Staying Alive by Ursula Roma

How to Make it as an Artist

Ursula Roma on how to make it as an artist

Roma has great suggestions on how to make it as an artist.

Tired of barely eking out a living on your art? The idea of the starving artist is romantic, but it’s not much fun if you’re actually living that way. The good news is you don’t have to. Freelance artist and illustrator Ursula Roma offers great suggestions for making it as a self-employed artist in her article “Staying Alive.” You can read the complete article on how to make it as an artist below. Find more great tips for selling your art on and in the 2014 Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market.

Keep creating and good luck!


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Staying Alive: Life as a self-employed artist can be filled with joy, as well as cash, if you approach the challenge creatively, by Ursula Roma

Whenever I’m having a rough time paying the bills, I think back to a conversation my father and I had while researching colleges during my senior year of high school. At the time, I wanted to pursue pottery at a well-respected school, but my father discouraged this direction. He insisted that people only need one teapot and a few pieces of kitchenware in their lifetime, so I’d surely become a pauper. Encouraged to study something more lucrative, I took my art teacher’s suggestion to pursue graphic design and leave painting and pottery as sidelines. After I finished school, I promptly started my design business, Little Bear Graphics, creating marketing materials for local and national clients.

Northside Farmers Market logo by Ursula Roma

“Being actively involved in your community can help you put your work forward,” advises Roma. She created a logo design (pen & ink, colored in Photoshop) for flyers and T-shirts to promote her Cincinnati neighborhood’s green market.

Diversify your skills

Learning several disciplines has helped me stay financially afloat because I can provide a range of services to my clients: painting (including murals), sculpture, illustration and computer design. I hone these skills as I work every day; I also take digital art lessons and computer classes that keep me up-to-date with the latest software. This past summer I started a graduate program in illustration, which will open up other opportunities for employment, such as upper-level art and design jobs, as well as teaching positions, once I receive my master’s degree.

Look outside conventional markets

Tree Spirit sculpture by Roma Ursula

“I created the wall sculpture Tree Spirit (assemblage, 16×11) with parts of broken or discarded objects I found or purchased at thrift stores,” says Roma.

If you’re going to survive on your own as an artist, it’s important to expand outside the obvious markets to bring in extra cash. I’ve created editorial illustrations for a variety of publications and single panel cartoons for humor anthologies; I’ve designed and drawn pictures for wedding, birthday and family reunion invitations, and for a line of greeting cards and T-shirts sold at independent bookstores and art fairs. I’ve also tutored children in art, taught painting classes at retirement homes and even led art workshops in prisons. As for the work I do for myself alone, I’ve shown pictures, wall reliefs and sculpture at local art galleries and cafés.

Be frugal

In these tough financial times especially, heading into an art store can be dangerous for the pocketbook; I’m a sucker for impulse buying. I can’t afford to be tempted to buy a few new tubes of my favorite colors. Instead, I’ve tried to challenge myself to use materials on hand. I experiment with unfamiliar colors I may have lying around and odd materials I’ve collected. Since I have a deep passion for creating art with found objects, I search dumpsters, flea markets and yard sales to find cheap and free materials to craft sculptures and mixed-media artwork. Not only is it inexpensive to produce, creating three-dimensional found-object sculpture has introduced me to a new type of patron—one who appreciates naive art. Working in three dimensions has also added balance to my two-dimensional painting and drawing work.

Ursula Roma promotional materials

“I make sure I promote my work at every opportunity: on the Web (my website, Facebook page, etc.) and in print (for example, with the postcard shown here).” says Roma. “The basic idea: Make it easy for potential clients to get in touch with you.”

Advertise your wares

The easiest and least expensive way to get new patrons is to start close to home where the connections you already have can help you enlarge your network.

Occasionally, I’ll advertise in the Guild (, which bills itself as the resource for finding and commissioning artists, as well as in local newspapers or art publications. Potential clients want to see an ad several times before investing in an artist. I also use high-quality postcards to promote my artwork, and each week I spend a few hours researching Internet venues for promoting my fine art. Two great sites, send out reminders of upcoming art fairs, shows and contests, while helps me connect with other artists and exhibition opportunities. On most of these sites, you upload your résumé and portfolio into the system once; you then forward the link to the shows that appeal to you, thereby simplifying the application process.

Being Trees by Ursula Roma

“Cedar boards I found in my shed and then sealed with polymer clear gel medium created the perfect backdrop for the series Being Trees (acrlic on wood, 36×48,” explains Roma.

In addition, there are blogs and also websites that provide free templates and offer to host your site—especially beneficial if you can’t afford to hire someone to create a professional website, or if you get overwhelmed with complicated site layout, maintenance and updates.

Donate your work

One way to broaden your audience is to trade advertising for artwork. Nonprofit organizations often approach artists to make donations for silent auctions. When contributing a piece, be sure to find a diplomatic way to promote your work. Ask if you can place an ad in the organization’s program. Other options include doing pro bono work or offering your work at a reduced rate. Fourteen years ago, I donated artwork for a large mural in the section of Cincinnati where I live, and this mural, beautifully maintained and at the entrance of the neighborhood, has since brought me a lot of name recognition, as well as several big commissions.

Don’t get discouraged

Prodigy by Ursula Roma

Prodigy (found objects, 82×32) by Ursula Roma

The life of a self-employed artist isn’t easy. Along with providing a diverse array of skills and services, you must enjoy solitary work, be well-disciplined, and find patrons and customers by keeping a consistent public presence.

I often wonder what my life would be like had I become a potter. I might have made the next Rookwood—or I might be working in a restaurant to support my clay and glaze habit. The stress of living paycheck to paycheck isn’t for the faint of heart. I have to remind myself every day that however difficult and challenging it may be to avoid starvation, even the mundane parts of an artist’s life are more interesting than the summer jobs I endured in order to support myself during college. I love being an artist. I see potential in objects and shapes and in an artistic life that allows me the privilege of pursuing my passion—even through tough times!


A fine artist, graphic designer and illustrator living in Cincinnati, Ohio, Ursula Roma is currently pursuing a graduate degree in illustration at the University of Hartford (Connecticut). To see samples of her wide-ranging work, visit

Excerpted from the November 2009 issue of The Artist’s Magazine. Used with the kind permission of The Artist’s Magazine, a publication of F+W Media Inc. Visit or call (386) 246-3370 to subscribe.



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