If you saw my column from last month, you’ll remember I started a quick poll on twitter that ended up expanded into a larger more in-depth survey, focused on not only how artists are making their money, but also a bit about what their goals are. I’m back, a month later, to report in on the data we collected.


Now before we dive in, let’s remember a few caveats:

1 — This survey is of Muddy Colors readers, which is a very select corner of the art world. Very illustrator-heavy and dominantly science fiction and fantasy artists.

2 — The people who have the time and/or are more inclined to take a survey (in general) are those who are not too busy and who may be more dissatisfied with how they’re doing. So in the same way I know that people are more likely to negatively comment on anything on the internet and adjust for that, by which I mean I mentally know things tend to skew unnaturally negatively, you have to overall adjust for that here.

3 — This survey was only 10 questions, it was up for just a month, and we got a few hundred answers. It gives us some interesting generalities and points to some trends, but it is not comprehensive, even within the SFF art world.

In other words, take this info with a grain of salt. And now, let’s begin!

Pretty cool, most of the folks who took this survey consider themselves full-time artists. I wonder if that means that most of the readers of MC are full-time artists, or if the full-time artists were just more inclined to take the survey.

So overall people are getting 75% of their income through art & art-related work. That reflects Q1, which reported most folks answering considered themselves full-time artists.

I was surprised to see how many “Sole Breadwinners” we had reporting. If this was a longer survey I would have liked to drill down a little more into separating people who live alone vs. folks who are supporting families on their art, but for now, that’s interesting. I expected “Share costs” (in blue) to be the biggest group, and it was, but not as far ahead of “Sole Breadwinner” as I expected.

Really interesting! It seems like we have as many people working in art roles on staff/inhouse as we do freelance. And a lot more fine art and personal projects than I expected. I thought Patreon/patrons/subscriptions would be a little higher, honestly. And no surprise we have a good percentage of educators and teachers reporting.

This question was a little surprising as well…I thought, given the choice, that more folks would want to do fine art and personal projects, but it seems like freelance work pretty significantly pulled ahead. I guess you DO want to keep working with us pesky Art Directors after all!

Here I kind of figured that the lowest bracket would be the most populated, but I was surprised that there’s a big jump between 0-10k and then 25-50k, Not as many folks between. In a more detailed survey I would have liked to adjust for international artists & differences in currencies and cost of living somehow, but even without that correction there’s a wider distribution here than I expected.

From talking to artists and seeing what questions artists ask over and over again on Dear Art Director, I knew a lack of free time would be the #1 obstacle people see in their path between them and their goals. But I didn’t expect #2 to be issues with self-promotion. (Here’s where I plug our free Art Business Bootcamp handout on Self-Promotion.)

And then non-art obligations (family, other jobs, etc) and the need to improve skill level make sense as being quite high up.

Well I’m very happy to see how few of our survey-takers were Miserable or Very Unhappy, so that’s good. And the sparse population at Very Happy makes sense as well — artists and creatives tend not to rest on their laurels too much — we’re more often self-driven. Usually to a fault. I’m really thrilled to see most folks consider themselves Happy to Satisfied, and even the Unsatisfied folks seem to have a good idea of what goals they are reaching for.

I swear I didn’t stack the deck on this one on purpose, since I’m the columnist most frequently writing about Art Business, however, it stands to reason that folks that are interested in a) my monthly posts and b) taking this survey would be the folks most interested in Art Biz and Career Advice. That said, it’s nice to see that Process Posts are still a solid crowdpleaser, especially the Video Process and Tutorials (I love watching those too). Inspirations are always fun, right? And it’s nice to see folks wanting to read and talk more about Mental Health issues and Self-Care, both critical topics to maintaining a healthy art career over time.

Question 10 was left open to comments, all anonymous, and I want to cut and paste some below, so you see some of what’s on the mind of your fellow artists:

—As a deaf illustrator, I hope that if Muddy Colors do future videos, it would be helpful to have captioning or subtitles especially live streams that I find a bit challenging to follow.

—I would love to see more articles on how older artists can adapt to the market and find their audience.

—Maybe add a selection for income sources to include “art fairs / festivals”. Of my 97% of “fine art income” 99% of that is from selling directly to collectors at festivals without gallery representation.

—I have a large amount of debt from my education. So much so that I needed to switch careers to pay my obligations and still have a quality of life. I’d like my income to be 100% creative based, however I don’t know how to make the transition from a desk job to an art career that can subsidize my current lifestyle.

—Props for putting “mental health” under the obstacles; many of those reasons apply but mental health is a huge reason the focus on improvement and promotion isn’t happening.

—You didn’t ask if we make enough money to live comfortably, only where it comes from. Answer is no, I don’t. I’m happy otherwise, but always struggling to make ends meet.

—Couldn’t put this in last question for some reason: I’d love a Joe Rogan style deep dive interview with artists. There’s nothing like that right now.

—I think a geography breakdown for where people are working would be interesting, especially cross-referenced against local resources/opportunities/inspirations. Are those striving and unhappy in the vicinity of major metro areas or more distant from them? Are those happy and doing well in chosen career tracks away from pop noise, or in the thick of it?

—possibly asking what region you live in would be nice to know. people in lower cost of living areas may be doing “better” as percentage of household contribution than those in higher cost of living areas.

—might be good to know what artists are in all-artist families.

—I would love to see the data on gender/race differentials specifically.

—an interesting thing I would like to know, being a long time industry vet. How long have others been in the art industry. Because I am curious to know if Industry duration = jaded


And then we did get a lot of notes of thanks & encouragement, and I wanted to copy these here for my fellow columnists, contributors, and especially our fearless leader Dan Dos Santos to appreciate!

“No questions to add, but just wanted to say that even though I am not a fantasy/sci fi artist, I get so much inspiration and motivation from reading Muddy Colours. What a great art community! Keep it all coming! And thanks to all the artist contributors!”

“YOU’RE AWESOME! Have a good day!”

“Thank you for all the work you do, really appreciate it!”

“Just want to say THANK YOU for this survey & for writing for Muddy Colors. It is honestly an enormous resource for artists at ALL LEVELS, including me, who has to work a full-time non-art related job to support my work but looks forward to the day I quit that job because I am prepared to make the jump to full-time art because of these resources!<3”

“Thank you for doing this survey I hope it will help artists like myself to make a meaningful and fulfilling career out of art making.”

“This is amazing work. Thanks so much! You’re a force for good.”

“You guys are awesome. Thanks for sharing your expertise and personal journeys with everyone!”

“Bless you for all the wonderful work you do and the encouragement you give to people like me!”

“You are awesome, thank you! Keep up the great work.”

“Muddy Colors is such a great resource and I am very thankful for every article and contributor!”


We got a ton of comments, these are just some highlights. I’ll be digging thru all of them for more ideas on what to cover here & sharing info with the rest of the Muddy Colors team. Thanks so much for taking the time to weigh in! I’d like to make this survey an annual event in the future.