How to make money as an artist
This post was last updated on January 13, 2023.
As an artist, you have the gift of creating something meaningful, but how do you turn your passion into a profitable career? Many artists struggle with this question, and it can be hard to know where to start when.
After all, traditional routes—peddling your art at local craft shows or partnering with a gallery—often lead to burnout or little-to-no profit.
So, what are your alternatives? In this article, we’ll explore some of the most effective strategies for making money as an artist and gaining control over your income.
Read also: 19 profitable eCommerce business ideas
01. Sell artwork via your eCommerce store
If you’re looking to build your personal brand, consider creating an online store that showcases your work and makes purchasing easy.
An eCommerce store grants you complete control over your branding, pricing, and overall customer experience. You can sell your art online from your personal portfolio. Or, design a storefront that puts you work front and center.
For example, Kyle Sorensen features his original paintings and prints on a site that simultaneously celebrates his milestones as an artist. Visitors can view the publications that he’s been spotlighted in, as well as the galleries that represent him.
Meanwhile, paper art designer Sena Runa focuses her Wix Store on a large collection of read-to-ship pieces. Sena Runa is presented as a brand—though visitors can learn more about Sena as an artist and view her collaborations with various companies.
If you’re looking to explore either route, be selective of the website builder that you use. Look for an all-in-one free eCommerce website builder that includes back-office tools you need to start a business. Think: inventory management, payments, marketing, multichannel management, and other essential features.
Save yourself the trouble of having to replatform later down the road, and find a builder that's scalable, plus integrates with all the sales channels and apps that matter most to you.
Benefits of running an online store:
Full control of your brand and customer experience
With platforms like Wix, you get a robust collection of tools to better manage and grow your business
Cons of running an online store:
Takes time to customize and configure
You’ll need to learn how to drive traffic to your online store
02. Use print on demand to sell customized merchandise
Print on demand (POD) offers an easy way to start a t-shirt business or other product line from your artwork. POD is a form of dropshipping that lets you print custom designs on any item of your choosing. Like dropshipping, you don’t have to carry any physical inventory; your supplier will ship finished goods directly to your customers.
With Wix for eCommerce, you can easily connect your online store with top print-on-demand companies. Choose from a wide variety of products, including home accessories, apparel, and even specialty goods (like dog toys). Most POD platforms have an in-platform editor that you can use to create and preview your products. Once you decide which items you’d like to offer, simply list them for sale in your store.
You’re responsible for driving traffic and sales to your listings. Your supplier, on the other hand, should be ready to print, pack, and ship items once an order comes in.
Pro tip: Una Savcenko, content team lead at Printful, notes that specific types of artwork look better on certain products:
Patterns - all-over print products, like leggings, skirts, and dresses
Line art - jewelry, framed prints, t-shirts, and hats
Collage - blankets, bags, and canvases
Photography - any type of wall art, like framed prints
Visuals with transparent backgrounds - phone cases, hats
Learn more: How to start a print-on-demand business
Benefits of print on demand:
Instantly offer a wide variety of products featuring your designs
Easily experiment with different products
Avoid having to create product, store inventory, or fulfill orders on your own
Avoid having to order products in bulk; only pay when an order comes in
Cons of print on demand:
Depend fully on your printing partner to create and deliver high-quality products on time
Rely on your printing partner for product availability
Lose control over the fulfillment and manufacturing processes
It may take a longer time for products to reach your customers
Lower profit margins than if you were to buy products in bulk
03. Sell on an online marketplace
There are some undeniable advantages of selling your work on online marketplaces like Etsy, eBay, or Amazon.
For one, marketplaces boast large, established audiences. They offer the opportunity to get in front of consumers who are actively shopping and trust the products sold on their favorite apps. Marketplaces additionally offer tools and services catered to merchants—the most famous being Amazon FBA, which stores and ships products on merchants’ behalf (usually within two days, we might add).
With all that said, marketplaces can be highly competitive. Each has a distinct way of categorizing, ranking, and showcasing products. You’ll have to do your homework to understand how to get your products ranking, plus make sure you don’t become too dependent on any single channel for your income. (Remember, a marketplace can pull the plug on your listings at any time.)
Before selecting which marketplace(s) to sell on, ask questions like:
What are the channel’s listing requirements?
What seller performance standards will you have to meet?
What fees should you anticipate?
What is the average price—and profit—of work sold in your category within the marketplace?
Which types of artwork perform best on the channel?
How saturated is your product category?
Does the marketplace’s audience align with your target market?
Carefully research and select a marketplace that aligns with your artistic brand and goals. The platform should be well-suited to your particular medium and style while providing the visibility and reach that you need. Some marketplaces worth exploring:
Etsy - for artists and crafters of every kind
Amazon - which offers a handmade section, in addition to a wide array of other categories
eBay - where you can sell original artwork and/or reproductions
Artpal - 100% free gallery for artists to sell original work or prints
Artsy - focused on selling fine art pieces
Artfinder - sells original artwork by artists around the world
Artmajeur - sells original artwork, including paintings, sculpture, photography, drawings, and more
Zatista - features curated art and collections from its member artists
Threadless - sells staff-approved art submitted by artists
UGallery - home to high-quality, hand-picked, and exclusive artwork
Creative Market - features design assets, graphics, fonts, templates, illustrations, and more
Pros of marketplaces:
Can be used as a standalone selling platform
Offer large, loyal audiences
Some channels provide fulfillment services, alongside other seller programs to support your growth
Cons of marketplaces:
Competition may be steep
Commission and/or listing fees may be less-than-desirable
Application and approval process may be lengthy or difficult to obtain
Little-to-no control over the customer experience or your branding
04. Become a stock contributor
As a stock contributor, you retain the rights over all of your submitted artwork while granting the stock art site permission to display and sell licensed copies of your content. Similar to eCommerce marketplaces, stock art sites connect you with large audiences who are actively looking to make a purchase.
However, success on these sites requires you to think like a brand, organization, or publisher. Consider, what types of content offer the most versatility? What styles are most trendy these days? Where and how can buyers use your artwork for their own purpose?
It’s best to select a niche (i.e., nature, people, couples, trees, abstract, etc.) and a primary medium to focus on. Popular mediums include:
Marketing material templates
Next, find a stock content marketplace that suits your business goals and your style. Each site operates a bit differently and offers various resources to help you grow. Read the fine print to understand submission requirements, restrictions, payment options, and commission structures.
Some sites that might be worth exploring:
Shutterstock - offers high-quality photos, videos, and vector illustrations
Stockphoto - features an international community of image and video contributors
Envato - accepts video, audio, design assets, photos, and other digital assets
Adobe Stock - known for offering high-quality photos, illustrations, graphics, and videos
You can choose to create original pieces specifically for these sites. Or, sort through your existing portfolio and find pieces that are suitable to upload to your new contributor profile. Add descriptive and keyword-rich titles and tags so that your work is easy to find. Beef up your portfolio over time to maximize your chances of generating recurring sales.
Pros of becoming a contributor:
Good for passive income
You can select from a variety of stock content types
Build up your portfolio and improve your skills as you go
Increase your earning potential as your portfolio grows
Cons of becoming a contributor:
It’s difficult to monitor how your work is being used
It’s harder to track and enforce copyright infringement
You may encounter long wait times for your artwork to get approved
05. Seek commissioned or freelance work
Aside from selling finished pieces of art, you can offer your services as an artist to individuals and businesses looking for unique work.
For example, contemporary artist Akvile Les provides custom art and consulting services alongside her finished pieces. She serves commercial and residential clients around the world, helping them to transform physical spaces and/or build up their brands.
The trick to accepting commissioned or freelance work is to get noticed by the right people. Use your website, social media, ads, and other tools at your disposal to showcase your work online. Let businesses know that you accept commissions, and ask your network to spread the word.
You can also build a following by creating a profile on marketplaces specifically designed for commissioned or freelance work.
Here are a few commission-based marketplaces to explore:
Shutterstock Custom - a platform for connecting brands with photographers and videographers
MadeMay - a community of top painting and sculpture artists for hire
Artfinder - as a registered artist, you can list yourself as available for commissions
Freelancer - offers a Preferred Freelancer program to connect artists with enterprise clients
Pro tip: Select a niche market to target. This will help you learn what styles are more likely to sell to your selected audience more quickly than if you were to create for multiple markets simultaneously.
Pros of doing commissioned work:
Foster long-term client relationships
Build up your professional portfolio
Interact with customers one-on-one to bring their visions to life
Only accept the projects that you want to
Cons of doing commissioned work:
Some clients may be hard to please
May take a while to negotiate pay, get to know a client, and get into the swing of things
You income depends on completing projects to your client’s expectations
If you use a marketplace, you can expect to pay commission fees
06. Turn your art into NFTs
NFTs (non-fungible tokens) allow you to sell your art as one-of-a-kind digital files. When your art is minted as an NFT, it becomes traceable, turning a previously easy-to-copy medium into a scarce and, therefore, more valuable asset.
How do NFTs work? Put simply, when you turn your digital asset into an NFT, it's like tagging that asset with a non-removable, non-replaceable barcode that permanently marks it as the original. When you sell your digital NFT asset, the ownership of the NFT transfers to the buyer.
NFTs are still a relatively new concept but it’s predicted that, one way or another, NFTs will become mainstream. There is much to know about creating and selling NFT—much more than what we have time for here. But you can check out our guide on how to make an NFT for a crash course.
Once you've created your NFTs and set up a digital wallet, there are several NFT marketplaces ready to help you sell your digital assets:
Pros of creating and selling NFTs
Mint your bespoke assets and always have a way of proving that your art is genuine
Sell directly to buyers and enjoy a larger profit from each sale
Easily track the location of your artwork
Collect royalties and continue earning money on one piece for years to come
Cons of creating and selling NFTs
The NFT market is still new and in flux, which can increase the risk for sellers and cause buyers to be more hesitant to invest
Profit from NFTs is still unreliable
Fees for creating NFTs continue to fluctuate
07. Become an affiliate
If you’re looking to make some good side money, explore opportunities to represent your favorite brands as an affiliate. It’s low-risk and low-cost. Furthermore, you could make money promoting the art supplies and tools (as examples) that you already use.
For example, let’s say you use a Cricut machine to create custom cards. You could sign up for the Cricut affiliate program. You could then produce content—like TikToks of yourself using the Cricut—to potentially earn up to 12% commission for any Cricut sales inspired by your videos.
It goes without saying that generating income as an affiliate is easier when you have a following. Start building up your personal following by being active on your favorite social channels and/or investing in something like a blog. Practice creating content about the techniques or topics related to your work. Then, add captions and descriptions to your posts that list the supplies you used for each project, alongside your unique affiliate links.
Consider making it easy for your followers to browse all the supplies you use by creating a landing page that lists your favorite brands, supplies, and tools—all linked with your affiliate ID.
Some popular platforms or brands that offer affiliate programs:
Pros of becoming an affiliate marketer:
Can promote and support your favorite brands through referrals
It’s a low-cost, low-risk way to earn passive income
Affiliate marketing provides another avenue for fans to support you as an artist (with no additional cost to them)
Cons of becoming an affiliate marketer:
Commission rates/affiliate earnings may be low
Affiliate programs may hold onto your earnings until you meet specific minimums
Some affiliate programs have minimum requirements regarding followers, website traffic, or sales to gain or maintain affiliate status
Some affiliate programs may expire un-collected earnings after a certain period of time
08. Create an online course
Publishing an online course can be a relatively low-lift. For some, all it takes is a cell phone.
If you already host in-person workshops or demonstrations, try recording your next session and listing it as an online course. Alternatively, you can skip the live audience and create a video inside your home or studio.
You can offer online courses in several ways:
Use Zoom or Vimeo to host live trainings that people register for and/or pay to attend
Sell videos or course materials as downloadable products via your website or a marketplace (like Udemy or Coursera)
Create a membership program that includes access to pre-recorded courses
Collaborate with other artists to co-create and offer an online course
Use social media to live-stream demonstrations or creative workshops
The best thing about online material (especially tutorials, how-to guides, and explainer videos) is that it tends to be evergreen—meaning, it never goes out of style or loses its value. However, you’ll have to put in the effort to market your course, and to provide enough value to make the investment worth it for any paying customers.
To help encourage sales of your course, try offering something they your followers can’t refuse:
Provide tiered pricing bundles - The more your customer pays, the more bonus content or features they get with their order. For example, the base tier could include your basic courses, while the second tier offers advanced classes plus coaching calls. Top-tier buyers might get all that, in addition to a kit containing all the supplies they need to create the project you demonstrate in your course.
Include bonus materials - Even if you don’t use tiered pricing, you can still throw in a few free gifts to sweeten the deal. For example, include a companion worksheet or a link to an additional tutorial video with every course purchase. Or, include a list of all the supplies used during the course and the best places to buy them. Bonus items help you to delight your buyers and provide additional value.
Offer flexible payment options - With tools like Wix Payments, you can give customers multiple ways to purchase your course. We recommend offering Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) solutions like Paypal Credit, Affirm, or Afterpay that allow shoppers to spread out their costs over time.
Include some one-on-one time - Depending on how many courses you sell, consider offering a 15- to 30-minute coaching or support call to help answer questions or to make yourself more accessible to your students. Aspiring artists may appreciate the opportunity to speak with you directly.
Pros of creating your own course:
Increase your evergreen content collection
Enjoy a long-term, passive income stream
Build up your personal brand and authority in the art world
Could lead to other higher-paying speaking opportunities
Cons of creating your own course:
It takes times to plan, record, and edit videos
You may find yourself wanting to invest in higher-quality equipment for filming or editing courses
Success requires a long-term commitment to creating courses and promoting them
Opportunities abound online
The internet is a wonderful place to make money as an artist.
But every opportunity has its pros and cons, and involves varying degrees of effort. As a result, some options may be more worth your time than others.
When determining if an opportunity is right for you, consider your niche, your business goals, and the time you're willing to invest. Then, select a method (or two) that suits your interests and your personal career goals.
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