Making Money Artistically: Lessons Learned

Our last two posts have been about Charging for Creative work, and this weeks post is a collection of lessons, tips, and final thoughts about making money from art. From our conversations with artists, here are some of the best lessons we’ve learned. If you want to make some money from your art, these are the things you should do:

Do the math.


If you want to make money from your art, treat it like a business. Don’t let art become just a money-eating hobby. Be sensible and get familiar with the numbers involved. Make sure you know what your expenses are and what your hourly rate is. Figure out how much you need to make to break even or make a profit. If you do the math, you’ll be able to quote prices accurately for clients, and being knowledgeable is more professional than waffling and estimating blindly. There’s a stereotype of artists being so high-minded and committed to “the work” that they don’t care about the bottom line, but that’s where the stereotype of the starving artist comes from: do the math and you don’t have to starve.

artmoney2Know what your materials cost: how much is your canvas? Your brushes? A tube of paint? What will be necessary to display your work: will you need a frame? UV glass? Will it cost money to sell your work online or in a fair or showKeeping track of your costs allows you to make better decisions about how to cut them: you can change the volume or quality of the paint you work in to decrease price per ml, for example. You could split a booth fee with a friend. You can learn where to cut corners when framing. Knowing where your money is going allows you to control how much of it is going, and a penny saved is a penny earned.

Know your market.

Who is your art for? How old are they, where do they live, and how do they think? What is their style and sense of humor? Find the right market for the work you do: different subjects and styles will be a hit in one area and a bust in another. Artists who are a big name in one state are barely heard of three states over. Artists who don’t sell well in person can be huge online. Make sure you are reaching the right audience, and you’ll get the response you need.

20130803_094544When you identify your market, take time to adjust your prices accordingly. Millennials and Baby Boomers have different ideas of what art is worth buying, and how much they should (or can) spend. Different people are willing to pay different amounts for different things, in different places. If you’re selling your art in a gallery, you’ll be able to charge more than if you’re selling at a small town fair (in fact, you definitely should, as galleries customarily take a percentage). You’ll charge differently for the same work in rural North Carolina than you will in the ritzy Mainline suburbs of Philly.

Beware of problem clients.

pexels-photo-70292The phenomenon of clients or potential clients not understanding the value of creative work is sadly well known. There are whole twitter accounts dedicated to the outrageous demands of potential clients who don’t think creative work is work at all. You may encounter people who don’t understand the time, skill, mental and physical exertion, and cost involved in creating artwork. Explain it to them calmly and politely, but firmly. Don’t agree to work for “exposure” or “just because you love to make art”: unless you are getting something of equal value, they are ripping you off.

Don’t back down if a customer is refusing to pay what your work is worth- doctors, plumbers, and retail sales people don’t do work for free, so you don’t have to either. Similarly, don’t go out on a limb for clients who are being argumentative, shady, or evasive about pay: if they wouldn’t act that way with a lawyer or a waiter, they can’t act that way with an artist.

Integrate Technology

pexels-photo-57690As you know, we’re living in a time of unprecedented technological advancement. Tech gives us so many opportunities as artists, exponentially more opportunities than we’ve had throughout the whole rest of history. Take advantage of these opportunities or you’ll get left behind, making 1917 money for 2017 work. Use email and Facebook to communicate with clients and other artists. Use your smartphone as a portable portfolio to show people what you do. Use Etsy to sell your handmade goods to people all over the world. Use Instagram, Tumblr, Deviant Art, etc to get your art “out there” for people to see. Use Square to take credit card payments and keep track of sales. Use Reddit to find creative gigs and design opportunities. Use YouTube to watch tutorials for new mediums and techniques. Use photo editing software to get the best prints and paint digitally. Use sites like Society6 to print and sell your designs on all kinds of housewares, and textiles. There are so many options, and there are more options developing every day.

Finally: If you are looking for variety in paid creative work, you can find it.

Non-artistic people will always need an Art Guy. They need someone who can correctly hold a paintbrush, someone who can edit a photo, someone who can sculpt a display or paint a sign, someone who can tell if something looks good, and how to make it look better. It may not always be a reliable 9-5 job, but if you want to, there are all kinds of ways to earn money as an artist.

pexels-photo-542555Just out of the small sample we spoke to, we had artists who have been paid for freelance design, fine art commissions, print design for small businesses, sign painting, sculptures, murals, displays for retail stores, t-shirt design, face-painting, photo correction, wedding gifts, stationary design, live painting, art teaching, custom framing, caricatures, and more.

Some of us work 9-5 M-F doing design work, some do whatever art-related things come up at a non-art-related job, some are independent artists who paint for galleries full time, and some take commissions every once in a while- there’s creative work available to fit all lifestyles. Go find some that fits yours!

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