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Q: Do You Really Make Money From Your Art? A: Yes, here is how.

One question I’m always surprised to see in my inbox and DMs is “Do you really make money from your art?”.  I know there are a lot of nay-sayers out there who believe that it’s nearly impossible to make a living from your art, but I also know that with the right mindset and strategy, nearly anyone could do it!  I’ve seen so many artists go from making $0 to making a living in under a year, while others get stuck at the “$20 a month on print-on-demand level” for years.

What is the difference between these two types of artists?  Let’s break it down into a few key strategies that nearly every successful creative I know uses.

The Chronic Sampler

I’ve seen so many artists fail to sell their work not because they didn’t make great work or put in the time required to sell it, but because they tried to take on too many tasks at once.  This kind of artist might say something like “well I can’t finish setting up my Spoonflower shop because I don’t have my Pinterest profile finished and I haven’t gotten enough followers on Instagram or set up my website so art licensors can find me through Spoonflower….”

When I first started selling my art, I put all my eggs into one basket: Spoonflower.  I spent months building it up and monitoring it’s success, and once I had “mastered” my strategy on that platform, I branched out into one more (Society6).  I had no following, no Instagram account, and didn’t even know what a licensing contract was.

Over the years I’ve added a lot more revenue streams to my business, but focusing on one and putting all my time and mental energy into it paid off more than I could imagine (I still make a full time income from print-on-demand alone!). I share all about my Surface Design Story here.

Even more important, making a lot of sales on one platform gave me the confidence to keep going!

The "I Need An Audience First" Delayer

This well-meaning artist looks out at the vast number of artists who are selling their work and using their audience to get licensing deals and sell products directly, and assumes that they must do the same.  

The truth is that there are countless artists out there with no following who are “killing it” by using the most important trick on the internet: SEO (Search Engine Optimization).  Online sales is run by SEO, so if we don’t understand how to use it, we are missing out on a huge opportunity that is a lot easier to learn and implement than building an audience.

Most people assume that I sell a lot of my art because of my audience but the truth is that my audience is built on tutorial consumers, not product consumers (big difference!) and I have all the tracking data to prove that my sales traffic on my Etsy shop and licensing is not coming from my own marketing.

Learn how Bad SEO is Ruining Good Artists in this post.

The Abstract Obsessor

This abstract-shape-loving artist is sticking to their guns no matter what the SEO forces say as they happily pump out thousands of abstract designs that are impossible to explain to a search engine.  They make beautiful geodes, stripes, and Mattise-esque patterns and illustrations, and try to get them found in search through color and shape descriptions.

The problem is that normal people (aka your buyers) search for normal things, like bikes, dogs, Paris, coffee, and a whole host of other searchable words that you could make art about.  

When I started focusing my art on SEO terms (i.e. coming up with words first and art second) I started selling more art and understanding what themes were selling.  I know that artists hate to “sell out” and do what the market wants, but in this case, I think it’s obvious that in order to survive and keep making our creative work, we need to occasionally make work for our customers too!

In this example, I used quilt squares as my starting point, so I get to geek out on abstract shapes AND know that people will actually be able to find my art online.

The Product Trend Follower

I’ve seen so many artists making art for products that they don’t really care about, like “well I know you’re supposed to make patterns for fabric so that is what I’m doing I guess”.   In the meantime, they don’t care about sewing, fabric, or making patterns at all!

The wonderful news is that if you focus your energy only on products you love, you’ll start selling a lot more work than the people trying to do all the “hot products”.

When I finally admitted to myself that I love lettering even if it doesn’t work in patterns, I suddenly realized how much I love paper products!  I doubled down on cards, calendars, and wrapping paper and have continued to reap the benefits of that switch.

I share my process for designing greeting cards in this post.

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