3 Things Every Artist Needs to Start Their Art Business

3 Things Every Artist Needs to Start Their Art Business

So, you’re an artist looking to start your own business and turn this passion of yours into a career!

Congrats! The hardest part (deciding) is over. :)

Now it’s time to set yourself up for success…but FIRST —

There are soooo many different ways to make money as an artist (yeah, no starving artists over here!), and it’s important to know which ones are out there. Just a few of the different ways you could monetize include:

Hearst Castle Illustration

    • Direct to Consumer — When most people think about becoming a full or part-time artist, this is what they think of. Direct to consumer art is when you create pieces (original or reproductions) and sell them directly to customers. Think: art fairs, art galleries, farmers markets, a shop on your website, Etsy, or any online or in-person marketplace or event. 
    • Wholesale — Selling your art wholesale means that you create art (or products) and sell them to retailers at about 50% of the retail price. Wholesale works really well when you can sell a large quantity of work to make up for the discounted rates. 
    • Art Licensing — Art licensing is when you give manufacturers the rights to use your artwork on products they make and sell to retailers. For example, if you make a pattern of daffodils and sell it to a company that makes stationery, that pattern could show up on journals, envelopes, stickers, and more. In these cases, you make a royalty based on the products they sell to retailers. 
    • Commissions — A commission is any type of custom artwork created for individuals or businesses. A commission might be a logo design or a brand identity, it could be an editorial illustration, a mural painting, or any other type of original artwork! 

Wisconsin Coasters

Now, no matter what way you sell your art, (you can just do one, or do all four ways and more! Whatever floats your artist boat…) there are a few things you’ll need to get started: 

1) Build a Portoflio 💼

First things first! People want to see the art you’ve made before purchasing. 

​​You know the saying, “You ain’t got a thing if you ain’t got that swing”? Well, it’s the exact same with your art! Your portfolio is your chance to put your best foot forward and showcase your work. 

A good portfolio typically includes at least three collections of art.

A collection can be any 2, 3, or more pieces of art that all have the same style and theme. For example, maybe you have several illustrations that are all Christmas-themed. Group those illustrations together since they have a similar style to create your first collection. 

Christmas Illustration

If you have other Christmas-themed art that’s NOT in the same style, that’s OK, but for your portfolio, you’ll want to create collections that are in the same style. The purpose is to show that you can create multiple pieces in the same style, medium, and centered around a common theme. 

It’s easier for clients and customers to “buy in” to your style and trust that you will be able to deliver any requested artwork when they know you can create in volume. Showing several images in a collection builds trust with your customer.

2) Set Your Price (and stick to it!) 💸

The biggest rule of thumb when setting your prices is to A) figure out what your time is worth and then B) either set an hourly rate or percentage of return. 

So for example, if you’re doing a custom painting on canvas, consider the amount of hours it will take you to create the artwork from concept phase all the way through to final execution. Add up your hourly rate, (plus any extra material expenses!) and voilà, that’s your price!


If you’re doing art licensing, look at industry standards in the products and territories you wish to sell your art. Wholesale works similarly. Determine what your suggested retail price should be and then scale back your wholesale price accordingly.

However you choose to sell your art, don’t cut yourself short and undercharge for your time.

You are working hard to set yourself up as a professional artist that charges professional prices. The biggest mistake artists can make is actually undercharging for their art. Don’t make that mistake. Charge for your time. People will respect you and take you more seriously when you charge your worth!

3) Marketing, Marketing, Marketing ✨

Marketing tends to be the MOST overlooked aspect of running any art business. Which is funny, because it just might be the most important part! 

As an artist, I know the idea of spending your time on social media, developing a website, even setting up an email list may seem like the worst way to spend your afternoon, but those social interactions are critical to building up a fan base of customers who like, trust, and yearn for your next piece of art!

Marketing is the key to running any business, actually, not just art. 

Angela Staehling

Think about it, no one is going to know you designed this kick-a@$ piece of art unless you talk about it, share pics on social media, or (gosh-forbid!), get on your local newspaper or tv station. 

I know a lot of this extra attention seems like fluff, and especially for artists — who prefer to be alone in their studio all day — but the only way to sell your art is if people know about it! Don’t ever hesitate to share your art with the world in ways you never even dreamt of. 

There are people, (lots of people!!) who would absolutely adore your art and want to own it in some shape or form. Think of them when you are deciding whether to share your art with the world or not. If sales are part of the equation that define your success as an artist, you will need to make sure you, or people you get to help you, will help spread the word.

Once you’ve put your portfolio together, set your prices, and start marketing yourself to the world, your art biz will be off and running before you even know it!