LEVEL6 Professional

Commercial Art

Commercial art is different to fine art due to reason it was made. Its purpose. Fine art is made to say something, commercial art is made primarily to be sold in some way, either itself as decoration, illustrations in books or book covers, graphic design, advertising etc.

When I leave university, I would like to be able to work towards being at least partially self-employed, selling paintings and prints, doing commissions. There are a few ways to go about this, such as selling online on places such as Etsy or on a dedicated website or in person at markets or fairs. Commercial galleries exist but I can’t find them, they don’t label themselves this way.

Dedicated websites need you to have a way to bring traffic to them yourself, such as a social media following or seeing people in person at events, handing out business cards etc. there’s also often extra fees, such as in WIX you need to upgrade your account to set up a store and be able to accept online payments through the store.

 Sites such as etsy and other online marketplaces bring traffic themselves. I already have some experience selling handmade items on Etsy and running a shop there. The downside of places like Etsy are the fees that they take, for example last year around a third of what I made on Etsy through sales went to paying the fees etsy takes for advertising, processing fees, listing fees etc.

I went to an exhibition in October, which was more of a niche craft fair aimed at artists who create worked based around taxidermy and bones, and dead things in general, rather than a traditional fine art exhibition. They currently have applications open for artist tables for next year’s events in Nottingham and Leicester which I am hoping to apply for to sell prints and perhaps original paintings.

Part of doing this which intimidates me the most is the steps required for setting us a business. Once you make £1000 or more a year through self-employment you must register as a sole trader and start doing tax returns, keeping records and such.

From the government website,

How to set up as a sole trader

To set up as a sole trader, you need to tell HMRC that you pay tax through Self-Assessment. You’ll need to file a tax return every year.

Your responsibilities

You’ll need to:

  • keep business records and records of expenses
  • send a Self-Assessment tax return every year
  • pay Income Tax on your profits and Class 2 and Class 4 National Insurance – use HMRC’s calculator to help you budget for this
  • You’ll need to apply for a National Insurance number if you’re moving to the UK to set up a business.

Naming your business

You can trade under your own name, or you can choose another name for your business. You do not need to register your name.

You must include your name and business name (if you have one) on official paperwork, for example invoices and letters.

Business names

Sole trader names must not:

  • include ‘limited’, ‘Ltd’, ‘limited liability partnership’, ‘LLP’, ‘public limited company’ or ‘plc’
  • be offensive
  • be the same as an existing trademark
  • Your name also cannot contain a ‘sensitive’ word or expression, or suggest a connection with government or local authorities, unless you get permission.

What records to keep

You’ll need to keep records of:

  • all sales and income
  • all business expenses
  • VAT records if you’re registered for VAT
  • PAYE records if you employ people
  • records about your personal income
  • your grants, if you claimed through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme – check how much you were paid if you made a claim

Why you keep records

You do not need to send your records in when you submit your tax return but you need to keep them so you can:

  • work out your profit or loss for your tax return
  • show them to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) if asked
  • You must make sure your records are accurate.

Keep proof

Types of proof include:

  • all receipts for goods and stock
  • bank statements, chequebook stubs
  • sales invoices, till rolls and bank slips
  • If you’re using traditional accounting
  • As well as the standard records, you’ll also need to keep further records so that your tax return includes:

what you’re owed but have not received yet

  • what you’ve committed to spend but have not paid out yet, for example you’ve received an invoice but have not paid it yet
  • the value of stock and work in progress at the end of your accounting period
  • your year-end bank balances
  • how much you’ve invested in the business in the year
  • how much money you’ve taken out for your own use
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Over the past 2 years at uni I have done a few comissions for private collections, one of whcih has been this year. I would consider this comission more commercial/illustration that fine art. As most of my comission work has been, this peice was digital.

I think these experiences are helpful for me in terms of helping me get experience communicating with a client, as well as working towards a deadline. for example, there were some changes requested for this piece and I was working towards a deadline so that the client could get the work printed in time for christmas.

A difficult part of doing work such as this, for me is learning how much my art is worth, and becoming comfortable charging for my work. in this case it was a relative i was working for, and they offered an amout which i though was fair, and accepted. this is not something I’ll really be able to do in the future and i need to be more comfortable charging for my work.

When doing freelance, self employed work such as this an important factor to consider, that ill have to learn and do in the future if i continue this kind of work is tax returns and registering as self employed. if you make over £1,000 a year working as a self employed person you have to do this, eventhough its far below the personal allowance of 12,500 (the amount you earn before paying income tax) (more detail on this in Comercial Art)

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University of Derby Postgraduate Event

In november i went to a postgraduate open day at the University of Derby to look at their MA Design course. The campu which this course is based at is in walking distance from wher i currently live, they also offer the opportunity to speciallise into specific creative areas, such as illustration, graphic design, or fine art.

I previously visited Derby’s campus a few years ago, as i had a place there for BA Fine Art, so I’m somewhat familiar with the facilities available there.

The subject talk was very informal, there was only me and one other potential student who was coming from an engineering course talking with one of the members of staff from the course. we were shown work from current and past students as examples of the projects studentd pursinging different pathways did whilst on the course. one example was someone who was making a tea brand for a kind that was comonly drank in their home country but has no current market here, others were drsigning childrens books etc.

The degree would last a year, giving students opportunity to pursue a project whilst getting feedback from staff and other collagues on the course.

I would like to potentially pursue a career in illustration or comercial art, perhals working freelance or in a specific roll, and I would like to learn about this without going back and doing another undergraduate degree. This course is more aimed at people who already have a background knowlage in the project they are pursing, and they just want the time to do so, with feedback from tutors and I dont think this would be the right course for me.

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WIX website

website attempt 1

I initially found creating my website quite frustrating and restarted it multiple times. I found understanding the editor for WIX quite easy to figure out, but making it look good and making the website look well put together was more difficult for me. I think this was partially attributed to me not wanting the backgrounds to be white, as I personally find this quite difficult to read from, in doing so I had to make colour choices along with figuring out where to put things. In the end I think I restarted my website 3 times to get it to a point I was somewhat happy with it.

I also found photographing my work for my website to be quite difficult, as I found that the photos looked fine when taking them, find when retouching in photoshop and then once uploaded to my website the backgrounds looked very yellow and uneven, due to the backgrounds on most of my paintings being white, compared to the pure white background they were on on my website they looked very yellow. This happened even when I  took photos with a DSLR in a well-lit room.

To combat this, I used a combination of making the backgrounds of my galleries grey (I didn’t use black due to some of my photographs having a black background) and using photoshop to make the paper on my works white. However, in many cases this was not possible to do well, the paper I use is quite textured which shows in images, and due to the nature of my paintings I could not make the paper white using photoshop without removing some of the loser, light colour washes in the backgrounds

Website check list:

Your website must include

Good quality images of your work.

Work must be captioned with – title, medium, size.

A brief statement about your work – this is not about you, but gives the viewer an insight into your motivation/methods etc.

An artist CV.

A contact page.

I found a lot of the website building to be quite tedious, making each page match and labelling each image, for example was very time consuming and I’m sure I will continue to find mistakes and things I missed despite my best efforts.

ive also found that quite a few artists seem to share my name, although they do very different work to mine

home page
about + cv
menu for my work
example of one page of my work
labled images

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Artistst CV

Melissa Davis

Melissa Davis is primarily a watercolour painter, depicting animal skulls, weeds, insects, and objects in various states of decay. Washes of colour are used to illustrate the parts of nature that people generally dislike, which is also a big point of interest for her, animals which people are afraid of, considered pests, weeds or ugly. Her paintings are quiet and the mood quite calm, the decay and death may seem mournful but overall, the growth of the plants and colours used creates a balance in mood, a calmness, and for some may completely overshadow the sadness.

Her most recent practice has been exploring dark imagery with peaceful atmospheres using various techniques, including drawing, print, photography and painting. these works primarily show skeletal remains and plants.

From Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, currently based in Derby and Leicester


 Fine Art, De Montfort University   2019 – current

Photography at Thomas Alleyne’s 6th Form, 2016 – 2018

Art and Design at Thomas Alleyne’s 6th Form, 2016 – 2018

Psychology at Thomas Alleyne’s 6th Form, 2016 – 2018

various comissions and work sold into private UK collections

LEVEL6 Professional

MA – Illustration

Illustration MA

Moving forward from this course I would like to go on to potentially do a postgraduate in illustration, as this is a career I am interested in pursuing along side making my own art. I think that doing a course on it would help me to make connections in and learn about the industry.

Im currently considering going to Derby university for this, as I am currently living there and do not feel I am in a position to move cities to somewhere like Leeds. Although it is not ideal to chose a course based on this, I feel that in my own individual circumstances it is the most realistic.

The course at derby is a design course where you can choose to specialise in graphic design, illustration, fashion, textile design, interior and spatial design or product design. You can also do it as a broad Design MA. It’s £6,750 for the full course or £755 per 20 credits, 1 year full time and 2 part time. Ideally, I would like to do the course part time as this will give me more time to also work.

The entry requirements include an undergraduate degree of at least second class in a related subject, as well as a portfolio of my work.

Selection on to the Programme is based on a portfolio interview. The interview experience is an exciting opportunity for applicants to demonstrate their passion for Design. Applicants will have the opportunity to show teaching staff their interests and experimentation in the subject and they will have time to ask the questions that are important to their study. During the interview applicants will be expected to discuss the potential focus of study that they would like to undertake, including specific pathways, and to show and discuss their previous work.”

My current next steps are going to a postgraduate open event on November 27th, this will help me find out more about the course itself, the tutors and facilities. I have been to derbys Markeaton street campus looking at there fine art ba, but it would be very banaficuial to see what they offer for this course.