In this article, I want to explore some of the best ways for artists to earn a living. From selling your work, licensing, and undertaking commissioned projects to selling digital products, there are numerous opportunities for artists to showcase their talent and make money in the process. Aside from the apparent avenues, creatives have turned their creativity into a profitable business. So, let’s dive in!
Selling Original Artwork
Straight off the bat, one of the easiest to set up and one of the most direct ways for an artist to make money is by selling their original artwork. Artists sell their work for various reasons, including financial gain, exposure, and validation of their talent. There are numerous ways that artists can do this, such as:
- Online Art Marketplaces: Websites like Artfinder and InPrnt allow artists to sell their work to a global audience. These marketplaces handle payment and shipping logistics, making it easy for you to sell your work.
- Personal Website: A unique website is an excellent way to showcase your work. Several platforms make it easy to set up, like Shopify or WooCommerce. Or if you want more control over your site's style, Webflow is a great option.
- Social Media: If you're an artist, you should use your social media platforms to drive traffic to your personal website or online store with each impression. And, with the recent updates to both platforms, you can now sell directly to your audience from Instagram and Facebook stores. Then, all you need to do is turn your profile into a business profile and get run through the onboarding process.
- Online Auctions: I have yet to do this, but listing your work on websites like eBay and Paddle8 (this is a new web3 platform, read more on Web3 here) allows artists to auction their work to a global audience. This is an excellent way to reach new buyers and get higher prices for your work.
- Print-on-demand: I'm a massive fan of trusted print-on-demand services; however, getting everything set up and quality-checking the work can take a lot of work. Still, if you find a suitable match for your style and work, print-on-demand services like Society6 or Printful, among others, are a great way to sell your artwork under a licensing agreement (more on that next). Sites like these allow artists to sell their work as prints, phone cases, and other products without the need to hold inventory. This can be a huge benefit for students or artists who might not have the means to buy in bulk.
Although the above options are a great place to start when selling your artwork, making a sustainable income from it can still be challenging, especially if you're starting out or a lesser know artist. I'm not saying this to discourage you from selling your work but to manage your expectations; I'd be lying if I said it's an easy way to make money.
While you have your artwork for sale, I always encourage you to build a following, understand your market, price your work correctly and explore different channels to see what approach best suits your needs as an artist and creative.
Licensing your artwork means giving someone else permission to use your artwork for a specific purpose, typically for a fee or royalty payment. When you license your artwork, you retain ownership of the original artwork, but you grant the licensee the right to use it in a specific way, such as in a book, on a product, or in an advertisement.
The terms of a license agreement typically outline the specific ways in which your artwork can be used. It will also outline the length of time the license is valid, the territory where the artwork can be used, and the compensation that the licensor (you, the artist) will receive in exchange for the use of the artwork. If this is an avenue you’re interested in exploring for your work, I would encourage you to read the terms of the agreement before committing.
If you’re interested in licensing your work, I have gathered a few of the most popular resources and platforms for licensing your work below:
- Shutterstock: Shutterstock is a well-known platform for licensing stock images and illustrations (here's a list of my favourite), but they also have a program called Shutterstock Custom, where artists can create customised artwork for clients.
- Society6: Society6 is an online marketplace where artists can sell their artwork on various products, including prints, phone cases, and home decor items. Society6 handles the printing and shipping, and artists earn a percentage of the sale.
- Redbubble: Redbubble is similar to Society6, allowing artists to sell their artwork on various products. They also offer a range of tools and resources to help artists promote their work and build their brand.
- Adobe Stock: Adobe Stock is a platform where artists can license their photographs, illustrations, and vectors for use in digital and print projects. Adobe Stock is integrated with Adobe Creative Cloud, making it easy for artists to upload and sell their work.
- Creative Market: Creative Market is an online marketplace where artists can sell digital assets, including graphics, fonts, and templates. They also offer a Partner program, where you can earn a commission by promoting other products on the platform.
These are just a few examples of the many platforms where you can license your artwork for sale. It's essential to do your research and choose a platform that aligns with your goals and values as an artist.
Commissioned work is work that an artist or creative produces at a client's request in exchange for payment. This work is usually customised to the specific needs or preferences of the client. Depending on your profession and skill sets, it can include various art forms, such as paintings, sculptures, illustrations, photography, graphic design, etc.
When you take on a commission, you are typically required to work closely with the client to ensure that the final product meets their expectations. This can involve multiple rounds of communication, sketches, and revisions before the last piece is completed.
Commissioned work is one of the most popular methods for artists to earn a living and create unique and personalised art pieces for their clients. It can be a win-win situation for both the artist and the client, as the client receives a one-of-a-kind piece of art that meets their specific needs while the artist is compensated for their time and expertise. The only down-side is, the client will usually have full-control over the end product and it may not reflect the true vision you had for the final piece. That is why I always recommend setting clear boundaries and expectations prior to commencing any work.
Teaching & Coaching
A great option to earn money passively is to create pre-recorded coaching programs or courses that customers or clients can work through at their own pace. While you would still need to make the content and market it to potential clients, once the program is up and running, you could earn income from it without actively coaching clients on a one-on-one basis.
Another option is to create a membership site or online community where you provide ongoing support and resources to a group of clients. However, this requires you to manage the community and create content actively; it could be a more sustainable way to earn income from coaching over the long term.
Ultimately, while coaching as an artist and creator may not always be a completely passive income stream, it can be a lucrative way to earn money while helping others achieve their goals and tapping into your expertise and passions. I have put together a list of five popular sites and platforms that offer you the tools and resources you need to get started:
- Udemy: Udemy is an online learning platform where creators can create and sell courses on various topics, from programming to photography to business. You will earn a percentage of the sale for each course they sell.
- Teachable: Teachable is a platform allowing creators to create and sell online courses on their websites. It will enable you to customise your course pages and pricing. The best part is you earn 100% of the sale.
- Skillshare: I’m sure everyone has heard of Skillshare by now. If you haven’t, it’s an online learning community where creators can create and sell classes on various topics, including creative skills, business, and technology. Creators earn money based on the number of minutes watched by premium members.
- Patreon: Patreon is super popular among artists and Illustrators. Patreon is a membership platform that allows you to earn recurring income from your fans. In addition, creators can offer exclusive content and perks to their patrons, such as access to live Q&A sessions or behind-the-scenes content.
- Coach.me: Coach.me is a platform that allows creators to offer coaching and mentorship services on various topics, including fitness, productivity, and personal growth. On this platform, you set your prices and earn a percentage for each sale.
The above are just a few examples of the many platforms for artists and creators to earn money teaching or coaching an audience. Researching and choosing a platform that aligns with your goals and values is essential.
Selling Digital Products
Selling digital products can be lucrative for artists to monetise their skills and reach a wider audience. In addition, digital products have several advantages over physical products, making them an attractive option if you want to sell your artwork or product.
First and foremost, digital products have low overhead costs. Since digital products can be created and distributed without the need for physical materials, inventory, or shipping, artists can significantly reduce their expenses when creating and selling artwork. This means that the profit margins on digital products can be much higher than on physical products.
Secondly, digital products have an unlimited supply. Unlike physical products that are limited by the number of copies that can be produced, digital products can be replicated infinitely, which means there is no limit to the number of sales that can be made. This means that artists can potentially sell their digital products to unlimited customers, which can lead to a higher volume of sales.
Digital products can be sold and distributed anywhere worldwide, meaning artists can reach a larger audience than they can with physical products. This means that artists can sell their digital creations to a global customer base, increasing sales volume. Below are some examples of digital products you could consider selling on your site:
- Digital Art Prints: Artists can create high-quality digital versions of their artwork and sell them as prints, posters, or wallpapers. You could also license the design as mentioned above.
- eBooks and Tutorials: Artists can create instructional materials that teach others how to create art or master specific techniques. If you can articulate your skills in written form to solve a problem your audience struggles with; this could be a great way to monetise your work.
- Stock Graphics and Illustrations: Artists can create and sell digital assets like graphics, icons, and illustrations for web design and digital marketing. There are many ways to digitise a product or service; all it takes is a little creativity and exploration into your niche and skillset.
- Creative Templates: Artists can create and sell customisable templates for social media posts, business cards, and other marketing materials. A great example of this is selling website templates for the likes of webflow or WordPress.
Making money as an artist can be difficult, but as I’ve outlined above, there are many ways to spread your revenue into multiple streams. It may take a little creativity and a lot of work, but tackling this goal strategically can be quite lucrative. Ultimately, this should help you earn some money passively and allow you to create the work you’re truly passionate about.
If you're willing to work to build a business around your craft, I'd suggest reading this article on my top tips on how to 'Avoid Creative Burnout'. If you're a new artist or creator and just starting your journey, here's a resource to help you avoid the 'Five Biggest Mistakes New Artists Make'.