How Do You Make Money as An Artist

I usually hear this question along some variation of:

  • You can actually make money doing this?
  • How do YOU make money?
  • How do I make money doing this?
  • Hey, I can do this!  How do you do this?
  • I'm an artist too, and I did the artist alley one time, and I made no money.  How're you doing so well?

First off, all of those are real questions, and all of them come off as a little rude, so if you want to ask an artist how they make ends meet, please think of a better way to bring it up.   My preferred method is

"I love your art!  Please let me buy your comic/a higher end commission/an original piece of art.  You seem to be a competent businesswoman, please tell me how I can emulate your success"

I think this method will work with just about any artist, as it's a killer combination of flattery+sales, and we're at that show to WORK.

But hey, I get it.  Mom and Dad are riding your case about making a living, and you really want to prove them wrong.  You've convinced them to spring for art school, but you have no idea what the next step is.  And hey, this lady at this anime con looks like she knows what she's doing- maybe she can help!

Or maybe you're a little older than that- a new mom with a couple kids, you used to draw, but now you don't.  But hey, the kids are starting school, and you have some free time, so maybe you can pick that art thing up again, and make a little money on the side.  It's easy, right?

Or maybe you have this KILLER realistic style, and all your friends just love your art, and you're ready to make a little money from it.  You totally draw better than this gal at the table here, so if she can do it, you can do it, and better!

I get the hubris, I really do.  We've all felt it.  We HAVE to feel it, to pursue something as crazy as the arts, especially the illustrative arts in this current cultural climate.  It seems like no one gets what we do, let alone value what we do, and you really need to believe in yourself just to take the plunge.   And you're going to need to maintain that self confidence, somehow, over the years, or you'll belly up.  And art is a game of waiting and outlasting.

Let me assure you, that while I feel like I have no idea what I'm doing, when it comes to conventions, I do know a bit.  I do co-run How to be a Con Artist, after all, and I do have a Masters Degree in Sequential Art.  I've led dozens of panels, and have been writing how-tos for years.  So that should mean I know something about something, right?

So how do I make money?

So while I'm not making money hand over fist, and while I am VERY dependent on your patronage as a customer and your generosity as a backer, I do ok for myself, especially at conventions.  I hold my own.  And here's a breakdown of how I earn my keep:

Freelance: At one point in time, I made a fair shake of my income doing freelance work for Doodle Studio.  I really enjoyed the work, and always looked forward to more, but unfortunately, that seems to have dried up a bit.  After Doodle Studio, I illustrated a book for a writer (Gizmo Grandma: A Twisty Tale), and now that that's finished, I'm on the hunt again.

If you want to take freelance work, you're going to need a portfolio.  I have two specifically for my kidlit work:
Traditional media:
Digital media:

If you happen to be reading this, and know anyone looking for an artist, please send them  my info!

You're also going to have to take every single opportunity that comes up to send out your portfolio, as it's a highly competitive field, and you're going to see a lot of non-response before you even get a rejection.

I've found many of the opportunities I've applied to on Twitter, just by being an engaged part of the Twitter comics community.

Commissions:  While I do not promote commissions online (literally every. single. other. artist offers online commissions, usually when they need to make rent, or the cat ate a stapler), I do offer them, and occasionally I get the chance to fill them.  More commonly I sell commissions at conventions, which you can read about further below.

Ad revenue: Youtube, Google AdSense.  These only work if your audience is willing to turn off their adblockers or sit through 30 seconds of ads.  And that only works if you're willing to do it first.

Youtube has changed just about everything from recommended videos to how ad revenue is distributed in the past year, and my Youtube ad revenue has gone from $40 a month to $14 a month since November, despite my audience growing.  A lot of larger creators are talking about greatly changing how they produce content or are considering leaving Youtube all together, so this is absolutely not a get-rich-quick option, and not one I'd recommend unless you're willing to dedicate significant time to it.

Ad revenue, regardless of source, revolves around having something to monetize.  Vlog, blog, tutorials, channel, comic- those are all digital assets you can monetize.   This blog has Google Ad-sense ads as well as Amazon Affiliate bounties (like ads), and I make pennies per month from ad revenue via Google Adsense. 

Amazon Affiliates: While I do not do art supply reviews for financial return, this blog has zero sponsorship, unlike 90% of the fountain pen and crafting blogs out there.  In order to keep a roof over my head, and see some return on my investment, I use Amazon Affiliate links whenever possible.  These links earn me a few pennies on every purchase, and cost the consumer nothing additional, so you'd think it'd be win win.  You can sign up for your own Amazon Affiliates/Associates account so long as you're in good tax standing with the IRS, but it may not be worthwhile if you're not constantly recommending or reviewing products.

Conventions: Although I have a table full of goodies, from ready to go original art to adorable mini fanarts, to copies of 7" Kara Volume 1 and the minis d'anni, I make the majority of my money at conventions filling commissions.  While I'd prefer that the majority of those be higher end, take home commissions, it seems I am forever doomed to spend conventions with my head down and my shoulders hunched, filling at-con commissions.  I'm a fast worker, so this is feasible, but it becomes much less so when customers hem and haw over what they want to purchase, or when non-customers take up excessive amounts of my time asking questions about how to be an artist. 

I have a wonderful partner who serves as my assistant at most cons, and my mom fills in as my assistant at Louisiana shows, and this enables me to juggle being a saleswoman and a commission artist at the same time.

At this time, conventions make up the bulk of my income, and while I do offer fanart options, the majority of my focus is on original, affordable art.  If you'd like to learn more about offering commissions at conventions, please check out this post.

You can also get an idea for how I handle conventions by watching the
MTAC Con Recap
Cherry Blossom Festival Recap
APE recap

Online: I offer almost every product I sell at conventions online through my shop or through my Gumroad.  You can order stickers, buttons, sassy buttons, mini prints, commissions, and more through my shop- but that requires a lot of promotion.  I constantly plug my shop here on the blog and on my YouTube, and I am almost always open for commissions, so if you enjoy my art, please do take a look.  Unfortunately, this is the smallest piece of my income pie, and is extremely high maintenance.

Patreon:  My Patreon supports my work here on this blog, my work on YouTube, and my work with How to be a Con Artist, and most of the funds collected from Patreon go right back into buying art supplies to review.  Patronage begins at just $2 a month, and is collected monthly, rather than per update, as I'd probably bankrupt my Patrons with updates as it is.  Of course, this only works well when those who benefit from my content (like you, possibly, right now) decide to make the leap to supporting this content.   Like Youtube, Patreon may seem like an appealing way to make money, but it is deceptively difficult and requires a lot of good will and generosity on the part of your audience.

If you're interested in launching your own Patreon, keep an eye on this blog, as I have a post in the works that you'll enjoy!

Comic Anthologies:

Paid anthology opportunities:
Chainmail Bikini ($500 for 6 inkwashed pages)
1001 Knights (payment forthcoming, no pagerate has been released to artists as of yet)

Comic anthologies are a hot business on Kickstarter.  Ever week, there's a new zine or anthology requesting your money and support.  Such projects promise big dreams to their participants- exposure, opportunities, future comic work, everlasting friendships- none of which have come to fruition in my comic career.  I try to do one anthology per year- I'm in it for the money.

Some pay, some do not.  Some do not disclose non payment (like Ladies Night) until after work has been submitted.  For Ladies Night, not only did they not pay me for my work, but I had to purchase my own copies- so basically I had to pay THEM.  I would really like to see them revisit their system, because I also did not see any exposure from working with them either.

7" Kara: You would think the project I love the most, the project I spend the most time on, the reason I write the blog, record the YouTube, and help with How to be a Con Artist, would be the project that helps pay the bills, but nope.  Not in the least.  I do sell copies of 7" Kara Volume 1 at conventions and online, and have recently launched it as a webcomic, but the comic site isn't monetized (and won't be, for the foreseeable future), and Volume 1 costs me $9 to print through CreateSpace, and I sell it for $15+ a free Kara charm, so it's still very much a vanity project. 

I do sell a few copies per con, although I think we've reached our zenith for Volume 1, and sales will probably peter out until Volume 2 is released.  I hope then I'll see a resurgence in sales.

Like oh so many comic creators, I never saw the support I'd hoped to see for my work, despite years of effort, but loyal few fans, don't give up- I definitely plan on finishing the project.  Just don't definitely plan on me getting rich (or even earning a sustainable income) from it.

As you can see, I have a lot of hustles going on just to scrape by.   Here's an average monthly breakdown, during con season:
Convention: $500-1000 profit, depending on the type of show assuming anime)
Youtube: $15
Adsense: $2
Amazon Affiliates: $10
Patreon: $80-$100 (although for every $100 earned, I see about $70)

Total: $572- $1097 per month

As you can see, this is not a lucrative career.  Illustrative art, comics, are both aspirational careers when you don't have a company backing you.  Your customers are mainly other artists, other comic people- people who understand the labor.  The hopefuls rarely spend money on you, they either don't have it, or assume you aren't worth it.  Those are just the flat out facts, at least in my career.

I do have friends who do more than one convention a month, who sell different sorts of merchandise- geeky jewelry, prints, that have higher profit margins and can charge more for their work.  There are other ways to skin this cat, but they all require work and sacrifice.  There is no get rich quick scheme, no easy way up.

If you found this post helpful, useful, inspiring, or even just informative, you can help ensure that I continue creating content like this by joining my Patreon community.  I am incredibly reliant on the generosity of my readers to continue work on resources like this blog and How to be a Con Artist, and I cannot continue without their support.


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