A few things you should know before hand, I was raised in a middle class home and once I was 18 I was on my own. Second, I left my university when I realized the education system I was in... was b.s.
Here's how I made it at age 26 with very little recognition, and representation.
#1 : Make a large amount of work, and create ALL THE TIME. I cant tell you how many of my peers and colleges say "you are so prolific"... if you want to even begin to try and make it as a professional painter you must have a large body of work. The more you paint and create, the stronger your skills and the better your chances of making "the one" that will get you noticed. In the game of numbers, add... add, ADD to your inventory!
#2: Tell everyone you meet about yourself. Honestly, this one is a no-brainier. Put yourself in places that well educated, important people might frequent. For me I found these people through coffee. Frequenting my favorite, trendy spots while working from a tablet allowed me to be in front of important people over a simple, ritualistic common connection, caffeine! I have always had business cards in my wallet since I was 18, get a professional looking website, take pictures of your inventory, notify social media when you make a sale and post photos of happy clients. Let everyone know when others support you because in the business of buying originals, some people want to know that they are purchasing something of value, and value in the contemporary art world means how much you've sold, what you are selling for, and who is supporting you.
#3: Apply, Apply, and Apply again: In the age of the internet there are TONS of opportunities for artists. Start by making a list. Find any award, competition, residency, opportunity for emerging artists that you can apply for free. APPLY TO ALL OF THEM. The more you write the more succinct you will become about your work and slowly ... after a lot of turn downs, you will begin to win. Which by the way feels amazing. Also apply to competitions with fees but be very picky about these.
#4: Be Creative with your money: If you don't want a day job you are going to have to seriously start being creative and professional about your art life. Keep an updated list of clients on a spread sheet and email them minimum quarterly about new works and new things you are up to. Teach private art lessons for kids, sell prints of your work on a variety of price points and find "the sweet spot" price point where people are purchasing the most. Have solo shows in spaces you personally rent. This cuts out a 50% gallery fee... it puts all the work into your hands as far as getting the people there, which is a huge feat... but if you are connected and get sell a piece or 2 and keep 100% it might be enough to keep you floating until you land some decent representation. Rent your space out on Air bnb to cut your studio rent down. Find the skills that people will pay for commercially, hand painted lettering, chalkboards, murals, print series for new buildings ect.
#5. This is the hardest one to convince yourself. NEVER give up. There are times when I question the path of being an independent artist, if I could actually make it a career. Its important to remember why you make art in the first place. For me, its to add to culture, to spend my life giving something that can last longer than my lifetime, to create something beautiful for people to live around. If you are honest, hard working, kind and have a bit of charm you can make it. People will eventually come and support you. Be smart, save your money, spend it wisely and monetize your self made, artist lifestyle.