simply because you don’t have an art degree. You don’t need a piece of paper to give you permission to pursue your goals of being an artist or designer. 

How to become an artist without going to art school

You can be a self-taught artist

I am living proof that you don’t have to study art in school to be a successful artist. In college, I majored in journalism. Before that, I went to a special school for kids interested in the arts and sciences. But my focus there wasn’t visual arts; it was creative writing. 

Furthermore, confirms that 78% of their top 50 living artists have don’t have a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree. 

I’m not going to pretend that going to art school doesn’t have its privileges. It definitely gives you an inside scoop into what it looks like to work in the industry. Going to art school can give you very industry-specific guidance and great networking opportunities. But this isn’t the only way to get the guidance you need or make connections with other people in the industry. Here are three things you can do to boost your creative career without going to art school.

Being an Artist Without Going to Art School

Find your voice. 

Determine what you’re trying to say visually and figure out how to say it in a unique way. This is how you can begin to develop, define, and refine your artistic style. 

You don’t have to do this on your own. If it’s in your budget, take an online art class or attend an art conference.

If money is tight, check out free art lessons on YouTube. Also many artists that you may find on Instagram offer low-cost courses that they fund through Patreon. 

Create community. 

I imagine that being surrounded by other artists is one of the best things about art school. But you can create community with other artists on your own through social media or local meetups for creatives. Your tribe of fellow artists can give you feedback on your work, make you aware of opportunities to get paid for your art, and keep you encouraged along the way. 

And be sure to pay it forward. As you learn and grow, share your wisdom with other emerging artists. This is especially important for BIPOC artists. 

Stop seeing other artists of color as your competition. Let go of this mentality that there’s only room for one person of color at the top of your industry. Be willing to lift as you climb. 

If you’ve been complaining about a lack of diversity in your industry, but you aren’t willing to share information or bring other BIPOC artists into the loop, you’re a part of the problem! 

End rant.

Keep going. 

Oftentimes the difference between a creative who goes professional and one who doesn’t is drive – not a degree. Keep practicing your art consistently. Schedule time to work on your craft and develop your style. Immerse yourself in art by reading books by successful artists and visiting art galleries and museums. 

Don’t give up on your dreams. 

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lo harris poses with her choice illustration markers

Lo Harris is an NYC-based artist, educator and children’s book illustrator who champions vibrance, confidence and joy.

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We don’t gatekeep in this galaxy!

In an effort to make life as an artist more accessible and approachable for all, I’ll be sharing tips, tricks and resources to help you thrive while navigating a career as an artist, designer, or freelance creative. If you like what I do, consider making a donation to help support me in sharing with my creative community.
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