How to become an artist after 40

No matter if you think you’re too old, you can become an artist after 40. Usually the reason the person gives is some combination of concern about not having enough time, and feeling self-conscious that the artwork “won’t be very good.” Although, I empathize with it because those are very natural feelings to have, it’s not the right approach. Basically you are shutting yourself down before you’ve even tried. You really don’t have any reason to be so negative to yourself, you get plenty of that from other places.

First, you don’t need to quit your day job and abandon your current lifestyle. You still have to support yourself until the day may comes that you can be self sufficient with selling art. Realistically that could be years. Most artist need many streams of revenue from different sources of art. For an example, I sell prints, canvas paintings, create custom commissioned art, create murals, host paint parties, blog and write about art.

woman in white long sleeve shirt sitting on chair

After years of putting my energy the US Army, having children, and going to college, and changing many career paths, I know what it’s like to feel hesitant about taking up something new. Obviously that can seem very discouraging, but the challenge of becoming an artist after 40 doesn’t have to be. It can just as easily be seen as something that can inspire you and be a source of motivation. My career as an artist didn’t really begin until I was in my 40s, and to be honest I feel like that was the best time to start in my life, and if you’re in your 40s too I think that now is the best time for you to start creating again.

The path that your life takes that leads to art is going to be different for everyone of course. My journey with art began as a way to cope with very stressful circumstances, such as grieving my grandmother’s passing, recovering from the experience of being terrifyingly close to mortar fire, and a very frightening experience with pregnancy and childbirth. For a really long time in my life I felt like something might be missing, and eventually I discovered it was the spiritual experience I feel when creating.

You don’t need to become Rembrandt overnight. Of course, extraordinary people do exist, like Pablo Picasso who was very artistically gifted from a very young age[1]. But let’s face it, that’s not realistic for most people. It’s true that you’ll likely need to put in some time to practice and improve on your artistic skills. Aside from the fact that how “good” an artist you are is often pretty arbitrary, you should also keep in mind that you don’t have to be an artist to please others, in fact I don’t think you should. And I also don’t think that you should create art with it in mind specifically to please others’ tastes. You should create because it’s an expression of yourself, not what you think other people would want to buy.

woman wearing black sleeveless shirt holding on post with graffiti using left hand staring on walls with assorted graffiti

Now it goes without saying that most people in their 40s are either deeply invested into a particular career and are going to have a lot of difficulty changing from that, or are otherwise occupied with a job or consulting contract of some kind. Some may be already working for themselves in a business. Quite a few people around this age also have young children and aging parents, both of whom will need support and care. It’s a daunting task to coordinate the schedules of multiple people’s lives, and find the time to practice art.

Without a doubt, I understand the feeling that there just isn’t enough time. According to some sources the average American mother has only have about 36 minutes per day to themselves[2] (which is based on a study by the American Sociological Review in 2011), while others have said that parents may have plenty of free time[3] (based on information gathered by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics).

woman in white long sleeve shirt writing on white paper

Regardless, how much time you have is how much time you have. You don’t necessarily need a whole hour to create art. You don’t even need 30 minutes. If you have 10 minutes to draw a quick sketch while waiting for the water to boil, then I say use it. If you want to leave it there then that’s fine because that was practice for next time. Or maybe you really like it so you hold onto it and either add more details and expand on it, or use it as inspiration for something else. Like expanding on an idea. Certainly, you may not have a whole hour free to yourself after finishing work at your full time job, commuting, cooking dinner, finishing your homework for your college course, and parenting kids, but somewhere in there I know there’s got to be at least 10 to 15 minutes or so, and that’s all you really need.

person wearing silver ring holding book

One thing that is going to help you is to find something in which you can specialize. If you find while painting that you’re much better at painting landscapes than painting portraits, don’t feel like you absolutely must get better at painting people. It’s perfectly fine to paint hundreds of landscapes if that’s what you’re good at and what you want to do. Specialize. It’s much easier to get better and quicker at one thing, than to spend a lot of time and diverting your focus onto several different things. I wouldn’t say this is always the case, but often the benefit you’ll get from practicing three things for an hour each will be less than if you had spent 3 hours on only one thing.

Honestly, I think that the truth is that people are not really as worried about finding free time to create art as they are worried about finding enough time to practice and become skilled at it. This is definitely true for anyone who has a dream of becoming a professional artist and earning a living mostly or entirely off of the sale of their art. There’s no doubt that to go from not having any formal training or education in art, to being a professional artist would be very ambitious. This is where having passion for art is going to keep you going. It should go without saying that to be a professional artist you are going to have to really commit yourself to it. You have to have the passion to do it.

person holding white and red floral card

That passion is what is going to help you overcome fear. Fear of failure is a real and powerful experience I think everyone feels. Taking the leap from working in a stable job to earning a living from art would be scary for anyone, particularly someone with people who are financially dependent upon them. Sometimes people will decide to start over on a whole new career or go back to college. That takes courage. The truth is that life is often scary and you have to find strength from somewhere. And as long as that’s coming from a healthy place then I know you’ll be able to get through it.

If you don’t take the leap now I think you might look back in 20 years and wish you had started earlier. Granted, if you’re in your 60s or older you should still practice art because of its many health benefits, and I think you’re never too old to try new things, even becoming a professional artist. If you’re interested in specific ways that you can get started with art or to become an artist after 40, you can find more of our advice here.


[1] Flanner, Janet. “Pablo Picasso’s Idiosyncratic Genius.” The New Yorker. March 9, 1957. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1957/03/09/the-surprise-of-the-century-i

[2] Loder, Vanessa.”Why American Mothers Have Less Leisure Time And Find Ourselves Overwhelmed And Exhausted.” Huffpost.com, 07/29/2014. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/why-american-mothers-have_b_5630825

[3] Vanderkam, Laura. “Working Parents Have Plenty of Free Time.” CBS News, 07/12/2011. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/working-parents-have-plenty-of-free-time/

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