The last few years have pushed us all to be adaptable, especially if we want to succeed. There was little to no room for staying comfortable, which can be argued is a good thing, even not always easy. Along the same lines, we've also seen that some of the marketing and sales tactics that worked pre-pandemic are no longer as viable as they once were.
That said, what has been most encouraging during this period is seeing many artists take the leap to devoting themselves full-time to their creative passions and truly making it work. If that’s a goal for you, you may feel like it’s far out of reach comparing yourself to those who have done it. While keeping in mind that everyone’s path is different, there is one strategic way that can help you achieve financial independence through your creative pursuits sooner rather than later: having multiple income streams.
The reality is that there are few artists who support themselves by selling original art alone. Most naturally end up with several offerings to generate additional income as well as build financial stability overall. So, what other options do you have when it comes to making money? Here is a list to get inspired and maybe after reading you’ll come up with several more ideas on your own.
25 Income Streams for Artists
1. Original art: Selling sculptures out of your studio, with a gallery, or via an online platform.
2. Prints: Creating limited or open editions of your most popular images.
3. Merch & home goods: Printing your art or designs on clothes or home wares that you sell. A more specific example is that many artists offer handmade ornaments around the holidays.
4. Printed materials: Designing calendars, postcards, or greeting cards with your artwork)
5. Kits: For example, you could produce or collate a bundle with all of the materials needed to make a work of art, such as a DIY weaving kit.
6. NFTs: Making a digital version of existing pieces or brand new works. Check out the recent book by Tam Gryn for detailed information about NFTs for artists.
7. Templates / Patterns: If you don’t want to put together full DIY kits, you can sell design templates on their own. I’ve seen many embroidery artists do this.
8. Gifs / Animations / photo presets / phone backgrounds / digital stickers: For those who have skills in graphic design, animation, or photography, you can create digital products to offer on a simple web shop or on Etsy.
9. Licensing: Brands may reach out for collaborations asking to use your designs on their products, or you can pitch them yourself. Set up contracts so that you get paid for each image they use. Read this article on art licensing for advice.
10. Virtual workshop: Reach out to offer your workshop in partnership with an educational arts organization or lead one on your own.
11. Book / Ebook / audiobook: Turn your area of expertise into a publication! Best for those who enjoy writing or have this as a goal! Pitch your idea to a publisher or go the self-published route to earn higher royalties per book sold.
12. Digital prerecorded course: Instead of hosting multiple workshops, you can prerecord a course to give a wide range of people access to do it on their own time. This also allows you to keep earning revenue from it without having to continually schedule and teach the course.
13. Live classes: Anyone with an education background or who simply loves to share what you do will likely enjoy hosting live classes where you can interact directly with students. Again, partnering with an organization can be a great way to do this when starting out so you have a space to work in.
14. Speaking engagements: Artists can participate in panels, artist talks, and more that offer an honorarium. If they do not, you may still find that the event is worth being part of. I’ve done this twice where even though I was personally not paid to speak by the organization, it directly resulted in book sales or people hiring me for consulting services afterwards.
15. Artwork commissions: Work with clients directly to create custom artwork.
16. Mural design: Collaborate with a business or client to design and/or paint a custom mural in their space. Here’s a great article for advice.)
17. Photography: Some fine art photographers also offer to take professional images of other artists’ work or do commercial photography on the side to augment their income.
18. Curating: Get hired to curate engaging art shows for a variety of venues or online platforms. A specialized degree is only one path to becoming a curator and is not always a requirement.
19. Art installation: If you’re handy, you can offer hanging services to galleries, individual collectors, or institutions.
20. Art Therapy: While this does require the investment of additional schooling, if you love working with people to help them heal and grow, becoming an art therapist could be a wonderful way of utilizing your talents.
21. Art writing: Love to write? Pitch story ideas to your favorite art-specific or regional media outlets. These can include exhibition reviews, industry news coverage, interviews, long-form essays and more. Listen to this great interview with arts writer and author Jasmin Hernandez, founder of Gallery Gurls, to learn more about breaking into the niche industry of arts writing.
22. Grants: There are numerous grants available supporting artists in all media. Be sure to write out a thoughtful and professional submission that follows their guidelines and demonstrates your fit or need for the grant.
23. Competitions: Seek out art competitions with cash prizes for the winners.
24. Patreon: Don’t discount the power of community. It’s likely that those who you already do know will want to support you so consider setting up a Patreon page or crowdfunding page for any specific projects you want to launch.
*25. Any other part time or full-time job that you enjoy or one that simply pays the bills, which allows you to not place that pressure on your art. This is a completely valid option that countless artists use to their advantage. It doesn’t make you any less of an artist.
Disclaimer: Of course, not all of these options will work for everyone. That's not the point of this article. You need to decide which ones you think would be the most viable in your situation that you’d actually want to commit to. Once you’ve done that, I urge you to keep in mind that growing any income stream takes time and you may have to experiment to discover what options actually work for you and your situation.
I love the transparency of blogger and podcast host Jannese Torres, host of @yoquierodineropodcast, who shared that it took her three years to make the first $10K from one of her income streams. But from then on, it doubled every year afterwards and now makes her over six figures annually. She says: “The first $10K is always the hardest. Remember that next time you want to give up too quickly.” The goal is growth over time and as you find success in one or two you can continue to build more.
Thanks for reading! Enjoyed this article? Here are even more career resources for artists.