How to make money as an artist
We will approach the online solutions. If you want to see local ones, I suggest our article: How to sell your art locally.
Best ways to make money as an artist
1. With original artwork
“Original artwork” doesn’t mean your work must be authentic, unique, and creative. It’s not Original versus Plagiarism; it is Original versus Reproduction.
For example, the first twelve casts of a bronze edition are “original” works of art under French law. Starting with the 13th cast, they are “reproductions” and must bear this label in a visible place on their exterior.
It also applies to other mediums, not just sculptures. When you are painting visually identical artworks, your works are still original, with up to 12 copies.
2. With art merchandising
Art merchandising can range from mugs and pillows to signed posters.
When you go to a museum, you see the t-shirts and mugs in the souvenir store. They are produced in advance. As an artist, if you create your merchandising in advance, you will need to put in the money, prepare the storage, manage the inventory and handle the logistics. It is a lot of trouble for a few bucks. The advantage is that you can bring them to a physical store and sell it locally.
Alternatively, you can use Print-on-Demand services (POD) to sell your merchandise online via social media. The products will only be produced after the customer places and pay for an order. It’s more efficient, more ecological, and economical. POD is only fully operating in the US. You can use POD services in Europe, with a limited selection of products.
3. With commission art
All the emerging artists I have met love commissioned works more than any other project. Besides money, there is also a “feel-good” factor. Someone is trusting you and paying you before the work is delivered.
However, if you are only doing commissioned works, you are instead a “designer”. Just saying the word “designer” is like an insult to some fine art professionals. There is no shame in painting rich people’s poodles. But we have 24 hours a day. If you spend a lot of time doing what you are told to do, you have no time for your art.
4. With licensing artworks
You might have heard of Getty Images. You upload an image you created and wait for someone to purchase the right to use your work. You can still sell this original work to someone else. What you earn from licensing is some extra money. Stock photo webs like Getty Images are just one of many options. More and more people will have digital art frames for home and office in the future. Licensing is an excellent opportunity to showcase your artwork while getting paid.
5. Fan base art
If you are influential on social media, you can leverage the attention of your fans. If you have a lot of traffic, you can get brand deals or make money with Google Adsense. If you have good engagement, you can crowdfund your monthly expenses on Patreon or finance a unique project on Kickstarter.
What is the difference between traffic and engagement? I would put it this way: traffic means a lot of people like you, while engagement means people like you a lot.
– David Cheifetz
– The Blue Review
What jobs can you get with an art degree?
This question is for those who have perhaps graduated from fine art school and wish to seek employment. Here are some ideas for those who are not ready to embark on a full-time artist career, especially when you face financial difficulties. Perhaps one day, when you are ready, you will quit your job and become an artist.
Working in the Creative Industries
Cultural and Creative Industries, CCI, has a fair share of the global economy. The CCI is essential for Europe, representing 6.8% of European GDP and 6.5% of European employment (approximately 14 million), according to research published on the European Commission’s website. For other countries, we are expecting at least 4% of GDP. I am trying to say that there are many jobs and opportunities in the creative industries. Of course, being a painter is a part of it, but there are many other sectors you could work in.
The above is just a big picture. Let’s dive into some specific positions you can consider:
1. Teaching Position: art teacher.
Art teacher is a good option if for long summer holidays. Your salary will be stable but won’t make you a millionaire. You will need solid art skills to work as an art teacher.
2. Technical Position: graphic designer.
Graphic designer is probably the most chosen alternative for art school graduates. These jobs are often better paid than teaching positions so that you can save enough money in a couple of years. Your art skills will become an added value to your technical job.
3. Managerial Position: art director.
It might take years to get to the management level. So unless your family is in this business, you will only access the management positions with extensive experience. Your art skills will be your trophies that are formidable while collecting dust.
4. Independent professional: wedding photographer.
As a self-employed professional, you can manage your own time. However, you will face the same problem as starting your art career. You will need money to set up your business and become self-employed, so you may spend it on becoming an artist. Your art skills, in this case, are not necessary – business and people skills are crucial.
5. Dual-Career artists
I have met many active artists who still keep a day job or a side job. Some of them have successful careers in other industries unrelated to art. I call them “dual-career artists”. They can be artist-lawyers, artists-accountants, or artists-engineers. These are perfect combinations. It allows you to work in a comfortable environment, get paid decent wages, and give you handy skills to make art. By having one foot in another industry, you are not much affected by the potential crisis in the art market.
Synergies between your job and your art
To sum it up, there are limitless jobs you can do with your art skills in and outside of creative industries. My favorite jobs are technical in the creative industries. Less care about gender, nationality, skin color, or religion. As a technician, you get the jobs done and get paid. There are synergies between your job and your art. It offers you a good wage so you can save enough money to kick start your art career in a couple of years.
Aren’t art skills useless in these jobs?
There could be much synergy between your art and professional skills. If you are a lawyer, you can protect your copyright using your legal knowledge while better understanding what your clients need and feel. If you are an engineer, you can produce artworks using new technology or materials others can’t access. Your art skills can offer your career a competitive advantage.
We tend to picture the artist waiting tables in a restaurant when thinking about side hustles. In the movie One Million Dollar Baby, the protagonist was waiting tables until she saved enough money to pay for her training and pursue a boxing career.
Making money with art skills. How is it relevant?
There are some odd jobs where you can use your art skills, such as a painter (for the walls) and a mason. Although it gives you temporary financial relief, it doesn’t have much synergy with your art. If you have any other options, don’t take this one.
Job search for artists
Since the pandemics, employment platforms grew a lot. Locally, most of those platforms are targeting the US or Europe while remote jobs are taking advantage of the global economy with delocalization. Few artists can live from their art, so one of their alternatives is to find a job related to their art. It won’t be then just about making money with the resentment of wasting life. There are 4 online ways to find jobs for artists:
1. General Job Search Websites
Sites like Freelancer, Upwork, Jooble are the leading job and employment websites and are not focused on artists at all. Yet, they have huge traffic and propose a broad range of freelance, part-time, internship, or full-time jobs. Artists there might find opportunities but the competition is fierce and frauds are not absent. Bigger sites are more difficult to be moderated.
2. Job Search websites for artists
Those platforms are specific to artists and creatives so they may be more interesting and adapted for them.
(New York, New York City, 80K monthly visits)
This is the biggest marketplace for creatives in search of their next job. For illustrators, writers, graphic designers, and other creatives there are many opportunities.
ArtsJob doesn’t have a great reputation for its support, but you can focus on looking for the open calls page.
(United Kingdom, London – 80k monthly visits)
This website also has a list of job opportunities but also competitions, awards, and exhibitions and is consequently highly related to the Art World. It might be a good choice if you want to enter in the art market while looking for a job.
(Germany, Berlin – 50K monthly visits)
ArtConnect is presented as a very intuitive database to explore and apply to current open calls by leading art organizations around the world. There are almost no jobs there but it can be great for building your network. The best jobs are the ones you get indirectly.
(United States, Ohio, Hudson – 10K monthly visits)
Art Deadline is smaller but probably the oldest platform with job listings from art artist publications for art professional community
There are many others (CallForEntry, Re-Title, ArtFrankly and so on) Feel free to contact us if you had some experience with one of them.
3. Artist Communities
Focused on digital art, you have a marketplace where you can sell your tutorials and content to help others with their art. It has also job opportunities. Here the logic is different: you need to show your portfolio as a reference. It can be intimidating as you’ll compete among the best digital artists. It is now the best place to post if you’re looking for employment in the entertainment industry. Otherwise, don’t bother.
DA was the best platform for digital artists a long time ago. Now it has a smaller audience and not the kind to hire you. Opportunities there are more for commissioned fan art, gender fluid, or NSFW content.
4. Social media
Good if you already had jobs with recommendation letters from previous employers.
Twitter is a great place if you follow the right people. Follow art curators, art directors, and people with the creative job you seek and socialize. Don’t beg.
I wouldn’t recommend it for finding art jobs. It is a good way to reach people if they are following you but the algorithms are constantly changing. And you cannot really base any strategy on that.
How to make a living as an artist
1. Understand Serious Cash
“Serious cash” is the level that should be higher than the average salary in your region. Otherwise, it’s just a living wage.
2. Understand what is to be an artist
Let’s be clear: “being an artist” means working as an artist, not like being yourself, brilliant, or happy. We are talking about at least 40 hours per week. Let’s be realistic – not working very hard won’t get you anywhere!
3. Work well
There are many ways for a professional to make serious money for an artist. As an artist, you will discover different options and meet your market. It’s all up to you. It’s a journey that no one else can walk for you.
What is the most lucrative business? Probably illegal business. Imagine, instead of an artist, you are a top-gun out-of-town killer. What do you need to work well? You need killer skills. It would help if you were well informed and briefed. It would be best if you were patiently waiting for your target to appear, have the ability to execute the plan, and be at the right place at the right time.
Transfer these skills into an artist:
- Are you trained and skilled?
- Are you willing to take risks?
- Are you well informed about the art market?
- Are you using the right tools for your work?
- Do you have a mailing list of collectors to hunt down?
- Can you handle unforeseen situations?
- Can you finally deliver what your clients require?
- These are things you need to work well.
4. Be unconventional
Being different means, you have to go beyond the conventional career path. Just hanging your artwork on a local gallery’s wall will not cut it. If you want serious money, you need to take the less-traveled road and be different from your competition.
Blue Ocean Strategy
In business, it’s called the Blue Ocean Strategy. The red ocean is where the fish and sharks are, and the blue water is where there is almost no competition.
Picture what most artists are doing. They work with art galleries and give away about half what they earn as commissions. They attend some artist events where they network with other artists but not the collectors. They spend a lot of time preparing for exhibitions at a fancy place, but no sales!
5. Finding out the system
You have to go away from their practice and think about how to be different. You can sell art online on your website, where you don’t pay commissions. You can talk to your collectors on social media and promote your artwork.
You can sell art merchandise to make money without selling any artwork. If you are willing to go out of your comfort zone and learn new skills, there are many ways to make decent money.
How to make money as an artist online
The easiest and less risky way of getting money online is doing commissioned work. Indeed, you can sell ready-made artworks too, but you might have a large inventory and insufficient cash flow. With commissioned pieces, you don’t have to bear the risks of producing something that is not sold. Your customers will pay you online in advance, so you can purchase the materials using the payment.
However, you will need trust and credibility to convince strangers on the Internet to pay for something not produced. If you are from a local art school, make sure you say that in your communication. If you have a lot of experience, reflect that on your portfolio. If you have many happy customers, ask them to write reviews on your website or social media because those recommendations can boost your credibility.
1. From your website
You will need a personal website with payment methods to charge your clients online. Currently, there are many options to embed into your website, from a minimum handling fee to a monthly cost of around 300 USD.
The free option is BigCartel, which allows you to list up to 5 products, one image per product. Imagine if you say you make three different prices for commissioned works, such as wedding photo painting, kids portrait painting, and sketching of your dog. BigCartel doesn’t charge you commissions, but the two payout methods, PayPal and Stripe, charge around a 3% handling fee. Selling from your website is the cheapest option on the Internet. Beware that you will still need a website to use BigCartel because it doesn’t bring you traffic.
2. From Service marketplaces
If you don’t have a website, you can use other platforms, such as Fiverr or Upwork. These two are the most popular websites where thousands of freelancers offer their skills for a small sum of money.
At Fiverr, as the name suggests, you charge 5 dollars per gig. When you get leveled up, you will be able to charge more. Professionals typically charge 5 to 50 dollars for a micro gig made in a few minutes. Your customers will expect the work to be delivered online.
3. From Online marketplaces
I am sure you know Etsy, the most famous artisan marketplace for all handmade items. It’s a mature business founded in 2005. Now there are millions of products ranging from jewelry to paintings and toys. At Etsy, you can sell commissioned works as well. Most of the time, customers expect a hard copy to be delivered by post. If you are located in a place without good postal service, I would recommend you to stick to Fiverr.
Perhaps doing commissioned work online doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but it can help meet ends. Think of it as an exercise. If you are spending time working on your techniques anyway, why not do so for some extra money? Also, don’t forget that you own the rights to your work. You can use them for your portfolio, which can bring more opportunities in the future.
Why are artists poor?
Monkeys can understand money
Check out the experiment done at Yale by two researchers, Keith Chen and Marc Hauser. They taught capuchin monkeys to use money. Not long after, these monkeys started using money to exchange for food and sex among themselves. If monkeys can understand and use money, so can we.
Not just artists are poor.
I don’t think artists are poorer. Look at other people. Are they rich? I don’t think so. Homelessness is a critical issue. Over 100 million people are homeless worldwide, according to the United Nations. Inequality is a global problem. Today, the wealthiest 1% already own half of the world’s fortune. And by 2030, they will own two-thirds of the world’s wealth. If you are 99%, you are poor. Not only are artists poor, but we are also all poor.
Who has got money? I guess you would think of a young millennium executive on the covers of Forbes. Guess what? Startup entrepreneurs are poor too. When you start a business from scratch, you don’t earn money, and you need to spend a lot of money from your pocket. If you bootstrap, you might lose everything you have. If you get an investment, you are selling your company out before growing your business. After 18 months of hard work, 90% of chance that you will fail. When you start over again, you start with debts.
Artists are poor, but entrepreneurs aren’t?
Perhaps Media helped to form a part of this bias. But artists are responsible for their image too. Some artists use the ‘poor artist’ hashtag to gain sympathy and ask for special treatment.
Not an excuse
Just because you decided to become an artist doesn’t make others owe you. If you are creating value for society, you will be rewarded. Let’s think more like an entrepreneur. No one “should” invest in your company if they don’t want to. No one should give you a free ride. If you have to ask for financial help, make a plan to pay back with interest. Take the responsibilities, take risks, and get the opportunities. Don’t make “poor artists” an excuse; instead, think like this:
I am not a poor artist. I am a startup artist who is not yet rich.