Apr 6, 2010

Make Money with Art (aka Create Multiple Income Streams as an Artist)

I work full time with Teefury.com as an art director and curator, but an appreciable portion of my income comes from my own art.

You've most likely heard of the "starving artist" persona. This myth, at least in my experience, is incorrect. Unless it was based on wannabe artists who have no passion and lack work ethic, there is not one hard working, productive, passionate artist I know that cannot make good money creating artwork.

If you read any book on building financial wealth, much of the information will dictate that you leverage your time by creating instances in which no work except the initial effort is required to continue to make money. This means that you need to make money while you sleep.

People betting in the stock market, let their money make money while they sleep. A designer needs to set up situations where their designs will make them money while they sleep.

In the past 3 months, excluding my full time gig income, I have made approximately $7500. Much of this is generated by passive income streams from artwork that has been created and gets sold over and over as long as the product exists.

The art that netted $7500 in income can be separated into 4 categories.

1. Art Sold Outright
2. Physical products
3. Residuals
4. Digital products

1. Art Sold Outright.

The easiest, quickest money is Art Sold Outright. This is not a passive stream of income.

This income stream is a one time payment with no royalties. You make design. You get paid X for design. The end.

If this is your longterm method of creating income, you will not be leveraging your time. It's like working on a hourly basis. You only get paid when you work.
This is not the path to work independence or a balanced life. Unless you are able to continously ask for larger amounts after each design, it will be hard to overcome the hours that is required to make money.

However there are opportunities that are good trade offs for straight payment design gigs. Provided your clients are enjoyable to work with, working for larger entities will help spur your name and build clout, so do not hesitate to work with qualified businesses.

I will not go into how to get clients, because I don't know. They usually just end up approaching me, or I am referred to them by an artist friend. One needs only to create good art and promote themselves on the internet, and put the word out that they are available for work to get work. Search the net for places like Behance.net or Society6 to pimp your work.

2. Physical products.

This category requires some work so it is not necessarily ideal if you have to take care of the shipping and fulfillment yourself. If you can find a third party to do it for you the better.

Specifically, I have stickers for sale through bigcartel. I house the product at my residence, and ship it myself.

Previously, I sold a variety of shirts online as well as through several different boutiques.

At the peak of my shirt sales, distribution of my shirts though various boutiques used to generate $150-$400 on a monthly basis. For the minimal effort and up front investment, it was a decent experiment. It was only a few hundred shirts. You can imagine if you can make $150 a month, you can eventually make $1500, $15000, etc a month with growth into different distribution outlets.

Eventually I quit selling shirts because I got a wild hair up my ass and went on a 30 day road trip around the U.S. with the shirts, mostly giving them away to foreigners I met at hostels.

I preferred making art instead of managing product inventory and sales.

This category is important. By having a product, it builds your artist persona, and promotes branding you as a product. If someone buys a product from you, they will be reminded of you every time they wear your shirt, or see your sticker, thus opening the door for future products.

Even on a small level, create a product, and make it available to the public.

You need to build your fanbase. Start with 1, and then move to 1000.

3. Residuals

Royalities and residuals are a rare for a designer. Having participated and won at online contests like Designbyhumans and Threadless, I occasionally receive a check for residual sales.

If at all possible, if your legal use and copyright is going to be sold outright, try to sell to companies that can pay out residuals or release copyrights after use.

One of my biggest regrets is selling all inclusive copyrights of designs to companies for a bigger check. In the long run, although the money served well, I should have taken contracts that allow more flexibility in usage than a one time sell. It's a great shame when a solid illustration does not get distributed well, and you only get a piddlely little check for all your hard work.

In my current situation, since I have a steady stream from my full time gig, I no longer sell any design outright unless it's with a worthy notable client. Doing so allows me to sell the art product over and over, which is the most ideal situation.

Since I work at Teefury.com, I am able to get my work printed if it suits our market. Teefury does not retain copyrights to an artwork so often I transition many of the products to the 4th category.

(If you wish to submit to Teefury.com, learn more here.)

4. Digital products

This has been a great boon to leveraging my time in my artist career.

I currently sell products through RedBubble, TheGoldenBlack, and Bigcartel (vectors).

The products require nothing of me after it's initial creation. The products sell while I sleep, and no shipping and fulfillment work is required of me as it is done by the supplier or digitally.

Although very small in income at first, over time, with greater product range, the trickle grows into appreciable streams of income.

The ideal longterm goal is to create so many small streams of passive income that it pays for your rent, mortgage, etc. Until it pays for everything.

Essentially, this is like starting a business. You start a business, with sweat equity get it up and running, and then as you increase your cash flow, you hire employees to do the work for you while you reap a bigger income with less work.

Instead of workers, your artwork are your workers.

I highly recommend any designer to get into stock art, as well as using sites like Redbubble and other third party art distributors to start building a income stream.

There are many avenues available on the web. Start today. You have nothing to lose, except from not following through and losing all the cash that could be made.

jimiyo.com [at] gmail.com


wotto said...

Nice piece Jimiyo. One bad thing about letting others handle your artwork is that you have to do some quality control otherwise your 'fans' end up getting shafted with poor quality goods.

ShortRound said...

Great write-up, ;j. Very useful information, especially when seeing how some of your kickass designs on DBH haven't really yielded much in the way of $$ returns, which is quite surprising, actually.

Thanks for sharing that.


SEJ said...

Good stuff man...I work a full time and really need to add some supplemental income. Of course that means having more time...that is proving to be the tricky bit

Anonymous said...

Awesome man, i really need to get off my lazy as and do this! the desk job is starting to eat away at my creativity....

Mike M

Budi said...

You are awesome.

zerobriant said...

Good Stuff! Great Stuff!,
OMG jimmy you never cease to give me the information i needed..it's like a i have this question in my head and when i open your blog, bam! the answers are there! its like a horoscope or something hehe:) thanks man...iam stepping over your footprints:) your mamma can step over, iam your biggest fan!:) ha!

zerobriant said...

Just opened my store! hahaha
thanks jimmy!! you are such and inspiration..:D

John aka Endgame Clothing said...

Awesome as always.

ACB said...

Hey - this is really useful advice, thank you.
However, I really need a service to which, say, I could deliver physical products (eg. clothes) and they would deal with all the shipping etc. Meanwhile I would maintain a personal site and brand, and have the items created elsewhere.
Do you have any thoughts, or is this an absolute pipe dream? I have tried searching, but perhaps I'm not using the right terms. I don't live in the country I plan to sell from, which is the primary reason...

the_JCW said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
the_JCW said...

This is a great post.
When it comes to residuals, my biggest problem this far has been that I can't fully trust that I will be paid for what is selling. Most situations ended with a claim that it wasn't selling enough to get past their "initial cost" and start up their sales payments to me. Any attempt of me to get them to provide proof of sales never accomplished anything besides them defending themselves saying that I am just being accusatory. Eventually I am tired of the headache of these guys and just let them buy the full rights for a ridiculously small amount of money..... Case in point - http://www.roguelephant.com/ the tiki and elephant design on the front page

How do you handle clients who don't update you on sales and you can't trust to regularly give you the payments you are supposed to have, especially if you have many different sources?

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This is a great, informative article. I'm writing an ebook on how artists can earn money with their art. Besides my own experiences, I've searched the internet for others, and your article is the best I've found so far. Thanks for sharing!

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I thank you for the pep talk and great info. Really a good reminder that most of the time the only thing holding me back is myself. Your insight is greatly appreciated.

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