The Creative Independent New here?

Visual artists on what’s most helped them to become financially stable

Is there any one thing that’s most helped you on your path toward financial stability?

“Getting a day job.”

“Leaving New York City.”

“Having a supportive partner.”

“Being dependable. Saying yes to paying gigs.”

“Knowing my worth (not charging too little or too much).”

“Making smaller paintings that are quick to make and easy to ship.”

“Being open to commercial collaborations or sponsorships. Working with brands.”

“Finding a night job with good pay, which spares me time during the day for my practice.”

“Dismantling the false belief that I needed someone else to sell my artwork on my behalf.”

“Works on paper! These are easier to sell in larger quantities, and at a lower price point.”

“Shameless self promotion. Being ready and able to talk about my work at any time and with any audience.”

“It’s important to ditch the idea of the disorganized artist. My biggest help was having business mentorship.”

“Making products with my art on them. People have been far more keen to buy something wearable than just art to hang.”

“Meeting people. Almost every opportunity I’ve gotten so far has been because I knew the person who made the thing happen.”

WAGE coming to talk to my class was really helpful for me to get the vocabulary to talk about getting paid as an artist.”

“Finding a way to have multiple income sources. Not to truly rely on any one thing to bring me financial stability. Diversify.”

“By writing good budgets that take into consideration the value of my time and my overheads, and list them accordingly in the budget.”

“Learning how to manage a budget was a huge factor in helping my practice along. I strongly recommend developing financial literacy in this way.”

“My fifteen-year career in the service industry. While I would rather not have to bartend, food and beverage jobs are a trustworthy source of income.”

“Deciding definitively that I would not try to make a living from my art. That freed me to pursue a more traditional (and way more lucrative) day job.”

“I lived with my parents multiple times in my 20s. I still have debt (around $9,000 worth) but not as much as I’d have if I hadn’t lived with them.”

“Joining the Art School Pyramid scheme has really paid off. I am now a full-time professor and almost all of my funding comes from internal grants.”

“Being a part of a studio that includes not only my peers, but also older, more established artists who can offer advice and guidance when I need it.”

“Full-time, boring employment at an arts institution makes it possible for me to pay rent in a metropolitan area and maintain a studio practice.”

“Automatically saving a portion of each deposit I make into my checking account. As an artist and freelancer, money management is crucial.”

“The thing that’s helped the most is sticking with it. As my experience has accrued, I’ve been more and more able to make income from my art practice.”

“Reading The illustrator’s Guide to Law & Business Practise by Simon Stern. It taught me everything about rights that I wish I’d known when I started out.”

“Living below my means has done a great deal in helping me feel more financially stable. I don’t frivolously spend which helps me to cover major expenses.”

“I received a $25,000 fellowship this year. It’s the most money I have ever received in one lump sum for art. I’m still a long way from feeling stable, though.”

“If it wasn’t for my family’s modest but steady financial support, I would not be able to work as an artist in New York City. I know this is a privilege and I feel guilty about it.”

“The depressing knowledge that even the most successful of my peers still struggle to make ends meet. In other words: I am not alone in feeling this weight.”

“Finding a gallery that pays for works sold within one month of sale. I’ve worked extensively with galleries that don’t pay in a reasonable time and it really screws the artist on so many levels.”

“Passive income has been huge for me. I have an online shop that sells prints, art books, digital downloads, and original art. I also make money from Youtube, Amazon, and by offering online art classes.”

“Community college saved my financial life in terms of acquiring skills to get a (non-art-related) job. That and being married. (So there’s some white, heterosexual privilege in there.)”

“I got a second degree in computer science, which helped me find high-paying freelance work. This work now supports my art career while only taking up 10-20 hours of my time per week.”

“Seeking out marketable skills to pursue a well paying job which allows for free time, vacation, health benefits and enough money to afford a studio and materials has changed my career path immeasurably.”

“I think the thing that helped most was realizing that participation in the art world is itself a luxury, and one that I could not afford unfunded. I had to give up my idealist views on what being a working artist was.”

“Instagram is a massively important way of connecting to collectors and institutions. Without it, I wouldn’t have access to any of the galleries I work with or the vast majority of my collectors.”

“By not comparing myself to others. When you’re struggling and your friends seem to have no worries, keep in mind that you never know how others are supporting themselves.”

“Making friends and networking in person are how I’ve found most of my jobs. It almost never seems to come from merit. Art degrees seem to help very little when it comes to being qualified for jobs.”

“The day I realized that asking for too little money didn’t bring me more photography gigs, but rather gave potential clients the impression that I was a beginner, or at least, not a serious artist.”

“Finding an accountant who specializes in helping artists deduct expenses on their tax returns. This allowed me to think more clearly about my work as a business and the strategies for making it more sustainable.”

“Cutting what isn’t working out of my art and life. We can grow emotional about our work and activities, but we need to be keenly aware of what avenues are bearing the best fruit for our labor and time. Eliminate the unnecessary.”

“Understanding that everything you learn at art school or online is only relevant if you really apply yourself. The connections you make and how you present yourself matter more than anything a professor can tell you.”

“For me it was starting to treat my art practice as a job. That meant scheduling studio hours, taking lunch breaks, having one day a week for art play, and setting out goals (like participating in three group shows a year, or updating my website every month).”

“I would say that the one thing that has made my career as an artist for animation is belonging to a union. The union sees to it that I get paid a living wage, have healthcare no matter what studio I’m working at, and have support between gigs.”

“I was in a show this past summer. I submitted five masks, and suggested they be priced at $400 each. But at the show, I was surprised to see the gallery selling each mask for $1,500. It opened my eyes to how much my work could really be worth.”

“I took a week off from my day job as a designer to finalize a series of new work and apply for opportunities to show that work. This resulted in three back-to-back opportunities and the start of a CV that I hope will lead to more opportunities, and eventually, sales.”

“Learning to turn down offers of ‘exposure’ for free work was a big one in the beginning. Not feeling ashamed about asking for money in a discipline that a lot of people view as a hobby (if you approach your art-making professionally, then you should expect professional remuneration).”

“I married a partner with a stable income. Although some years I make more money through grants and fellowships, the security of my spouse’s income allows me to be more creative, because ‘stability’ is not just about having money to pay for things—it’s about stress and your emotional state as well.”

“My income comes largely from merchandise derived from my own artwork, and any private commissions I get are usually from people who have first experienced my work by buying a book or print or something first. So I think it’s important to consider that factor as a big way that many artists, even fine artists, can and do earn money.”

“Aligning my expectations to meet reality. It’s not realistic to expect financial stability from an arts career as an emerging artist. The question I found useful to ask is, ‘What is the minimum amount of time I can spend working in a job unrelated to my practice in order to support myself and dedicate my remaining time to my practice?’”

“Diversifying what I do. I originally started as a painter. Then I had a side job as a graphic designer. I essentially merged the two and now I’m an illustrator. Now, about 70% of my time is editorial work for publications or other clients. It’s definitely not the same as painting completely for me, but it’s made me more financially stable than I’ve ever been. And, I get to draw all day on most days.”

“I was taught how to navigate the art system by a generation that didn’t have access to the internet or social media. I was made to feel that galleries had to do all my bidding, and any evidence of trying to sell my own work may look desperate. After years of bad experiences with galleries, I am about to launch my own online store. It feels scary and somehow against the rules, but it also feels empowering, like I’m finally taking my financial stability into my own hands.”

About the Author

Recently, we published a study on the financial state of visual artists. The information was collected through a survey about financial stability, to which 1,016 visual artists responded. As part of the survey, we asked artists if there was any one thing that had most helped them on their path towards financial stability. We received hundreds of responses, and while the answers were varied, we noticed some common themes. For one, many said that having a day job gave them the stability necessary to keep their practice afloat. Additionally, many wrote about the importance of treating their creative practice like a business, about living frugally, and about the importance of having mentorship from more experienced peers. Of course, a good number of respondents noted the role of privilege in their ability to stay financially afloat, and said that support from a partner or family member was particularly important. Click through to read a selection of the responses we received.