All of my life I have heard the term “Starving Artist.” An idea has persisted in our culture that artists cannot or should not make money from their craft. Some people even believe it is unethical to ask for payment for your art.
This is an unrealistic expectation. Even artists have to pay rent and buy groceries!
I agree that practicing art should be a work of passion and that making money should not be the only important factor. However, there is no reason a professional artist should not be able to make money from their work and find financial success. Here are a few of the various ways YOU can make money with your art.
The Benefit of Multiple Streams of Income
Almost all successful artists make money through multiple streams of income.
The term “multiple streams of income” refers to the practice of bringing in money from many sources. This practice lets your income from various sources add up and makes it easier to bring in the money you need to live a comfortable lifestyle as an artist.
If maintaining a professional art career is your dream, you can absolutely do it by following these strategies!
However, don’t implement every strategy at once. I recommend choosing only a few of these income streams to focus on and putting as much effort as you can into those few before you expand into more.
I have listed some additional resources on this page, but for a much more extensive list check out my page Artist Resources. This page gives you access to several categorized lists of websites and companies that can help you utilize the strategies I am about to cover.
I want to help you make money from your artwork and go from “starving” artist to “thriving” artist!
The 21 Streams of Income for Artists who want to make money with Art:
1. Sell Original works
Your original works are the most obvious products of your work. If you are a traditional artist, you can sell the original work for a much higher price than any reproductions.
If you are a digital artist, you can use this strategy through NFT’s. To learn more about NFT’s and how they work, you can check out this post by The Artist blog: What is NFT Art?
This method works great as one piece of a larger income plan but is usually not realistic on its own because original work takes time to make.
So unless you are selling each of your pieces for thousands of dollars and making several of these artworks per month, you are unlikely to make a living wage from this method alone. That is why the following strategies are so important.
Similar to original art, commissions allow you to start original art pieces with a buyer already lined up. Commissions are a great way to guarantee sales, but just like selling your other original artworks, it can prove time-consuming.
Also, make sure that if you make a commission piece, you verify the expectations of who will own the right to make prints of that work. I recommend the artist retain reproduction rights for all artwork they produce, even commissions.
3. Sell prints or reproductions of your work
Selling prints is a great way to sell your work without selling your original pieces. Reproductions allow you to make money with art by selling the same artwork repeatedly, even after the original has sold.
Plus, it opens your artwork up for buyers in lower income brackets. Someone who loves your art and wants to support you may not be able to afford an original, but they can still enjoy your work by purchasing prints.
Prints and reproductions can come in various sizes and qualities. This method includes selling limited edition prints, canvas prints, paper prints, posters, etc. Prints will be worth less than the original, but there is no limit to the number of prints you can sell over time.
4. Sell Digital Downloadable PDFs of your Art
Downloadable artwork is basically the same as selling prints, but the buyer prints it out themselves. This is great for simple or minimalistic art pieces, but can also be done with any two dimensional artwork.
Just make sure you specify what the reproduction rights are for the buyer. Do you want them to only print it for themselves for personal use, or are you okay with them selling printed reproductions of your art to a few customers? Your allowances on these matters will usually affect the price that you charge for downloads.
5. Sell Digital Graphics of your art
Another great way to take your art digital is to extract individual subjects from your art pieces and turn them into digital graphics. Buyers can purchase the graphic and use it for their own digital designs.
Again, make sure you specify what rights the buyer has and what you are okay with them using your artwork on. Do you prefer they use it only for personal use, or can they use the graphics for advertisements and commercial use?
Many artists who sell digital products will offer a separate commercial license that allows buyers to use their work for business purposes at an up charge. I will touch on Commercial Licenses later in this article.
6. Sell Print-On-Demand products
Many artists use print-on-demand, or POD, sites to make money with art by putting their artwork on various goods and products, then selling them for a cut of the purchase price. This can be a lot of fun if you enjoy seeing your artwork on usable merchandise such as tote bags and cell phone cases.
If you choose to sell POD products, make sure that you read through the site’s sale policies so you understand their rules, processes, and how much income you will receive from the sale of each product.
A few popular POD sites include Redbubble, Society6, and Zazzle. There are also ways to set up POD services in your other shops including Etsy and Shopify by using a back-end POD service like Printify or Printful.
7. Offer Freelance Art Services
This is similar to commissions in that you will have to produce work to someone else’s specifications. However, this is a great alternative for digital artists, photographers, writers and designers. Brainstorm what types of products (usually digital, but not always) that you could offer to your freelance clients.
8. Sell an Ebook
You can also sell a PDF ebook or calendar featuring a collection of your artworks. This is a good option if your buyers love your art but either can’t afford originals or don’t have a place to put physical artwork. They can still support you by purchasing an ebook or calendar and share your work with their friends.
Sell Rights to Your Artwork
9. Art Licensing
Art licensing is another great way to make money with your art without selling the original piece. Artists can sell the “right to reproduce” artwork to outside companies for a specific amount of time and for a specific price.
Many merchandise companies sell products that are embellished with artwork from a profession artist. They will either request that the artist make a specific design for their products or pay the artist to use work already created. Artists can make a great deal of passive income through art licensing.
If you choose to go this route, make sure you understand the contract and exactly what you are agreeing to when you sign over the rights to your work.
I do not recommend that artists give up all rights to an art piece. Licensing should be for a specific period of time and then all rights for that work should return to the artist when the contract period is over.
10. Sell Commercial Licenses for your Digital Art
As mentioned above, you can sell your artwork as digital graphics and PDF’s that buyers can download and use for personal use. Offering a “Commercial License” in your shop could be an excellent up-sell opportunity for your work.
Artists can utilize this strategy by putting a reproduction limit on their downloadables that the buyer may only exceed with permissions purchased via a Commercial License. You may also specify what kinds of products the buyer may use your work for with the license.
Make sure you are clear in your product description and certificate about what rights the buyer is purchasing when they buy a commercial license for your artwork.
11. Art Leasing
Another way that artists can make money from their art without selling the original artwork is to lease or “rent” the work out to be displayed.
Sometimes a company will host an event where they could use your artwork as a decoration or display. Some companies will even rent artwork for their offices rather than purchase it so they don’t have to claim the asset on their taxes and they can change it out as needed.
Think about local businesses that might be interested in displaying your work for a small fee.
12. Collaborate with Other Organizations or Non-Profits
One way to expand your reach as an artist and increase your income is to collaborate with related organizations. For example, if your artwork features animals, you could collaborate with a local wildlife reservation, zoo or wildlife non-profit organization.
Ask the organization to promote your work or hang it in their building or shop for a cut of the sales price when someone purchases it.
You could also offer artwork for a discount to use as an auction item for that organization to raise funds.
Or you could offer to license art to them to put on their products to sell in the gift shop.
There are so many ways to make a collaboration beneficial to both parties and bring in some extra income while supporting a good cause.
Sell Art Instruction
13. Teach Individual Art Lessons
Teaching lessons is a great way to make money with art skills rather than artwork you have made.
The ability to create beautiful artwork is a desirable skill. There are many people out there who want to learn how to make art or improve their skills. Some people even use art for physical and cognitive therapy.
If you are good at producing specific types of artwork, you could sell individual art lessons on an hourly basis or as a “package” of lessons that students can pre-pay for.
14. Teach Art Workshops
If you are not sure about teaching lessons to individual art students, you could teach larger workshops instead. Sometimes local event venues and stores will host workshops for their members, employees, or to attract new clients and they need an expert to come in and teach it.
Check with your local community center or chamber of commerce for workshop opportunities. You might also check with your local craft store or other related businesses. These events are also a great way to network and find potential buyers for your artwork.
15. Teach through Online Webinars and Livestreams
There are so many opportunities to make money through online instruction. Online webinars and livestreams are great ways to connect with other artists and to create a digital product through video.
Not only can you make money from selling access to the original webinar or livestream, but you can also record it and sell copies of the recording later to make passive income.
16. Teach a class on a Learning Platform
This is like teaching a webinar, but the lessons are usually sectioned out and set up to be an easy-to-follow class that students can take at their own pace.
Grow and Monetize an Audience
17. Start a Patreon
Patreon is a platform made for artists and creatives to make a little extra income while still allowing them to focus on their craft.
Typically the artist offers an incentive for fans and art lovers to join their Patreon and pay a certain amount every month to offer support for their work.
The most successful Patreon users offer multiple tiers to allow fans varying levels of financial commitment. This is a great way to make a little extra money on the side, but is usually not a good stand-alone strategy for making lasting income.
Still, every income stream that helps you make money with your art can help with your overall income strategy.
18. Start a Blog
Start a blog showcasing your expertise on your artwork or art techniques. This could be helpful to other artists and collectors who are new to the art scene.
It may take a while to build up a significant amount of information and blog traffic. But once you do, there are a lot of ways you can monetize your audience. A few monetization strategies include selling ads, using affiliate links, and even selling your own work through the website.
19. Start a Vlog
Just like with a blog, you can monetize once you have built up your audience by selling ads, promoting affiliates, and promoting your own work.
20. Leverage Social Media
The average person uses social media to connect with like-minded people and find entertainment. As an artist, you can leverage your social media to make sales and monetize your audience.
Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and DeviantArt offer separate shops and sales opportunities within their platforms. By selling through social media, your followers do not have to leave the platform to purchase from you, making it easier to get sales. Just make sure you are complying with each platform’s terms of service.
21. Email Marketing
Email marketing is a great way to stay connected with buyers and to build rapport with potential customers. Some experts claim that email marketing is the most reliable and valuable way to reach clients and make sales. If you want to learn more about the benefits of email marketing, check out my post: What’s The Big Deal About Email Lists? And Why Do You Need One?
Not only that, but just like with your blog or vlog, once you have an established email list you can sell ad space and use affiliate links to bring in a little extra income.
Every artist and creative should have email marketing as part of their strategy to make money with art. In order to get started, you need to choose an email marketing platform and start collecting emails.
DO NOT start an email marketing campaign through your personal email. This is illegal and unethical because it does not offer your email subscribers the opportunity to opt-out of receiving emails from you.
I plan to touch more on the importance of email marketing and how to get started in later posts. If this is something that interests you make sure you sign up for the Madly Mused newsletter so stay updated on new content as it becomes available.
I hope this article helped you see how to make money with art through multiple income streams.
The term “Starving Artist” is outdated. Artists bring light to the world and deserve to make a living just like everyone else. You and every artist out there can go from “starving” to “thriving” by making an income strategy that works for you and utilizing the principle of multiple streams of income.
Of course each stream is going to take work to get it going, but many of these strategies are forms of Passive income, meaning that once you get them up and running, they take little effort to keep going and bringing in income.
I encourage you to check out each of the 21 streams of income perfect for artists and work on building up one or two at a time. Of course you do not need to use all these strategies to become a thriving artist. Pick the ones that make the most sense to you and devote your time and effort to those before you move on to more.
Do you have more income stream ideas I didn’t mention in this post? Share them in the comments!
Best of luck in your creative journey. I hope this list helps you find success and I hope you will stay madly mused.