The Business of Art, Part 4 Finale: “How Do I Make a Stable Living as an Artist in the Online World?”
Welcome to the final installment in the Business of Art series, where I answer your most pressing art business questions. I’m writing this with the help of my wife Andrea, who’s the business mind behind ColorByFeliks!
This week’s questions all have to do with the most critical part of making a living at your art: actually getting paid for it! So let’s jump right in and answer your questions!
“How do I transition art from a hobby to an actual career?”
The first step in any artist’s journey is to develop their skills. The more interesting, skillful, or just unique your art is, the more likely it is to attract attention from people. You have to put in the time to develop your unique artistic style and point of view.
This is an ongoing process even when you’ve already got an audience, so make sure you love making art because it’s a lifelong pursuit!
Improving your art and challenging yourself will help you continue to grow even after people are already interested in your work.
All this advice comes with a condition, though: don’t wait until you’re “good enough” to start sharing your work!
I get tons of messages from people sharing their art with me in private and saying things like “It’s not very good, but…” even though their art is awesome!
Self-doubt is common and can cloud your judgment, so don’t trust it!
The best way to beat self-doubt is to start sharing your work with the world. Even if you just started making art recently, you never know when it will catch someone’s eye and you’ll get someone wanting to buy art or a commission from you.
At the very least, you may just get a wonderful compliment that motivates you to keep creating.
I’ve mentioned this in a previous blog, but all artists have to face the fear of sharing in the beginning if they want to make a career out of art.
You may as well face the fear sooner rather than later and get it over with! Once you share your art for the first time, it becomes much easier to share in the future.
Most people will have nice things to say about your art, and even if someone says something mean, you can just delete their comment or ignore it and keep putting out your art. The more you share, the stronger you get. The more you practice, the stronger you get.
Do these things together and you will be well on your way!
When you share your work on social media, make sure to make it clear what you are selling: whether it’s original works, commissions, products, or something else.
An example of this is an Instagram caption under a photo of your work that says ‘DM me to purchase this work or to commission an original piece!’.
The next step is just to be consistent and patient! Keep improving your skills while sharing each new work that you do and reminding people of the product or service you offer.
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t make any sales for a while. It doesn’t mean your art is bad or that no one likes it; it just means the right person hasn’t come along yet.
If you’ve read my earlier blogs, you’ll know I regularly went months without selling a single work in my early days.
You should also start experimenting with different social media platforms as you have more time to see which one your art performs best on. That should be the one you focus on most. For me it was Instagram, but for you it may be YouTube, TikTok, or something else!
When you do start making some sales, figure out the number of paintings you’d need to sell in order to live comfortably and from there you can see how many painting sales you’d need to make to make it a full-time career.
Realistically though, it can be hard to make a comfortable living solely off of painting sales and it isn’t typically as stable as having a few different art-related income streams.
“What’s the next step after I start to get an audience?”
As I just mentioned, it’s rare that painting sales alone will be able to support you comfortably full time. We’ve lived mainly off of painting sales and off of art-related income streams and we definitely prefer the second option. Art-related income can be either a product or a service in addition to your originals.
Products would include selling things like t-shirts, phone cases or stickers printed with your designs, or hand painted things like jackets, jeans, stuffed animals, or even furniture! Those are just a few ideas but there are endless possibilities for products.
If you don’t want to deal with managing physical inventory, you can sell art-related services.
This would include custom commissions like canvases or even wall murals for businesses. If your following gets big enough, you can even start reaching out to brands you like about doing influencer marketing.
The point is to have several sources of art-related income so that you’re not relying on just one thing like painting sales. Again, be patient and just keep sharing your work online.
Another important thing to do as your audience grows is to create your own website and direct your audience to that site to buy from you.
This is not a priority before you have many followers, but as you grow, you don’t want to rely on platforms that you don’t own for your income.
The Facebook and Instagram outage last week was a perfect example of this: anyone who was only doing business through Instagram couldn’t make any sales during the outage, but if they had their own website it wouldn’t be a problem. So build a website and start directing your following there to buy from you.
“How do you find the right collectors?”
The more people you reach, the more likely you are to find the right collectors. I hate to sound repetitive, but social media really is the fastest way to get your art in front of a lot of people. Again, just be patient and consistent with your posting.
You can also run Facebook ads, but that is a more advanced strategy that we will discuss in our upcoming Art Business Course. The course is for artists ready to make a serious investment and put in the work to make their passion into a career. You can reserve your limited spot on the course waitlist here.
“I’m a medical student but I love painting. Is there any way I can earn from painting in my spare time?”
Yes, of course you can! We suggest sharing your art on a separate social media account from your personal one and also creating an Etsy page to start selling your artworks. As you get more sales and clients interested, transition to building your own website and selling from there.
“Can you actually make a stable living off of art?”
The answer is an absolute yes! The key is building multiple streams of art-related income as I discussed above.
Don’t rely on just one thing like painting sales, but be open to supplementing that with influencer marketing, commissions, or other products and services.
I haven’t mentioned this much before, but even after I had hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram in the early days, I was selling originals and doing commissions but we were still having a tough time getting by comfortably. That’s because Andrea and I didn’t realize the importance of building art-related income streams.
Once we did the work to build art-related income streams, everything changed. We now live 100% off my art and we both get to work from home and have freedom of time. It took a lot of work, but it’s more possible than you realize!
That wraps up our four-part Business of Art series! Thank you so much for submitting questions and for tuning in these past four weeks. I hope you learned a lot!
If you want to go deeper on how to actually set up your art as a living, we are having a free live masterclass teaching all about creating income stability as an artist online (there are multiple time slots available); click here to register!
Feliks & Andrea K.