FAQ becoming a full-time artist

Art advice from illustrator Evelyn Henson

Hey yall!

I get a lot of emails asking for art advice so I've created a blog post with the most frequently asked questions! The most commonly asked is "what advice do you have for me"----which is a really loaded question that is difficult to answer without knowing who you are and what your goals are, but I hope the Q&A below helps. I don't know everything and have so much to learn, but I am happy to offer support whenever I can. 


  • What materials do you work with? 
My tried and true studio favorites right now are Winsor & Newton gouache, micron pens, and bright white rag paper. Figuring out what mediums and surfaces to work with is a process and I'm always, always, always picking up new supplies to try. If you're just getting into art and are not sure where to start, I recommend buying an assortment of different brands and colors to experiment with (I buy most of my art supplies at Jerry's Artarama). I think part of what has made my work unique was having no clue what I was doing and buying materials that either no one else was using or straight up using them incorrectly. I wrote an entire blog post about what materials I work with here if you want more info. I try to update it every year. There's no right or wrong item to work with though. If it's in the art store, that means that there are several artists out there who love and support the product! 
  • Where/what/who do you turn to for inspiration? 
I find inspiration in my everyday life, mostly within the loving friends and family around me. I think of other people a lot when I'm painting. I'm a big fan of the Picasso quote "inspiration exists, but it has to find you working." The more I paint, the more inspired I am by my surroundings, whether it's people in my life or the flowers on the sidewalk. So, pick up the paintbrush and just start painting! Inspiration might not strike you immediately, and often you may want to throw your paintbrush against the wall, but, I promise it will as you continue to put time into your work. Putting in the work is so, so crucial. I'm listening to The Creative Curve right now and I highly recommend it if you're wanting to understand inspiration more. The author does a great job of explaining how there is really no such thing as a "lightbulb" moment like we've often been taught---you have to put in the work to turn that light bulb on!
I also love picking up coffee table books for additional imagery if I'm really zoned in on one subject. For example, I recently bought a book that has seashell charts on the pages so I could study different seashells.  
  • How do you know what to paint/sell? 
Like I said above, I'm inspired by working---one painting always inspires a totally new and different one for me. Below are a few tips to consider before you start though: 
1. I think it helps to paint the same subject over and over in different styles and color palettes. You'll start the master the subject and learn more about your style in the process. I'm always doing this! 
2. Ask yourself what YOU want to hang on your walls. The prints I try to sell that are cute but I'm not even hanging up....those are the ones no one else wants to hang up either! 
3. Think about who your dream customer would be and paint something for them. Even if that's Oprah...what do you think she would want to hang above her couch? 
4. Consider what kind of energy you bring to the world. Are you the life of the party? Perhaps focus on bright colors and fun subjects! Do you have a peaceful presence? Try a muted color palette. Are you passionate about changing the world one protest at a time? Then paint the topics that matter to you! Think about what energy you're bringing to the world and then try to translate that into art. 
  • How have you set up your studio for optimal productivity? What storage pieces do you recommend? 
I prefer to work from a large table so I can have as much space as possible. I'm often working on multiple pieces at once so it is most ideal when I can lay 2-3 sheets of paper side by side. I currently use an old dining room table that I got from my parents. In the middle of the table, I keep my brushes in a mason jar and my paints on a large acrylic tray. Most of the gouaches and watercolors I work from are pretty small, and I keep any large tubes in this cart and keep it nearby. Behind my table, I have 2 shelves and 2 of these drawers from ikea for storage. The shelves mostly house binders filled with old sketches. In the drawers, I keep my scanner, paper, extra brushes, product samples, and any artwork that I haven't put in a binder yet. They're actually really unorganized.  I have two closets in my studio that I use to store shipping boxes, any product samples that don't fit in the drawers, cleaning supplies, and canvases. 
  • How to you scan and edit your artwork? 
I use this Epson scanner. It's nothing fancy and I honestly bought it so I could travel with it. The important thing with scanning is to make sure the DPI resolution is high. I scan all my work into my computer at a minimum of 350 dpi, erase the background in photoshop, and then sharpen and brighten the piece some. If you don't know how to use Photoshop, try taking a Skillshare class online or find one locally (personally a big fan of Skillpop for anyone who is lucky enough to have them locally).
  • How do you get your work out there? 
You just put it out there----START SHARING ASAP! Put your art on social media and make your work available for purchase online (I recommend Etsy, Squarespace, or Shopify). Remember that success takes time so don't be discouraged or feel lost just because you're not making any sales or don't have as many instagram followers as you want. Just keep your hand on the paintbrush and your eyes on your own paper! The more you work, the better you'll get and the more unique your work will become. Developing your own distinct look is something that will help you stand out and get noticed. 
    • How did you turn art into a full time job? 
    A combination of hard work, creativity, passion, patience and prayer. 
    • How did you create your brand?
    This is difficult to answer in a few sentences, but I'll do my best!
    Building my brand came really naturally to me because everything I do is a reflection of myself. A lot of my art embodies the happy, optimistic, color loving part of my personality----my brand thus developed almost as an exaggerated version of the person I already am. From there, I just keep the content, imagery, and voice consistent. When I speak to my audience, I always feel like I'm talking to a friend and the content I create has been tailored to that conversation. So, I think the answer to this question (at least in terms of being an artist) is figuring out what makes you, YOU, and asking how you can best represent that through clever, creative branding. 
    • How did you get your instagram following? 

    I don't have any advice for this except for to be patient and not focus on it so much. I've been sharing my art for over 5 years now and it's just naturally grown over time by sharing consistent content. I think of my instagram followers as friends and try to post content that will brighten their day. Don't put so much weight on your instagram following though; it's just a number and doesn't have anything to do with your worth or potential as an artist. Just focus on continually putting out quality content. 


    • How do you handle commission work? 

    I honestly don't take on commissions very often because they take up so much time and the pay off isn't as great for me as my online shop products. However, it is really fun to paint something special and personal. When I get inquiries about commissions, I immediately send back a commission packet with information about my process and pricing. From there, clients will email me what they want and I'll send them a contract with a project outline and payment schedule. I add them to my calendar as soon as they pay the deposit (50% of the total price). I start by sending them sketches (sometimes it's a pencil sketch and sometimes I'll do a color sketch depending on the subject and size of the commission). Once they approve the sketch (I currently allow unlimited sketches so I'll email back and forth with clients a few times), I move on to the actual painting. I then send a photo of the painting and allow the client 3 revisions from there. Any more than 3 revisions is extra $$ and that's just to make the client be thoughtful and specific about the revisions and respectful of my time. I don't think I've ever had any problems with that  yet (knock on wood)! 


    • What do you wish you knew when you started? 

    Not to undervalue my work. I started selling off Etsy at first and I remember I was selling original pieces and doing commissions for $50-$100 which is just absurdly low priced (at least for how much time I personally need to put into original work). Don't let any one barter with you or talk you into thinking that your work is less valuable than it is. 


    • How did you learn __________? Here are recommended resources that will answer pretty much everything I missed above and expand on it so you can learn more! :) 
    To all the aspiring full-time artists reading this, I hope this post helps some! I think two of the biggest takeaway from this FAQ is work hard, have patience, and be yourself!
    I'll update this post every so often, so if you have a question you don't see addressed below, feel free to email me: evelyn(at)evelynhenson(dot)com or by messaging me on instagram @evelyn_henson