How To Be A Full-Time Artist (And Afford Rent)
An artist explains to other artists how to start out.
Ah, the life of an artist. It's the type of thing that people romanticize in song and story. As someone who makes a living writing and modeling, I get it. It's a pretty glamorous gig when compared to something along the lines of working in retail.
As much as I love working as a full-time artist, I don't recommend it to everyone. Not everyone has the chops for it, and in many cases, it's downright brutal. Are you wondering how I do it, or how others manage to make their artwork into their income?
Well, here's the basic gist of what I advise my friends to do.
First things first, you're going to have to have at least two brands.
Most people assume that life as an artist means that you can make whatever kind of art you want and that people will snap it up. This could work if you're Banksy, but you are not Banksy. You are a random person on the net reading my words.
The vast majority of artists, be they writers or visual artists, do not make money via their passion projects. They get their income from working with companies and professionals looking to boost their image.
Professionals, of course, don't want to see your images of cats dropping acid. They want to see your company logos, your layout work, as well as photos for their stock ads. So, you should have a brand that surrounds itself with that kind of portfolio work.
I'm not saying that you have to give up on your bliss work. I'm saying that you need to have two images you present. So, have a separate brand for your fun stuff.
Don't forget the business side of things.
Yes, art is creative. But, that doesn't mean that you should take it as a hobby or assume that you are going to be exonerated from anything you do in terms of this stuff financially.
What I'm saying is that you should probably register your own LLC if you want to sell solid items. If you are set on freelancing, then you can do it without a registered business. However, if you want to have two different companies, it may pay off to register both.
You are going into this industry as a business. So, treat it like one at all times. Get Quickbooks, get a Wix site, and consider getting some social media accounts to promote your stuff.
Next, start working on a lot of different portfolio pieces for each brand.
You will probably need to have at least two sites to showcase your stuff. I suggest going with a portfolio that shows a wide range of graphic work with a corporate bent, then having a separate portfolio that looks like it's meant to be part of an edgy magazine.
The idea here is that you want to show people the full scope of your work. You cannot be a one-trick pony and make a living doing art!
Show your work on Instagram, and make sure to have a watermark.
Instagram is one of the best places for people to advertise their content, and not just because of the fact that it's a place that's image-heavy. It makes your content shareable, and studies show people react better to ads there than they would on Facebook.
Put together two Instagrams that showcase your portfolios---one account for each portfolio. Make sure that you have your DMs open just incase you get an offer for a commission sale. Aside from that, these tips can help you max out your income:
- Get a watermark. Watermarks will help you spread the word every time someone shares your work. Hello, new followers!
- Have an online store in your bio's link. I would suggest using Zazzle or having a personal site. If you are a graphic designer or writer, Upwork or a note asking folks to DM you for business inquiries is smart.
- Make sure that your 'grams look good. Marketing art is 90 percent visual. Work it harder than Rupaul's Drag Race contestants!
- Consider spending money on paid ads. This is a smart way to get more followers, who in turn, can become bigger supporters of your art.
Have platforms where people can order work online.
I touched on this earlier, but it's really important to be on a bunch of sites that hire artists. I suggest having a Zazzle and Redbubble for merch sales, along with an Upwork account.
Depending on your art form, you might end up having this as your bread and butter. Despite that, you should not stop reaching out to others in your area for work.
Market yourself. Hard.
This is the hardest part of your work. You're going to have to figure out how to market your skills. So, ask yourself why you would buy your own artwork or figure out what artists with similar skills to you do to sell theirs.
Most people who buy artwork do so because it gives them an image or aesthetic they enjoy. However, if you are a singer, your job probably should be to do voiceovers or collaborations. If you are a writer, you need to learn a lot about SEO.
Take time to learn marketing and implement what you learn. Remember, consistency is key.
Be prepared to do work that's less than enjoyable.
We've all heard the trope about artists making a living drawing furry characters doing illicit stuff. It's a real thing, and it has paid many an artist's rent. There is no shame in getting paid to draw, if that's what you want to do.
Sadly, until your "passion brand" takes off, you basically have to cater to whatever the demands are for your work. This could mean being a wedding photographer, doing a bunch of drawings for anime geeks, or having to write article after article on toilets. (Yes, that last one happened to me.)
Finally, start slow.
It's important to remember that every single person who goes off in the freelance artist world took months or even years to get a decent number of clients. So, don't quit your day job until you're earning just as much or more than what you earn from your 9 to 5.