How much does a (fine art painter) earn? The short answer is, however much they can sell their paintings for, minus their overhead for studio rent, art supplies, art gallery commissions, and art school education, plus, their general living expenses like rent, food, transportation, clothing, health insurance, and entertainment.
Some artists sell their paintings for thousands of dollars and can easily cover the above expenses, but they are the exceptions. Most artists sell their paintings for far less, and usually need a "day" job to take care of their living expenses. Some of the "day" jobs can be art related, such as teaching art at various levels, or working in a framing gallery, or working in an art supply store, while other "day" jobs are not art related, such as restaurant work, retail work, office work, construction work, and so on. This is especially true for young artists just starting out, as it can take time for artists to develop their skills and their style and message for their artwork. I know, and know of, artists who work in retail stores, offices, art galleries, teaching art at various levels, government agencies, restaurants, and in art gallery framing. These artists are very dedicated to their art, and work on their art when they can in the evenings, on weekends, or vacations. They do their best to display their artwork where they can, with the hope of finding a gallery that will take them on and display and sell their art. I was an art teacher, and I worked on my own art on weekends and on vacations, but now I am retired and I can work on my art whenever I want. I display and sell my artwork in a community non-profit gallery and an artists' co-op gallery, but I still rely on my retirement savings from teaching to live on.
So, what is the difference between the artists who sell their work for thousands, and those who have to keep a day job to survive? A lot of factors come into play, but talent, demonstrated ability through their artwork, art training, hard work, and the opportunity to display and sell their art are all important. There is also the randomness of being in the right place at the right time, and meeting the right people to get your career going. Also having art that is attractive to art buyers and collectors helps, (but bear in mind what is attractive to buyers and collectors can change over time.) The reality is that many or most artists never make a lot of money from their art, but they still create art, and they enjoy and even need this process of expressing themselves.
I hope this has not been a too pessimistic answer for you! Best wishes.
Ellen recommends the following next steps:
Look into local art galleries to get inspiration and ideas. A lot of artists today also work online through Instagram and etsy. Instagram especially can be a great way to advertise yourself to potential buyers.
As a painter, it's a good idea to figure out your particular niche. Portraits, still life's, landscapes, and so many more different styles.
As a painter you may also sell prints or create small paintings to put on apparel. The easiest way to do this is using redbubble or other sites, though as they handle manufacturing, advertising, and shipping they do take a decent margin of the sale.
It is absolutely possible to make a good living as a fine artist, but do know that it can be a challenge and you mat want to have a side job with steadier income at least while you start off. One of my professors main income was being a still-life painter, but he kept steady income during the school year by being a professor and teaching others painting, so he was really doing what he loved.