I am asked all the time if I am a full-time artist or if I have other jobs. Because of my youtube schedule, I work about 60-80 hours a week, so I wouldn’t have time for anything else even if I wanted. Now I realize that the youtube thing isn’t for everyone, but for me it was a HUGE step in making a living as an artist. I can’t say what will work best for everyone, but I can give you my experience in getting to where I am now and share some of the things that didn’t work.
When I started as an artist, the internet was still a baby. Getting people to my REALLY badly designed website for sales was not happening. I did, however, do fairly well selling on eBay. I found that things under $300 did OK on eBay while anything over did not. From what I hear, it’s pretty much the same way. The thing with eBay is that it is a great way to get your work in front of people who wouldn’t otherwise see it. It’s even more awesome now because they allow you to list something like 50 things for free each month. They take a percentage of any sales, which is totally worth it IMO. They take far less than a gallery would!
Selling paintings online has never been enough to live off of though. I started teaching painting and drawing classes out of Michaels art and craft stores in 1999. I started with pre-teens and teenagers and as my skills progressed, I started teaching adults too. While I did make a bit of extra money teaching, it also was not enough to live on alone.
For about a year and a half, I taught classes at one of those “paint while you drink wine” places. The plus here is that they are fun, and I could make a living doing that alone. The downside is it isn’t a real art class, so it wasn’t really what I enjoyed and teaching many classes there did not allow enough time for making my own videos and paintings. The reason I finally quit was the place I was teaching out of had a serious mold issue and I got really sick. REALLY sick. While I missed the steady income, and it was art related, it wasn’t quite what I was looking for so while I had offers from other, similar places, I decided it wasn’t the path I wanted to stay on in my career. It may be a great option for some of you though who want something more steady that is art related.
I sold my work through a local art gallery for a couple of years, but it was a small gallery and I wasn’t selling tons of work. Certainly not enough to live off of…or even depend on that income each month.
In 2005, I started taking commissions for painting portraits, both people, and pets. I got most of my business from an Italian Greyhound forum that I was a part of. I was able to get business this way because I was a very active member of that forum. People who joined the forum just to advertize did not get any business. If you’re going this route, you HAVE to be involved. Even then, some forums don’t allow you to share your artwork. I was not able to make a living with this alone.
A couple of years ago I started offering prints for sale through Fine Art America, and even a few limited edition prints that I had available on eBay and my website. While I do get the occasional sale, it is most certainly not enough to make a living off of.
With the boom of facebook, I started sharing my pet portraits in some of the Italian Greyhound groups. You have to be careful doing this because if it comes across as spam, they will boot you from the group. I was also a very active member in these groups. If all I ever did was post photos of my paintings, I would have been ignored and/or removed from the groups. This did get me more commissions for pet portraits though. I was not able to make a living with this alone.
In 2011, I started making youtube videos. By 2013, I started monetizing those videos (getting paid by youtube for advertisements played on my videos). It took a LONG time and a lot of hard work to build a following on youtube. I pretty much worked for free for several years. While I do get a bit of money from youtube now with the views I get each month…it is still nowhere near enough to live off of. I can pay my very small car payment with that money and that is about it. Like I said, even that took years to get to, but youtube got my name out there and made people aware of my work (plus allowed me to teach even more people which I love), so I did start getting more commissions and sales through that platform. Not enough to live off of though.
Are you noticing a trend here? No single venture as an artist is enough to live off of. It takes all of these things working together for me to be able to pay bills…and even then, I would make more working part time at a minimum wage job. For years, I have worked so much harder trying to make it as an artist than I would in a “regular” job. Is it even worth it? For me, absolutely. I love what I do, but I have to work harder than anyone else I know just to barely make ends meet (and sometimes not be able to make ends meet at all).
Now patreon is another story. Patreon would not do as well as it has for me if I didn’t already have a following because of youtube, and through social media, so all of these things I’ve done for years contributed to Patreon working out for me. I hear from people quite often that they aren’t having the success they hoped for with patreon. From what I’ve seen, Patreon is only really worth it if you already have a fanbase, and you have rewards to offer that people really want. For me it’s allowing me to focus more on making videos than many of the other things I needed to do before (ebay/onine sales etc).