The Secret to How Artists Make Money (Plus 7 Real-Life Examples with Numbers)

The Secret to How Artists Make Money (Plus 7 Real-Life Examples with Numbers)

Let me guess: at one point or another you’ve probably thought about telling your boss to suck it, quitting your 9-5, and doing your own thing. Maybe you went through a major life change and you’re looking for something more fulfilling. Maybe you’re exploring more unconventional (and fun!) options for making a living with art. Some of you may be brainstorming ways to make money from home with a baby. Maybe you’re thinking about taking the plunge of becoming a full-time artist and wondering how artists make money.Owl doodles give advice on how artists make money

It's okay if you don't have a fully-fleshed out idea—that's how everything great starts!When you Google “how much money can I make as an artist,” the results are annoyingly vague.

You click into something and bombarded with 18 pop-ups with signup doodads, your computer fan whirrs to life, spins out of control, and your device crashes into the ceiling. If you pull up your web inspector and delete all of that junk, you might uncover this useless little nugget:

It depends.

When I’ve searched "how much money do artists make," I was looking for an artist salary range so I knew how much money I had to save before I took the leap to become a full-time artist. I wanted a glimmering shred of hope to cut through the noise of the masses groaning about their jobs and complaining about everything under the sun. (Get those people out of your life ASAP, btw)

Now, down to the data. According to the BLS, The median income for artists in the U.S. in 2022 is $49,120 per year.

artists make $49,120 per year on average

Not bad.

If you think that's low, it’s because you’re used to getting a secure salary from a full-time job that pays more.

The beauty about being an artist is that it’s tied to entrepreneurship, so there’s really no cap on what you can make—and that’s why everyone says “it depends.”

Because it does depend.

Instead of asking how much money you <i>can </i>make—which invites limitation—start thinking about how much money you <i>want </i>to make.

50 grand a year?

That’s just the median—not even the average.

If the BLS took the average, I’m guessing the number would be much higher. There are more than a few outliers making $1,000,000+. Just look at a few high earners on Patreon or do the math on some artists websites to get some examples.

Most artists are clustered around the $50,000 mark.

If you live in a low cost of living area, that’s more than enough money to play with.

If you live somewhere horrifically expensive like San Francisco or New York, you might have to make some adjustments. But the real secret to how artists make money is the same as any other entrepreneurial venture:

How artists make money: create multiple streams of income

Look, as an artist, you’re an entrepreneur with the power to create your own IP instead of having to pay someone to do it. That's a magical skill that most entrepreneurs would KILL to have!

You have ownership of the product design process, too, and a distinct advantage when it comes to creating products that people want to buy.

product design process: 1. What's the customer's problem? 2. Make a thing. 3. Test. Did it work? 4. If so, monetize in as many ways as possible.

This takes a little bit of a mindset shift, for you must stop identifying with the term starving artist and start thinking of yourself as a businesswoman.

Once you’ve got that mindset shift down, ideas will begin to flow.

separate sections: how artists make money and examples of how artists make money

Here are 7 Ways Artists Make Money.

How Artists Make Money Method #1: Sell Artwork Online

How Artists Make Money Method #1: Sell Artwork Online

This is what most people think of when they think “artist.”

It's the most common means by which artists make money. I started with this route—you don’t even need a website to do it. Just start posting your work on social media and eventually, someone will contact you to buy something.

It doesn’t matter if you think it’s good or not—it will resonate with somebody.

A lot of resources out there try to tell you that you need to get a website and write a blog and design and code and network and get a gallery to show your work—

No!

You don’t! 

Artists make money because they know how to abstract their business down to the simplest terms:

All you need is a product and a paying customer.

My first customer paid in cash.

The other ones went through PayPal and Venmo, sometimes if they paid in installments, they gave me checks. But when you want to scale your art business, you will need a website or online storefront to sell your art. 

Oh, and make sure you take good product images. Every other part of your online art business can afford to be a little sloppy, but if you've got good product images, that can carry the whole thing. 

Lauren League | Kitsune fox wall art rainbow art fine art

I took this photo of my Kitsune fox art print in my dim little apartment with my phone camera. You'd never guess that was the case, because I've learned through trial and error how to take good product photos.

So. 

If you're just dabbling with the art stuff, all you need is a good picture of your work. Just blast it on your social media and see what happens. If that doesn't work, try again. Keep doing that until people associate your name with "artist," and then they'll think of you at the moment they feel that art customer pain point.

Then you'll start seeing sales.

If you've already done that a few times and want to get more serious about running an art business, it's time to build an online store. 

There are tons of resources out there to build your own online art store. In my experience the only real channels worth investing in are these ones:

Shopify, Etsy, Wordpress, or Squarespace. 

Pick one and go ham.

How Artists Make Money Method #2: Do Art Commissions

How Artists Make Money Method #2: Do Art Commissions

Another way artists make money is through commissioned work. When I first started, 80-90% of my income came from commissions. There’s a huge audience out there who want custom artwork but don’t have the skills to create it.

These people will usually contact you if you post on social media—SPECIFICALLY Facebook, Reddit, and Instagram, and you mention that you’re open to commissions in your posts.

In my experience, the highest demand areas for commissions come in the form of pet portrait requests ($$$) and really specific erotic art. ($$$$)

Commissions are a great method for making money as an artist when you first start. But as you begin to scale your business, you'll realize that you have less time to do these types of things.

As your business grows, you'll need other income methods that will grow with it.

How Artists Make Money Method #3: Patreon

How Artists Make Money Method #3: Patreon

Patreon is a tried-and-true way artists make money.

It allows your fans to pledge a certain amount of money per month in exchange for exclusive rewards. Therefore, you get a steady stream of monthly income as an artist and you don’t have to worry about putting in the legwork of finding clients, making sure they pay you, etc.

Most Patreon pages have multiple tiers.

My advice is to create only one tier.

It reduces cognitive load for the people who land on your page.

They don’t have to take the extra few seconds (or minutes) to decide how much money they’re going to give you. Fans land on your Patreon page, see there’s one option, click that, boom, done.

They've transformed from a fan into a customer.

Let’s say you open a Patreon page and charge $5 per month for patrons to get behind-the-scenes access to your process.

  • If you get 100 patrons, you’ll get $500 per month.
  • If you get 1000 patrons, you’ll get $5,000 per month.
  • If you get 5000 patrons, you’ll get $25,000 per month.

It looks like a pretty normal income until you start to experiment with scaling it like that.

The downside of Patreon is that there's no organic search. People won't find you by browsing—you have to cultivate your own audience and then bring them to your Patreon page from other platforms.

Preferably, you'd have a 2-tier income funnel where customers discover you through a search engine like Youtube. From there, you can cultivate an audience and send super-fans to your Patreon. 

How Artists Make Money Method #4: Youtube

How Artists Make Money Method #4: Youtube

I know some artists like to diversify their online presence by creating a Youtube channel and regularly posting videos, showing their audience their process and techniques and stuff.

I haven’t personally explored this method, but here’s what I know through research:

At Youtube, once you qualify for monetization (get over 4,000 valid public watch hours in the last 12 months AND have more than 1,000 subscribers), you make between $3-$5 per 1,000 views on your video.

Sounds discouraging if you’re starting from 0—but let’s do some math.

  • You want to make $5,000 per month doing Youtube.
  • You make an average of $4 per 1000 views.
  • Therefore, 1 view = $0.004.
  • How many views do you need to get to $5,000?
  • 1,250,000 views per month.

That’s not for one video, either—that’s spread out among all of your videos.

  • So if you’ve got 10 videos on your channel, you need an average of 125,000 views on each to make $5,000 per month.
  • If you’ve got 100 videos on your channel, you need an average of 12,500 views on each to make $5,000 per month.
  • If you’ve got 1000 videos on your channel, you need an average of 1,250 views on each to make $5,000 per month.

It no longer seems so impossible.

The great thing about Youtube is that it's passive marketing. You make something once, and it sits there and advertises your brand forever. 

How Artists Make Money Method #5: Sell Online Courses

How Artists Make Money Method #5: Sell Online Courses

I can hear you sigh. I can hear it!

Look, it doesn’t have to be sleazy or an MLM thing. Seems like nowadays every Influencer’s trying to get you to buy some B.S. online course about how to use Instagram or something. It doesn’t have to be so aggressive and annoying.

Chances are, you know how to do something that others don’t, and they want to learn how to do it and they’re willing to pay you.

If you're creating value, you should charge.

Better yet: if you build a tool to make a process easier for people, you should definitely charge.

People Google how to do art things all the time.

I mean, even when researching keywords for this article, I came across a bunch of auto-populated search terms like:

  • how to draw
  • how to art nouveau
  • how to bullet journal for beginners
  • how to paint clouds
  • how to design a website
  • how to design a logo
  • how to design a room

If you know how to do these things, and it sounds fun to teach people how to do them, then do that.

Why are you still giving stuff away for free?

How Artists Make Money Method #6: Write and Self-Publish Books

How Artists Make Money Method #6: Write and Self-Publish Books

I can speak from experience on this one.

I love writing romance even more than entrepreneurship, so I developed several pen names and treat them as mini artist businesses, each serving their own audience of readers.

It's a great method of passive income, but it takes a lot of legwork to get up and running. Depending on your audience, you have to publish anywhere from 1-20 novels before you start seeing a substantial monthly return.

But...

Writing romance novels and developing tight branding around them is one of the fastest ways to become a millionaire. 

It's passive income. It's artistic, and it's great if you like writing. 

The top earners are pulling in seven-figure months. 

The middle earners are pulling in five-to-six figure months. 

The lowest earners are pulling in two-to-three figure months. 

Your book doesn't even have to be a romance novel. It can be about art, your style, your personal story, or even a coloring book. 

Think about it—books are just art prints with stories inside.

Whatever form it takes, self-publishing books is an amazing way to support your brand, diversify your product line, and ensure a steady stream of passive income to finance your artistic endeavors.

There's a lot to say on this topic, so I'll write more about self-publishing in a future article.

How Artists Make Money Method #7: Affiliate Marketing

How Artists Make Money Method #7: Affiliate Marketing

I’ll be honest, I’m pretty green in this area, but I know that most bloggers use this method to make a living.

If you're an artist that likes marketing and writing, this is for you.

From my research, it looks like commissions yield 5-30% for every customer that converts. Again, let’s play with the numbers.

So.

If you’re blogging in your niche and you point to a product that costs $20, you get $1-$6 if a customer buys it.

If you point to a product that costs $100, you get $10-$30. Average that out, and it’s $20 per conversion.

The average conversion rate for affiliate links is 1% of visitors to you site.

So, if you have 100 daily visitors in this scenario and point them to a $100 product, you will probably make $20 per day.

If you have 1000 daily visitors, you will make $200 per day.

If you have 10,000 daily visitors to your site, you’ll make $2,000 per day.

Just imagine how $2,000 per day could change your life—and that's only from this one stream of income!

In Conclusion:

The most successful artists utilize multiple streams of income and adjust their work around their lifestyle. It seems overwhelming, but remember that you don't have to do all of these things. 

Most artists only do one or two of these things really well.  

If you're just starting out, my advice is to start posting pictures of your work online. You'll get commission requests—build from there.

Once you see that works, it's a lot easier to look at becoming an artist as a business venture.

Just take it one step at a time. :-)

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