Making money as an artist
Making money as an artist is quite the big elephant in the room, isn’t it? Who doesn’t want to make money with their passion, Although it seems really appealing: You have to realize that there are millions of other people trying to do the same. This doesn’t mean you can’t make it, not at all! But you do have to understand there are only so many commissions made available at any given time.
The only way to become an artist that can live off of its art is by being unique and very persistent. This doesn’t mean showing any art consistently on social media, but most of all this means QUALITY over quantity, a lot of practice, a lot of willpower, a good strategy, and an exquisite experience for your client.
Being an artist, however, can mean so many things. It works worldwide, there are many niches, many entry points, and a whole bunch of services you can make use of. Less is more doesn’t only work for your artworks, but also for the channels you focus on. Because, especially when you’re starting out, which is likely the reason you found this article in the first place, where on earth should you start? I hope this article will clarify some of these questions for you.
What should I charge
A topic I think is made way bigger than it really is. Start small! You can’t and won’t know everything beforehand. Especially when you’re just starting out and didn’t pick a niche yet. The niche you pick in the future will determine the price for your work. And so will the tax of your country and some other factors. But depending on where you live, you won’t have to worry about all that stuff at all, to begin with.
The rule of thumb when you’re just starting out:
Minimal wage x amount of hours you think you will spend on it + any extra costs = final price.
Your country’s minimum wage is the absolute minimum you should ask for any art you do. Of course, there are always exceptions to that rule, for example, if you’re doing art for friends or family. But for anyone else: Handle your minimum wage!
I even vouch for applying the minimum wage from Western countries. In the Netherlands, this is €10,80 for people above 21 years old as of 2021. But honestly: Age doesn’t matter when it comes to art. When you sell your art you’re competing on a worldwide market. Undercutting others significantly doesn’t look good, even if it’s your country’s minimal wage. And many potential customers will fear that you are a fraud. And above all: You could be making way more money than you do. If your work is solid: You can make a lot of money, especially when you’re not living in a western country.
If you’re selling your art within your own country, it may be wise though to have lower rates. But this would be the only exception.
Charging time spent on art
It’s not normal practice to charge per hour. Someone that commissions you, wants to know how much your art will cost in advance. So instead you charge per piece. This is one of the reasons why your art needs to be ‘solid’. It means you know what you’re doing, and above all: Know how much time it will cost you. It’s up to you to come up with a good estimate of how long it will take you to finish an artwork. In the beginning, you may be way off, especially when your client is demanding. But that’s the only way you will learn what works best for you and how to get paid your fair share.
How to price your art
I wish I could give you solid prices but I can’t. It totally depends on your speed, style, and niche. But this is how artists usually break up their artworks to determine a price.
- Lineart (Just black and white lineart images)
- Cell shaded coloring (Anime style)
- Realistic approach (Rendered lighting, colors, textures and shadows)
- Background included yes or no (And how detailed it will be)
- The amount of characters/props/creatures/buildings etc.
- And anything in between.
Everybody has his or her own style, if you’re making character concept art, a background is of no use, but a character from different angles is. A single image will cost less than several from different angles. But like mentioned before, how much you can charge totally depends on your niche. But when you begin: Just keep an eye on the hours you make so you know how much you should charge when you start commissions and charge those hours until you get a lay of the land.
It might be an interesting strategy for you to have more than one style. Some people need to switch up their approaches every now and then to stay fresh in their heads, others prefer one and the same style. If you’re the last one: You might want to consider offering a stripped-down version of your art as well. This could be only the lineart if you’re an anime artist, or a version with only flat colors or cell shading if you draw realistically.
Extra costs can be anything really, like administration time, website upkeep etc. BUT! And this is a big but. When you’re only starting out, it’s likely that you’re not that quick yet. You may just want to focus on how much time your art takes to finish and include the price of the requested prints. That is: If you’re asked to make the prints for your client. Most of the time this isn’t the case and you just deliver a digital copy of the work you made.
It’s also important to keep in mind the time it takes you to converse with your client, and those you spend time on but don’t land you a commission. Time is money, so you should count that in as well. I even recommend that, when you’re an artist that frequently gets commissions, count in some extra time to make up for all those clients you spent hours on, but didn’t land you a commission.
Take the worst-case scenario and make that your standard rate. Sometimes you will be lucky and have an easy-going client, and the time and money from that commission you have ‘spare’ will then cover all those commissions you don’t land, but did spend time on. Worst case scenario you will spend all your time on the commission, but get paid for every hour you do so.
Taxes and upkeep
After you got your first commissions and you did a good job, people will likely start talking and/or returning. At some point, depending on your country, you might need to start paying taxes. This percentage you will need to put on top of your hourly rate. This counts for other things too: The time you spend on administration, the money you spend on our website and advertisements… Everything needs to return. If you can’t make that happen, your prices are too low. If your clients stop requesting art: Your prices likely became too high and you either need to become quicker so you can lower your prices to meet demand, or find a way to better manage your funds with the clients that stuck around.
Inflation is the loss of the value of money. You can buy less for the same dime in your pocket. It varies per country, but large disasters, shortages, pandemics, or wars can have a major impact on the value of our money as well. You have to keep a good eye out on this, because you can be increasing your prices, but if inflation takes a big bite of it, you see no increased income. These are the inflation rates of the Netherlands of the past 10 years:
- 2012: 2.82%
- 2013: 2.56%
- 2014: 0.32%
- 2015: 0.22%
- 2016: 0.11%
- 2017: 1.29%
- 2018: 1.60%
- 2019: 2.67%
- 2020: 1.12%
- 2021: 1.97%
Inflation rates can dive down in the reds, but this is a rarity. But they can also jump up like crazy. In the Netherlands this happened in 2001, when the inflation rate was 5.11%, No matter the case: When you increase your prices, take these inflation rates as a guideline, and add to that what you’d like to earn more the next year. Do this with caution though, because high inflation rates get people on their toes. They will start saving up, and things like art are the first things they will cut from their budget. So you might want to set a certain % you want to increase your prices each year. My go-to is usually 3 to 4%. This means that I sometimes get lucky, and sometimes less so, depending on the inflation rates. But this way I at least don’t scare clients away with much increased prices in times or scarcity.
How can I get paid
Other than the obvious ways, by bank and cash, there are many other options. Two of the most popular ones are PayPal and Stripe. They’re roughly the same services and fairly easy to use. Most artists use Paypal and it seems to be the market leader, I never had the need of Stripe, but I have it available just in case.
Paypal is a service that works through an e-mail address and a bank or credit card. When you have those you are good to go. Your sales and anything you buy are usually protected for a set amount of time and if there’s any problem popping up there is customer service to help you out. Money is sent and received in a matter of seconds, your transactions are always visible and anyone you paid or paid you is visible on your page. There is even a business version of PayPal, which makes it even easier to manage when you’re a business owner.
It’s worth digging into the details regarding PayPal as they take a little cut on every payment. But that’s the case for nearly every payment gateway.
Stripe is the younger cousin of PayPal. Paypal was launched in 1998 and holds roughly 60% of the market whereas Stripe was launched in 2011 and holds 20% of that market. Stripe and Paypal are very easy to use, unlike other payment gateways. The most logical move would be to go for PayPal, but Stripe might be just for you when you dig into the details around it.
How do I keep my own work safe
This is a complex subject. When you’re new to art it’s hard to keep your art safe. There will always be wolves lurking in the dark and you at some point will have your art stolen. But there are ways to stop that from happening. One of them is by making use of a service like Fiverr (see chapter below) but there are other ways too like described in detail in this article: Protection against art plagiarism and copyright infringements.
Some of the tactics discussed are:
- Reducing the DPI
- Reducing the size
- Posting art publicly
How to communicate with my client
Yes oke, this is a tough one. You have to understand that you are a business and you are representing yourself as such. This means that your customer needs to have a good experience. How that takes shape is all up to you, but there are some key components you have to keep track of.
- Friendly approach. You are a business that tends to handle very personal artworks for a wide variety of people. Art is a luxury for many people, give them a good experience.
- Part of this experience could be that you include them in the process. Give the works in progress and explain to them how you work if they like to know that.
- Make sure they know what’s coming. Explain in advance through a solid timeline what they can expect from you so they don’t get confused about a work in progress when they expect a final artwork for example.
- Make sure you set your price in advance and don’t change it after you finished unless they want to add more work to that same artwork. Having a contract ready will help to solidify everything.
- Tell them when you can’t do something. A ‘no’ sometimes is better than a bad experience after the facts.
- Meet your deadlines. Art is usually a treat to people, they will be very disappointed when you miss the deadline.
- Not everybody is open to this, but most people really value it when you come up with ideas and suggestions.
- Be approachable (but within reason). When they contact you, try to reply within 24 hours, preferably even quicker. Just keep your own workflow in mind and don’t reply right away at all costs.
Just make it a fun experience. Especially in the beginning, you will get a lot of commissions from individuals who have a passion or love for whatever you’re gonna draw for them.
Using different platforms to get reliable commissions
There are many platforms out there that will allow you to sell your services. One of the biggest ones is Fiverr. Services like these provide you with a platform that brings (small) businesses and potential buyers together. It’s a competitive market, but it’s a relatively safe one as it ensures your client has the funds necessary for your artwork and ensures the client that you will deliver.
Fiverr is one such platform. It allows you to set a wide range of ‘gigs’ and gives you the opportunity to narrow them down into gigs you actually can deliver. Fiverr does this by allowing you to customize your gigs completely. It’s also possible for you to set custom prices and delivery times and the higher your rating, the more customization you can do and the more customers you will get.
Because Fiverr is such an elaborate platform it takes a cut. This is 20% of whatever money you make. So if you don’t manage to commission art, you won’t pay anything. When you’re new to Fiverr you really need to have a unique style and competitive prices, else you won’t be able to make much money from it. This sadly means undercutting others a lot of the time, especially when you have a more generic style.
Like mentioned before: I don’t think undercutting people is the right way to go, but a platform like Fiverr does force you to do this quite easily. So when you choose for this platform: Make the most out of it so you rise in ranks as quick as you can and can charge decent prices.
The best ways to rise in ranks is by providing exquisite services, meet your deadlines, be UNIQUE with your art, have customized gigs and be quick to reply to new clients.
Social media for artists in a nutshell
Social media is a big topic. There is no good way to go about social media. For every person it will be different. Make sure that whatever you pick: It’s something that fits your personality. Are you a very social person? Then Deviantart may be your go-to. Are you a very experienced artist that doesn’t feel like chatting a lot? Maybe Artstation or Pinterest is the right place for you. Instagram is a no-brainer, for any artist it’s good to have Instagram, and I recommend every artist to have a Facebook page as well. But no matter what route you take: Pick one or two platforms next to Facebook and Instagram and master it before continuing on to the next. You can’t manage all of them at the same time.
For some artists social media is THE way to make good money, but for most this isn’t the case. Look at social media as a place to earn your name. There are other platforms that will provide you with paying customers. Just remember that one doesn’t rule out the other and that you need to nurture both!
Other ways to become more time-efficient and save money
There are some ways to become more time-efficient, some of them may cost you some time and money, but in the long run will get it right back to you, simply because you can focus on what you’re best at. These are things should tackle as early as possible, whenever you can.
- Automate as much as you can, Have a website up that provides basic information and contact info so you can stop your social media channels from getting clogged up with questions you need to answer over and over again.
- Automate everything that comes after the initial introduction as well. Think of things like your workflow, and having a standard questionaire ready to get your client started with answering basic questions about what they need to have drawn.
- Have an accountant to handle your finances. Most artists won’t need any throughout the year, but in most countries you will have to run your finances through one once a year to make sure everything is registered correctly. A good accountant will also help you out with getting money back from taxes, and any grants you may be eligible to.
- Have someone handle your e-mails. This is something most artists won’t want or need, but it is something to consider if you’re getting too swamped up and are making good money.