Making an income as an artist doesn’t always come from just selling your artwork. In fact, with so many more opportunities to reach a larger audience with social media and the internet in general, finding your target audience is easier than ever! Choosing a career as an artist doesn’t mean that you have to starve. It does mean, however, diversifying your income streams and being creative about it. Let’s explore 10 of the best ways for artists to make money and how to get started doing them.
Do you have a tool or knowledge you can package up into a digital download? Digital downloads are an easy way to do the work once and continue to profit from it. When I created my printable coloured pencil charts I knew that I could remove the barrier of having to create and compile all of the information needed for people who wanted to use them. I designed the charts and added all of the important information in a standard printable format.
I also included helpful suggestions and instructions on how to print them yourself and some bonus content about lightfast ratings. By adding this additional value on top of the chart itself, I was able to comfortably charge for it and not feel like I was just repurposing free information. My goal was to give my customers convenience and the confidence they needed to select the exact colours they were looking for to create highly lightfast art.
Other Examples of Digital Downloads:
- PDF Ebook or tutorials
- Photography pre-sets
- Photoshop or Procreate brushes
- Exclusive video or audio files or lessons
How to Do it
You will need to have a few things set up to make this happen. First, you need a way to create the digital download. Programs range from professional products like Adobe InDesign to something as simple as using free a Canva template. It doesn’t necessarily have to be pretty but having a great design will help your product appear more professional. Your content above all else is key, so make sure you are providing value first and foremost.
Next, you need to have a place to host your product. I currently use Payhip but you can use equivalent companies like Gumroad or even Shopify. You can also sell them through your own website if you are tech-savvy enough to set that up. Do some research on the platforms available to find what works for you as the technical knowledge needed and fee structures will vary.
You also need a way to receive payment. The most common ones are Stripe and PayPal. Be prepared to deal with customer service as part of this process. You need to have a return/exchange policy set up and visible to your customers. It’s also extremely helpful to know the ins and outs of the site that you use to host your digital products well enough to help your customers with any troubleshooting they may encounter.
I highly recommend doing test purchases beforehand so that you can see the checkout process for yourself before you go live with your prospective customers. You can even get a friend to help you out with this and get them to give you honest feedback on the user experience.
Selling commission art is a popular way to make an income as an artist. While many artists would prefer to sell their original works of art, commission art is a great way to challenge yourself creatively. It also uses the skill that you have to create artwork for someone else who is guaranteed to pay for it. By comparison, putting your original art up for sale doesn’t guarantee you will sell it. When someone is coming directly to you with a specific request, it’s usually a sure thing.
How to do it
Best practices for taking commissions include making sure that you have policies set in place like taking a non-refundable deposit before the project begins. You should also check in with your client at certain stages of the artwork to get their approval before moving forward to the next stage. This helps avoid any surprises for your customer and also ensures that you don’t have to recreate something from the beginning.
Never take on a project you aren’t confident you can execute. For example, if you have never oil painted before it’s probably not a good idea to agree to do a large oil painting. Make sure you price yourself fairly and appropriately. Pricing is largely the number one thing artists struggle with, but it’s important to not over or under-value your work. Spend some time figuring out what you are comfortable with from a price perspective. This may take some research but it’s worth the time you invest.
Remember that exposure is not an acceptable form of payment. The only exceptions would be if you are asked to create artwork for say a charity event in which there are a number of prospective art buyers that may be turned on to your future works. Make sure this is a charity you feel passionate about or that there is some tangible return for your time and effort as mentioned earlier.
Your coworker, by comparison, telling you he can give you a lot of exposure is likely an empty promise. Assess the individual situation, but 9 times out of 10 someone saying they are going to give you great exposure is just them devaluing and bartering with your skills. You have to decide what you are comfortable charging but also don’t make a habit of working for free. If you are not comfortable charging a large sum for your work or are just starting out, at a bare minimum you should charge a fee for the cost of your supplies to create the artwork. Otherwise, it’s costing YOU money to create art for someone else.
Many professional artists will hold either in-person or online workshops. They usually last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Typically the artist teaching the workshop will demonstrate a specific aspect of their technique to the students attending and provide one-on-one feedback on the sample art being created.
How to Do it
Workshops can be a bit tricky to coordinate so if you’ve never put one on before I would highly recommend attending one first. Take detailed notes on how it’s all structured so that you know what to do and not do when you set up your own. If you plan to do this in person you will need to secure the venue in which it will take place. Consider if the cost of your workshop includes you providing the supplies and if you will provide any meals or beverages during the course of the workshop.
With more people being more comfortable with virtual communication, running an online workshop opens up your potential audience to those in various locations on the globe not just those in your area. There is more technical knowledge involved but otherwise, it generally has fewer aspects to consider and to set up. You’ll need a computer, a strong internet connection, a camera, and a Zoom or equivalent account to host the workshop. You’ll also need a way for people to sign up for your workshop and accept payments.
I would recommend holding a free webinar or two first to work out any kinks you might have before you do your first paid-for event. Everyone’s comfort level with technology is different and you want to make sure you put your best foot forward before you ask for people’s money.
One of the increasingly popular ways for artists to make money is through online courses. This perhaps requires the most time and financial investment up front. Similar to a digital download though, once the work is done you can continue to profit from it over and over again. There are some verified strategies on how to do this effectively. I would highly recommend seeking out someone who is an expert in teaching how to create an online course to save you a lot of hours of research and trial and error.
How to do it
First, you will need a way to host your course and accept payments from your students. There are many platforms out there like Kajabi, Thinkific, Teachable, Podia, and SamCart to name some of the popular ones. These websites range in their features and pricing options so once again make sure you research and compare to find the platform that suits your needs best.
You can make your online course as complicated or simple as you would like. Some courses are a combination of text and images while others are video based. It’s up to you how you want to present the information and there’s always the opportunity to change up and progress to more complex video-based courses when you are more comfortable.
You will also need a way to promote your courses whether that be to your social media followers or an email list. The bottom line is you will need to get the word out there on your own. If you don’t have an email list started it’s a great idea to get that going as soon as possible. Give people incentives to have you in their inbox. For example, one of the perks of my email list is that subscribers get first access to any new courses or products that I offer.
Private Lessons or Mentoring
If the idea of presenting in front of a group of people makes you feel a wave of anxiety, you’re not alone. Some artists prefer doing one-on-one lessons or mentoring. The idea of being face-to-face with one person is a lot less intimidating than a group of people, especially if public speaking is uncomfortable for you.
This option also allows you a way to be more customized with what you are teaching and in your feedback. Spending dedicated time with one student can be a great way to teach and guide. Group settings are often intimidating for some students, so one-on-one mentoring can give them a safe space to ask questions and go at a pace they feel more comfortable with.
How to do it
To set this service up you will need a way to get the word out there that you are offering private lessons or mentoring. If you want to keep this relatively analog you can ask to put up flyers in your local art store with your phone number or email to contact you for booking and details. You can also set this up on your website or a third-party platform like Paperbell or one of the sites I mentioned earlier for online courses.
You will need some sort of scheduling app to make sure you aren’t double-booking yourself and again a way to accept payments. Basically, any service you offer online will also require you to have a way to accept payments. You can choose to do cash payments for in-person sessions, but make sure you are still tracking your income with a receipt or invoice for tax purposes.
Sell Prints of Your Artwork
Chances are even if you haven’t purchased anything from Etsy you have a least heard about it before. They are a great example of an online marketplace for creators to be able to sell their handmade and digital goods to a marketplace of online consumers. If you want to start selling prints of your artwork this is one place to get started doing so and many have had success using this as a means of getting an income as an artist.
How to do it
Etsy is just one of the popular platforms that offer this service but be prepared for a bit of an investment and work on your end. There are fees associated with listing your products as well as fees taken once they sell. The advantage of using this platform is that many people are comfortable and aware of it as a reputable website to purchase from. They are not by any means the only platform available, however.
To sell prints of your art you will need high-resolution good-quality scans or images of your artwork. This will require either getting someone to do this for you or doing it yourself if you are comfortable scanning or photographing your artwork. You will then need to edit it to make a digital file that can print a copy of your art. You can choose to make your own prints at home or outsource the printing to a professional service.
Consider also shipping costs and materials. These are all things you will want to factor in ahead of time when you are determining the price of your prints so that you actually make a profit from doing this. Create a spreadsheet breaking down all of the costs involved per print and increase the price accordingly. This way all of your expenses are covered and you can still make a profit that feels worth your time and efforts while still being competitive in the market.
Are other artists constantly asking you what products you use or for recommendations on other apps or tech? Wouldn’t it be great to make a small commission from the sale of products you would be recommending anyway? This is where affiliate or associate commission sales come in.
How to do it
Not every company offers a direct financial kickback for you to recommend their product or service, but a lot do. One of the easiest ones to sign up for is an Amazon Associate. Be prepared for some initial online paperwork involved to set it all up. If you are getting a lot of traffic to your website, or social media or finding you are constantly recommending products this is a great way to receive a little reward for it.
Personally, I never promote a product or service I don’t 100% believe in or use myself. You don’t want to come off as spammy or disingenuous. I always pick products that I would promote whether I received an incentive or not.
I have a separate resources section set up on my website for art supplies and tool recommendations that I can direct people to when I get these questions. I also make the visitor aware that I do receive a commission if they purchase using my link. The price does not increase for the product because of the commission so it’s a great way for people to thank you for the recommendation without any extra cost to them.
Sell Your Art at Coffee Shops or Markets
Selling your original art is perhaps the most obvious way for artists to make money, but you have to make sure you don’t rely on it as the only way. Traditional ways for artists to sell their original works can be through gallery representation or even through attending annual markets and fairs. Some artist competitions such as the CPSA International Exhibition give the juried in works the opportunity to be displayed and sold after the competition has closed. Connecting with a local coffee shop or restaurant can also be a great way to sell your original works.
How to do it
Markets and fairs often have a table or booth fee to be part of them. If the fee is too high for you to cover on your own consider joining forces with another artist to cover the cost. This can be a great opportunity to get in front of potential buyers that may not have otherwise found you.
I would recommend bringing a sampling of original art at different price points as well as prints. Someone may love your art but may not have the budget to buy an original. By having lower priced items or even free business cards or postcard prints they can take with them, they have a way of remembering you and potentially becoming buyers in the future.
I would also have a place for people to sign up for your email list here as well. Maybe sure you are prepared to take both cash and digital sales. A great company that makes taking debit and credit card sales easy is Square. You can also set up a free e-commerce website with them or connect it to a URL that you own by upgrading. There are many other ways to sell your original artwork as well including through some of the previously other mentioned ways like creating an online shop through Etsy.
Local coffee shops and restaurants are often great at featuring local artists’ work. There will likely be a commission on the sale of your work so make sure you factor that percentage into your pricing. You should also have a body of cohesive works to propose and display. Look for businesses to partner with whose style and atmosphere would compliment your artwork and vice versa.
Webinars are very popular these days and are a great way to grow your email list or teach others about a skill or service you are offering. Many webinars are typically free and then contain an offer at the end that entices the participants to say, purchase a course being sold at a special discounted rate for attendees. You can also charge a fee where the primary offer and value are in the content presented in the webinar itself. Pricing can vary on these as mentioned. I’ve attended free, $9, $27, and $80 webinars. It all depends on what is being presented and who is presenting it.
The advantage of doing a webinar is that the information is presented usually live through something like Zoom and there is no complicated editing and pre-production needed as compared to a pre-recorded video-based course. If the webinar goes well you can even offer replays for purchase later. You could also edit the contents into a more complex course later on.
How to do it
Once again you will need a computer, web camera, strong internet connection, and Zoom or equivalent account. Also, a way to accept payment and email clients to notify people who have signed up for the webinar of all of the important information needed to attend. This is again an option that I would highly recommend doing a test with first or hosting a few free webinars, even just with friends, to test out your presentation and work out any kinks there might be from a tech perspective.
License Your Art
Licensing your art for print on products like pillows, t-shirts, and various other home and lifestyle products can be a great way to make an income as an artist. Sites like Redbubble and Society6 are great examples of sites that allow you to create a vast array of products for sale with your artwork without giving up the copyright to your art.
How to do it
Setting up a site is super easy on both platforms. There are some pros and cons to both sites I mentioned, but generally, this is a great option if you want to offer products and prints with your art but don’t want the hassle of managing a store, storing inventory, dealing with returns or exchanges, and shipping out products. You can also choose which product types you want to sell your art on. There are no listing fees and there is often a discounted rate for you to purchase your own items from your store.
You won’t however be able to add any personal touches to the packages shipped out like a thank you note. You also can’t collect email addresses from customers, and in some cases, you don’t control your profit on certain items that are offered. This option also requires a bit of tech knowledge in that you need to make sure that your artwork images are appropriately sized for the size and shape of the product you are offering. There is also no option to use a custom URL unless you just point it to the free one you create with your shop.
Both Redbubble and Society6 operate in a marketplace format like Etsy so there are chances for your art to be found randomly by people doing a search for a specific item. Because there are so many users though, it can also work against you so you still have to promote your shop to get sales.
Final Thoughts on Ways for Artists to Make Money
Diversifying your income streams is a great way to give yourself a steady income as an artist. There are often times when one of the income streams will yield more than the others. By never relying only on one, you ensure that no matter what may be happening in the world or with your business you have some money coming in.
I want to stress that it’s a good idea to add these things one at a time to your business. It can be very overwhelming trying to set up your commission-based business while also setting up an online store. Go for the one that feels the most interesting or easiest for you at first and then add more as you feel comfortable or as the need arises. You also don’t need to do all ten and in fact, some artists make a great living only selling prints or taking commissions. Others have either no desire to teach or conversely find that it’s part of their passion for art.
Making money as an artist and selling artwork doesn’t need to be difficult, but it does require some strategic thinking. Don’t be afraid to try new things and get creative. Ask friends or fellow artists for their advice on what they would love to learn from you or what product they would like to buy. If you choose to do only one thing after reading this post, change your mindset that you can only make money as an artist one way. There is so much opportunity out there ready for you to explore.