Making a Living as an Artist

I tend to procrastinate in this area and I am willing to bet, if you have a passion for your work, you do too.

Art Nouveau Artist
Art Nouveau Artist

Firstly, you have to prepare yourself.  I wrote a paper in high school about this and came to a book that stayed with me in my mind and has been a survival source ever since.  It was a library book and though I can’t remember the author, nor the title, it might have been “Making a living as an Artist”  but it was old then and I am old now.  One line, “learn to live simply” has taken me through the roughest times and helped me to believe in the good times. I will admit my rules are also old rules and I don’t even know if they apply any more.  You can laugh at them if you want but I have a feeling that some might be helpful if not entertaining.



So I will start there.   What does it mean?  Back then it was about the pleasures of ramen and mac & cheese.  I worked at the co-op so I could get a discount on food.  The old warehouses that we used to rent for “studio space” (often we would live there too, illegally) are now beautiful lofts with premium prices and good parking.  The larger spaces we used for large projects are now exercise rooms or party rooms and there is plumbing throughout.  To be totally fair, some have been turned into affordable artist’s lofts, but you still have to have a regular income to apply.  So, how do you afford that? Don’t worry, you will get there.

Be who you are.

Assume you are just out of school, you have a dead end job, or any number of situations.   You have a passion for your graphics but an employer who likes WordArt and insists you use it.  Or you are an illustrator and not given much respect for it (happens way too much these days).  The main point, you have all sorts of visions going through your mind and you need to act on them! So here is the question.  How much do you want this?

How much do you want this?

Ask yourself that every morning for about a month. In the mirror. Am I an artist?  And what does it mean to you?  If your answer every morning is yes to the first question, then what does it mean to you?  What sacrifices are you willing to make to be that artist?  Loose the new little Kia you had your eye on? Live in someone’s basement?  Unless you have all ready signed a license agreement with a large company, know that you will have to go without for a while and your income circumstances are going to go up and down.  Security is another one.  Perhaps you will have none.  Health insurance, in some countries there is universal health care so you are safe there, but in the US only recently, thanks to The Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare, do we have those possibilities to have health care without a job. Can you live that scary life? Or do you see it as an adventure? 

There is not a right answer to those questions just a different approach to each.  If you see it as ‘scary’ and don’t like ‘scary’ and quitting your job right now is not an option,  that does not mean you are not committed and cannot go home each day to work on your painting, sculpting, whatever.   Freelance at night, or prepare for a show when you have a good collection ready,  that also has to have a plan of budgeting your time rather than money.    It’s all been done before and you can do it too.

  Quite often the answer will be that you like the adventure.  Common with our sort  and devil take the Kia, you need to create!  Why not?  Well,  details like food and rent?  Where is your spirit? Charge!! Today my domain, tomorrow the world!  I laugh now, but that is the way I did it. Did it regret it?  Sometimes. Would I do it again?  Yes.


Here is where you have to be careful.


In the beginning.  Resign yourself .  Accept that you ARE an artist and the most important thing in your life is to hone that skill, divulge the things on your mind, and keep doing it as if it is your food source.  It might just be. Even if you choose to keep your day job, you have a creative child that needs attention.  You need to explore those corners of your life and not care if anything comes of it.  The same goes for the romantic who throws caution to the wind, perhaps even more so as you have likely discovered that ignoring this inner voice can carry you to some depths of depression and even insanity.  (Disclaimer: I am not a doctor nor do I profess to have any knowledge of mental illness except for my own). 

The job keeper is probably taking care of his/er self so I will not talk much further on that area, unless of course, someone requests it.  The adventurer might benefit from my experience and learn to take baby steps in order to succeed in the whole new lifestyle.

The most important thing at this point is to have a back up plan with a budget.  Got a day job?  Great! Then you can afford tools and supplies right away.  You will just have less time.  Get a part time job? That won’t take all your productive time and the challenge is to live within that income.  Yes, it’s hard, but you won’t have to do it forever and you might even find the escape from yourself (your real work) a relief.  You might just want to stay on a part time schedule just for bargaining power.  I keep a paper route just because I don’t like to depend on my freelancing for all my income.  Also, it is physical and I need some exercise to balance my days at the computer.   Some months I just have to chill and can’t be thinking about a book cover or portrait.  Most importantly, you don’t want to take the only job available just because it’s there, the low paying job, the ‘exposure’ job or the job that you have no interest in.  Those kinds of jobs will set you on a path to ruin.


It’s a rough ride so hang On!