If you’re a creative of some sort (which I’m guessing so), you might have wondered — is it possible to do what you love and be successful at the same time? Determining how to make money as an artist for a living can be difficult.
According to a recent LinkedIn survey, for 34% of professionals, the leading factor in a dream job is happiness, but only 22% of us are lucky to work on our dream jobs.
If you are an artist who succeeded to turn your favorite occupation into a paid job, you are one of the few who made their dream come true!
Learning how to make money as an artist is definitely is possible, but it includes a lot of hard work and a long-term strategy.
Your talent alone isn’t enough to make money as an artist
Although it seems easier than ever to go out there and show your art pieces, it’s extremely possible to get lost in the crowded, hyper-competitive web.
You need hard work, patience and the right strategy to get discovered by prospective clients, sell your artwork, and make money as an artist.
There are specific reasons that only a few people every learn how to make money as an artist doing what they most like.
Even if you create masterpieces, they’ll probably remain locked in your warehouse (or your hard disk) if you don’t develop your marketing skills as well as your creative mastery.
In case you’re wondering how to make money as an artist, here’s a secret: you must stop thinking as a hobbyist and start acting like a business owner.
Changing your mindset is an essential step. It’s something we get into on this podcast episode:
What follows next is easier: you just implement tested recipes and effective strategies which bring results.
Where to start when learning how to make money as an artist
Learn the basics of running a business as an artist
The reason many creative people never master how to make money as an artist is because they spend thousands of hours, late nights, weekends honing their artistic talent. But they spend very little time learning about what it takes to actually make money as an artist.
But since you’re here reading our article on making money as an artist, I’ll guess that you already knew that. But did you also know that you can sharpen your business skills with sites like Udemy—where there’s literally dozens of business classes (including the one below) for incredibly low prices.
Find your specialty
It’s very common for artists and creatives to have many skills and talents. You can be a passionate illustrator or painter who works as a graphic designer, or an architect who takes gorgeous photos.
You have more chances to successfully learning how to make money as an artist by selling something you’re really good at, or is much in demand.
I’d never imagined that writing posts for my blog would bring 90% of my clients to my architectural studio!
You may have to start with what pays the bills (like copying paintings, or curating art), even if that isn’t your true passion and be open; sometimes unexpected opportunities show us the right path to making money as an artist.
Choose your niche or invent a new one
There are no limits on how to make money online nowadays, but 1 thing is necessary: you must find those who intend to buy what you offer. As a business owner it’s important to make decisions based on what the market wants.
There are 2 options you can follow, each with their pros and cons, both requiring hard work and patience:
1. You sell something people are buying already.
You know in advance that what you’ll offer is in demand. The disadvantage of an already established market is a huge competition, which requires much harder work, exquisite quality and a lot of promotion.
2. You find a very specialized niche or you create something new and innovative.
In that case, you have to work harder in the beginning to attract clients, but if you finally make it, you’ll stand out easily since there won’t be much competition.
Offering something unique and innovative was my choice and haven’t regretted it. I had to work really hard, however, for almost 3 years before I started seeing results, but there’s still zero competition in the niche I “created”.
Develop your skills
Whether you’re just starting out or you already have a lot of experience in fine art, practicing and honing your skills constantly, exploring new techniques and testing new tools is of great significance.
Your talent is useless if you don’t work consistently, experimenting and developing your own style, while staying up to date with new trends and taking advantage of the latest apps, software and technology.
It’s also necessary to be productive and create a volume of work before you start selling.
Network for clients
Every person you meet can be a potential buyer or someone who can refer you to others. Art is an interesting subject and many people would be excited to discuss with a painter, photographer or jewelry designer.
Grab the opportunity to talk about your work and make sure they’ll remember you, by handing them your business cards or sending them your portfolio’s url.
If you think that paper cards are outdated you’re wrong, in fact it’s a great way for artists to show a sample of their work.
Be imaginative and innovative, using postcards or photos for instance, instead of a classic business card. Using your creativity is one of the best ways on how to make money as an artist.
A successful tip I used to advertise my blog, was to print some simple, but well-designed bookmarks with just its url on them. I gave them as a small gift to those who wanted to visit my blog – almost everybody I met!
Social media are the perfect spots to promote your work online and attract clients.
They’re also excellent places for networking and connecting with professionals that are interested in art and are constantly looking for new talents or fresh content, i.e. interior designers, architects, journalists and bloggers.
Adam Wright wrote an excellent post, covering every possible way to get clients quickly.
Determine your pricing
Whatever way you choose to make money as an artist, you’ll have to adjust your prices or rates several times before you are finally satisfied. This applies to freelancers in general — not just artists.
Artists have an advantage compared to other professionals, by being able to see what their competitors are charging. You can easily get a clear idea about your peers’ prices, just by visiting sites where their art is exposed.
However, the art market is much more complicated compared to other industries. The same piece of art can be too expensive or too cheap, depending on the artist’s “value” and timing. (Poor Van Gogh was not such a good marketer as Picasso or Dali.)
This is a secret in art marketing — most people buy the artist and not the artwork.
In case you choose to sell your photos and illustrations to blogs and stock markets, prices are more fixed. You usually start low and the more in demand your items are, your rates go up.
Tips on making money as an artist
Be unique or amazing
Creating amazing pieces of fine art is not all it takes to make real money as an artist. But it’s a very good start.
If you do what everybody else does and you don’t do it perfectly, there’s not much of a chance at getting noticed.
Keep up to date with new trends and technology but don’t be a slave to them!
Supposing that you want to stand out, you have to develop your own style and this takes time and practice. But this is something you should do anyway — honing your skills and improving every single day is essential to stay competitive.
Develop the right mindset
Where most creatives fail is commitment and patience. They tend to get easily disappointed and quit their plans and dreams, especially if they feel rejected.
As a freelance artist, you are more sensitive and vulnerable in criticism than other professionals, because through your work you express your feelings and reveal your inner self.
Your artwork will be exposed and judged — you can’t avoid it. Therefore, you must develop a thick skin and be able to distinguish constructive feedback from negative and poisonous criticism.
Don’t take things too personally. The fact that somebody doesn’t like your creations does not necessarily mean you’re a complete failure — perhaps they are not qualified to appreciate art.
On the other hand, if nobody seems to like your drawings or photos, or you hardly get noticed, you’re probably doing something wrong, which must be fixed.
Be disciplined, organized and mindful of your expenses
There is a common misconception: If you create great art, you can simply sit back and watch the money roll in.
Running your own creative business is amazing for the freedom it gives you.
You’ll have a hard time making money as an artist however, if you are not very organized, you’re bad at managing time and non-creative tasks, awful at finances and client communication is not your asset. (All common characteristics among artists!)
If you lack discipline and commitment, not having a boss forcing you to meet deadlines can easily cause you to slip into laziness and become unproductive.
When you start learning how to make money as an artist, you can outsource time-consuming tasks to focus on your creative work, but in case you’re just starting out you have to wear many hats.
Branding and presentation
A picture is worth a thousand words and in your case, this quote is crucial. Since you create something to be seen, you are determined to get exposed. You definitely need a place to present your art pieces.
Exposure is the first step of promotion — and always make sure you do it professionally! First impressions are crucial, especially in the art industry — you want to impress your visitors, not only with your art itself but with an amazing presentation.
Branding is not just about a logo, it’s how you make people feel about your art and how they remember you. Your portfolio must be up to date and have a decent and cohesive look and feel.
Use only high-quality photos or graphics, choose the right color palette and typography, and use mock-ups of any kind to present your art professionally. Check out sites like Canva that can help you create quick and custom graphics for your social.
Choose your best, outstanding pieces to include in your portfolio website and not everything you’ve ever created.
Retailers are using this tactic successfully with their shop windows.
Use your most compelling items to attract clients — when they’re into your “shop” you’ll have the chance to show them some of your “cheaper” pieces.
Connect with fellow artists/groups
Having relationships with other artists is extremely helpful in many ways.
You can discuss and solve problems, you can get an expert’s feedback on your work, you can even partner or send clients to each other.
If you feel isolated, social media groups are great places to connect with the creatives community, find support, learn tips and have access to useful resources from other fellow freelance artists.
Making money as an artist online
For those unfamiliar with running an online business, the internet seems like a magical space where everything can happen quickly and easily.
You read posts and listen to podcasts presenting successful artists and creatives who made a fortune selling their creations online. Their stories give you the false impression that the cyberspace is full of people who can’t wait to buy your masterpieces.
Nothing could be further from the truth!
If your expectations are unrealistic, you may easily get discouraged as soon as you realize there are countless artists out there, some of them extremely gifted, trying to sell their work.
Your initial enthusiasm may turn into despair and the odds to make it are below zero.
Before you quit your dream, probably after your first clumsy, unsuccessful attempt, it’s good to know a simple truth. What those successful creatives either don’t point out (or you haven’t paid attention to) is how long it took them to get to the top and how hard they worked and marketed their brand to achieve those amazing results.
Also keep in mind, that many people exaggerate or could even lie about how much they’re making just to sound successful.
Setting up your portfolio website online and waiting for clients to find you (without marketing and promoting) is like choosing to open your gallery in the darkest street of an abandoned neighborhood, where only those who lost their way will pass by.
There’s not much of a chance to notice your work, even if you sell masterpieces.
12 different ways to make money as an artist
There are several ways to make money as an artist and you can create more than one stream of income. Whether you’re a part-time artist, or a full-time freelance artist, there are plenty of ways to make money from your art.
Selling your artwork
1. Sell your original pieces
You can sell your paintings, sculptures or decorative items and jewelry through your website or e-shop.
It’s however more wise to start on established online art marketplace, with thousands of clients and millions of visitors, instead of waiting buyers to discover your fresh website portfolio with almost zero traffic.
Some of those platforms offer you the chance to have your art featured, which is a great promotion.
2. Sell your prints
There are online marketplaces offering artists a place to sell their art with print-on-demand.
3. License your art for stock websites
As a graphic designer, illustrator, photographer or videographer you can license your artwork for stock websites as a way to make passive income for artists.
To know where to start, check out our list below for the top websites to sell your work on.
4. Private commissions
Be commissioned directly by individuals or companies to create a creative work from scratch.
As a painter or illustrator you can even get paid for street art and interior or exterior mural painting and design.
Teaching and consulting
If you already have experience, you can help other aspiring artists to follow their dreams. Many people nowadays prefer to follow an online class or a webinar from their home, especially those who don’t have many local opportunities to attend a course.
There are several ways to teach, educate and consult people online as a freelancer.
5. Teach an online class or start a workshop
It’s not so easy to set up your own webinar or online class from day 1, but you can start by subscribing to some of them to see how it’s organized, or use an already established platform which offers online courses, like Skillshare or How Now.
6. Offer tutorials
If you’ve already built an audience who trust you through blogging or social media channels, you can start selling them tutorials in various forms: pdfs, videos and webinars.
7. Create your own blog
Creating your own blog is one of the best marketing strategies to attract clients today.
For me, this was the most successful decision in my career. You build trust and gain authority while you’re promoting your work. The trick is to write for your target audience, offering them what they’re looking for. Whether that’s graphic design, social media, photography, or arts, you can find a blog niche for you.
A blog that gets a lot of traffic can become a profitable business (this requires hard work and dedication), through ads, affiliate links and sponsors.
8. Create and sell an eBook
If you’re into blogging, this is the next step you’ll probably take, after having built an audience. It’s much easier to promote and sell your eBook to people who are interested in your topic, trust you and consider you as an expert.
9. Coaching and mentoring
Many creatives and artists are sharing their experience through coaching and mentoring. You probably won’t start your career online as a coach, but if you get seriously involved in blogging or teaching, this is also a potential next step.
10. Consulting and art direction
Being more visually educated and informed about arts and design trends, you can advise individuals and companies on their creative process and artistic projects.
Working for the art industry
11. Work for online marketplaces or galleries
You can get valuable experience with the behind-the-scenes work, offering services like curating, selling or promoting art.
Apart from earning money you open yourself to opportunities you wouldn’t have otherwise.
This is a step you should take anyway if you’re dreaming of getting deeper into the art’s industry and not just selling your work.
12. Work for magazines and blogs
Writing articles, taking photos and doing art direction for the press and blogs is a fascinating way, not only to make money as an artist, but also to make powerful connections and put your name in front of a broader audience.
If you find it extremely difficult to work for a blog or another website, I can assure you that it’s easier than you think. All you need is to be an active follower (that means commenting to their posts or connecting through online groups).
Most bloggers and website owners are likely to hire from their own audience of readers.
My personal experience: Millo was one of the first blogs I subscribed almost 5 years ago when I knew nothing about blogging — 2 years later, having launched my own blog and website, I started writing for them!
15 websites to sell your art online as an artist
For those looking to learn how to make money as an artist, there are several online art marketplaces to sell your work on and different ways to do it — only a small sample is listed here. It’s recommended to make your own thorough research to see which is the best fit for you.
These websites and platforms will offer everything you need to start selling as soon as you upload your pieces, charging a commission or an initial fee.
Painters, Illustrators, Sculptors, Photographers
With 12M+ monthly page views, 1.1M+ Social Followers and 60,000 artists from around the world, this is one of the most popular online galleries, to sell your paintings, drawings, prints, photographs and sculptures. They handle shipping, have a non-exclusive policy and charge 35% commission. It’s an excellent site to sell your art online.
Another art market which offers 10,000 artists the chance to reach 500,000 subscribers around the world. You can sell original art including painting, prints, photographs, and sculptures with a 30% commission.
A curated online art gallery selling one-of-a-kind works by the top emerging artists in the world. They charge 50% commission.
Artplode is a high-quality online art gallery where dealers, artists, galleries and collectors buy and sell art with no commission charged. Artplode charges a low, one-off flat fee of $60 to advertise each artwork. The listing stays on the Artplode website until the seller removes it. You may also elect to pay extra to have your art included in one or more of their featured categories.
CODAworx is a global online community that showcases and celebrates design projects featuring commissioned artwork in interior and architectural spaces. If you are a public artist, sculptor, painter, you work with light, sound or video, you can get discovered by architects, developers, designers, art consultants, and public administrators.
Photographers, graphic designers and illustrators
You probably already know it and even used their high-quality stock photos, vectors and videos. It’s not easy, however, to be accepted and have a fully active account.
Creative Market is an online marketplace for community-generated design assets. You can sell graphics, WordPress themes, stock photography, and other digital goods for use by web creatives. Creative Market has over one million users and more than 250,000 purchasable items.
There are 3 ways to make money with Zazzle, as a designer, publishing your designs on products, as a maker, selling your products and as an associate, promoting your favorite products. This gives you multiple options to sell your art online and make money as an artist.
Using Society6, you will not only be able to transform your artwork into posters & prints but also phone cases, stickers, t-shirts and whatever can be printed.
Printful prints and sends your custom print designs to your customers on products such as t-shirts, posters, canvas, mugs etc.
Hands and Crafts artists
Etsy is a very popular e-commerce website focused on handmade or vintage items and supplies. These items cover a wide range, including art, photography, clothing, jewelry, food, bath and beauty products, quilts, knick-knacks, and toys. The site follows in the tradition of open craft fairs, giving sellers personal storefronts where they list their goods for a fee of US$0.20 per item.
ArtFire is another online marketplace for handmade products, designed by artisans worldwide, with no listing or final value fees.
Photographers and videographers
A place to sell your stock imagery, Alamy claims to be fair, transparent and easy to work with and you get 50% of the sale. You’ll be part of a community of over 60,000 contributors and 110,000 buyers.
You can sell your videos on Vimeo, the famous high-quality video platform, for $20/month billed annually or try it free for 30 days.
You have used Amazon to buy something at least once in your life! You can sell just about anything there — you can print and sell your book, DVD, or whatever you can imagine, the possibilities are endless.
No matter through which channel you showcase and sell your work, social media is the perfect tool for promotion and networking. Social media marketing can be a full-time job, but it’s worth the effort if you put in the time.
Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are the most popular media for artists, but it’s up to you to find the most suitable for your goals.
Take some time to get used to it and see how things work before you start posting. Follow those who do it successfully to learn their secrets – some of them offer free webinars and ebooks.
A few basic tips to follow:
Post only high-quality images and interesting content
Don’t connect your name or brand with low-quality images, videos and irrelevant posts just for the sake of being there. If you don’t add value, educate or entertain your audience, then you’re just wasting their, and your, time. Aim to have a cohesive look and feel to generate awareness.
Post often and consistently to build a following
One of the most important rules in social media marketing. It takes more than posting once a month to build a considerable following. Be in front of your followers’ eyes constantly, with gorgeous photos and compelling stories.
Generate traffic with paid ads
It’s extremely easy and affordable, even for a very low budget, to generate more traffic and boost your posts with paid ads on Facebook and Instagram.
Don’t rely solely on social media to showcase your art — you must have your own basis or e-shop. A self-hosted website or blog is really necessary, where you don’t depend on Facebook or Instagram changes on algorithms or even decay and disappearance (remember MySpace?).
Your goal is to attract potential clients through social media to visit your website or blog and learn more about you and your work, so always remember to include links to your website or blog. After all — that’s the purpose of posting!
Start making money as an artist
Although it may seem overwhelming following all those steps, don’t get disheartened. Many of us who now run an online business felt the same way in the beginning — lost and confused in the chaotic web.
Subscribe to the best blogs in your niche (it’s easy to find them, their posts rank higher in Google searches) and start following fellow artists you admire.
You’ll learn a lot, not only by implementing what they advise you to do but by paying attention to how they do it. Don’t just look at their artwork and technique — see how they market themselves.
Every platform has its pros and cons, choose the most suitable for you to set up your website portfolio and sell your work.
I won’t lie to you, the path to success is not easy and effortless. It takes hard work, patience, perseverance, discipline and a smart strategy to make money as an artist — only a few will end up living from it.
As soon as you start conceiving your art as a business and not just as a pleasurable hobby, you have more chances to be one of them!
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