Trust me, I asked myself this question SO many times ever since I was a kid. The idea of working behind a desk, for a minimum of 8 hours every day, was… to be honest… pretty horrific to me. Life’s too short to give away time like that. So why couldn’t I make a living doing something that I loved, like making artwork, and be the master of my own time?
Back then it didn’t occur to me to start up a business and sell art. I know things now, though, that I didn’t know then.
So to the artist out there, here are some ideas I can share with you on how to make money from your artwork. Whether this becomes something you can do every day, and make a full time living on, or just something that supplements your income, and gives your finances a little boost, these are some tips that can help you, and why they work.
Debunking The “Starving Artist” Myth
If you’ve lived in the United States any time in the past century then it’s probable that you’ve been fed the idea that “the arts will never make you a living”.
Become an office manager, an accountant, someone who can do science and/or math… that’s how you survive, or at least that’s what we’re taught. The educational system in the United States is literally designed to perpetuate this idea. Music and art is well-loved, but rejected as an actual pursuit in life. “It’s too risky!” “You’ll be homeless!” “You better teach because no one makes a living with that otherwise”.
It’s sad. And it’s dissuaded thousands of budding artists from fully developing their talents, all in the name of practicality.
The tides are changing. Where once it seemed that math and science jobs were the only ones that paid, those positions are now becoming replaceable with technology, robots, computers, sensors, and other software.
What’s not replaceable is the quality of humanity. Human emotion. Human soul. The things that art and music thrive on. So it’s not at all implausible anymore, to consider ways that you can make a living using something like artwork. These are some of the best ways I’ve found…
#1: Selling Local
Ok, so this one might be the most obvious. There are a lot of different ways that you can sell your art in your own town. This is a difficult way to try to make a livable income, but it can be an awesome way to add a few hundred bucks to your pocket every couple of months.
Art galleries are the obvious starting point, but coffee shops and other downtown hangouts are increasingly becoming spots for artists to display their work. Some art gallery owners might expect to take CRAZY commissions out of your profit, but many store owners and small, local businesses are much less aggressive.
So find the ones who are the most reasonable, show them your work, and ask them to display it. It’s a win-win – they get some cool artwork to decorate their shop, and you get the benefit of their crowds of coffee-drinkers seeing your artwork for sale.
Beyond the regular coffee haunts, most towns have craft fairs, farmer’s markets, and local artisan displays. Research your local community calendars (most likely on Facebook), and find as many of these events as possible. Sign up for as many as you can, and start spreading exposure to your brand.
Your success with this method will depend a little bit on what kind of artwork you’re creating, but anything from mugs/pottery to wood work is extremely popular, and in demand.
This is a method that I recommend, but not necessarily my #1 recommendation. These are VERY hard to do en masse. So here’s a tip… the greatest value in selling locally is not for the sales you can make there, but to help promote your Instagram, your other social media, and your webstore.
People love the idea of buying local, or from small businesses. Capitalize on this by grabbing their attention with local displays, but make sure it’s clear that they can follow you for the full selections on your website and Instagram.
Which leads me to my next point…
#2: Selling On Online Market Places
If you truly have the drive and the passion to turn your hard work and art into a multi million dollar brand, you can do it. You seriously can do it, and there are people who are doing it now. But this is the 21st century, and if you truly have the motivation to grow a business, you’re going to need to understand the power of the internet to make it successful.
Selling copies of your artwork to thousands of people online is now something that everyone can do. You just need the right strategy.
I’ll venture a guess – you’ve heard of Etsy, right? It’s by far the most popular and high-traffic online marketplace where thousands of artists sell their work in every shape and form. With it’s 20+ million active buyers you NEED to be listing some products on Etsy.
Is it the ideal place for selling? Not necessarily, and I’ve written a guide to finding Etsy alternatives, but by using proper keywords that many buyers are targeting (a simple tool like Etsy Keyword Tool, or Marmalead for the more advanced, could help you find these).
Selling on Etsy can be frustrating. There’s a lot of competition, and even with strong keywords, it can be difficult to stand. out. I use it, along with several other marketplaces like it – Bonanza, Storeenvy, Gear Bubble – to expand my brand’s reach. But it’s not the ideal place for a sustainable, long-term business.
#3. Print On Demand
If you’re a designer, a drawer, a painter, a photographer, you may wonder how you can actually sell your artwork. People may appreciate your work, maybe even rave about it, but how much can you really sell drawings?
What my wife and I did instead, was use print-on-demand companies to turn her artwork into stylish clothing. Using companies like Printful, and Teelaunch, we were able to produce dozens of products like these…
Not only could we print our original drawings and other artwork on clothes, phone cases, mugs, tapestries, pillows, and just about everything else. We’re able to do the same with our original photography…
These print-on-demand companies are free to use. You don’t need to pay for any inventory, they just take their portion of the sale every time you make one. You can use pictures of these products to sell hundreds of them online . Just set your profit margin above the price that the POD company puts on each product, and you keep the difference of your profit margin.
This is the primary way that artists and designers are becoming millionaires, working from the comfort of their homes. Transform your artwork into fashion.
For a comprehensive guide on starting a print on demand business, check this out: How To Start A Print-On-Demand Biz
#4. The Power Of Social Media
If you read Young Retiree often, you know how often I’ll talk about the importance of social media. If you want to make money selling artwork, especially using the print-on-demand strategy, you need to understand the importance of Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest to the budding artrepreneur.
.I’ve written guides to both Pinterest, and Instagram, if you’re still trying to understand how these resources work for marketing.
You can literally sell artwork directly through a Facebook page. By using a resource called Shopify Lite, which only costs $9 a month (yes, you can run a new business for the price of a deli sandwich), you can display all of your products on a Faceook page, and add a Buy button that allows you to process payments right through your Facebook.
Creating a Facebook ad can drive a ton of traffic to your store, but you can draw in free and organic traffic by channeling it through Pinterest and Instagram! 96% of my earliest sales when I launched my business came through Facebook and Instagram.
#5. Owning Your Own Shop
By far, the best way to run a lucrative business selling your artwork is by selling it through your own store. You can absolutely make the dream of an artwork-based business a reality through a Shopify store. A lot of people are SO skeptical about the Shopify opportunity because they’re intimidated by the level of effort it takes to succeed, but hundreds of these people are quitting just inches from breakthrough, and it bums me out so much.
My Shopify store did over $500 in sales within our first 10 hours in business.
And our conversion rate beat the industry average by a difference of 3.11%.
This wasn’t just luck. And it didn’t require a single paid advertisement. In fact, we still have yet to pay for any advertising whatsoever. This was organic or referral traffic through social media. Consistent sharing and some well chosen keywords/hashtags helped us to draw attention to our new products.
Hundreds of artists have this opportunity by using print-on-demand through a Shopify store. There are over a dozen different POD companies that integrate with a Shopify store with just a few clicks of a button. Printful, Teelaunch, Printify, Printy6, and SKYOU are some of the best.
You can try a couple weeks of Shopify for free in a trial period through this link, and don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way! Starting strong is so essential, and having the right knowledge is how you do that.
Tips For The Road
Those are the methods to grow a successful business based on your art. You can adapt to these methods without compromising the artistry that truly makes you passionate.
There are a lot of things to learn if you want to be successful, and there’s not enough space in this little post to give you every bit of it, but here are 10 hugely important tips that you’ll need to remember always.
- Take good pictures (And I mean it. Pictures are the #1 way that you as an artist gain followers)
- Be social. Comment, share, like, follow, encourage, give constructive feedback, communicate – this will inevitably draw customers
- Be consistent. You’ll have days where you lack motivation. At least if you’re human. But be consistent about posting and maintaining the voice of your brand.
- Be sincere. If all you’re thinking about is the money, this will show. Be more than just a sales pitch.
- Instagram and Pinterest are not expendable. Use them.
- Some investment is necessary. Buying samples of your product, paying to own a store, even if it’s just Shopify Lite through a Facebook page, eventually even ads – running an internet business is a heck of a lot cheaper than paying rent for a brick and mortar business, but don’t expect to do everything for free
- Treat it like a business, not just a hobbie.
- Don’t expect to be perfect, and don’t give it up the first time you realize you’re not. We had dozens of hiccups in our early business launch, and most of them made us want to give up. Remember your goals.
- Use good keywords that people are searching for
- Love what you do
Don’t expect it to be easy. Most worthwhile things aren’t, at least not all of the time. But these are some very solid ways for you to make an actual living selling your artwork, and sharing it with the world.
Let me know in the comments if you have questions or ideas!
4 People reacted on this
I am hugely passionate about art and would really love to be making a full time income off of it (am currently doing construction).
Nice photos by the way, did you paint those yourself?
I will be trying to implement the tips you offer here during my spare time, and will keep coming here for more advice. Thanks a lot.
Hey there, I’m glad you found it helpful, and that’s AWESOME that you’re an artist!
The vast majority of the designs I use for the clothing we sell are designs hand created by my wife. I draw a bit, but I’ve generally contributed photography. She’s the better artist of the two of us.
Definitely come back, I share everything I’m learning about growing this apparel business! There’s a lot to learn, so take it piece by piece. 🙂 Good luck!
What kind of key words do you use?
To be honest with you, when I’m figuring out what keywords, tags, or hashtags to use for my product listings I will usually look at the top ranking items that my competitors have for sale. If I’m trying to sell a dinosaur sticker on Etsy, I will search dinosaur stickers on Etsy, and see what a lot of other sellers are using for their keywords. So for dinosaur sticker, for example, my keywords would be “dinosaur sticker, vinyl sticker, laptop decal, cute dinosaur, dino sticker”, etc. My tags would also include a lot of those terms.
Think about the keywords you would use, if you were searching for the item that you’re selling. What makes it easiest to find? What are some of the more specific words you can use to help it stand out? For example, if my dinosaur sticker is especially cute, or cartoon-style, I’ll specify that in my keywords.