Insight

How to Make Money as an Independent Artist

Debunking the myth: Can you make money as an artist?

Has anyone ever told you, “Don’t be an artist, you’ll starve”?

Sadly, ‘the starving artist’ is a clichè that’s not entirely a lie. Research from Saatchi Art shows only 49% of artists can earn a stable income from their art. Because of this, most artists only do art on the side forced to work separate full-time or part-time jobs.

We know how much time, effort, and love you put into creating your art. With most articles and resources providing vague advice you’ve already heard, we thought we’d step in.

At Seminal, we represent and work with 100s of successful full-time artists. This guide walks through the exact steps they’ve taken to:

  • Grow their Instagram followers to 570k+,

  • Get licensing deals with top-tier brands including Sony, Levi’s and Mont Blanc,

  • Showcase their artwork in renowned institutions in Bangkok, Mexico, Spain, London and Paris— and even sell their work for 6 figures.

  • Win awards like Forbes’ “Top 100 Most Creatives In The World” and renowned scholarships like the “Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship”.

This article is not your regular fluffy how-to. It’s an actual to-do list to become a full-time artist that you can start immediately. Complete the steps with care, follow them in order, and you’ll be on your way to becoming a high-earning artist!

Let’s begin.

Step 1: Figure out who you are as an artist

A man painting

There are plenty of talented artists but there is only one of you, so your artwork needs to showcase your uniqueness. What is your unique selling point— is it your art style, the story you tell through your art… or a combination of both?

For example, Andy Warhol used bright striking colors, repetition, and printmaking techniques (where you transfer images from a matrix to another surface, like creating a wood stamp out of a pattern and stamping on paper) to make a commentary on the exclusiveness of fine art, the obsession with pop culture, and commercialism.

Vincent Van Gogh is known for his thick dramatic strokes and bold unrealistic palette and he often drew from memory— that’s why his works have dream-like qualities.

Claude Monet is an impressionist who used light and color to create movement and draw focus on objects, rather than the humans in his paintings.

Keep experimenting with different styles until you find yours. The more you learn and understand the rules, the more you can figure out how to break them to create your unique style.

These websites offer affordable and comprehensive resources to help you discover new styles or deepen your knowledge on a style you already like:

  • Proko offers courses for beginners and experienced artists.

  • 21 Draw not only offers art courses but also courses on using software like Photoshop and Procreate.

  • Watts Atelier of the Arts has both in-person and online classes, focusing on traditional techniques.

  • Skillshare offers many classes for the price of one subscription, including non-art-specific courses.

  • Masterclass has world-renowned artists teaching the classes, where they break down their style and give advice based on their personal journeys.

Plus,if your local community centers offer art classes, they’re worth joining too! You can meet fellow artists there. (Which, as you’ll see, is important.)

While pricier than the classes above, art schools and universities can give you an official degree, in addition to teaching you new skills, like animation and game design.

These schools offer great online classes:

This process does take time and there will be a lot of trial and error, but do not fear! The more mistakes you make, the closer you are to finding your unique artistic identity. The artists we mentioned above were also developing their styles throughout their careers. No one gets it on their first go.

But what is art without an audience? Once you’ve found your style, here’s how to find people to look at and buy your work!

Step 2: Building community and audience— offline and online

People visiting a gallery

Creating your network

Working as an artist can be solitary and (sometimes) lonely. This isolation leads to 17.6% of artists feeling insecure about their art, while 15.8% compare themselves to other artists (Saatchi Art).

That’s why community is important— it’s where you support each other. You can get feedback, learn, collaborate, get recommendations, and be recommended.

Research published in the Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing shows that the growth of community-based art groups has proven to improve mental health. These groups reaffirm artists’ identities, leading to them feeling more confident, resulting in better artwork.

You can communities of independent artists on Reddit forums and Facebook groups. Platforms like DeviantArt, ArtStation, and Behance also allow you to participate in challenges and get work opportunities. Overall, these platforms are the fastest, easiest, and cheapest ways to find and network with other artists.

Although joining a community online is highly accessible and has global reach, don’t neglect offline communities.

You also need to build a reputation in the local community. Look into local art fairs and visit galleries and exhibitions. These places are not only for showcasing your work or meeting gallery owners and potential buyers, it is where you can support other local artists. And after all, the pathway to globally recognized artist typically begins with local legend.

Marketing yourself on social media

Marketing is a necessary step in this process, how else will people know about your work? Thankfully, in the digital world, self-marketing is more accessible than before. But, it’s also more competitive.

With a bit of creativity and the tactics we’re about to reveal, you can stand out.

Social media is not only a place to connect with other artists; it’s a space to showcase your art, process, and story— and have those things be seen by an audience. In return, your audience can also become potential customers for your artwork.

So, how do you create a following?

1.) Post consistently

You need a regular posting schedule. Most people post once a week or even once every two weeks. You want to give a reason for your followers to return to your page.

2.) Create engaging content

We recommend starting on the social media platform you are most familiar with.

Observe what kind of content popular artists are creating. You’ll notice that they don’t just post their art. They share the behind-the-scenes of creating their art, their hobbies and interests, and even their dog doing something cute. The idea is to create content that builds a personal connection with your audience.

It’s also important to post your creations. You might worry about people stealing your work, and honestly, it happens a lot. That’s why we created Seminal, to protect your artwork from image theft. Our software ensures that you receive compensation if your artwork is used without authorization.

Be sure to capture the detail of your pieces and present them properly. You don’t need to buy expensive gear or hire professional photographers and videographers. Just use your smartphone!

3.) Engage your followers

People love getting acknowledged! If you see a comment, reply to it. Commenters will then feel inclined to comment again. Plus, social media algorithms tend to favor posts with better engagement, so the more people interact with your post, the more likely it is to trend.

Most social media platforms also show you insights and analytics on which content performs best. To get this function, you have to convert your account into a business account. You can easily find the option in your profile settings and it only takes a few clicks to set up.

4.) Participate in the community

When you find fellow artists on platforms, engage them! Commenting on their posts will increase your visibility; the artists’ followers and the artists themselves can see you. This can lead to more profile visits, increasing your following.

Take it a step further by messaging these artists and arranging a collaboration, so both of you can promote each other’’ art. You can create artwork together, or you can document your coffee meet-up. Either way, more eyeballs to your work!

5.) Use hashtags

Don’t be afraid to use them. Hashtags make your content more discoverable by associating it with specific search terms and topics. And with 15% of people preferring to search on social media than search engines, it’s a great way to be found! (Digital Marketing Institute)

For hashtag inspiration follow what the largest artists are doing. This way, you can capture the same audience as them.

Hashtags are also a great way to find more artists to connect with. Try clicking on #artistsofamerica or #art and see what you find!

Now that you have your community and audience, let’s see how we can turn them into buyers.

Step 3: Selling your work – do you need a gallery?

Give yourself the best chance of selling your work by being across as many selling channels as you can.

Galleries are a great place to sell your work, but it might be hard for emerging artists to find representation. But that’s alright because online galleries are an accessible alternative for newcomers, and many artists manage to sell directly to collectors through their websites or social media. You can continue working on these online platforms and build your reputation, to work towards getting representation by physical galleries.

But for now, let’s explore these online alternatives.

Online galleries

Online galleries work like physical galleries, with you receiving support from curators and marketing teams, who can help build your online presence.

The ideal scenario is to utilize both online and physical galleries to maximize your source of income (for example, some customers might not be online so being in a physical gallery gives you access to these customers). However, you need to double check the exclusivity clause when you’re creating an agreement with physical galleries. Often, they want to be the only one who sells your art. Ultimately, this is your decision to make.

In fact, Seminal’s global IP register operates somewhat like an online gallery. By publicly stating your copyright ownership over your work, people can discover your art and know that you’re the artist.

However, there are other ways to engage an offline customer base. Many artists with online presences still participate in art fairs to sell artwork, generate more exposure, or connect with like-minded people. Again, don’t underestimate the importance of engaging with your local community.

Selling directly to online customers without a third-party

After starting the steps to market yourself online, you’ll begin getting noticed and fans will want to see more of your art and (hopefully) purchase it. A website is a great place to direct them. Rather than sharing a percentage of sales with a third party, you receive the entire purchase price.

If you don’t have a background in web design, don’t worry! There are plenty of website builders with pre-made templates that are easily customizable, and they come prebuilt with eCommerce capability, so you can easily create your own online shop.

Here are our favorite website builders.

  • Wix has easily customizable templates and you can create your website for free.

  • Squarespace has user-friendly templates and it is a favorite for many young professionals. However, you must pay a subscription fee to publish your website.

  • Behance allows you to create a professional portfolio that is linked to your Behance profile. When you update your Behance profile, you don’t have to go to the website builder to update your portfolio, the system automatically does it for you. You can receive job inquiries on Behance too. Like on Linkedin, you can let people know you’re available for work.

  • WordPress is known to many as a blogging platform, but they’ve developed into a formidable website builder that’s just as good as Wix or Squarespace.

The platforms we mentioned above have plug-and-play templates, which means you don’t need coding expertise, you just have to drag elements onto your website and upload your pictures to create galleries. In addition, there are plenty of YouTube tutorials if you need further help.

Now you know how to sell your artwork and that’s an excellent revenue stream— but we recommend going even further. With the accessibility provided by the internet, you can create more business opportunities that also promote your artwork. We call this diversifying.

Step 4: Diversifying your income

An artist drawing with his laptop open

Diversifying is a very common practice in businesses. By diversifying your streams of income, you don’t have to rely on just one. Think about how Disney branches off from just creating cartoons to selling merchandise and running theme parks.

While you wait for your next buyer, here are other revenue opportunities.

Commissioning

Many artists do public and private commissions. Doing commissions pays really well because you’re creating a unique piece of artwork, and it’s very validating to receive these requests because people love your art enough to reach out!

A public commission is when a client contacts you to create art for the public, like creating wall art at a park, and they can serve as promotional ‘billboards’ for your art. A private commission is when a client contacts you to create art for private use, like to be displayed in their house.

When doing commissions, set clear expectations, timelines, and prices with your clients. Make sure you have a clear system to track your commissions and your progress, using project managers like Notion, Trello, or Milanote. These platforms have a variety of subscription plans. While you might have limited storage, the free plan should be enough for an individual.

You can set up templates in those project managers to track:

  • How many commissions you worked on for that year.

  • What your commissioning rates are.

  • Inspiration and mood boards for the work.

  • What materials you need to use or buy for the work.

  • Administrative matters like the client’s contact details, your invoices, and how far you are into the project.

Potential clients also often frequent these websites:

Also, you can use your social media to find clients!

  • Search keywords (like “commission”, “artist”, “designer”) on the search bars.

  • On LinkedIn, you can create a post—telling people that you are available for commissions attaching examples of your work—then use hashtags to make yourself discoverable. You can even catalog your projects on LinkedIn, so people can easily see your work by scrolling through your profile.

  • Community groups, like Facebook groups, often have people seeking artists for commissions, or you can create a post announcing your availability

Commissioning is also a great opportunity to add more art to your portfolio (but ask the client, especially private commissioners, for permission). When showing your commissions, don’t forget to take stunning photographs and tell the story behind each piece. You can even share this on your social media.

Selling merchandise

What do you think about people using your art as phone cases, shirts, or stickers? Creating merchandise is common for artists, as it can provide another source of income and serve as free promotion.

You don’t need to find a supplier to print your products. There are print-on-demand platforms where all you do is upload your art then the platforms will handle production and shipping. There’s no cost to get started, which means you don’t risk losing any money.

These are the best:

  • Redbubble

  • Society 6

  • Etsy – While Etsy is not a print-on-demand platform, many artists still use Etsy to sell their artwork and merchandise.

We recommend being on all the platforms to maximize the number of art-lovers you can reach.

When uploading your artwork ensure it’s of a high resolution so that it prints well.

To promote your merchandise, you can use your social media platforms, monetizing the audience you worked to build.

Teaching

As you become an art expert, why not share your knowledge while getting paid? Teaching establishes you as an expert in the field and is a great way to promote your art.

Decide on what sets your art apart (see Step 1, we told you it’s important to do these steps in order!) and build your course around it. Use high-quality gear when making these courses—so your students feel they’re getting their money’s worth.

Here are some of our favorite places to teach:

Licensing your art

You can get passive income by licensing your art. A license enables people and businesses to pay a one-off fee or royalty to use your work. This is great as you can get multiple payments on the same artwork, so it’s not like selling one canvas to just one buyer.

Some artists turn to NFTs. NFTs are non-fungible tokens on the blockchain, and these assets can be digital or tied to real-world items. However, NFTs are still a relatively new technology, and many artists don’t really know how to approach it, leading to more questions than results. (Where do you sell your NFTs? How do you price it? What are buyers receiving?) Plus they’re not the most environmentally friendly.

But the biggest problem is that NFTs only include a personal license. Buyers can’t do a whole lot with the incredible art they’re purchasing.

You’re better off licensing and selling your copyright than NFTs.

Hang on— what is copyright? What exactly does it do?

Copyright is the exclusive right over artwork distribution and reproduction. It’s created with any original artwork, so almost every artist has it automatically.

Your copyright can earn you money through damages, licensing and IP-sales. And when monetized correctly, it can even generate more for you than the sale of your physicals.

Interested in learning more about how to earn from your copyright? Check this out.

You got this!

Congratulations on making it to the end of this article! By finishing it, you’re well on your way to becoming a full-time artist with a high income. We hope you found this guide to be practical and actionable.

As you begin building your career remember that Seminal is always here to help. As you gain exposure and visibility we help ensure that the copyright behind your hard work is always protected, allowing you to focus on what you do best, creating art.

Plus, Seminal helps you use your copyright to grow your artist-brand and reach new audiences – increasing the market value of your art.

You have an exciting journey ahead of you. You’ve got your to-do list! Get to work and see how you go! We can’t wait to watch you thrive!

Good luck!

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