How to Make Money As An Artist

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The big question for many creative types trying to get their way in the world. “How to make money as an artist?”

I spent a little while talking about the business principles of making money on Patreon. You can start reading about that here if you’re so inclined.

This article is about the general task of making money as an artist. There’s a few ways to go about it, and options open up for more people every day. It’s a good time to be an artist.

We’re going to discuss a couple steps, and then discuss a few methods.

Step 1: Be Committed Long-Term.

This is not a short-term journey. The way you make money as an artist is by investing in a skill over a long period of time in a way that produces meaningful value for enough other people.

You do not get to this point by accident, and you do not get there instantly. I am an artist who has been at my craft in a slow way for about 10 years now, as have a number of my friends. Sometimes we wonder if we’ll get where we wanna go, but we keep trying anyway because we love the craft and wouldn’t want things any other way.

Time is required, and effort is required, and you cannot escape either standard.

Step 2: Choose Your Sacrifice.

I stole this slogan from Jordan Peterson. He can fuss at me if he likes, but it’s an apt turn of phrase.

There are two major categories of sacrifice I observe.

Time

One way or another, you must give up time. You can give up a little time over a long period, or you can give up a lot of time over a short period. In either case you must be ready to do art instead of whatever else you care about doing.

This is the training arc in your anime. You lay down a foundation of fundamentals and with that bedrock in place, build something specific. Whatever specific artistic craft you choose, and whatever medium you work in, you first learn the core principles of the way to make your specific craft and specific medium do what you need them to do.

You may have to wrangle clay. you may have to study color and light. You may have to study the way muscles behave, or the way people move. Whatever you have to study, you will have to take time to master the craft, master the medium, and turn that mastery into works of art that people want to pay for.

(In)dependence

You will have to choose whether you want to be part of a studio, or do things on your own.

I cannot provide meaningful input on working for a studio. I have never taken such a job and I have no interest in doing so. Good studio jobs for artists are scarce, and more qualified people than I have written about what is involved in the act of obtaining a good studio job.

Studio jobs also require an insane dedication to achieving exceptional mastery of incredibly focused discipline. This is not impossible. It is just not for everyone, and it’s likely not for many artists interested in making money today.

You can make money as your own boss. It just takes some doing. The trouble with this matter is that you will have to build your independence slowly over time, rather than find a job and get paid as a one-and-done. You’ll have to do the work of marketing your work, finding a place for it, and developing ways to actually sell your work.

You’ll have to somehow get your work in front of a lot more people (a lot, lot, lot of people), but you will not have to deal with the hard requirement of massive mastery imposed on you by a studio job.

If you work for yourself, all you have to do is make something that enough regular people like more than their money. Though not necessarily easy, it is simple, and, more importantly, possible.

Step 3: Choose Your Method
(or How you will make money as an artist).

This part is where it gets interesting.

Sean McCabe talks about the three major categories of work that produce income in this chapter of his book, Overlap. It is an excellent listen as the rest of the book is, and I advise you to check it out. This part of the article will get a little long, but there are a lot of ways to make money as an artist and I want to give decent explanation and attention to each one.

Furthermore, it’s a good idea to combine the methods of income in order to create something more stable and profitable for you if you have a mind to really go deep and pay for your whole living with your artwork.

a. Be a Good Person Just Plain Doing Good Work

This one is kind of the backbone of the whole affair. If you can just plain do good work, you can feed that into just about anything. There are a surprising number of applications of this principle, and they apply both online and in the real world.

Most successful webcomic artists follow this formula and develop off of it. They pick something they care about, and they just go right for it the best they can with as much passion and conviction as they can. Over time people will attach to your work, and they will begin to ask how they can support it.

In some cases it can go as simply as opening up a tip jar with this one. The main thing here being is that in this case the artist has produced so much free stuff that is loved by enough people willing to part with just a little money. You are not guaranteed wealth and vast riches by any stretch of the imagination, but it is not unrealistic to make enough money to live comfortably and enjoy a reasonable level of freedom.

b. Subscription

This one is kind of really deeply connected to point a. The difference in this case being you specifically choose to make a certain section of your work available only to subscribers. This subject is one I discuss at pretty good length in my series of articles about Patreon so I’ll just kind of leave this one alone here. Suffice it to say that this is a viable option with a special set of requirements.

c. Products

This is a good one if you really have an affinity for certain kinds of products. There’s a lot of room here depending on the kind of work you’re willing to put into your craft.

You can visit your local OfficeMax or Staples and order prints. Your local printer might be happy to produce some decals or stickers for you. Maybe you have a really large set of ideas so trading cards is the way to go for you. It could be that your art is conducive to something you can deliver in a book (see “Message” below). Maybe you have a flair for stylish clothing so you put your art to work on nice apparel with cool art. Or maybe you’re a particularly ambitious creative with a mind for toys and figures.

The sacrifice for this one is that it takes money to make products. You can save money yourself and purchase and sell the product, or you can find people and companies that you can make a deal with to make the products. You have to do the right homework on this one, and it takes a while and a lot of headwork to be successful with products, but don’t be afraid to invest in something you’re really passionate about.

Find the right way to deliver great pictures into peoples’ hands, and you can have an awesome time selling products.

d. Teaching

If you’ve put any meaningful effort into mastering your craft as an artist, you know more than one other person.

You can deliver teaching material more and more easily every day. This is probably one of the easiest ways to make money as an artist.

Hobby Lobby, for example, offers free classroom space to anyone who wants to teach classes in their buildings. Just ask for space and they’ll open it up for you.

Outschool is a popular platform for delivering online classes of all kinds, and it’s Coppa-compliant if your subject matter is specifically best suited to a younger audience.

Video classes and one-on-one coaching are also popular options available to you as an artist if you can find a good way to record and present your work and make it seem worth paying for. Fewer ready-made solutions are available for this particular solution, bu the answers are out there. You just have to find them!

e. Services

This would be kind of a common one a-la ‘Contract Work” or “Commissions”.

Lots of people engage in this every day and it works pretty well for them. You just have to know who you want to be working for and how to produce for that need efficiently. This again is a subject that has been written on extensively by people smarter than I who have said it better so I will reserve much in the way of further remarks for now. May I suggest browsing seanwes.com for the best information on this subject?

f. Message

This is basically the act of using your art to communicate something.

Comic art, or any illustration that tells a story of some kind or specifically communicates certain ideas falls under this category.

You can use your art to educate about a social issue you care about, to teach about a subject separate from art itself, or to tell a compelling story. This is also basically how commentary art such as in sports or politics maintains a living.

The trick attached to this method is that you will have to become a much more thoughtful person in terms of conviction, in terms of being able to write clearly, and in being able to communicate clearly though your art. These are not bad qualities, however, and you should be learning how to do this anyway. It’s good for you as a person to write, and you’ll be a more effective artist and businessman as well.

Thinking Critically About Delivering Your Art
is How to Make Money As An Artist

Admittedly this is kind of a simplistic take, but it’s the truth.

There are ways to deliver your art that will make you money, but it really comes down to finding them and putting in the right effort, whether that’s learning a new skill, finding a new medium, searching out creative avenues of delivery, or finding a problem that your art can solve.

It is not necessarily an easy set of methods, as I mentioned above, but it’s good set of ideas to approach your question with, and it will help you to ask more of the right questions to get your way.

Having said that, I know I didn’t cover everything.

If you still have questions, go head and write me an email. I’d love to hear from you, and I’d love to write an article for you that makes sense specific to your question. Talk to you soon, friend.

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