Every artist dreams of being recognized for their talent with fame and fortune, but many don’t end up making it past quitting their day job, let alone become the next Banksy. In many cases, it’s a lack of direction–not a lack of skill–that determines their status as a starving artist. They simply don’t know how to operate the business side of being a career artist.
It’s not as impossible as it sounds! You can absolutely make millions from your artwork as long as you put in the effort and prioritize selling it as much as you prioritize creating it. If you need help getting started on your road to making millions, check out these straightforward tips to take the first step towards your career goals!
Don’t Undervalue Yourself
We’ve all done it before: you talk yourself up in your head, confident that you’re going to make a fat wad of cash on your next sale, absolutely certain you’ll turn up your nose at any lowball offers that come your way.
And then, with a buyer on the line inquiring about the price of a piece, you suddenly lose all nerve and become terrified you’ll scare them off if you give a high quote. You get so scared of driving them away with sticker shock that you start negotiating yourself down. That, my friend, is why you’re not making millions of dollars on your hard-earned art skills.
The fact of the matter is, you can’t start making millions if you’re not even making enough to sustain yourself. There is good news, though. All you have to do to increase your cash flow is stop undervaluing yourself. Not sure how to come up with a fair price for your efforts? Start here:
- Price out the materials you used to create the piece. This includes paint, brushes, canvas, primer, aprons, palette knives, mixing mediums, clay–any of the tools of the trade. If you used it to create your art, you write down the cost.
If you used half a tube of red acrylic paint, you add half of the cost of the paint to the tally. If you paid $100 for the canvas, you factor $100 into the cost. If you used a third of a ten-pound block of clay, you multiply the original cost of the clay by .33 and write it down. Don’t be afraid to whip out the calculator if you need it. Keeping it in a spreadsheet is also a great way to track your expenses.
- Factor in your overhead costs. If you’re renting a studio, divide the cost of your rent by the number of days you work on your art per month. That gives you your daily studio fee. Multiply that daily fee by the number of days you spent creating the work of art. Add it to the list. Do the same with other overhead expenses like utilities, insurance, reference materials, etc.
- This is often the hardest step. You have to assign a value to your time. In other words, this is the part where you decide your salary. Ego or insecurity can often derail the average self-employed professional during this process, so it’s important to be honest with yourself.
Take a look at your personal expenses and see how much money you need to live on for a month. Include all the necessary costs associated with your current lifestyle. Make sure that you budget for savings and personal maintenance. Take that number, whatever it is, and divide it by the number of hours you spend working on art every month. Then you’ve got your hourly rate!
Now, multiply your hourly rate by the amount of time you spent creating your art piece and add it to the spreadsheet.
- Add all the totals together and then add 20% for taxes, or whatever your local tax rate is (you may have to consult with a CPA for this part–you don’t want to end up owing the IRS money at the end of the year).
- Put that final number on the price tag (or add a few hundred dollars to give yourself a negotiation buffer!).
Confidently quote that figure every time someone asks you how much your art is, and stand firm even if they balk. Remember, your time is valuable. Your talent is valuable. Your art is valuable. Not everyone will see and understand that value–and that’s okay! It only takes one person to see the value of the piece. You can only have one buyer, after all.
As you establish a reputation (which can take as little as a few hours or as long as several decades–there are a lot of determining factors to gaining notoriety) you can raise your rates to match supply and demand. The more in demand your art is, the more you can charge for it. You only have so many hours in a week to create, and you’ve got to eat, sleep, and socialize; therefore, you can only create so much. It’s one of the most simple concepts of economics: if the demand goes up but the supply remains the same or reduces, the cost goes up to reflect that demand.
If you’re having trouble moving your large original paintings, you can still make money off of them before you find the right buyer. Just sell prints! Odds are, many people are interested in the piece but can’t afford it–but they can afford to purchase a reasonably priced print. Plus, every bit adds up, and if you sell enough in prints you can easily make just as much (if not more!) profit as you would by selling the original piece.
Prints don’t have to be dirt cheap, either. Larger prints can go for hundreds (sometimes even thousands) of dollars, depending on the size, the content, and the exclusivity. You can take advantage of the market by offering prints of all your works in different sizes and at different price points. Make sure you’re listing them online as well as offering them in-person at different galleries and art markets. There are tons of possible streams of income to take advantage of with prints!
Sometimes, it’s about who you know, not so much about what you do. This is also true in the art industry. I’m not saying that rubbing elbows with well-connected individuals will make you the next Picasso, but it can’t hurt! You could meet gallery owners, art investors, brokers, curators, dealers, art journalists, promoters, you name it. Plus, everyone knows someone–and just because they can’t purchase, display, or promote your work themselves doesn’t mean they don’t know somebody who can. Your professional connections are one of your most valuable assets as an artist.
It’s important to just be yourself when trying to make new contacts in the art world. Be humble, courteous, and polite when making new acquaintances. Make time to talk about your art and your career goals, but remember, it’s a two-way street and if you make them feel seen and respected, they are more likely to repay you in kind.
Rake in additional income by licensing your artwork out to others! Licensing is a great way for artists to make passive income that may be helpful in sustaining them when sales are slow. It requires a bit more work up front, but a licensing contract can quite literally help you make money in your sleep if you negotiate it right.
If you’re new to the idea of licensing your artwork, all it means is that you give someone else the right to recreate your work and sell it for a period of time in exchange for payment. They may want to use an image of your paintings on t-shirts or greeting cards, or mass-produce scale models of your elaborate sculptures to sell as paperweights in a gift shop. There are tons of different uses for licensed artwork. The best part is, you get to negotiate all the terms, like how long they hold the license, what specific uses they can reproduce your artwork for, and how much commission you make on their sales or if you take a flat fee. You can make millions just off licensing alone if you score a contract with the right person or company!
Create a Line of NFTs
NFT trading is supposedly the future of fine art collecting, and while I can’t verify the longevity of this trend, I can tell you that it’s hot right now and there’s a lot of potential money in it.
So what’s an NFT? NFT stands for non-fungible token, which basically means it’s a one-of-a-kind collectible. You can make your own by digitizing an original artwork that you legally own (which you automatically do as long as you created it without a commission contract) and uploading it to an NFT marketplace where collectors can start to bid on it. Many of the most popular and most expensive NFTs have been sold as part of a limited series, so you can emulate the pros by creating your own themed line of NFTs.
Don’t Stop Trying
The last thing you need to be assured of is this: you really only fail if you give up. Any of the other hiccups? They’re just learning opportunities. No matter the circumstances, no matter how difficult things get (within reason, of course), no matter if you have to get a second job moonlighting as a cocktail waiter, as long as you’re still creating art and proudly proclaiming that you’re an artist, you’ve still got a shot at making millions off of your art.