The Starving Artist Cure – Your Guide to Creative Income Streams
Posted On December 16, 2017
Congratulations. If you’re somehow stumbling upon this post, it means that you’re at a potentially life-changing point.
Chances are that you’re in a creative field of some sort, most likely the visual arts. Whether that’s digital or traditional doesn’t matter. You don’t even need to have professional experience to apply some of the principles I’m about to share with you.
But first, we need to address the elephant in the room. Namely the myth that artists tend to be poor.
In other words. You don’t have to be a starving artist.
When it comes to making money, artists are really afraid of the stuff. We often take on jobs that are paying less than we’re worth; or worse, do them for free.
We sell our valuable pieces, projects, and prints for less than we could make.
Often times, when it comes to money, artists begrudgingly settle for less. Then we tell ourselves lies like “I’m just lucky to make money doing this at all.” or “I wouldn’t want to sell out anyway.”
I want this post to change that. I want you to prosper. I want you to break free of these misguided notions that other sadly starving artists spew.
However, If you’re a full-time studio artist working for a company, you’re probably doing okay. This is because we’ve been conditioned to think that as long as we’re working a JOB it’s okay to make a healthy amount of money.
(If you ever want to be an independent artist, and stop building someone’s dream, this post will still be of great value to you.)
But I digress! After years of reading books on finance, business, sales, marketing, and a multitude of other prosperity-related subjects, I’ve been able to build some income streams.
Intro to artist income streams
These income stream have paid my bills, bought me new equipment, and kept food in my fridge. They’ve ensured I have time to work my craft without thoughts of where next month’s rent is coming from.
I joyously spend hours growing these income streams, and they pay me dividends in money and time.
Scraping by isn’t the way to do things. It hurts us, it hurts those around us, and the art suffers as a result.
It is your duty to thrive. Struggle isn’t the natural state of things, it’s merely a byproduct of ignorance to principles that could be propelling you, instead of eluding your grasp.
Having talked to many, many creatives (some who are doing well, and some who are not) it seems that a vast majority also want to make their own intellectual properties, projects, and the like.
This is good thinking; indubitably in alignment with what I’m going to show you in this guide.
The reason I’m writing this article is to help ensure that you, the artist, don’t go broke or stay broke. I want to give you the tools necessary to generate income while you’re sleeping, going on a walk, or working on personal projects.
I spent many years of my life not only honing my craft, but my ability to generate money in different ways (it’s a skill, like making art! Who knew?)
The key takeaways are to provide value, open up multiple streams, and pour energy into those streams until they’re paying your bills and funding your savings.
Think of it like crafting your finest works – you:
Start with a rough idea.
Test the waters a bit.
Find something that’s working.
Refine that idea until the result is desirable.
Sometimes that can take months. In fact, if we’re being realistic, it can take years to set up these streams in ways that pay off.
However, it took years to get to where you are skill-wise. Time is both our friend and our inescapable constant. We all have the same amount of hours to work with, so let’s make those units our allies in this quest.
The best time to start? Right now. Go get a normal job if you have to, and hustle to build these streams on the side. Once they’ve grown enough, you can put in your two week’s notice.
Now, let’s get on with the guide.
WHERE TO START:
First and foremost, we need to have a divorce.
I’m not saying you need to divorce your spouse or break up with your significant other. I’m saying you need to separate the idea that you make money only by trading your time.
Your time is finite. I’m writing this guide to give you more of it. We want to go from service-based thinking to product-based thinking.
Services usually denote you’re making money ONLY while you’re actively working. Actively serving. There isn’t anything wrong with this model, it’s just the one that most people never learn to escape from.
You work for 8 hours at $25 dollars an hour. That’s $200 you’re owed at the end of the day.
Products are separate from you. They work for you 24/7. Your products could be your prints in an online shop, or they could be your courses on a teaching-based web platform.
You sell 8 products in 1 hour at $25 per product. You make the same $200, but with 7 free hours in this particular scenario.
You could be in Switzerland skiing the alps while the products are sold. They’re sitting on pages that have traffic flowing to them, traffic that is hopefully eager to buy.
HOWEVER – just because we want to be aware that we can divorce our time from our income, doesn’t mean we have to. For the sake of laying out the playing field as best I can, I’m going to list non-passive income streams as well.
Which brings me to our next heading.
Creative Income Streams
The 3 Key Ingredients
No matter what you’re crafting in terms of your income streams, you’re going to need 3 ingredients.
1. A valuable offer people can spend money on: Prints, Products with your art on it, courses you’ve created, etc…
2. (Targeted) Traffic flowing to that offer.
3. The ability to scale your traffic and offers, thus scaling your profits.
Pretty simple right? It is in theory, but as we delve into some of these income streams, you’ll see that the practice of swimming in them isn’t quite as simple.
But worry not, with this guide you’ll be able to minimize your losses and be able to have an easier time flowing with the current. It’s much better than taking a shot in the dark.
Let’s list off some income streams, and then we’ll go into a couple strategies you can apply TODAY to get them started.
1. Info products and courses
2. Images printed on products
3. Prints of your art
4. Affiliate commissions
6. Originals For sale
7. Sponsorships/Influencer Profits
Now that we’ve got an overview of some potent ways of increasing your income, let’s take a closer look at how some of these streams flow.
1. Info products and courses:
Ah, my absolute favorite at present. This one has been rather good to me ever since I’ve create courses and sold them on Gumroad, Cubebrush, and my Squarespace site. At the time of writing this article, I’ve netted almost $15,000 from this income stream alone.
Information products usually come in the form of digital files. They can be Ebooks, Audiobooks, Video files, or Image files. When you create fully-fledged courses solving the pains of your potential customers, or teaching them volumes of valuable information, they’re willing to buy.
I’ll admit, I made a few courses that absolutely bombed (again, like art sometimes does.) They either got re-purposed into newer courses or simply removed from the store front.
We’ll talk about software, platforms, and process for you to start along this path later in this post.
2. Images printed on products:
This is a pretty magical way to make a couple extra bucks. It’s easy to start and promote, and there are plenty of platforms that will enable you to upload your designs, makes sales, and collect your profits.
Your art and designs could make it onto apparel, clocks, mugs, playmats, phone cases, and pretty much every sort of consumer product aside from food.
However, since these companies do all the printing, shipping, and sometimes the marketing, the profit margins you’ll see from endeavors like this are pretty slim. You’ll need to move some serious volume (aka make a lot of sales) if you’re to see any substantial returns.
If you’ve validated your designs and customer interest based on these platforms, you can always start sourcing your own inventory and shipping yourself. This way you do more work, but get to acquire a much better profit margin (assuming you balance your costs and such.)
Again, read on for strategy regarding this income stream.
3. Prints of your art:
The artist’s classic. This is the most obvious income stream for artists, and often a dependable one.
The main difficulties in this vein are creating a series of images people can resonate with, selling the prints at a high enough price to profit (printing can be expensive) and scaling your operation.
One of my favorite artists who makes potent proceeds doing this is Peter Mohrbacher. (check out his informative series 1FW if you haven’t already.)
I wish I could say I have more experience in this category. I haven’t put a lot of time and energy into this particular income stream, and thus it’s pretty weak for me.
I have sold prints, and clients I’ve done work for have printed my art onto canvas. That’s a good indicator it might be time to start planting more seeds along this route.
4. Affiliate commissions:
If you’re not ready to create your own product, you can sharpen your promotional abilities and make some extra money by promoting products you use to your following. A lot of your favorite bloggers, vloggers, and influencers do this all the time with Amazon, Ebay, and other affiliate programs.
This is an income stream I’m just now getting into. The sincerest point I want to make about this is be sure to fully disclose when you’re offering up affiliate links, so as not to be a sleazy-salesperson. Let people know you’re getting a commission and to only get involved with the product because it will better their life and serve them.
Some of the strategies below will contain my affiliate links, but you definitely don’t have to use those services, products, or software to implement them. There are plenty of alternatives out there.
Sometimes you’re particularly good at driving traffic, but not so awesome at converting those people into your loyal customers.
Even if you’re awesome at ascertaining profit by providing value to your audience, you can further augment your revenue by allowing companies to place ads on your site, YouTube Channel, or anywhere you have attention.
And in case you haven’t noticed, a lot of “free” apps use ads to generate revenue for their creators, despite most of the features being free.
All in all, it can be a potent stream of income if your numbers are high enough. Another method might be to create a specific space for a banner on your site(s) renting them out to people and companies interested in the attention from your audience.
The prime factor here is having the traffic or volume to merit dipping into advertising. This is why I myself haven’t done so, simple because I’m great at finding targeted traffic, but when it comes to higher-volumes of traffic, I haven’t the numbers yet.
How to increase your traffic stream is a whole ‘nother article in and of itself, and it would be one where I document my journey, rather than try to teach.
6. Originals For sale:
This is a particular stream that’s geared more towards traditional artists. If you find yourself to the type of artist that often completes paintings and just gives them away or has them sit about, it’s time to open up that Etsy shop.
But in all sincerity, you’re sitting on a potential income stream. If you’re making one-of-a-kind original work, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to connect with an audience and actually make some sales this way.
It’s definitely not a super-passive income stream, but the ability to pour your soul onto the physical picture plane and then have someone receive that for a hearty sum makes it more than worth it. Typically, the larger you work or the heavier (weight wise) your medium, the more you can charge. People tend to equate value with heft and size when it comes to art.
There are exceptions of course, like if you somehow implement jewelry or precious stones into the mix. The costs of materials alone justify the price when it comes to items like these.
I’ve made some attempts to sell my Inktober 2017 works, but haven’t had any success thus far. Then again, I’ve built my following around content like this – educational. A big part of having people buy your work is that they’re people who either know you personally, or have followed you for some time and built up a sincere connection with what it is you make.
Much of it does come down to general appeal though. If I drew 10 fairly realistic pieces featuring horses on bristol paper, you can bet if I put them up on a horse-loving subreddit or (found the proper crowd elsewhere) 80% of them would sell fairly quickly.
Do you see the connection here? We’re kind of veering into the strategy zone, but I’d like to make a point. If you’re going to sell your originals without much of a following, then your best bet is to cater to an audience that is already very passionate about your subject matter. Animals, landscapes, pinups, etc…There’s a niche for almost everything.
Okay, one more listing, and I promise I’ll start endowing you with some step-by-step strategic goodness.
7. Sponsorships/Influencer Profits:
Congratulations, you’ve built somewhat of a brand. If you’re at the level where there’s people coming to your social media accounts and wanting to sponsor your content, you’re ready to become an influencer.
The main deal here is that you’ve provided value to an audience for long enough to amass a following of around 20K or more (depending on the platform.)
How do you do that you ask? Well, there are a bevvy of ways, but mostly it comes down to posting content on a schedule, and aiming for an audience to connect with said content enough to share and proliferate it. Engagement is huge too.
Once you’ve gathered that coveted audience, you can reach out to sponsors (or they’ll reach out to you) and then you can start making deals regarding their brand and yours – offering your following a potent discount or deal and gaining income from the sponsor as a result.
A lot of what you make should be palatable, not too much swearing, lewdness, or things of that nature. This is a a more surefire way to attract a sponsorship or gain influencer status.
However, there are certain brands that would prefer you have more…adult tastes. If that’s your thing. Whatever the case may be, just ensure that you’re being true to yourself and keeping your audience in mind when you’re forming these types of promotions.
STRATEGIES FOR IMPLEMENTATION
The promised land! Here we’re going to talk about ways you can start to leverage your abilities to generate new streams of creative income.
From what I’ve seen, a lot of creatives don’t really teach these sorts of things, and that’s because most creatives tend to shy away from the business, marketing, or sales aspects of things.
The reason why I’ve ventured into these lands is because I have a burning desire to create not only artwork, but wealth as well. Not just for myself, but for creatives worldwide. There isn’t nearly enough cross-pollination between business and art, and a lot of it is due to some of the fallacious belief systems we discussed earlier, or the artist’s tendency to belittle their own capabilities.
Many artists that we respect are holed-up in studios, giving their best to make sure that the AAA game or movie they’re working on succeeds. And that’s a wonderful thing.
I wish I could be happy doing that, but alas, after working for a studio on contract for 4 months, I just can’t stand the day-to-day monotony. Plus, I knew all along that even though I was being paid $1000 per week, it was the founders of the company who were truly building wealth.
It’s a constant game of chess, balancing all these various pieces and strategies in order to hit that “checkmate.”
That’s what I’m hoping to do for you in this second-to-last section.
Let’s talk Strategies.
I’m going to roll out 3 potential paths before you. I recommend that you don’t take all of them, but pick and follow one until you start to see that first sale or the initial income stream trickle in.
The core principle is to build ONE INCOME STREAM AS BEST YOU CAN before moving onto the next; if we only dig a shallow moat, our income stream dries up quickly.
I’ve been guilty of this numerous times, and I want you to avoid the same heartache – the terrible feeling of rushing back to your quickly-dying income stream and having to hastily perform some actions to ensure it’s revival.
It bears repeating that we need to utilize our 3 key ingredients once more. So for convenience sake I’ll repeat them below before walking you down the first path:
The 3 Key ingredients:
1.A valuable offer people can spend money on: Prints, Products with your art on it, courses you’ve created, etc…
2. (Targeted) Traffic flowing to that offer.
3. The ability to scale your traffic and offers, thus scaling your profits.
Got it? Good.
Here’s Strategy #1
EDUCATION NICHE: Show & Tell (Info products):
As I mentioned in income stream #1, offering information products is a great way to provide value to others while acquiring capital. Since this is the one I have the most experience with, I ‘ll gladly roll out a step-by-step method for you.
Step 1: Assess your skills and decide what you’re going to teach. For me it’s drawing and painting, as well as how to get commissions as an artist.
Step 2: Make a list of where people who would want to learn these skills gather. It could be forums, social media, YouTube, etc…For example, a large number of my sales come from my YouTube channel as well as my tumblr blog. This brings us to our next step.
step 3: Create a “home base” for your courses or tutorials. This could be your own website with a wordpress blog installed on it, or simply a free tumblr blog. Squarespace lets you build attractive and custom sites, so that’s a good option as well. It adds credibility and sincerity if you have a home base where people can find your content.
Step 4: Create only the FIRST lesson of your course. Don’t go ahead and make the whole thing until you’ve validated the concept. Which is our next step. You can record your screen and edit the footage easily with programs like ScreenFlow (which is what I use and love) or Camtasia. You might also want a nice microphone or camera depending on the kind of course you’re going to create.
Step 4.5: Create a Gumroad account and upload the first lesson and a nice cover image as a “pre-order.” This way you can link people to the course and see if they buy. Once you have 10 or so pre-orders, you know there’s enough demand for you to spend time making the full course.
Alternatively, you can provide a link to your paypal email address and collect pre-orders that way. Also, if you have a squarespace account, you can open a store on that platform as well.
Step 5: Once you’ve created your first lesson, release it onto as many social media platforms as you can with the proper tags. Ideally you have a few images from the lesson, as well as the video file (or a link to it if you can’t upload it.) Spread the free content (which should benefit the customer/student greatly) across all possible paths where it won’t be considered spam.
Step 6: Continue to find new places to post the first lesson in your niche for 1-2 weeks. If you’re getting pre-orders and the like, you know it’s worth it to create the full course.
Full Courses can run anywhere from $9.99 to over $2997.00. The more you charge, the more value you’re going to have to provide to your customers. This means more hours of content, more guaranteed results, and perhaps more direct mentoring/teaching.
The best strategy is typically to focus on making expensive sales (or pre-orders) a few times a month, or getting a high volume of low-price sales per month. It depends on your target audience and the kind of course you’d create.
Wrap up for Strategy #1:
There you have it! 6 steps to success. Of course, there’s obviously work involved. But Once you get your first pre-order or successfully launch your info product, you realize all the hours you spent were worth it. It’s definitely one of the strongest ways to create a new income stream, as the courses can sell for YEARS after you’ve made them.
One more thing. If you’re not into syndicating the content across a bunch of different platforms, and you just want to focus mainly on creating a course that people will enjoy, you can sign up to be a udemy, skillshare, or teachable creator.
That way you’re already in a marketplace where students are hungry to learn, and you don’t have to spend as much time building your audience.
Now onto Strategy #2:
If teaching isn’t your thing, you can still inspire, delight, and entertain with products, prints, and originals. Therefore, Strategy #2 is going to center around income streams 2, 3, and 6.
Remember the 3 key ingredients above? Let’s not forget those principles as we maneuver into these domains of income generation.
Before I lay out the steps, I suggest you take out a piece of paper. Look at the kind of art you do – what are the color schemes, the subject matter? What do you have an affinity for? Do you draw a lot of creatures? characters? Landscapes? Hard-surface items like mechs and vehicles?
This step is crucial, you need to understand your work at it’s core to be able to connect it with the right audience. You wouldn’t bring something super horror-oriented and gruesome to an audience that demands cute, sugary, and appealing (there is a niche that combines those two, however.)
Once you’ve taken notes regarding your natural artistic outputs, you can begin to gain clarity in regards to channeling those things onto and into products.
For example, I love me some sweet mechs. I would totally buy a detailed line art piece printed onto a coffee cup or thermos. I’m willing to bet there are other people who are just as passionate about unicorns majestically floating about on a throw pillow. This is what it means to pick your niche.
Now that you’ve gained some clarity, let’s lay out a more vague strategy (albeit still step by step!)
STRATEGY #2 – THE PASSIONATE NICHE PLAN:
1. Write down at least 5 ideas for niches where you can narrow your focus and serve a hungry customer base.
I would steer clear of going too broad with this – for example “I want to do fantasy art!” is too indistinct. you will drown in a sea of other fantasy artists that can’t transpose that salty water into a potent income stream. Instead, you’d say “I want to draw FAIRIES & SPRITES!” Because then you’ll have a UNIQUE SELLING POINT.
2. Open Accounts on Redbubble, Society6, and/org Inprnt. You can use these to test your market and visualize what kind of products resonate with your work. You can even use preexisting artwork you’ve done.
3. A single piece usually has very little magnetism, that’s why we aim to create a “set” or “series.” The third step is to pick one of your 5 niche ideas and begin making work in that vein. It’s smart to keep the style similar and develop a process that will guarantee the outcomes have a cohesive aesthetic.
Aim for 6-12 pieces, however long it takes you to create them. Make sure they’re high enough in resolution, and that after you complete the first one you test how it looks on various products like t-shirts and the like.
4. Once you’ve completed and uploaded at least 3 pieces from a set or series, you can begin marketing them around. Don’t just drop a link to your store and be done with it though.
I suggest forming a story or narrative around the art. Your new customers and fans are more likely to buy something that has depth. Storytelling is one of the most primal and necessary aspects of the human experience. When you come up with a simple story about the creative process, or the”world” that the art comes from, you’re more likely to grab and hold attention. Think Star Wars, Lord of The Rings, or Harry Potter. All of these examples have rich volumes of lore behind them. When the customer buys the object, they aren’t just getting a utilitarian item, they’re acquiring a piece of that world. It’s a powerful thing.
5. Post the collection of your work in places you’ll likely have success. Facebook groups, Subreddits, Forums, and hashtags on social media sites are good starting points. Just make sure that you’re not spamming, and play by the rules of each group you post in. Post the work first, then include links in the comment section (only if promotion is allowed.) Otherwise, you can simply post the art to gather followers and promote on your own page, not in the group.
Affiliate Income stream:
If you’re still working on getting more proficient in your craft, or you’re not quite sure what to teach or what niches to break into, you can always work on your marketing abilities instead.
There a metric ton of affiliate networks you can sign up for and subsequently promote products from.
The same principles apply here, wherein you’ll have to amass a following, provide valuable content to them, and ultimately sprinkle your affiliate links into the content. Disclosing the fact that you make a small profit if they buy, of course.
that being said, I’m going to suggest a few affiliate networks that I’m currently using (and yes, I make a small profit if you sign up through these links! Only do so if they’re going to serve you moving forward.)
If you’re not into the whole affiliate network thing, then you can always form small partnerships instead. For example, I offer anywhere from 50% to 75% of each sale for my courses and tutorials. If you have artist friends and want to recommend Power Painters materials to them, you could be just a few messages or posts away from a new income stream. Contact me if you’re interested.
So there you have it. With this lengthy introductory guide, we’ve popped the cap off on some potential income streams for you to explore, create, and profit from. As I stated in the beginning, I don’t want you to be a starving artist, but a thriving one. This means you’ve got to spend the time opening up these avenues for creative profits to flow.
Because as you know, without money, the art can’t happen as frequently or easily. We live in a world that’s driven by currency, and as artists we are subject to the same value-exchange methods that the rest of society runs on.
Don’t hide in your studio, running from this fact, but embrace it. Realize that your best work will excite and inspire others, and that they’ll be glad to give you their hard-earned money in exchange for the love and soul you pour into the work.
Lastly, If you’re sincere about opening up new income streams, feel free to sign up for my new newsletter, wherein I’ll be rolling out more content like this as I document my own journey toward financial freedom in an artistic vein.