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How to make a living as an artist? (8 Ways Compared)

There’s a common stereotype that making good money as an artist is nearly impossible.

At least not while you’re alive.

That might have been true in the days of Vincent Van Gogh and Johannes Vermeer.

But definitely not the case in today’s vibrant digital age when building a solid follower (and customer!) base is more than realistic.

So if you’re a creative person, we say – congratulations! You can turn your talent into a lucrative occupation that brings you both fame and money.

Start by considering these 8 active and passive income ideas for artists.

1. Selling art on Instagram

Instagram has become the No1 social media platform for artists and art lovers. That’s great news for beginning creatives because you don’t need to climb the social ladder and wait for big-name critics to call the shots. Instead, you can connect with buyers across the globe willing to pay for your work.

There’s a catch though.

It all comes down to how many engaged followers you have – the more popular your Instagram account, the higher the demand for your art. So if you feel like you could gather more followers, start there.

We’ve already covered the technical side of using Instagram for boosting sales in 9 simple tips. When selling art on Instagram, follow these additional tips:

  • Post high-quality images
  • When photographing your artwork, choose a clean background and natural light
  • Stick to your unified style or brand – find a certain filter, hashtag, language, etc. that represents you and your art
  • Write creative captions that tell a story
  • Use relevant hashtags (that correspond to keywords representing your art)
  • Write an attractive bio – it’s the only place where followers can click on a link
  • Post on a regular basis – at least twice per week

Important! Whenever someone sends you a message showing interest in your work, redirect them to your sales page or Sellfy store.

Christian Maté Grab is a filmmaker, photographer and traveler who sells Lightroom Presets and LUTs. He promotes his Selly store in his Instagram profile bio. Image Source

 

Pros
  • By selling on Instagram, you’re shooting two birds with one stone – you showcase and promote your work while guiding the buyers into your sales funnel.
Cons
  • You probably won’t receive significant income right away – especially if your follower base is still not large.

 

2. Teaching art – online or face-to-face

If you are the proactive and extrovert type of artist, finding students shouldn’t be a problem. But first, you have to establish which type of teaching will be more suitable for you.

Teaching face-to-face

If you have a closer look, you’ll probably find that your neighborhood offers opportunities for making some money with art. Even better if you have an attractive niche like astrophotography, calligraphy or street photography.

Some ideas on how you can contribute to the social life of your community while gaining experience and earning money:

  • Offer painting (or whatever is your specialty) classes or one-day workshops to adults, kids or high-schoolers in your local community center.
  • Organize an exhibition – alone or invite other artists to participate.
  • Offer short, interactive art workshops for corporate events and parties.
  • Organize “plein air” painting workshops in the nature.

Teaching online

Teaching online courses can be a better option for reaching a wider audience. However, tutoring several people at the same time will be much more difficult online than face-to-face.

Another option is to turn your teaching into a form of passive income. You’ll have to prepare the material once, and it can bring you income even for several months or years.

Some ways how you can become an online art tutor:

  • Sell courses on platforms like Udemy and Skillshare.
  • Create your own YouTube channel to give weekly lessons on different techniques. We’ve already explained that selling tutorials on YouTube is easy as soon as you learn the basic principles of this process.  
  • Sell guides and tutorials on your own website or Sellfy page. These can take any form – video tutorials, ebooks, step-by-step guides with images, etc.

For example, James Gurney has combined the last two teaching options by giving drawing and painting lessons to over 79,000 people on his YouTube channel and selling more extensive tutorials on his Sellfy page.

James Gurney doesn’t just teach painting per se – he has chosen a specialty that differentiates him from the competition – painting dinosaurs.

 

Pros
  • A great way of earning money doing what you already know – and love.
  • An exciting process that will also include a lot of learning for yourself.
Cons
  • A simple guide is not going to cost substantial amounts – especially if the competition is fierce. To make it more valuable, make your guide very detailed or specialized.
  • Creating a course can be complicated and time-consuming, so arm yourself with patience.

3. Selling vector designs on Sellfy

If you have a knack for graphic design, there’s a whole new spectrum of active and passive income types you can make use of.

Selling vector designs might be one of the best ways for you to make money as an artist while realizing your creative potential.

On Sellfy, you can sell all kinds of artworks, from illustrations, logo designs, icon packs, character designs, along with various other types of graphics and templates. Your opportunities aren’t limited to visual arts – you can also sell music online, offer ebooks, knitting patterns, etc.

The best part? Putting a product on sale takes no more than 5 minutes.

Maioriz Design have found a niche – Watercolor art – that makes their offer stand out among other Christmas greetings. Image Source

Pros
  • An effortless and quick way to make your digital artwork available for sale.
  • By offering different designs and uploading new products regularly, you can generate a steady passive income stream.
Cons
  • Putting your digital products up on sale won’t be enough – you’ll still have to market them to boost sales. Luckily, the Sellfy platform offers marketing tools that help with this – email marketing, upsell, discounts, etc.

4. Applying for grants and competitions

Many international programs, local communities or non-profit organizations offer grants for artists. The aim of these is either to support young artists, promote culture or address a particular problem. Other times local institutions need actual pieces of art to decorate new buildings or give a nice touch to an event.

How to apply to these programs?

Try a simple online search like “grants for artists” or “artist contests”. To narrow the search down, you can add your specific country, state or city. You will probably find at least several contests or programs that you are eligible to enter and win cash or other prizes, and the chance to show your work.

Also, be sure to follow the news on social media and your artistic or professional circles, like the university, artist association or NGO.

Pros
  • Some grants and prizes can be substantial and thus give you a chance to invest in new materials, skills, etc.
  • One of the best ways to gain exposure and recognition for your work, as the participants and winners will be mentioned in the official publications and media, seen by exhibition visitors, etc.
Cons
  • Not a constant and reliable means of income, as the grants and contests are not regular (and you won’t always win).

5. Earning passive income by selling wall art

Painters, illustrators, designers, graphic artists and even sculptors can earn money by selling high-quality prints or copies of their work.

There are two ways how you can turn your art into high-quality posters:

  1. Digitise your artwork with the help of professional photography or scanning.
  2. Use Adobe Illustrator or another graphic design program to create posters in a printable format.

Some ideas on how to sell wall art:

  • Sell digital copies on Sellfy leaving the printing side to the customer.
  • Use one of many print-on-demand websites that will print and ship the posters for you.
  • Offer your art to your social media followers or set up an online shop on Facebook.
  • Set up a shop on Etsy – one of the biggest international platforms for selling art and handicrafts.
  • Sell photos from your portfolio website.

Image Source

Pros
  • This type of gig makes your art available to fans who may not be able to pay for an original piece, allowing you to diversify your target audience.
  • A convenient form of passive income that can bring you earnings for an unlimited time.
Cons
  • Small earnings per piece mean that you’ll have to sell many to earn a fair amount.

6. Selling other merchandise with your art

The easiest way to get your art printed on tangible products, is using a print-on-demand, or drop shipping service. This type of services will take care of printing, packaging, branding, and shipping of your custom products to your customers. Some well-known print-on-demand services are Society6, Zazzle, and Printful.

Some merchandise you can sell with your art on it:

  • Wedding invitations, party decorations, etc.
  • Greeting cards (Christmas, Birthday, Thanksgiving, etc.)
  • Diaries, journals, planners
  • T-shirts, hoodies, kids clothes
  • Pillowcases, towels, and other home decors
  • Phone cases, mugs, and other souvenirs or gifts
Pros
  • A pleasant and hassle-free way to earn money by creating a real-life product.
  • A safe way to test if your products are demanded before you invest in your business more seriously.
Cons
  • A significant cut (~25%) of your profit will go to the print-on-demand service.

7. Seeking commissions for original work

Commissions are a popular strategy that many beginning artists and illustrators can use to make money – both online and offline.

The best place to start is showcasing your work on your social media. Don’t forget to mention in your bio that you accept commissions – be it portraits, artistic photo sessions, or any other form of art.

With any luck, your first customers will spread the word, and your next clients will approach you themselves.

Alternatively, these online platforms unite artists and people who want to commission portraits or other artwork:

  • Artfinder
  • Artists&Clients
  • ArtCorgi
  • Art Please

Not sure how much to charge?

Start by finding people who are on a similar skill level to you, and see what they charge. Alternatively, take your average hourly rate, multiply it by the approximate number of hours needed to complete the task + add the price of the materials used.

Note that original work tends to sell for way higher than prints – use this as an argument when explaining the price to your customers.

Pros
  • Earning a living from selling your original work is the dream of every artist, right?
Cons
  • It can be complicated to deal with some customers – and you won’t avoid dealing with them like you would when selling your prints online.

8. Writing an art blog

It’s true that artists are usually more into visuals than words. However, thanks to online courses and guides nowadays anyone can become a writer. Besides, your blog can be richer in imagery than words. For example, if you teach your readers a particular painting technique, the texts will only have to support the visuals and explain the actions depicted.

So, if you don’t resent writing altogether, these are some ideas for an art blog:

  • Tips or tutorials on how to achieve the best result in your master technique
  • Reviews of new art supplies
  • Opinion articles about new art trends and movements
  • Interviews with local artists
  • Reports on new exhibitions and galleries
  • Tips about freelancing as an illustrator
  • Create videos showing how you paint, and then share written tips about it

You might be wondering:

This is great, but how do I earn money from it?

There are many ways how to earn an extra income by blogging. Some of the most popular ones are affiliate marketing, paid ads, creating commissioned reviews and promoting your other products via your blog. Find out more about how to earn with blogging in this article.

Note! Your art blog and your portfolio are two different things. In your portfolio, you should show off your artwork, talk about yourself and mention how to order your services. However, in your art blog, you shift the focus to the reader and produce useful content about various topics. Portfolio and blog can be merged in one website, but should have separate sections.

Lisa Glanz’s blog is an excellent example of combining useful content for the reader and promoting the artist’s own products.

Pros
  • In your blog, you’ll have unlimited opportunities to express yourself, share your opinion and interact with your fans.
Cons
  • Unless you treat blogging like a full-time job, you probably won’t earn enough to make a living.
  • Blogging can be time-consuming and yield results only in the long term.

 

Don’t sell yourself short

Your freelance art career is your adventure and a chance to pursue your dream. So even if the results aren’t impressive right away, be patient and don’t sell yourself short in the meantime.

The golden rule is this:

Always have several incomes. That way, if one of the areas is experiencing problems or doesn’t bring steady earnings, you can safely rely on other sources of income. Ideally, make sure that at least one of those is a source of passive income.

If you’d like to know more ways for artists to make money and read detailed tips for earning with your creative products, download our ebook $1000 from 1000 subscribers.

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Ieva is a content crafter and travel journalist with 7 years of experience. She works with Truesix.co – a content marketing agency that helps tech startups access big markets.