Top Tips for Starting Out

1. Make use of the college facilities before you graduate!

It’s very easy to take college facilities for granted but you’ll have to pay for them when you graduate. So use the equipment to finish off works in progress. Use the photocopier to make copies of your CV. Avail of internet, computer and printer access to prepare submissions, proposals and job applications. It’s also easy to take tutors and their valuable feedback for granted! So make the most of them too.

2. Document your work

Maintaining an organised, running history of your work for promotion, grants, reference, and exhibition purposes, is an important part of professional practice. Make sure to document your work carefully, especially your degree show and in particular if it’s an installation, ephemeral, or transient work. Consider having the work professionally photographed – these photographs can be used for promoting your work and accessing future opportunities. You can find information on the best ways to document your work in the in the relevant section of this manual.

3. Prepare an Events Calendar

Set yourself goals for the coming academic year. Plan the year out with targets and submission dates in mind. You can find out about submission deadlines for public art commissions, gallery calls, residencies and funding opportunities by signing up for the twice weekly VAI e-bulletin ( You can also use the VAI website to keep a track of upcoming deadlines). This will help you allocate your time while identifying opportunities to which you can submit your work.

4. Network

Networking is one of the most effective ways to open up career opportunities in a competitive industry. Whether you’re connecting at an art fair or getting to know your co-workers at an internship, you never know when that person might be able to help you. Get yourself on mailing lists for gallery openings and previews. You have to get out there and meet new people to get your work known. Networking might seem hard at first, but once you get the hang of it (and start recognising familiar faces at events) it becomes more natural.

5. Build a critical profile

Establish a list of contacts from college for collaborations, critique and support. Consider setting up a peer review group with other graduates to give critical feedback on each others work. VAI runs regular peer critique sessions that you should join. The evaluation will help you understand how others view your work. Your peers bring a fresh perspective to bear and will often be able to point out whether something is clear or not. The input can be highly motivating.

6. Learn the art of writing Press Releases and the Artist Statement

The ability to write good press releases and artist statements is a key element in getting ahead. The written word is one of the most important elements that employers, galleries, museums, and graduate schools look for in an artist. The information you provide in a press release should be factual, clear and have some sort of edge that will attract critics / press to the show. Always avoid using superlatives in press releases. Write something interesting and engaging for the body of the release. The first two sentences are the most important you have to hook the viewers to make them want to know more.

An artist’s statement is a living document that changes as your work progresses. Your statement could be updated at about the same rate that you might update a CV. A good statement will give you the ability to discuss and have confidence in your work.

7. Get your work reviewed

A conundrum for emerging artists is that you need a show to get reviews, but you need reviews to get a show. So initiate and curate your own show with your classmates and use this opportunity to get your work reviewed. There is no quick way of attracting curators, critics or other art professionals to shows. There are only really a small handful of writers and critics and there are hundreds of shows around the country each month. Develop a good contact list by researching all the major art publications, writers, press officers, galleries etc. Each contact should be sent a press release and a personal invite to the show. Tell them a bit about the show and invite them to meet you there for a glass of wine and a chat. Don’t forget to advertise your show with Visual Artists Ireland’s free eBulletin service. This is the primary way to let the wider art world know that your show is happening.

Reviews are beneficial not only because they bring your work to a wide audience but also because they are evidence that you are engaged with and part of the professional art discussion and dialogue. Reviews are recognition and acknowledgement by your peers. They can also come in very handy as supporting documents when making funding applications! Getting a review in the local press is a good way to start.

8. Price your work

In many professions unions tend to advise members on rates of pay, however most artists must take on this responsibility for themselves. There are many variables involved in establishing the price for your work, be it a painting, carrying out a public art commission, licensing a reproduction or giving a workshop. You will need to take into account your time, your profile, materials, overheads, provision for social insurance and income tax etc. Many artists start out on their career taking whatever jobs they can, and often for inadequate pay. Most people feel uncomfortable discussing money but a successful negotiation does not only affect the fees you will be getting – it will impact your self esteem and influence others perception and value of you.

9. Get Help!

You’re not alone. Through Visual Artists Ireland you will find various local groups and networking events that will bring you into contact with your fellow artists. The best way to find out about the education or training provided by arts service organisations is to place your name on any ebulletin or similar notification lists available to you and/or to check their websites. VAI provides professional development courses (at a reduced rate for members) that are invaluable for helping you in your career development. See also the Arts Directory on the VAI website for a list of Public Galleries, Commercial Galleries, Artist-Led Organisations, Art Studios, Colleges and Resource Organisations nationwide.

10. Join Visual Artists Ireland

Access the help desk along with numerous other benefits such as discounts on material suppliers and service providers, 6 copies of the Visual Artists’ News Sheet posted to your door annually, a reduction on fees charged for workshops and events, access to equipment hire and have your profile listed in the Members Directory on the VAI website, complete with gallery and links to your personal sites.

By joining you will also be strengthening our voice to lobby on your behalf.

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