So, you’re an artist. Does that mean you have to starve? Maybe you have just graduated or maybe you are at a crossroads in your career. Either way, there is no reason to succumb to the notion that if you want to be an artist you need to starve.
See Also: How to Become a Tattoo Artist in the US
The term starving artist has permeated so deeply within the art world that countless groups, clubs, cafes, book stores, and plethora of websites employ the name, "starving artist." Some artists consider it a badge of honor to struggle financially because if one is starving, one hasn’t "sold out." Many artists even feel that if they are poor and starving, they are better at their craft. However, as Cory Huff of The Abundant Artist notes, "Shakespeare was rich. So was Norman Rockwell, Picasso, Elvis, and a litany of other artists...Money is just a tool. The pursuit of money is necessary to live in most places, so learning to value your art in terms of money simply allows you to feed yourself and provide shelter for your family."
Others have taken the term of "starving artist" and used it, ironically, as a scheme to make money. These factory artists of China force artists into generating art as part of an assembly line - one person, for example, may paint the same tree on a multitude of canvases for 14 hours a day. As a result, these art sweatshops can sell artwork at bargain prices in the U.S. and other countries by fooling people into thinking they are buying unique artwork from budding artists. The artists at the factory may actually be starving, but for a much less nobler reason.
But, don’t worry. There is no reason to think that you need to fly to China to become an assembly-line artist. Plenty of options are available with which one can make money as an artist. There may even be a few that you haven’t considered. Remember that not only do you want to make money, but that you also need to treat it like a career -build your brand, build your resume, and show that you are dedicated to working as an artist.
Here are a few unique ways with which an artist can earn some income and still practice one’s craft.
Do you like to travel? Do you find maps dry and boring? Then, maybe you should consider working for a place like They Draw and Travel. The maps created here are not from cartographers and geographers, but artists.
You may be wondering, What do I know about maps?
Don’t worry. You do not have to be a geographical specialist. All maps are interpretations. Unless a map is the size of the Earth, one must decide what to include and what to leave out. Maps can tell the story of political boundaries, topographical features, or even social science topics like demographics or heritage. In the end, maps tell a story and storytelling is an art.
‘They Draw and Travel’ allow artists to portray their cities and regions from their own vantage point. The artists provide a new dynamism to the old conception of mapmaking and they deliver new perspectives of the cities and regions in which they live. In addition, they have abstract maps, such as a map of Hades, or a map of one’s bedroom, or maps depicting stories within a famous novel. Each map they make is truly a piece of art.
There are also other means with which an artist can use his or her skills to make maps...and money! Artists and graphic artists write books and even sell their own maps as self-employed artistic mapmakers. Have a look at these examples: Coastal Art Maps, Hardale Maps, and Mobile Bay Map.
Lastly, some organizations fund community projects - all needing artists - geared towards making maps, such as Hibrdos Collective.
It may take some searching, but that is true of any job. Mapmaking is a great way for an artist to express him or herself artistically, as well as describe the world around them. In short, artists can tell a story through their maps and make a little money, too.
2. Craft Beverage Labels
In the last few decades, the craft beer and craft spirit industry has exploded. Case in point, there were less than 100 breweries in the U.S. prior to 1990, but now there are over 3,700. Quite often, these breweries rely on artists to create interesting and unique beer labels.
While some breweries, such as the Arcade Brewery in Chicago, look for private artists to submit artwork and select a winner, other companies hire artists to design craft beer labels on a regular basis. Much like freelance writing work, breweries contact these companies and look for bids to take the job. The breweries describe the beer and requirements for their artwork and then artists bid on the jobs.
Several breweries show tremendous pride in their artwork. For example, Crooked Fence Brewery has an art gallery section of their website as a means of highlighting their many labels. Meanwhile, Dogfish Head Brewing devotes entire sections of their blog to their label artists. These are but a few of the countless breweries that take pride in their label artwork.
Understand that the craft-brewing label market is not just about having a little fun. Brewers are competing for shelf space in an increasingly crowded brewing market. Given that most of them are small brewers with very limited budgets for marketing, craft-beer label artistry is taken very seriously. The faster a brewer can grab the attention of a customer at the store or via photographs shared on the internet, the better chance they have at getting a customer to want to taste their product. In the meantime, as an artist, you can have your artwork displayed in a truly unique way.
3. T-Shirt Design
The idea of designing t-shirts may evoke images of novelty shirts found at most tourist traps. Nevertheless, there are artists doing amazing things with t-shirts, such as at Threadless where artists are openly recruited. One simply needs to submit the design and they will handle the business aspect of selling the shirts. In other words, all they ask is that you be an artist - nothing more. Meanwhile, places such as Illustratica are dedicated to t-shirt artistry and they look to help artists of various skill levels, as well as those with different levels of expertise within the business world.
Alternatively, if you like comics, pop culture, and humor, you might model your work after someone like The ArtLawd, who sells his t-shirts on his own at RageOn.
It may not be your dream job to have your art displayed on a t-shirt, but it is work, and it’s a far cry from the t-shirts one finds in a tourist trap location.
More importantly, though, it is a paying job; it pays you to express yourself through your art, it allows you to practice your artwork and it helps you build your resume as a professional artist.
4. Graffiti Artists
You may be puzzled. You may be asking, "Isn’t graffiti vandalism?" On the other hand, you may simply be unsure if one can make money painting graffiti on a wall.
Well, you can.
Companies are now hiring artists to produce graffiti murals that cover up illegal graffiti -fight graffiti with graffiti, if you will. For that matter, some municipalities, notably outside the U.S., are beginning to accept professional graffiti as legal artwork. However, the debate continues to rage regarding graffiti. Often, in places where graffiti is illegal, artists simply create their graffiti masterpieces onto large canvases and then temporarily display them. In fact, many artists sell those canvases to collectors.
Occasionally, businesses will hire graffiti artists in order to enhance barren areas of buildings, to help with marketing campaigns, or for special events. Additionally, television and movie production companies will hire graffiti artists as a means of creating urban scenery. Additionally, graffiti artists are hired to decorate concert venues, gyms and playgrounds, and even restaurants and breweries.
Often times, art is an expressive force that is at odds with the mainstream. Just ask Claude Monet and the other French Impressionists. Graffiti not only represents an aspect of art that is unique, but as many argue it enjoys a rich, cultural, historical legacy. Moreover, some argue that graffiti artwork helps urban economies. In contrast, arguments exist that graffiti is nothing more than the physical manifestation of urban ills, crime, and gangs.
In the end, graffiti is another form of art that both inspires and generates debate. And, for an artist trying not to starve, it provides opportunity.
Remember when your mom used to say, "Don’t draw on the walls"? Well, now you can….and you can get paid to do it!
5. Internet Sales
The Self-Employment train is one in which many Americans are getting on board. Between February and June of 2015, nearly one million workers decided to become their own bosses. The U.S. economy has been described by some as an increasingly DIY economy. Much like freelance writers, you have to sell your brand and your work through the internet.
Some sites are very popular, such as ArtPal, ArtFire, and Etsy, who has part of their site dedicated to arts and collectibles. Other sites are less popular, but no less worthwhile. All these places allow artists to submit their own work and sell it via their site. Also, don’t forget obvious places to market your own work like Amazon, Craigslist, and Ebay.
For more on where an artist can sell work online, see Cory Huff’s 15 Ways to Sell Your Art Online
Keep in mind, the best way to sell one’s work online is to be online. Stay active in social media and create a following. Sites like Pinterest may be perfect for you to advertise your work, and certainly, Facebook and Twitter are good bets for helping you interact with those that may like your work. Also, it doesn’t hurt to start a blog and maybe create a website. You may eventually find a way to sell your own work via your own site.
Selling one’s work online has the added bonus of displaying one’s portfolio. You may find that a person hires you based on the work you display online.
From graphic design within corporate America to art shows, there are plenty of opportunities for artists to make money. There is no reason for an artist to accept the notion that they should be poor, struggling and starving. Much like with any career, sometimes it takes effort to look for careers that are outside the realm of the mainstream. Surely, every artist would like to sell their paintings for thousands of dollars, but that takes time and, for many, is not a reality. However, there are options available that can provide income, allow you to practice your craft, and help build your resume.