The Artist’s Most Important Investment

The Artist’s Most Important Investment

I get a lot of questions from artists at all stages in their artistic journey. Most of them are pretty easy to answer either from personal experience or with a bit of research.

But every once in a while, someone asks a question that takes a lot of thinking and pondering to answer. Sometimes, I’m never quite sure I’ve hit on the right answer.

Today’s topic is one of those questions.

What is it?

The Artist’s Most Important Investment

As I mentioned, a reader started me thinking on this topic, so let’s start with the question.

Due to various life circumstances, I am unemployed [except as] a content creator job that pays $10 a video, every once in a while…. While I am looking for a typical job, I also am trying to turn my l love of art into a business…. I try to save up my money, but where [do I] spend it to better my chances of selling and to improve my business? What is the most important investment?

The reader went on to tell me her goals were to be more professional as an artist and less like a hobbyist. She is currently struggling with that idea.

She also wants to use better pencils, but has difficulty with the idea that she goes through so many pencils because of her drawing method.

In short, she wanted to know if she should be setting money aside for more paper or canvas, better pencils, or packaging. What is the most important investment she can make toward her desire to be more professional?

Most Important Investment for Would-Be Professional Artists

Two Types of Investments

As I said, I had to give this a lot of thought. The biggest reason is that the investment that might be most important to me might not even be on anyone else’s radar. Knowing each artist’s most important investment depends on the goals, skills, and interests of each artist.

But each one of us make two different types of investments in our artwork and in our art career (if we choose to have an art career.)

Those are tangible investments (the things we can see) and intangible investments (things we can’t see.)

The Investments You Can See

Tangible investments are for material things. Pencils. Paper. Lighting. Equipment and tools. Studio space.

The basic tangible investments are pretty much the same for everybody. Pencils and paper are where most of us start.

Some of us start with the best we can afford, and others start with what they have available. There’s nothing wrong with either option, since the important thing is making a start.

The Investments You Cannot See

Intangible investments are the investments you can’t touch, taste, handle, hear, or see. You know it when you’re making these investments, but they’re not like pencils or paper.

The most basic intangible investments are your attitude and the time you put into your artwork.


Attitude is probably any artist’s most important investment. Why? Because until you start thinking of yourself as a professional, it will be difficult to put in the time and resources to become professional.

I struggled with this for a long time because my portrait work was always an add-on to a full-time job. It was a spare time activity so it was difficult for me to consider myself a professional artist.

But I was a professional artist. I was taking orders for portraits, I was creating those portraits and making sure they were delivered on time. Sometimes I had to frame them. Sometimes I had to travel to take photos. I always had to manage inventory and deal with taxes.

So by every definition, I was a professional artist.

I just didn’t think of myself that way and that was the biggest hindrance to advancing my career as a portrait artist.

The Artist's Most Important Investment
Your attitude about your artwork and the time you spend creating artwork are two of the artist’s most important investments.

The other major investment that’s often overlooked is time.

It takes time spent at the drawing board to improve drawing skills. Time is required to create enough drawings to know you can consistently create quality drawings. This is important if you want to do commission work.

It even takes time when you just don’t feel like drawing. Believe, me I’ve been there, and, yes, there have been times when I didn’t draw because I didn’t feel like drawing.

But there were many more times when I drew because I had to draw in order to meet a deadline. Those are the investments of time that really matter.

Most Important Investment for Would-Be Professional Artists
Time is a major investment when you spend it making art even when you don’t feel like it.

The Bottom Line

So What is the Artist’s Most Important Investment?

The answer is different for every artist. It depends on the resources already available to the artist, the market they’re hoping to enter, and many other factors.

But two things almost always apply.

The artist who wants to become a professional artist must start thinking of themselves as a professional as soon as possible.

They must also be willing to put in the time to improve skills and create enough good artwork to show potential customers and clients what they can do.

Without those two things, all the money in the world and the best supplies will be of no use.

Got a question? Ask Carrie!


  1. Steve

    What d you find is the best coloured pencil to use in coloured pencil artwork ie Portraiture, or, Landscapes

    Are the waxier pencils best for blending, what do you suggest are the best pencils to buy

    1. Steve,

      Thank you for your questions. Since you asked about blending in the next comment, I’ll answer that question there, and focus on the first question here.

      Any type of pencil can be used to draw portraits or landscapes. I have Prismacolor Premier Soft Core, Faber-Castell Polychromos, Karismacolor, Caran d’Ache Pablo, Derwent Drawing, and one or two Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils.

      I’ve drawn portraits and landscapes with most of them, and have even used more than one brand on the same drawing.

      So all artist grade pencils are capable of producing all kinds of artwork.

      A lot depends on your drawing style and your skill level. The more you learn about using colored pencils, the better able you will be to make any of the many colored pencils on the market do what you want to do with them.

      Are you looking for a good brand to buy as a set? If you’re not making artwork for sale now and you don’t want to sell your artwork in the future OR if you’re making artwork in order to sell only reproductions, then a full set of Prismacolor is a good place to begin. They are a very waxy pencil, but they have a good color selection and are reasonably priced. Only about half the colors are lightfast. You might also consider Blick Studio colored pencils from Dick Blick.

      If you do want to sell original artwork, then I recommend Faber-Castell Polychromos. They are an oil-based pencil and work on a variety of papers. They’re more expensive that Prismacolor, but the lightfast ratings are much better for all colors.

      I hope that helps you. If not, let me know.

    1. I use both types of pencils.

      Waxier pencils lay down smooth color more quickly, but can cause wax bloom.

      Oil-based pencils hold a point better, so are better for details.

      I quite often start a drawing with oil-based pencils because they don’t fill the tooth of the paper as quickly as waxier pencils do. When I’ve done everything I want to do with them, I then finish the drawing with waxier pencils.

      I haven’t noticed a significant difference in how the pencils blend with most blending methods or on most papers. Burnishing, solvents and other similar blending methods work equally well with both types (in my experience.)

      However, I have discovered that blending with a paper stump works extremely well with Faber-Castell Polychromos and Caran d’Ache Pablo on Pastelmat. I haven’t yet tried that blending method with those pencils on other types of paper, or with waxier pencils on any kind of pencil.

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