PART 1: From Student to Professional
The transition from art student to professional artist is particularly daunting. For realist artists who did not train in an accredited degree program, the path can seem even more obscure.
Unlike many careers, as an artist you don't suddenly stop being a student and become a professional. You will always be a student of art, even when you are no longer paying for classes, and you will ease into being a professional over the course of several years.
The goal is to work up to making a sustainable income while continuing your lifelong path of artistic development.
Plan on working every day, even if on some days it's only a couple hours of sketching, computer admin work, or organizing your studio. People with full time jobs do their "hobbies" on the weekends. To them, a day making art is a "day off". Ideally, art-making is your job AND your hobby. Welcome to the hard life of an artist, you asked for it! Luckily you love your work :)
Choose a subject, and make a series of work all of that same subject. Stick with whatever subject you pick. You will fall out of love with your subject and back in love with it again, over and over. Stick with it anyway. Make 10-20 gallery-quality pieces, even if it takes you 2-3 years to make them between commissions and teaching and sketching and other jobs. Frame these pieces and hang them in your home or studio, if you don't have somewhere else to show them. Show your friends and family what you do, and make it easy for them to show their friends and family, with online images and business cards and postcards. This is how you build your brand as a fine artist.
Increase your Output
If you are trained at an atelier with very slow methods for painting and drawing, expand your skill base by practicing faster sketching and faster painting methods. You might be surprised that you can enjoy making faster work. It's hard to make much of a profit selling a single painting that takes months to complete, although it is possible for some.
Cultivate Your Personal Support Network Surround yourself with people who love that you are an artist. Avoid talking too much about what you PLAN to do; We've all heard people who call themselves artists, musicians and dreamers who talk talk talk about what they will do in the future, with no action.
Instead, tell your family and friends what you are already doing. Anyone who cares for you will be proud of you if you are working hard every day, producing a lot of artwork, and doing everything you can to promote your every success, big and small.