Surviving as an Artist with No Security
Surviving as an artist with no security can be daunting. There is no cash flow guarantee as an artist. Any other job where you clock in day in and day out, you can expect a paycheck every payday. You get paid for the hours you worked. With some jobs you also receive perks and benefits. But as an artist there is no security like your average 9 to 5 has.
So what’s an artist to do to ensure greater security and a sustainable living?
The simple answer is…HUSTLE. You cannot survive for very long if you’re the artist hiding in your studio painting all day long. You have to be willing to do anything and everything you can to put your work out there. It’s not going to sell itself!
Social Media at Your Service!
These days, artists have it much easier. The no security thing is still an issue, but it’s not like artists from the past who had to schlep their work from business to business, gallery to gallery, or from art fair to art fair hoping to sell a piece or two. Today with the internet and social media, there are a multitude of options where you can post your work from the comfort of your own home. Social media will help you gather a following. You should make sure that site is a business site and dedicated to your artwork. You want to make an impression that you’re a serious artist and not have your followers distracted by images of what you had for lunch.
There are also a variety of gallery sites (some free, some not) that are basically print on demand type sites that will print anything from poster prints to tee shirts, phone cases, and coffee mugs. You upload your work, someone purchases a print, the site prints and ships directly to the buyer for you. That’s not to say that once you upload your work there’s nothing left for you to do but sit back and wait for sales to pour in. It’s up to you to advertise that your work is there.
You can use social media for this, but don’t get spammy or your followers will unfollow you in a hurry. You can however, strategically plan 2–3 days a month to announce new works available in your gallery site. Or, when you finish a piece (and hopefully you’ve been posting progress pics as you go to social media) you can add in your caption that it’s available in your gallery.
A word on gallery sites…make sure you do your research. Some artists swear by some sites that you have to pay for. These sites usually keep a percentage of the sale. Other sites (free or paid) might decide to have discounts whether you want to or not. So, make sure you do your homework and read the fine print!
YouTube and Patreon
YouTube is also a good place to gather a following. You can do how-to videos, videos of you working and explaining what you’re doing as you go, videos of you reviewing your favorite art supplies, etc. You don’t even have to have your face in the video. Many artists don’t. You might consider opening your video with a still photo of you next to the title of the video (so people know who you are) and then have the rest of the video focused on your hands and your work in progress.
I know some of you might cringe at the thought of video. I feel the same way! But most of the successful artists that I know and follow have YouTube channels where they gained a majority of their following. Through YouTube, they also have successful Patreon sites where people pay them to make art (something the artist is doing anyway). They pay for different tiers of membership to have varying degrees of access to the behind the scenes sneak peeks of everything the artist is doing. Depending on the level they pay into, you increase the value by allowing them more access (to extended videos, for example) or more product (be careful here…you don’t want to five away all your earnings!). Many print-on-demand sites will print up 200 postcards or stickers for relatively low cost. Patreons love this stuff! It just takes a little ingenuity.
In many cases, until you build up such a following, you might have to look for more stable art gigs such as weekly art lessons at your local art store. Beginning classes should be relatively simple and that includes the art supply list your students can purchase from the store you’re teaching in. The store will generally keep a percentage of whatever you charge per student, but often times it comes with perks of getting a teacher’s discount on your own purchases throughout the year. If you have a Michaels in your area, you might try there first.
If that’s a bit too large scale for you, maybe start off with private lessons. Start with neighbors and/or their kids who are old enough and then branch out. In either case, one on one or art store class size, you’ll need to develop a lesson plan, a step-by-step that’s easy for a beginner to follow. Remember that what you know how to do with your eyes closed, your students may have no clue about.
To Wrap Things Up…
There are probably dozens of other methods to ensure a steadier income. But behind all of them is the hustle. You have to be willing to bust your butt for the sake of your passion. The world wide web has definitely reduced the no security issue from Mount Everest to a much easier hike. It’s still a substantial hike and one that will test you a gazillion times, but it’s doable if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other. It’s not impossible, but it is up to you to do the hard work.