Making Money as an Independent Artist: Turning Art into a Business

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If you’re an artist, you’ve probably heard the age-old adage that’s quoted back and forth by disapproving parents and relatives: being an artist doesn’t pay a lot. What they probably mean by this is that a career in the arts — whether you’re an illustrator, painter, sculptor, writer, photographer, stage actor, or a composer — doesn’t pay as much as, say, a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer. There’s definitely a stigma that surrounds being an artist, especially to the practical-minded older generation.

But don’t believe what they say. You absolutely can make money out of your art! In fact, many artists already have. Sure, it might not be the six or more figure salary your parents might be expecting, but it’s still enough to earn a steady wage and income. As long as you’re smart about it, you can definitely make being an artist your career. And here are 5 ways you can do just that.

Commissions

As any online artist will tell you, commissions are the bread and butter of any digital artist. Many artists live off of the income they get out of making custom artwork for clients. While it’s not as steady an income as many would like it to be, commissions still make up a large percentage of an artist’s income. In fact, some rely heavily on their commissions as an extra source of cash and as their main livelihood. You’d be surprised how much people are willing to pay to get custom artwork of something.

Of course, a commission’s prices will vary depending on the type of commission. For example, a simply lined bust or half-body sketch could cost less than a fully rendered head-to-toe art of a character. Similarly, artists might charge more if you want a fully rendered background to go with your piece or any additional details.

Many artists prefer to price their commissions based on complexity, time, and skill level so there’s no one-size-fits-all standard of how much you should charge. But many agree that you should charge however much you think your art deserves, regardless of your skill level. And don’t forget to be open to tips!

Merchandise

Another way digital artists have found to monetize their art is through merchandise. Go to any large convention or artist’s alley and you’ll likely find rows upon rows of tables full of handmade independent artists’ merch up for sale. Indeed, other than commissions, digital artists earn a significant income from creating their own merchandise. This could range from anything that costs less production-wise, such as stickers, art prints, button pins, and key chain charms, to much more costly merchandise like bags, apparel, and even phone cases. All of these will still, nonetheless, cost time and money to design and produce, but they bring in a very high return on investment.

While many artists usually make merch in preparation for big conventions and events where plenty of people gather, plenty sell their merch on their own e-commerce sites year-round to increase demand. Any artist, regardless of aptitude and skill level, can easily achieve this by coming up with a few good designs and finding a trusted supplier and a professional e-commerce website designer. A prerequisite to this would have to be building a large enough social media following to get more people interested, but with a dedicated enough fan base, it’s definitely achievable.

Patron rewards

A common source of income for many creatives is patron rewards. On platforms like Patreon, you can ask people to pledge a fixed monthly amount in exchange for giving them exclusive content, early access, and other perks. Not only does this ensure that you get a steady income, so long as your patrons remain subscribed to you, but you know that your art is being viewed and appreciated by people who actually want to support you and from whom you can get valuable feedback from. Think of it as having a close circle of people who get to be the first people to see your art before you release it to the world.

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Tutorials and art lessons

If you’re looking to earn more passive income, posting video tutorials, lessons, drawing processes, and speed paints can help you there. Aside from getting to showcase your skill and talent to the world, you could earn a lot from creating tutorials and art lessons alone for other artists to use. You could even expand this to creating your own set of custom tools and brushes and getting sponsorship deals from companies.

YouTube and other streaming platforms such as Twitch have become incredibly lucrative platforms for many independent artists and creators. So don’t be afraid to put yourself and your art out there.

Comics and serials

If you’re a digital artist, chances are, you’ve probably thought about creating your own web comic or serial media before. If you’ve been looking for the right excuse to make one, here it is. Comics are one of the few options an artist can make a living off of, aside from perhaps animation. Unlike animation, however, comics can be done entirely alone with little to no expensive equipment or experience. As long as you read comics and know the traditional set-ups and practices that go into making comics, you can definitely start making your own.

Now, there are online platforms like Webtoon and Tapas that can host your comic for free and distribute it for readers all over the world to read. How do you monetize this, you ask? You can set up a Patreon for readers to be able to read new chapters and pages in advance and see behind the scenes concept art and designs, sell merch of your comic, or if your comic gets popular enough, an actual publisher might be willing to pick it up and print it! Or, you could self-publish. It’s really up to you. Many other artists have already made their fortune and mark online as web comic creators. You could be the next big thing!

As evidenced on this list, there are just so many ways an artist can make money, even in this economy. Nowadays, it’s not hard for artists to find an audience, especially with social media. And with the right audience support, you could be just one click away from making quick bank on your artistic pursuits.

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