5 Tips for Using a Conference to Advance Your Career

It's a Thin Line, 2017, by Patricia Coulter. Acrylic on canvas, 36” x 52”. Copyright © 2017 Patricia Coulter. Used by permission of the artist.

Professional conferences are expensive and time-consuming. So, why would an artist attend one if they cost hundreds and take you away from the studio? Because if you’re savvy and know how to prepare, a conference can propel your career by years.

In the April/May issue of Professional Artist, out Feb. 27, I report on what I gained by attending the Poets & Writers LIVE Conference in San Francisco. Not only did I meet literary agents and soak up inspiring talks from world famous authors, but in two days, I expanded my network, received kudos and useful critiques and paved the way for paying work down the road.

My upcoming article features interviews with six artists including painters, sculptors, a jewelry maker, and an art director who have used conferences to book teaching gigs, meet lifelong colleagues and nurture their careers.

Five tips from other artists I interviewed include:

  1. Arrive Early

Artist Gaye Sekula (sekulastudio.com) lands on site a day early. She learned to do this the hard way after one experience when her plane was delayed eight hours and her luggage didn’t arrive when she did. Now, she checks in the day before and is rested and ready to go by the first keynote address.

  1. Research Presenters

Artist Karen Poirier (karenepoirier.com) studies presenters ahead of time and takes a close look at their artwork. This way, if she has a chance to ask questions or engage in a conversation, she’s ready.

  1. Stay in Touch

Conferences can be excellent for networking which is how artist Ellen Raskin uses them. Any speaker or participant she meets who she feels simpatico with, she will follow up with afterwards and stay in touch.

  1. Be Inspired/Not Jealous

One downside of attending a conference can be overwhelm and jealousy of all of the other successful presenters and artists. Artist Patricia Coulter (patriciacoulter.com) goes with an open mind and stays focused on what she’s learning.

“Remember that they [other artists] are in the trenches with you and they can often offer advice or experiences that resonant with your uphill journey,” Coulter said.

  1. Cheer Others

Coulter also uses conference to gain inspiration and encourage her cohorts. “You should sign up for their [artists’] newsletters, their blogs, etc. as it is so helpful to see where others get their inspiration from, how they use their materials, and always to cheer them on with their successes.  It may be totally different than your style but there will always be one take-away from their experiences.  Each artist has their own style and their own path and we need to offer a hand-up as often as we can.”

Find the people who inspire you and root for their success. The good energy often returns to you manifold. No better place to practice than at your next professional conference.


Gigi Rosenberg is an author, artist coach and editor of Professional Artist. She wrote The Artist’s Guide to Grant Writing (Watson-Guptill) and coaches artists to help them find funding, blast through creative blocks and launch vibrant marketing plans. To sign up for her smart, art-filled news, visit www.gigirosenberg.com/blog.