5 Tips on How to Profit as an Artist

Art is not typically considered a sustainable career. However, many creators passionate about their art consider it the only option for them.

Nevertheless, the “starving artist” stereotype haunts many creators debating whether to start an artistic career. As a result, many artists choose to abandon their career goals and find something more profitable to pursue.

Although starting a career as an artist can be difficult, it is not impossible. There are steps you can take to maximize your profits and earn a reasonable living while launching a career in art. However, it requires careful research and a thorough understanding of the ins and outs of the industry.

Whether you paint, write, draw, dance, act or make music, the trick to making sure you avoid the fate of the starving artist is to protect your ownership of your work. Additionally, you should spend time advertising your creations while developing a brand and selling your art.

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You will have to juggle multiple roles, including salesperson, accountant and lawyer in order to succeed. The tips and guidelines below offer advice on how you can pursue your career as an artist while still bringing in a steady income.

1.  Protect Your IP

IP stands for “Intellectual Property.” In the case of an artist, it is the product of your creativity. The last thing you want as an artist is for other people to make money off your art without paying you for it.

Fortunately, if you live in the United States, your creative work is protected the moment you complete it in most cases. Copyrighting your work is considered technically unnecessary. Nevertheless, it is easy to do, inexpensive and gives your IP extra protection.

However, there are important exceptions to this rule. If you sign away your rights or you produced your work under a contract for someone else, you do not retain them.

Anytime you produce a work that is not under contract, you can add the copyright symbol or the word copyright with your name and the date. While this does not establish conclusive ownership, it can at least dissuade someone from using the work without obtaining your signed permission.

For total peace of mind, you can easily register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office. Although you technically already own the copyright once you produce it, registering it with the Copyright Office can strengthen your claim in potential legal battles.

2.  Sell Direct-to-Customer

Do not wait to be discovered or for a gallery to ask to host your art. To succeed as an artist, you need to seek out sales. Selling your art directly to customers allows you to maximize your profit and minimize payouts to other entities.

No matter what your art form or medium, there are sites online where you can sell your products to those who appreciate them enough to pay. You may even be able to sell your art from your own professional website.

Providing art in multiple formats increases the chances of making sales. For example, musicians can sell music as downloads in different file formats and receive payouts through streaming services. Writers can sell their writing in paperback, eBook and audiobook formats. Painters can sell original paintings or prints.

3.  Get an Agent

Although getting an agent sounds like a major hassle, it is still an important step in maximizing your profits as an artist. Agents can help you get your work and name out into the world and advocate on your behalf.

Luckily, getting an agent does not have to be difficult. Because agents make money by taking a percentage of the profits earned by artists, it serves them well to represent as many artists as possible. Additionally, it benefits agents to sell as much of your art as possible.

You may not be able to sign with an elite agency in your medium right away. However, there are still hundreds of agents in the world of art you can sign with. Depending on your contract, you may be able to switch agents to a more successful and well-known company as your name recognition increases.

When selecting an agent, it is important to keep in mind that fit matters. Do not consider obtaining an agent like going to an audition. Instead, you should view hiring an agent like hiring an employee. The agent should work for you, not the other way around.

4.  Put Everything in Writing

There are no handshake deals in art. People could have the best of intentions in the moment they make a verbal agreement with you, but situations, intentions and memories change.

The only way to ensure any deal you make comes to fruition is to put it down in writing and have both of you sign it. Then, you both have a guide to refer to if there are any questions about your agreement.

When starting your art business, you should take time to develop some template agreements with terms that you like. You may be able to modify them for individual situations, but having a template gives you a cohesive starting point for all projects.

Make sure the agreement includes the following information:

  • Name or working title of the work(s) involved.
  • Date(s) and venue(s) covered by the agreement.
  • Who owns the copyright for the work, including whether it was produced as a work-for-hire.
  • Rights being granted by the agreement.
  • Form(s) of payment, including advances and royalties.

5.  Keep Records

The more your keep track of your performance, the better your performance becomes. This is because tracking your progress helps you identify weaknesses and holes in your efforts. Once you know your weaknesses, you can find solutions to strengthen your work.

The two variables to track in any enterprise are time and money. For artists, this means keeping track of how much time you put into creating a project. If the project is not contracted, you must also track the time you spend trying to sell the product of your work.

If you pay money towards the sale of your art, such as printing, postage, travel for submissions or advertising fees for direct sales, you must track this information as well. Then, you can gauge how much money you need to make off the sale of your project to break even and start earning a profit.

Whenever possible, get partial payment up front. This can ensure that the agreement will be honored and helps offset the cost of supplies needed for the project. When working on a contract, add regular partial payments into the agreement so you can continue to make ends meet as you proceed with the project.

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