How to make money as an artist
Firstly, we are focusing on ways to make money as a self-employed independent visual artist.
I have put together a list of 5 ways to make money as an artist:
#1: Selling Original Artwork
‘Original artwork’ doesn’t mean your work has to be authentic, unique and creative. It’s not original vs plagiarism, it is original vs reproduction.
Under French law, the first twelve casts of a bronze edition are “original” works of art. 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 up to 12 copies.
#2: Selling Art Merchandising
Art merchandising can range from mugs and pillow to signed posters.
When you go to a museum and you see the t-shirts and mugs in the souvenir store. They are produced in advance. As an artist, if you produce your merchandising in advance, you will need to put in the money, prepare the storage, manage the inventory and handle the logistics. 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 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.
“Running a small business requires dedication, hard work, and perseverance. I wear multiple hats from administrator to marketer to researcher, and so on.”
#3: Commissioned Works
All the emerging artists I have met love commissioned works more than any other projects. 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, it means you are rather a ‘designer’. Just by saying the word ‘designer’ is like an insult to some truly fine art professionals. There is no shame for 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, then you have no time for your art.
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 is just one of many options. In the future, more and more people will have digital art frames for home and office. This is a great opportunity to showcase your artwork while getting paid.
#5: Fan Base
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 special 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.
How to make money with art skills
Fine art and employment
‘How to make money with art skills?’ Let’s talk about how to make money with art skills but not being a fine art professional. This question is for those of you who have perhaps graduated from fine art school and wish to seek employment.
I’m not telling you to get a ‘day job’ instead of becoming an artist. I would like to offer some ideas to those of you who are not ready to embark on a full-time artist career. Especially in those situations that you are facing financial difficulties. Perhaps one day when you are ready, you will quit your job and become an artist.
In an ideal world, money is not an issue and people are free to chase their dreams. But we live in a world of inequality. According to the Oxfam Report on Global Inequality, 82% of the global wealth generated in 2017 went to the most wealthy 1%. There is a 99% chance that you belong to the 99% population, therefore money is an issue. So we have to work hard and fight hard to survive and thrive.
Art graduates in the labor market
There are so many jobs an artist can do, but let’s make it simply by dividing it into two parts: working in the creative industries or in other industries.
#1: Working in the Creative Industries
Cultural and Creative Industries also called CCI for short, has a fair share of the global economy. The CCI is especially important for Europe, representing 6.8% of European GDP and 6.5% of European employment (that is approximately 14 million) according to research published on the European Commission’s website. For other countries, we are expecting at least 4% of GDP. What I am trying to say is, there are a lot of jobs and opportunities in the creative industries. Of course, being a painter is a part of it, but there are so many other sectors you could work in.
These above are just a big picture. Let’s dive into some specific positions you can consider:
Teaching Positions: art teacher.
This is especially a good option if you enjoy long summer holidays and you are not too ambitious. Your salary will be stable but won’t make you a millionaire. You will need solid art skills to work as an art teacher.
Technical Positions: graphic designer.
This is probably the most chosen alternative for art school graduates. These jobs are often better paid than teaching positions, so you can save enough money in a couple of years. Your art skills will become an added-value for your technical job.
Managerial Positions: 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.
Independent professionals: 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 very well spend it on becoming an artist. Your art skills, in this case, are not really necessary – business skills and people skills are crucial instead.
#2: Working in Other Industries
I have met so many active artists who still keep a day job or a side job. Some of them are actually having successful careers in another industry totally unrelated to art. I call them the dual-career artists.
They can be artist-lawyers, or artists-accountants, or artists-engineers. These are really good combinations. It allows you to work in a comfortable environment, getting 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.
Aren’t art skills useless in these jobs?
There could be a lot of synergy between your art skills and your professional skills. If you are a lawyer, you can protect your copyright using your legal knowledge while having a better understanding of what your clients need and feel. If you are an engineer, you can produce artworks using new technology or new materials others can’t access. Your art skills can offer your career 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 which 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.
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 personal favorite jobs are technical jobs in the creative industries. Less care about gender, nationality, skin colour 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.
How to make serious cash being an artist
What is Serious Cash?
There isn’t a definition of what is ‘serious cash’, but I assume the level should be higher than the average salary in your region. Otherwise, it’s just a living wage, not ‘serious cash’.
Being an artist
Let’s be clear that here ‘being an artist’ means working as an artist, not like being yourself, being smart, being happy. We are talking about at least 40 hours per week. Let’s be realistic – not working very hard won’t get you anywhere!
The artist journey
There are many ways for a professional to make serious money, such as 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 it for you.
One formula: ‘work well, be different’
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. You need to be well informed and briefed. You need to be patient waiting for your target to appear, to have the abilities to execute the plan, to be at the right place at the right time.
Now transfer these skills into an artist
- Are you trained and skilled?
- Are you willing to take the 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 asked for?
These are things you need in order work well.
Be different means you have to go beyond the conventional career path. Just by hanging your artwork on a local gallery’s wall is not going to cut it. If you want serious money, you need to take the road less travelled 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 ocean 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 were made.
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 own 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 so you can make money without selling any artwork. If you are willing to go out of your comfort zone and learn new skills, there are so many ways to make decent money.
How to sell your art online
The easiest and less risky way of getting money online is by doing commissioned works. Certainly, you can also sell ‘ready-made’ artworks too, but you might end up with a large inventory and bad cash flow. With commissioned works, 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.
Trust and credibility
However, in order to convince strangers on the Internet to pay for something that is not yet produced, you will need trust and credibility. 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 really boost your credibility.
Here are 3 ways you can get paid doing commissioned work online:
#1: Your artist website
To charge your clients online, you will need a personal website with payment methods. Currently, there are many options to embed into your website from a minimum handling fee to monthly cost 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 3 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 3% handling fee. This 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: 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 levelled up, you will be able to charge more. Typically professionals charge 5 to 50 dollars for a micro gig that can be done in a few minutes. Your customers will expect the works to be delivered online. Fiverr will launch an advertisement to promote your services. You will receive 8 USD for a 10 USD gig.
#3: Product marketplaces
I am sure you know Etsy, the most popular artisan marketplace for all kinds of handmade items. It’s a mature business founded in 2005. Now there are millions of products ranging from jewelry, clothing 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 make the ends meet. Think it as an exercise. If you are spending the time to work on your techniques anyway, why not doing 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 artist are poor
I don’t think artists are particularly poor. 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 richest 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 the 99%, you are poor. Not only artists are poor, but we are also all poor.
Your own pocket
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 own pocket. If you bootstrap, you might lose everything you have. If you get an investment, you are selling your company out before you grow your business. After 18 months of hard work, 90% of chance that you will fail. When you start over again, you start with debts.
Why we think artists are poor but entrepreneurs aren’t?
Perhaps media helped to form a part of this bias. But artists are responsible for their own 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, it doesn’t make others owe you. If you are creating value for the 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 interests. Take the responsibilities, take the risks and take 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.
What is Money Art
The short answer is, Money Art is art about money. I have found different kinds of money art on the Internet. It is a bit out of the subject, but it can show that a niche related to currencies can be used by artists to sell their art.
#1: Art made of notes
Instead of ink on paper or paint on canvas, artists are using dollar bills as a medium to create artworks. Check out the artwork of Mark Wagner. He cuts dollar bills to make portraits. I guess this is a good example of ‘monetary value attached to art’. In the work ‘Distribution of Wealth’, the artist cuts a stack of 100 dollar bills to depict the proportion of money received by the artists and their dealers. Another popular form is origami art using dollar bills. If you are hungry, you can always unfold it and pay for food.
“You know, you would think so, but it’s actually cheaper than a lot of other materials. Oil paints are not cheap. You know, a tube of cadmium red for, like, a little 1 ounce tube will put you back like 20 bucks, 30 bucks. And I use almost all of the bill, and there’s almost no overlap on the pieces. So, even a big piece, even like a piece the size of a door, might only have, like, $250 on it”
#2: Art made of coins
Coins are cheaper in face value, but it costs more to produce them. And they can be extremely useful when you go to a laundry machine. Some use coins to make a collage, some make bricolage (e.g. covering their kitchen floor with pennies). Russian artist Roman Booteen hand-engraved coins with mechanical parts, giving the old coins a new life.
#3: Art made to look like money
These artworks resemble money in certain ways, such as the Dollar Bill by Warhol, and realistic sculpture by Paul Rousso. Money can be a popular niche in home decor. On Etsy, you can find thousands of products with money theme, from wall art to beach towels. I say products, not art, because some of them are made by hand, some are made in mass productions.
#4: Art made about money
Most of money artworks are just about money. It was not made to look like money in a realistic way. For example, a friend of mine Elisa Insua makes artworks with recycled items. She uses money as a theme to criticise capitalism and over-consumption.
Money as medium and laws
Of course, if you make it look just like money then it’s a crime. Counterfeiting money is a conviction for the offence carries up to 20 years in prison and a fine. Whatever money art you make, don’t get into trouble (I don’t want to lose subscribers). In some countries, modifying money is an offence. For example, in China cutting, pinching, destroying or modifying money is prohibited, with a fine up to 10,000 yuan. It might cost you more money than just the money you use to make your money art to make money.