Is it possible to make a living from your art?
I work as a full-time artist, but how do I actually make money? Am I actively making a living through my social media? Depends on your standards of what a “living” is, but yes I pay my bills. Though living in San Diego has definitely made me feel quite poor again. (The cost of living out here is INSANE.)
I recently got an email from someone asking if it’s worth it to put in the work on social media to grow a large following if I still make comments about being a somewhat starving artist. The answer is different for everyone. If you want a lot of money right this very moment, being an artist is probably the last thing you want to do. If you want to pursue your passion and have the patience to put in the work for a while without receiving an immediate reward, then yes it’s totally worth it.
Making a living isn’t going to happen overnight.
It’s a hustle, and income will be inconsistent for a while. Growing an art business takes time and a lot of creative thinking. At times you will have to create your own opportunities and step out of your comfort zone in order to see your numbers rise. Since you’re in it for the long haul, it’s important to remember to acknowledge any progress you make to keep yourself from burning out.
How you and I can make money as artists:
First, there are two main categories of income.
Active Income: Income that comes directly from actions you perform. Ex. commissioned work, creating original pieces, teaching classes etc.
Passive Income: Income that you earn without additional work put in. Ex. licensed work royalties, online class subscriptions, affiliate links, advertising revenue etc.
If you want to create consistent income or make more money without putting in more effort, you’ll want to explore passive revenue streams. In the beginning, you are going to be very active to get things up and running, but the hope is that a lot of activity, in the beginning, will lead to passive income over time.
Here are 12 passive and active ways to make money as an artist:
1. Online Sales
This is where the bulk of my income comes from at the moment. Once you have a social following, you can start to drive that traffic to your storefront. There isn’t a magic formula that ‘x’ amount of followers gives you ‘x’ amount of sales, but the more eyes on your work, the higher the chances of making a sale. In order to get online sales, this is still a very active income stream and weekly, if not daily work is needed to manage social media/online promotions on certain products.
You can also look at paid promotions and advertisements, but I’m not an expert on that (yet).
2. Event/ In-person Sales
This is my least favorite way to earn money (Hi, I’m an introvert!). Booking craft fairs, art fairs, or other in-person sales events can give you a sizable boost in income. They usually take a lot of time to prepare for. You spend 8+ hours talking to people, and cross your fingers that you’ll at least cover your costs. Successful large shows can bring you thousands in sales within a weekend. Unsuccessful craft events can leave you in the hole, grumpy, and defeated.
Research and attend events before signing up for them. Talk to the artists that participate and see how their experience has been with that show. Make sure the event is well known, adequately advertised, and has a juried process for acceptance. Nothing worse than setting up your fine art next to a multi-level marketing vendor.
3. Commissioned Art
Somebody might love what you do, but want a different color scheme or size for their home. Accepting commissions is a good way to diversify your income and get to know your customers. Let your following know you accept custom orders on your website, individual posts, or social media bio.
4. Gallery Shows
Having a solo show at a fancy art gallery is a dream a lot of us have. You’re able to hang the work, mingle with art lovers at an opening reception, and hopefully sell pieces at a higher price. Even though galleries will take a large chunk of the sale to keep their business running, it’s still a great opportunity.
It’s hard to immediately get a solo show, but you can work your way into galleries by participating in group shows and building your own following in the surrounding community.
5. Teaching Art Classes
Teaching others is a great way to earn extra income. Most of the art instructors I had in school were full-time creators. It’s how a lot of artists keep the lights on while building their careers.
- Look into creating a community education course in your town for your favorite art techniques.
- Consider hosting a painting party or becoming a teacher for the Paint Night type companies out there.
- Teach people one-on-one.
- If you have a Master’s in art you can look into teaching at a university or community college.
- Explore online class formation on platforms like Skillshare.
6. Consulting Services for Other Artists
If you become an expert in social media, bookkeeping, video editing, or any of the non-art skills needed in the art world then you could definitely explore this option.
I didn’t plan on offering consulting services or coaching sessions to my followers when I started this journey. I just wanted to figure out how to find success. Once I started writing blogs to share what I’d learned about the business side of art, this new opportunity presented itself. (See what services I offer here.)
7. Patreon or Ko-Fi
Asking your followers to support what you do by pledging a small amount each month can help you establish consistent and passive income. This is easier to do as you become more widely known. (See those little “Tip Me” widgets on my site? That’s my Ko-Fi page.
8. Affiliate Programs
You know those blogs I write to share my supplies and tips? Yeah, I earn commissions if anyone makes a purchase through the links I include in my posts. Since a lot of your social following will probably be other artists that want to do what you do, you can take advantage of their willingness to learn and earn passive income.
You’ll need a website and a desire to write blogs or make YouTube videos.
9. YouTube Channel Monetization
If you enjoy making video content of your art or anything related to your art, consider creating a YouTube channel and work at becoming a partner to enable monetization. This means you’ll be able to earn money through ad clicks on your videos. It take a lot of work to get this up and running, but the income potential is pretty cool. #youtubefamous
10. Licensed Artwork
You know those nameless pieces of art in hotels, lawyer’s offices, and the home decor section of Target? Those were all created by an actual artist. It may be mass produced and sold by a corporation, but there is an artist out there collecting 5-8% in royalties from each sale. If you get a collection of works licensed with a large enough company, you can create a nice passive income stream.
Society6, Redbubble, etc.
These sites are an option for getting your work out there, but you’re the one that has to maintain the product listings and you still only get a small percentage of the sale.
11. Sponsorships and Influencer Payments
As your social following grows, you will have more power to pair up with big brands to promote their products. The best part is as your social influence grows, big brands will actually pay you to promote their products through targeted campaigns. There are multiple social influencer platforms that you can look into to make yourself known to brands seeking authentic promoters.
12. Twitch Creative
Do you like live streaming your process? Well, there is a whole market for that. Twitch was originally for gamers to stream their gameplay, but there is now a creative section for artists to stream what they do in the studio.
There are artists who make a complete living through their streaming channel by allowing people to subscribe and overlapping it with Patreon pledges. Check out how Sezzadactyl does it.
I was going to explore this option in November of 2017, but I got distracted…
There may be a part II to this post in the future for more income options.
There are definitely a crap ton of other ways you can earn money as an artist, but these are the options I have personally explored. I currently earn income from online sales, commissioned art, affiliate programs, consulting work, and Patreon on a monthly basis.
Since I have at least five streams of income per month now, I don’t have to panic when the sales in my store slow down. The biggest takeaway I want you to have from this post is that you must diversify your streams of income. Do not just depend on one area for money. Yes, it would be great to be able to just sell original works of art from your online store and pay the bills, but you leave yourself vulnerable when the market changes.
It’s not going to be easy.
I work all the time. Whether I’m doing social media, bookkeeping, marketing, updating inventory, or actually making art—it feels like my art business is my life. I love it, but it’s not something that I would recommend for people who just ‘like’ making art or need money to pay the electric bill by next week.
Again, building strong and consistent streams of income from your art will take time. After quitting my full-time job in 2016, it took me a year to finally see forward momentum just with my social following and another year after that for some sort of income consistency. I hardly made any money during that year. In 2018, I’ve seen loads of progress, but I’m still working on consistency. I’ve made anywhere from $269 in a month to $8,800 in a month. So *shrugs*.
Please leave questions and comments below while commenting is open or reach out to me directly through Instagram or email. I’d love to hear from you! Make sure to sign up for my email list below to never miss a blog post.
P.S. You probably know by now that I am here to help artists with these posts. If you need help with your online branding, Instagram account, or just want a creative accountability coach, then check out my consulting services. You can easily add a session to my online calendar now.