Part-time art
February 15, 2021 1:46 AM   Subscribe

How is it possible, as a trained artist out of practice for many years, to make a small income from making art? If you have done this, how did you do it?

It has been years since I have made art. I stopped because I started teaching in another field, and then I had a family. I would like to return to the making and selling of art -- drawings and paintings -- in a small way. What do I need to do to begin again?

If you earn money (even just a little) from your visual art but also do other, non-art things, how do you make and sell your images?

Thanks. This is anonymous because I know it sounds embarrassingly naive. I think it might be a reasonable goal, though.
posted by anonymous to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
There's several ways depending on your pricepoint, style and niche, and how much energy you are willing to invest into marketing... is a platform where you can list your art for sale, they take a cut of each sale. You'll have to write product descriptions with keywords that are relevant to your work, so people can find you amongst the several thousand other sellers. For example "wall art abstract painting in orange and blue tones". You can sell your original of course, but also prints and even downloadable versions of your art that people can print at home.

You can also create your own website of course, or even just list your work for sale on your own facebook page. In this case, you'll have to figure out how to direct traffic to those pages so people can actually find you...

There's also many many platforms that sell stock art / stock photography, that you can apply to.
For example, Envato or Creative Market.

And finally you can also have your work available to purchase on print-on-demand sites, so that your artwork can be purchased printed on a mug, or a sweater, or a poster etc... by the customers. You just have to upload the artwork and set your prices. is an example.

This is a very saturated market no matter which route you choose, so if your goal is to make a little money, i would actively research what is currently selling /what customers are searching for, pick a niche that works with your style, and focus on that for a while.
posted by PardonMyFrench at 3:21 AM on February 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

In addition to the platforms suggested by PardonMyFrench, I see a lot of people using Instagram for this - maybe someone else can weigh in with the best hashtags to be using, accounts to follow (in the hope they'll follow you back), any particular initiatives you could piggy back on to drive followers/sales (eg. maybe there's an independent artists' day on Insta that you can plug into?).

I guess in reality most Insta people are actually directing you to an Etsy store or website but I have a friend who sells jewellery on Insta alone - I think you just message her if you'd like to buy something she posts and she sends you a Paypal invoice.

In fact, I've bought a piece of art from a MeFite after seeing their work on Insta and falling in love with one of their pieces!
posted by penguin pie at 4:32 AM on February 15, 2021

I would recommend Etsy as a channel, but be aware that it takes effort and consideration to get noticed and to actually sell on Etsy instead of just gathering likes. You need to put in the work of creating a nice storefront, well-designed with a good description, plus carefully worded yet information-heavy product descriptions that will show up in search. Then there are all kinds of little things to think of, like how best to categorise your products, where you want to ship etc. You'll need to invest a fair amount of time to get all that set up.

This book is written by a veteran craft fair organiser and amazing freelance journalist. It's aimed towards crafters but is relevant to artists of all kinds, and though it is nearly a decade old, not a lot has changed except social selling is even more important now. (Full disclosure: the author is a good friend so I am biased, but I have also worked in the industry and have read many similar books which are not as good).

I used to work for a platform very similar to Etsy which was eventually bought and subsumed by Etsy - it was my job to work with exciting makers we discovered, and to help them increase the visibility and saleability of their work. If you have any specific questions I could help with, feel free to PM me.
posted by guessthis at 4:35 AM on February 15, 2021 [3 favorites]

Some of the folks I know making money from a small time art business are doing it by leveraging some kind of hobby scene they're already involved in. Hobbyists often have spare money, and they're interested in art that reflects their hobby. They may well have existing online communication channels, as well as events (post plague) that are already set up for traders - and are organised at a time that's convenient to attend around a day job.
posted by quacks like a duck at 4:45 AM on February 15, 2021 [4 favorites]

Rev Dan Catt has been blogging about working out how to sell, price and promote his pen plotter art, down to the amount he spends on materials, the numbers of new Instagram followers, etc.
posted by fabius at 5:10 AM on February 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

Some of the folks I know making money from a small time art business are doing it by leveraging some kind of hobby scene they're already involved in.

This can be a good way to go if it fits in with your art style/personality! I have a friend who does custom drawings of people's D&D characters, for instance. He does other kinds of art, nerd and non-nerd, but I think the D&D drawings are where the money is for him (which is fine for him since he also loves D&D). I also recently stumbled on what I guess you would call Pyrex fan art on Etsy? Like, illustrations of vintage Pyrex cookware. I would never have guessed this is a thing! So if you're in any kind of community of enthusiasts, consider whether you could do some kind of art that ties into that.

I think it also really matters what your medium is - some artists work by selling lots of volume of quick pieces/multiples at lower prices, others sell a few large pieces at higher prices. If you're a printmaker you're probably going to have a different trajectory than if you're a muralist.
posted by mskyle at 5:33 AM on February 15, 2021

I mean it depends on what you mean by part-time. I used to design band merch and my own products but it was definitely a once in a while gig type deal, and I had to basically work extra to make connections. Otherwise I used to promote my Big Cartel store on Instagram. I'd say I made close to $1500 one year off of both when I was super active. Twitter seems to be more profitable for artists now, but getting the reach to start earning consistently may take a while.
posted by Young Kullervo at 8:35 AM on February 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Again depending on price point and style, but there are stores that either buy local artists' work wholesale, sell it on commission, or rent out space for artists' work. These are sometimes art specific, and other times sell art along with gifts/boutique kind of stuff. Here in my college town there are at least 6 of those stores.
posted by papayaninja at 8:41 AM on February 15, 2021

Not a naive question at all. Everyone has to start somewhere!

I make a small (under $5k/year) side income from my art. I create a drawing or painting every so often, do a high quality scan, and set it up on my Society6 page as a print. Then I post on my social media (FB and Insta) that prints and the original are for sale with a link to the Society6 page - they print and ship and I get money in my PayPal account. There are plenty of other sites that do drop ship printing too. If someone wants the original I ask them to PM me and we work out a price.

I do commissioned work also -- all my friends know this, so whenever someone they know is looking for an artist / designer they refer me. I have a set hourly rate for those jobs, half of the estimate is payable upfront. I'm picky about clients. This is usually my biggest income source since I don't produce a high volume of personal work.

I dont have a social media following, just a fair sized friend network that's pretty spread out, so it has a large base of 2nd and 3rd level connections that see my stuff when my friends share it. I've never seriously promoted my art on social media, though I have the knowledge and ability to do so.

If you dont have a broad friend network, building a following on social media is for sure the best way to make money. You'll have to pay for likes and followers at first to get enough traction to build a real following, but its inexpensive - around $30 a month for Insta, which is where you'd want to focus. You have to produce work to post pretty often and consistently tho, which is why I dont do this...but also dont make that much money.

If you really want to hustle, expand to making videos and posting on YouTube and especially Tiktok, where the big focus is right now. Videos are time consuming, but can pay off big time if you get good at making engaging content. Once you've caught some people's attention, Patreon is the next step.

Etsy is useless these days, for a variety of reasons. It's cheaper to just build your own site and link the products / shopping cart from your drop ship print company directly if you want a personalized website (I dont have one). I advise against producing your own prints until it's cost effective to invest in a high quality printer and spend the time to package and ship yourself (if you've got dozens of orders a week, that's the moment to start considering). And then just pay for Shopify or whatever. Its fee at that point will be cheaper than Etsy taking a cut of every sale.

So yeah, if you dont have social capital to leverage right now, it will take some time to build that. And learning the ropes of self promotion on social media requires a fair bit of research. But its totally doable if you're patient and dedicated, and are making stuff a decent number of people want to buy :)

Best of luck!
posted by ananci at 10:05 AM on February 15, 2021 [7 favorites]

Absolutely! I'm a 'part-time' artist who regularly sells paintings... so here's my 2 cents.

First, create a body of work. Maybe 12 finished pieces that you are proud of. Do 'experiments' and get feedback from people you trust to get a feel for your vibe, what you want to create, and what resonates. In other words, literally get back into the game.

Get on social media and get 'out there' -maybe even a following. I chose Facebook and Instagram. I think more artists are on Instagram. Start posting regularly. Start 'networking' - if you paint birds, join bird groups/accounts and see how your interests overlap etc. Try selling on NextDoor. Make sure to let the world know you do custom commissions (if you do) You want to have a bunch of pictures that help potential clients be interested in your art.

Go to shops, stores, galleries, coffee shops, office buildings, furniture/home furnishing places - anywhere and everywhere that might sell art- or have room on their walls, and ask if they are taking submissions etc. Look for and target these places. Ask friends if they know places that put up/ sell art etc.

Look around for nearby festivals/ art shows and apply. Invest in a tent/canopy. Get involved in the 'art scene' somehow. Go to shows (as they re-open) and talk to the gallery owners and featured artists. Maybe even donate a piece or two at key fundraisers. I've donated to large/ corporate fundraisers that have put me in contact with future clients and great galleries.

It might take awhile to get ramped-up but grow it consistently and organically- what feels most comfortable/doable - you'll soon get more bold in your selling tactics.

Also- I would try all of this before ETSY - which can be a MAJOR time-suck where you have to game the system to even get seen. I tried it and didn't sell very much.

You can TOTALLY do this- the world needs your positive, creative vibrations right now. Good luck! And please be sure to friend-me when you get on Instagram (@mikefinkgallery)
posted by mrmarley at 1:18 PM on February 15, 2021 [3 favorites]

A few artists I follow on Instagram seem to do pretty well, they post a fair number of paintings and seem to sell a lot of them. (They all happen to work in a bright, cheery abstract style, which may be particularly popular.) Janet Skates, Betty Franks and Pat Butynski are some names that come to mind. Check them out on Instagram and particularly note the tags they use when they post, that might be appropriate for your work as well.

One thing I would suggest if you go this route is to put the price of the painting in your post. I can't be the only person who refuses to "DM for the price," in part because I don't want to express interest and then have to tell the artist I can't afford it.

Another artist I know posts her paintings on Instagram with a lot of tags, and directs potential buyers to her Etsy shop where the paintings are listed for sale.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 2:30 PM on February 15, 2021

Thank you all for these great tips and especially Ananci for the Society6 recommendation! I shared your post with my part-time artist husband this afternoon and he's already started setting up his account and posting his art there! Great find!
posted by platinum at 8:25 PM on February 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Check out the offerings of local business centers. One that is local to me often has a lot of focus on working artists in their online classes (this isn't necessarily mentioned in the descriptions, probably it's more that many people interested in selling art are taking the classes). In the past these classes have been a little on the expensive side, but my local place currently offers them free to everyone via some sort of covid related grant.
posted by yohko at 4:46 PM on February 17, 2021

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