moonvoice: (t - i have no pants!)
[personal profile] moonvoice
I've seen a few people writing articles like this lately, and I thought; 'hey, I'm pulling more income in than the average professional artist in Australia, why not?' (which is a sad reflection on the income of the average professional artist, and not so much a reflection of my riches and glory).

Here's what you should know about me before I start:

1. I don't have any tertiary qualifications in visual arts.

2. I started this business as a way of working while I was on a Disability Support Pension. I can't work fixed hours because of illness, but sometmes I am able to work a little bit, and because I can dictate my own hours, art is very flexible.

3. My form of business does not include working in an office with other people, or interacting with people face to face (okay, maybe once or twice a year, when I exhibited at Swancon, and when I dropped off a picture to a client that one time).

4. I am NOT a graphic designer. I don't really want to be a graphic designer. And I don't have the tools to do graphic design; so my income as an artist is based off...well...visual art. Traditional, two-dimensional visual art.

5. I am pulling in a profit off my artwork but that doesn't mean anyone should ever listen to me.


1. Get some ledgers and some books and an ABN if you're in Australia and things. - The ABN means you can claim back purchases for your art career back on tax. It also means that once you earn over a certain threshold in the art, you need to pay GST (Goods and Services Tax). For visual artists who are just starting out, the GST thing tends to live far, far off in a distant place known as 'successful career as a professional artist.' It's important to log your sales, money owing, your costs, and keep your receipts at the very least. It also helps to do balance sheets to look at your profit/loss once a month.

2. Look at what you can do well, and then compare it with what's available in the market. It's important to be able to sell a product that - if not unique - is both important to you as an artist, allows your skills to show, and is something a client couldn't easily get otherwise. - With the visual arts, this is a little easier, because you generally don't duplicate paintings (unless of course you're a 15th century Dutch painter, but... I'll write another article for them).

3. Price according to a magical formula that no one has worked out exactly yet, because there's a LOT of things to keep in mind when pricing like: your experience, whether your product is popular, the price of comparable items, where you live, shipping costs, what sort of hourly income you expect to make vs. what people like to pay artists depending on which country you live in and even what suburb or subculture you reside in, the difference in dollar values, and about a bazillion other things. Some artists price by hours worked; I couldn't do this at first (my inking style meant that - in the early days - just the inking process alone would take about 6 or 7 hours), so I charge by size. This works for other artists too. There's some movement in that range, but I have established 'starting prices' per size that I offer, and usually adjust upwards each year because of inflation and because artwork naturally increases in value (if you're doing it well).

I also price my works in US dollars, because most of my clients are from the US. Because I use Paypal, I can also accept other currencies as necessary. I use to translate the dollars to offer different quotes. However, sometimes working in a different dollar value to where you live (I'm in Australia) can be a bit of a mess. Currently the US dollar is significantly weaker than the Australian, so I'm losing a bit of money. I'm still working on how to adjust for this. And it's something you should keep in mind too.

4. Do they pay for shipping? Or do you factor it into the overall cost? I factor it in. I'm unusual in doing this. I refuse to send artwork without insured or registered postage, and so I just decided a while ago to factor it into my overall costs. It's also important to know how often you can get to the post office, and remember to factor in shipping costs into your overall 'costs of being a visual artist.'

5. Are you a commission artist? Do you sometimes take commissions? Do you never take commissions? In the past, I have not been a commission artist (I've been a 'email me privately and MAYBE' artist). Due to the nature of my illnesses, I find it very difficult to work commissions with people; it's a fair bit better now, but for a while there, it wasn't something I could consider at all. It's okay not to be a commission artist, you just might have to fight a little harder to market your artwork, and you'll often find it's very difficult to predict exactly what people are looking for. There's this idea that - especially in the spiritual / furry / anthro art regions - you must be a commission artist. It's simply not true. It's also okay to stop offering commissions for a while.

6. And on that note, it's also okay to stop doing artwork for a while. Not everyone can afford to do this, but it's important to keep in mind. Firstly, it creates some mystery, it creates desirability for your artwork (your clients know not to take your art for granted; it comes when it comes, and it's not something you can produce forever, or all the time). Firstly, this is just good practice. Visual art is generally very hard on the body, especially the eyes and the hands. You're not going to be able to do it, the way you're doing it now, forever. But you're going to be able to do it for longer if you take breaks. Not just during the day, but I mean - give your hands a break for a week or two. Most artists have a second or third job, plan ahead for an art holiday, and take one. I know a few artists who are forced to take 'art holidays' because they have RSI, and rheumatoid arthritis runs in my family. It is crucial that you don't produce artwork all the time. Not only does it give your body a chance to rest, but - also important - it can actually increase the appeal of your product.

7. Make your illustrations work for you. I'm still working on this, and this will be my focus for the years ahead, but the idea is this: you do an original piece of art, you sell it for $300. Yay! Money! Alternative scenario. You do an original piece of artwork, you DON'T sell the original, and instead offer limited edition, signed prints of the artwork instead through a venue like Etsy. You offer the prints - high quality giclee - at about $30 each for 100. You've made $3000. YAY! MONEY!

Most visual artists - that I know of - make the majority of their money in one of three ways:

1. They're lucky enough to break into the gallery circuit and do solo shows and their originals are priced in the region of $5000-10,000 each.
2. Licensing. They have licensed their artwork for logos, cross-stitch designs, stickers, book covers and so on.
3. Prints. I know a lot of visual artists who get the majority of their income off prints, NOT off originals.

If you want to make high resolution files of a good enough quality for prints you're going to need a few things:

1. A good scanner. A4 or A3 (but A3 are pricey).
2. A good camera. Something digital, that you can just feed directly into the computer. This is for when you work too large to get something scanned easily. Some printers will scan large works for you, but there's often a significant fee for this, so you'll have to decide how you want to work with that constriction.
3. A good image manipulation program because a lot of two-dimensional artwork sometimes needs colour and contrast adjustments. Photoshop is great. But there are free and cheaper options out there too.
4. A really good professional printer to work with, OR, a really good printer that can do giclee/inkjet printing on different forms of cardstock/paper.

5. Put your income back into your business. It's up to you how much you put back in, but I recommend at least 40%. Invest in new materials, buy in bulk to save money, and also ensure that you have materials to work with during the hard times. Establish professional accounts with suppliers to take advantage of discounts here too. Consider buying frames, or packaging for prints, or pay for advertising, or buy envelopes or materials for shipping artwork up in bulk. Get hardware and software for your computer. Get a new art desk. Get whatever you need to make sure the process of making artwork becomes less financially unstable, and more reliable. And expand into areas of possible increased income production.

6. It's possible to make a decent income online, and only online. My illness/es have forced me to be creative in my approach to selling artwork. I have a Facebook Art fanpage, an Etsy account, a DeviantArt account, a very dormant RedBubble account (which is on my 'to do list' this year), an online portfolio, a public Wordpress blog, and a Twitter account. I don't do public selling at cons or markets. I've been in two exhibitions and only sold in one. The majority of my income comes through the internet.

7. If your artwork isn't selling, you may need to address:

1. Are you offering a unique product? Is it a product that people want? Have you talked to your clients about what they'd get from you next time, or why they're avoiding certain products you've made/illustrated?

2. Are you 'user-friendly'? Is your artwork available in different locations in an easy to navigate manner? Do you have any internet sites specifically devoted to artwork promotion, and do these sites attract viewers? When you market your artwork offline, are you friendly and approachable? Or kind of not? These are rhetorical questions, because you know, offline, I'm not always approachable. Friendly; yes. But approachable? Not so much. So don't fret if some of the answers to these questions are 'oh shit, I'm not like that at all.' That's okay.

3. How much time have you given yourself? I started doing my totem illustrations about 8 years ago. I started making a decent profit about 12 months ago. Okay, I gave myself too long (for about 5 of those years I didn't treat it like a business), but it's still important to give yourself a significant window of time to start pulling in an income. If you're a visual artist selling anything in your first two years of wanting to? Imho, you're doing well.

4. Price issues. You're pricing too high, or you're pricing too low. Believe it or not, but underpricing your work can drive clients away. There's no perfect way to price artwork, especially originals. Remember, it's less 'acceptable' to increase the prices of pre-existing artwork, than it is to drop an already existing price. So aim high, and drop down from there. If you get clients who have purchased your artwork, and are telling you to charge more; listen to them. They are essentially saying; 'I would have paid more for this.'

5. Do you love what you do? Is your heart in it? Does it nourish your soul? The thing is, I really think a lot of art speaks a great deal of emotional truth to the viewer. If your emotional truth - while illustrating a piece of work - is 'I hate this style of artwork and my client's going to hate it, and everything's going to suck, and I'll never make any money,' etc. some of that is going to come through your artwork. On the other hand, if you enjoy the style, and find yourself thinking that you'd be producing this style of artwork even if there was no demand, and it gives you something nourishing internally / emotionally / spiritually, then you're in a win/win situation. Firstly, you win because even if it doesn't sell, you've gained something in the journey of production. And secondly, you win because this kind of artwork is more attractive. Even if you're illustrating really depressing, heavy, challenging artwork - there needs to be a kind of emotional freedom in the process of illustration (at least, there needs to be this for me). Feel free to paint your grief and sketch your anger; but try to avoid infusing every piece of work you do with cynicism and self-hatred.

8. It's okay to have an ego. It's okay to really like your work. It's okay to LOVE it. It's also okay to be realistic about your skills. You are not as likely to sell your artwork if you're very emo about how much it sucks. I know there are some things I'm not as good at as other things. My ability to draw perspective is kind of shitty, for example. I know that my ability to do linework first thing in the morning is shakier because my hands need time to warm up. This is me being realistic about what I can do. Be realistic about what you can do. Look at your technical ability and don't pull any punches with yourself; see where you can improve. And let me tell you a secret, you can improve on everything. BUT, on the other hand, learn to love your artwork. Your style. Your body and mind unifies to produce something that no one else will produce in exactly the same way ever again. That's an important gift. That's important even if you're just drawing stick figures (hey, people have made money off stick figures!) So it's okay to really enjoy your style and your finished products AND be realistic about your abilities.

9. Haters gonna hate. Some people hate my artwork. HATE it. It's too repetitive. Stylistically it's all the same. I don't do enough of X style and I do too much of Y style. The colours are gross. Why would people want to put animals on their walls? Etc. I made a couple of those up, but not all of them! Some people will hate who you are as a person, even if they like the artwork (trufax), and some people are just gonna hate everything you do, because haters gonna hate. It's okay! You have supporters! And clients! And more than that, you listened to point 8 and you see something of value in your artwork, it's not gonna matter as much. It doesn't bother me anymore that people don't like my artwork. It doesn't even 'secretly deep down' bother me anymore. I enjoy the art too much to stop. Also, it's been my personal experience that:

10. Some clients just want your artwork everywhere. Repeat clients are awesome. Don't treat them like your best friend, because they're NOT your best friend, and messing up friendship with professional relationships is tricky business. But do treat them awesomely, for they are awesome. These are the people who will write down your web address for friends, pass on your email, tell people who visit about the artwork on their walls, and buy the artwork as gifts for their friends. They will spread the love. Even people who can't afford artwork will often spread the word online, or they'll support in other ways - moral support, verbal feedback, encouragement and general wonderfulness.

11. Be professional. Sometimes you might need to work with companies who want to license your work. You need to familiarise yourself with the wonderful thing known as a 'contract.' They're scary (for people like me), but wonderful. They ensure your legal safety as an artist, and also let your client know that you're not here to stuff around or waste anyone's time. It's also a clear 'I won't let you pull the wool over my eyes,' step in the direction of working with commercial companies.

When you write emails to clients in general, don't make excuses for yourself. If you're late with a deadline, apologise, but don't pull out the 'list of excuses.' Just apologise. Keep it clean.

If you issue a deadline; abide by it, and if you suspect you won't or can't email the client in advance and let them know. Keeping a client in the loop even if your loop is bad news, is better than not communicating with them at all.

If you know your skillset isn't ready for a project, be honest. It also lets the client know that you have a realistic grasp of what you can do, and what you can't do. Keep a list of artists nearby that you can refer a client onto, if they are looking for something that you're never likely to offer as an artist.

Don't force yourself to do too much thus causing a burnout. Because forcing yourself to do artwork through a burnout is a) hard on yourself but b) disappointing for a client. No client wants a piece of artwork if they know that it was executed during a time of impoverished energy and emotional resources. I mean yes, sometimes you do artwork and you might not be as inspired or happy about it as other days; it is a job. But there's a difference between 'treating artwork like a job,' and 'forcing yourself to work through burnout.'

It's important to learn how to work when you're not inspired, in a meaningful way. You can't always just wait for 'inspiration to come to you.' I mean, okay, maybe some artists can get away with this and still be remarkably successful; but I can't, and a lot of artists can't. Part of being professional is doing it even on the days when you'd rather be doing something else instead. And part of being professional is taking a break from the artwork to recharge and re-energise yourself. You will learn how to balance these two things, and they'll often change and shift with time. Some times you can push harder than other times. Some times you've just got to stop and take a holiday.

Be polite in your communications, honest with yourself, and look at what artists you respect are doing. More importantly, look at what business people in general are doing that you like and find ways to apply it to what you're doing.

12. Work out your boundaries. Don't let clients push you around, and don't let yourself be taken advantage of, even if this means losing work. I've refused to work with clients because of the way they were treating me via email. I knew I could probably do their project, but I've also developed a kind of sixth sense (I suppose that would just be the 'instinct sense' then) regarding the ones that might not be worth my time. I'd rather lose a project than end up in an extremely stressful, toxic situation. I'm very lucky in that I don't attract many difficult clients. I think I've only really had one or two in a few years (that I agreed to work with). But I think part of this ability to attract really great clients is that I'm very clear with myself, and with others, about what I can and cannot do, and what I will and will not put up with.

13. Don't be afraid to ask for advice, and be discerning with your trust. Here's something you might not know about the art world; some artists believe that there's not enough money in the world for all the artists, and that they have to sabotage other artists in order to be successful. And here's the thing, some artists will sabotage your career if you go to them for advice. That's an ugly reality, and one I wish didn't exist. I haven't encountered it so much in spheres of writing or scriptwriting, so it seems really 'visual arts specific' right now. So if you want to ask people for art advice, be discerning, trust your 'red flag,' get multiple opinions, and don't rush into any decisions. It can also help to ask people for advice from different areas; professional dancers, graphic designers, writers and so on will all have different spins on how to be successful, and it's often quite easy to apply their advice on how to be successful to what you're doing. So remember to look outside the box, and be flexible. It can also help to join a couple of art organisations. ArtSource in Australia advises you of upcoming competitions, grants and residencies, for example.

14. Enjoy it as much and as often as you can!


There’s probably a gazillion other things I forgot. Even reading through it I think there’s things I forgot. But this is long enough! Any questions, feel free to ask. And remember, if you want to ignore everything I’ve said and be a cynical, self-hatey, unprofessional artist, that doesn’t mean you might not find success! It takes all kinds, in this diverse world of ours.

x-posted to my Wordpress account.

Date: 2011-07-21 01:41 pm (UTC)
silverjackal: (Default)
From: [personal profile] silverjackal
This was very interesting to read. Not that I have any aspirations towards being an artist, much less a professional, but it provides a very interesting view point for someone who loves art and enjoys buying it when possible into what the producers of such art face.

Date: 2011-07-21 01:44 pm (UTC)
venturous: (firebird)
From: [personal profile] venturous
thank you for this! I am galloping along, with several art ventures underway, in the most unorganized manner.

great advice and helps me focus!

Date: 2011-07-21 04:15 pm (UTC)
laturner: (Default)
From: [personal profile] laturner
That is wonderful advice. Thank you so much!


Date: 2011-07-22 07:21 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
From: [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This is awesome advice. Thank you so much for taking the time to write it out.

>>And here's the thing, some artists will sabotage your career if you go to them for advice. That's an ugly reality, and one I wish didn't exist. I haven't encountered it so much in spheres of writing or scriptwriting, so it seems really 'visual arts specific' right now. <<

At least here in the United States, writers will do it too. Far more maliciously, writing teachers do it -- and that's not rare. A bad teacher can destroy dozens of careers before they hatch, just by scorning them to death. I try to counteract this by telling people to trust their instincts with writing.

Date: 2011-07-22 12:30 pm (UTC)
wrenstarling: A light effect gull in flight on a black background (Default)
From: [personal profile] wrenstarling
Great article! Number nine especially hits home for me; thanks!


moonvoice: (Default)

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