How to Make Money as an Artist: 7 Ways to Sell Art

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Show Your Work" by Austin Kleon. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Are you struggling to earn income as an artist? What are some ways to sell your art?

In Show Your Work!, artist Austin Kleon emphasizes there’s nothing wrong with making money off your work. He provides three methods of earning income from your art so you can make it into a career.

Read below to learn how to make money as an artist.

Making Money From Your Work

As you create things, you’ll invariably reach a point where you want to learn how to make money as an artist. Many creatives balk at the idea, believing it might corrupt the process. Kleon wants you to get over this inhibition. Everyone needs money to survive, and there’s nothing wrong with making money off your work—it doesn’t inherently corrupt creativity. Kleon has ideas to earn an income as a creative person. 

(Shortform note: Kleon isn’t suggesting that you shouldn’t have another income besides your creative work. In his previous book, Steal Like an Artist, he encourages keeping a day job to foster your creativity. The reason for this is that having a reliable income will alleviate money worries. Also, the routine of a day job will help build a rhythm to your schedule that frees you up to focus on your creative interests when you’re off the clock.) 

1. Donations

A common way to make money as an artist is to simply ask for a donation. For instance, it’s generally expected that a performer will have a jar out to take tips when they perform in public. Kleon suggests that you include a virtual tip jar or donation button on your website. As he sees it, such simple tools let you share a bit of your story and invite people to voluntarily support your work. 

2. Crowdfunding

According to Kleon, crowdfunding is a popular way to fund projects such as publishing a book, recording an album, or constructing a studio. It usually involves offering tiers of support that correspond to different benefits you give supporters. Many platforms can make crowdfunding smooth and efficient, and it can be a relatively easy way to collect money. Kleon warns, though, that people who contribute to crowdfunding campaigns may end up wanting a greater say in how their money is put to use. This isn’t necessarily bad, but for him, it limits what you can do with your work. 

3. Traditional Transactions

If you’d rather retain control, Kleon advises you to consider a more traditional transaction: Make something, put a price on it, and let people buy it. (Shortform note: It can be difficult to figure out how to price your work. Experts suggest, however, that you don’t let your emotional attachment to your work affect the price. Instead, base the price on something objective about the product, such as its physical attributes (for example, the materials it’s made of) or the time it took you to make it.)

4. Turn Daily Posts Into Durable Works

If you’re having trouble creating enough stuff to sell, Kleon suggests that you collect your daily shares into larger, more durable works that become part of your corpus. In his case, much of Kleon’s other book Share Your Work started as tweets. Over time he fleshed them out into blog posts and eventually into chapters of a published book. 

Whatever your creative work is, consider mining your daily posts for ideas to flesh out in this way, advises Kleon. If you examine them, you may find posts that have common themes that you can build into larger, more permanent works. 

5. Use Email to Sell Things

Email is a powerful tool for connecting with people, writes Kleon. Collecting email addresses enables you to keep people in the loop and sell things when you have something to sell. Just remember—never put an email on your list if the owner hasn’t permitted you. And if someone has given you their email address, don’t take advantage of it by spamming them.

6. Don’t Stagnate

As Kleon sees it, creativity comes from progress, so to stay creative, you must keep moving forward. This will expand your abilities and give you new ideas for things to make and sell. Keep trying things you want to try. Don’t stagnate by passing up new opportunities or avoiding change—otherwise, your work will become stale. 

7. Promote Others

As you make progress and begin to experience success, use it to help others, advises Kleon. Promote them, encourage them, and share your insights. This kind of promotion usually becomes mutual. As you support other people, they support you—this has a way of helping you make money as an artist in the future. 

However, don’t let this process keep you from doing your creative work now, warns Kleon. If you get inundated with questions and emails, consider ways to make engaging more manageable. For example, Kleon holds office hours during which he answers questions from the public. This practice ensures that he reserves a finite amount of time to communicate with people. Otherwise, he might easily spend all his energy answering emails. 

How to Make Money as an Artist: 7 Ways to Sell Art

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  • How to succeed at your creative endeavors
  • How to make money off your creative work
  • Why you should share your creative process

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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