Artists turn creative ideas into works of art using media such as clay, digital resources, fabric, paint, stone and wood.
Pay for artists varies depending on your ability, how productive you are and what type of work you do.
Pay rates for artists vary depending on your ability (or popular success), how productive you are and what type of work you do.
Artists often only earn the minimum wage or less from their art.
- PAYE.net.nz website - use this calculator to convert pay and salary information
- Employment New Zealand website - information about minimum wage rates
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Artists may do some or all of the following:
- research designs for artwork
- discuss client's requirements (if working on a commission piece)
- choose methods and materials such as paints, canvas, wood or stone
- produce drawings, prints, paintings, sculptures, carvings or other art forms
- display artworks for show and sale
- liaise with clients, gallery owners and patrons
- arrange exhibition space and advertising for shows.
Skills and knowledge
Artists need to have:
- good general knowledge of art history, with specific knowledge of the art form they specialise in
- skill working in their chosen medium or across a range of media
- knowledge of how to maintain and care for their equipment.
To make a living from art, artists need to know how to market themselves and their work. Other small business skills are also useful.
- work irregular hours and may work long hours when meeting deadlines
- work in art studios or workshops, which may be in their own homes
- may have to travel locally or internationally to promote their work.
What's the job really like?
"Right from the beginning I wanted to use my heritage and my history to help me sell what I've got. I live on the West Coast, and I've been fortunate enough to be shown the rivers in which the stone is found.
"And I use that knowledge that I've been passed on, through my elders. Quite a number of people want to know that stone is from New Zealand and it's carved by a New Zealander."
A family-friendly occupation
"It's allowed me to spend time with my family. My last job I was away from home, an average of eight months of every year, and it was very hard to try to bring up my kids."
Unique artworks don't pay the power bills
"I'd like to just carve whatever I wanted and do one-offs, but they just don't sell, so you've got to have some reasonably cheap stuff in there to cater for everyone.
"To make it pay, you've got to carve a lot of small pendants to get your hourly rate and cover your machine wear and your power."
Joseph Burgess talks about working as an artist in Christchurch during the rebuild of the city following the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes – 1.54 mins.
The basic idea is just to reintroduce this animal into... the consciousness of the public, because these animals are pretty cool and most people when they think of New Zealand they only think of the kiwi.
[Why did you choose Christchurch for your work?]
I came to Christchurch to see some friends. I had a look around and thought why don't I carry on with my project here; there's tonnes of space, there's tonnes of cranes, there's tonnes of materials just laying around, and I just started going to the construction sites asking if I could talk to the site managers and then, you know, they would make a couple of minutes, I'd show them my short clip of what I've already made and they'd say ok, when do you want to do it.
[How has it been getting people on board?]
The general construction community here is pretty worn out, so I've had a lot of good luck with those types of people because, you know, they're working every day and when I come into a job site office and tell them you want to fly a giant eagle off of their crane, they're not used to something like that and for some of them it's a big boost for morale, and the construction guys that have helped me with the project on some of the sites with cranes have been awesome.
[What advice do you have for someone looking to get an art project off the ground?]
I'd say don't be afraid to tell people about it and don't be afraid to be confident and, you know, if you're passionate and you feel strongly about something it makes it ten times easier to explain it, you know, don't do anything you don't care about, there's no point.
To become an artist you need to have a good level of artistic ability in your chosen field of art. A well-presented portfolio that shows a range of your work is also useful.
There are no specific secondary education requirements, but useful subjects include art, art history, graphics, photography, English and maths.
A tertiary entrance qualification is usually required to enter further training. However, you may be able to get special entry into a programme without the usual qualifications if you have a portfolio showing the quality of your work.
Artists need to be:
- creative and imaginative
- observant, with an eye for detail
- patient, motivated and disciplined
- confident and able to accept criticism
- good communicators
- good at managing their time.
Useful experience for artists includes:
- design work or art courses
- work as an art gallery assistant
- work on community projects such as mural painting
- work in an art supply shop.
What are the chances of getting a job?
Many artists do not earn enough from their art to make a living, and can expect to have a portfolio career where they do additional jobs to supplement their income. Some artists teach at secondary or tertiary level to support their art-making career.
Promoting work through social media/websites helps your chances
Artists who are internet-savvy are more likely to be able to make a living through their art as it provides them with a way to promote and market their work. They can do this by exhibiting their work on established art websites or by creating their own personalised social media pages and/or websites.
Most artists are self-employed
Artists may earn an income by selling their art through galleries or working from commissions, where they are asked to produce a particular artwork. However, it can take time and a lot of persistence to get established in the art world.
Established artists may work with businesses and entrepreneurs to mass-produce their art, so it can be used on cards, posters and prints. Artists may use their artistic skills in other industries such as film and television.
- Creative NZ website, accessed July 2016, (www.creativenz.govt.nz).
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2006–2014 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2015.
- The Big Idea website, accessed July 2016, (www.thebigidea.nz).
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
Artists may have to spend many years working with little recognition or income before achieving any success. Hard work and dedication alone may not be enough for an artist to get to a position where they can earn a living through their art, and some choose to use their artistic skills in other occupations such as animator/digital artist, graphic designer or set designer.
Artists specialise in areas such as:
- craft work
- pottery or ceramics
Last updated 4 July 2019