Guess what? Not all artists are starving– and nor should they be. It’s a trope that’s been passed along for centuries. Artists of all kinds felt they had to suffer for their art and not “sell out” to commercialization. Luckily these days, the entrepreneurial artist has taken over!
If you want to know how to make money doing this gig – whether you’re a working artist, an artist looking at getting back into art, or a newbie artist – then read on.
Let’s break down four ways artists can start making money today.
1) COMMISSIONED ARTWORK
Commissioned artwork can be anything from creating a watercolor portrait of someone’s pet or house to painting a mural for a company or residence or even editorial illustrations for a magazine or wedding invitation. Commissioned artwork is any type of art you create and then give to a customer – either as an original or another form of finished art.
You can set up payment in several different ways when doing commissioned artwork. If you’re creating art for someone who is not a close friend or family member, I’d recommend setting up a contract to ensure you’re covered for your time and materials. If you are creating art for a close pal who you trust will compensate you, I would go with your gut and opt out of setting up a formal contract—your call.
When creating commissioned art for clients, consider if they will be reselling your art on products. Any time your art is being used for resale, you should demand a higher price for the usage of your art.
Other areas of consideration are the amount of time it takes for revisions. Your client should be responsible for making additional payments for changes requested beyond the original assignment.
Lastly, I would charge a rush fee if your client asks for a quick turnaround on a project. Of course, this can be spelled out formally in a contract.
2) DIRECT TO CONSUMER
Selling direct to consumer (DTC) means you sell your art or products directly to the customer instead of through retailers and wholesalers. Examples of selling DTC would be setting up online shops such as Etsy, Society6, a personal website, etc.
Other ways of selling your art directly to customers would be through local venues such as craft fairs, farmers markets, boutique sales at your home, or other community outlets.
There are several ways of creating your products, and you can choose to do as little or as much as you want.
- You can create everything by hand as originals.
- You can have products manufactured that you pay for upfront and inventory.
- You can purchase a quality printer and create your fine art prints.
- Or, you can offer digital downloads and sell your products online.
There are many ways you can create and sell your own art, but one of the easiest and cheapest (if not free) is Print On Demand, also known as POD. Print On Demand allows you to upload your artwork online (there are many POD services such as Printful, Printify, and Gooten) and mock up your art on various products. These items won’t get produced until someone orders them.
Many online printers will dropship your items directly to the customer, so you don’t have to handle any inventory – no money out of the bank!
Selling direct to consumers is also a great way to get to know your customers intimately and earn their trust as they become repeat shoppers!
3) ART LICENSING
Art licensing is when you work with a manufacturer to create art that will get used on their products - think dinnerware, stationery, wall art, kitchen textiles, wallpaper, you name it!
These art licensors sell your products to big and small retailers. You will not need to work directly with the retailers or worry about creating any product. You are only responsible for creating high-resolution art that the licensors can put on their products.
Typically, an art licensor will pay you a royalty percentage on every product sold with your art. Different rates apply depending on the type of retailer, the product category, and other terms set out in your contract. Sometimes, the art licensor might want to work on a flat fee, or an advance-royalty basis, where they pay you a set amount upfront and then pay royalties after a minimum order of sales has been placed.
To get involved in art licensing, you will need to decide if you want to represent yourself as an artist or work with an art agent to represent you. In both cases, you must develop a relationship with the art licensor (or your agent) to let them know you will deliver high-quality work on time.
Art licensing is a great way to get your art into well-known retailers, as well as smaller boutiques. The beauty of art licensing is that there should be no cash-out. You are simply creating art for others to use. If you can set up art licensing, you will inevitably build excellent references to add to your client list!
Wholesale is when you sell your products to a retailer at a discounted rate (typically 50%). You set a minimum dollar amount and quantity that the retailer must purchase from your line of products. The wholesale goal is to sell enough volume to offset the discounted rates while creating profit.
Many large and small retailers offer keystone pricing, which means doubling the cost of a wholesale product. So, for example, if they were to sell your print in their store for $30, they would expect to pay you $15 as the wholesale price.
To start selling wholesale, you must have a strong product line and reasonable prices. You should also keep industry standards in mind. For example, if you sell prints, use standard frame sizes. If you sell greeting cards, ensure that cards and envelopes meet standard postage sizes.
Selling wholesale is best after you’ve had time to sell your products directly to consumers, such as on Etsy. At this point, you are familiar with designing new products regularly, creating inventory, and shipping.
However, another key takeaway for selling wholesale is that you increase your opportunity of getting your products into more well-known stores. And building up a list of retailers helps build your credibility and popularity as an artist!
Some of these ideas may feel far from where you are currently, but it’s great to have a target for the future.
For now, start small with some Direct To Consumer selling. Etsy can be fantastic for starting online as you don’t need your own online store. Meanwhile, find out where your local craft markets exist and go and get acquainted with them. Find out the fees to set up a booth. If you have school-aged kids, perhaps there’s a chance to sell things at a school fair?
Step-by-step, you are on your way to making money as an artist!