Earning with Art – Part 1

hummingbird watercolor
The original painting has sold. Prints are still available.


Today I sold the painting pictured above on etsy, and it got me thinking about what I’ve learned so far about earning with art.


Being an Artist isn’t About Making Money

There are easier ways to make money.

Any time I talk about the business side of art, I find it necessary to point out first of all that being an artist isn’t just about making money.  If it was, I’d have given up years ago in favor a job at a fast food place, because honestly doing that over the last four years would have earned me many more dollars than selling art has.

Making art has its own rewards.

Making art is something I would do even if none of it ever sold.  I have a deep need to create, and when I don’t meet that need emotional well being suffers.  Creating brings me much joy, it brings me peace when my mind is troubled, it gives me quite moments to think, or not to think, depending on my mood. So yes, even if I knew that nobody would ever buy one piece, I’d still create art.

However, making art costs money!

That being said, art supplies still cost money.  Higher quality supplies cost quite a bit.  So it is really nice when I can earn a little with my art, and at least offset part of the cost of creating it.  Four years of trying to earn with art has taught me a few things, though I am still learning all the time.


The Struggle of Selling Art

Materials cost money.

Good art materials cost money.  Even cheap art materials still cost some money though quite a bit less, but if one wants to create art that is going to turn out the way you want it to, and that is going to last a long time without cracking, peeling, or fading, you usually need to use the good materials.  Now, I’m not saying that all art has to last years.  Some people make sculptures from ice that they know will last only hours, and that is still art.  But most artists like to think that their grandchildren and possibly event their great, great, great grandchildren will some day be looking at their work. Also, most art collectors want to know that the art is going to endure the test of time.  For that to be a possibility, the artist has to use quality materials, and those cost quite a bit.

Space costs money.

Space to sell is generally not free, art fairs costs hundreds of dollars to set a booth up in, galleries often charge for space, and if they don’t they take a hefty commission, sometimes it is both, between the two, even an artist with regular sales artist often makes less than half of the selling price the gallery charges.  Farmers markets cost anywhere from $20-$50 dollars to participate in for a few hours, and many don’t allow artists in at all, and others charge artists a higher price than the people selling farm products. Even online space like etsy costs, though not usually nearly as much as physical space.   Its not hard to imagine how an artist could seem to be having a good week, with lots of sells, but actually not be making a profit at all, and even be losing money, after considering the expenses.

Most buyers look for a bargain.

There are a few people out there who really see the value of original art.  People who recognize that owning the original painting is much more desirable than owning a print, and that owning a signed print is more desirable than an unsigned print, and owning a limited edition, signed print is more desirable than an open edition print.  And that any one of those options direct from the artist is better than a mass produced print from Wal Mart.  There are a few people who “get” that.  Most people though, will look at a 16×20 original painting on canvas, and mentally compare it to the mass produced wall art at their local discount store, and will try to talk the artist down to that price range, or will just walk away figuring the artist is overcharging.  Only another artist, or someone very familiar with art and artists, really looks at a piece and stops to think of the hours that were spent making it, the cost of the materials, the cost of the selling space, the time spent manning the space at the art fair, and the skill required to create the piece.  If they did, they’d realize that most artists, if they get what they are originally asking for a piece, are still not even making minimum wage.

So, in light of this, how can an artist possibly earn money with art, well, its not easy, and most artists will still find that they aren’t exactly “rolling in the dough”, but there is a way for an artist to at least make enough to cover their costs, plus a little extra.

But I’ll tell you more about that tomorrow…

4 Responses to Earning with Art – Part 1

  1. Hey, Vicki! I agree with all the points you’ve raised here. I understand the point of view of artists and how they are not compensated for everything that they put in their art. Can’t wait for tomorrow’s post!

  2. Love the hummingbird print! I just visited and “favorited” your Etsy shop! 😉

    I’m not an artist, but as a quilter (make quilts, pillows, bags, and other items), I always have the same issue of trying to make some money while not charging too much. Yet, I also don’t want to underprice things, either. It’s a tricky task!

  3. Thanks! It was the original that sold, but I do still have prints, and will soon be having the same image put onto greeting cards as well! 🙂
    Also, in my opinion, a quilter is an artist, especially if they make their own patterns, its just a different art form.