I hear a lot of people offer a wide range of advice on how you should make career decisions. That doesn’t mean that someone is wrong and another is right, even if they contradict each other. It tells me that there are many different ways to make this work. So, take my advice with a grain of salt and know that this has worked for me, but it might not be right for you. **fair warning, this post is going to have lots of links to the things I am referencing – It is definitely self-serving but I hope it is also informational.
Something I have tried to do is look for opportunities to monetize things that I am already doing. There are some obvious things, like making merchandise out of the images you are creating. It doesn’t take a ton more time out of my schedule to produce prints and such, but it can be a good additional income. Nothing new there. But it pays off to keep your eyes and mind open to what people are making and buying out there!
After originals and commissions, prints and playmats are strong money-makers for me. I haven’t tried pins and stickers, but I know for some those are valuable money makers. Token cards are gaining in popularity among Magic: the Gathering artists and I know some artists who can show up to an event and just sell tokens and have a great show! The great thing about all these is that you are making money on a painting after the initial commission has been paid.
Doing traditional sketches and color studies is another proven way to gain a little more income for something you might already be doing. I have found that if someone can’t afford the final painting, they can usually afford the color study or pencil sketch if it’s something they really love. I still do some digital work, but whenever possible I work everything traditionally to take advantage of the opportunity and create more income opportunities.
Selling my plein-air and alla-prima studies has allowed me to invest more time into doing that kind of study. I feel like more than anything else, doing quick studies from life has improved my painting skills. I try to keep the prices pretty reasonable on the resulting paintings, which helps them sell, and that money is great to invest back into hiring models, and buying art materials but also justifying the time taken. Though the growth should be justification enough. But I do have that mentality of always wondering if I can afford to take the time to do something other than paint for my current contracts. Not a great mentality to have, but it’s real.
I started a while back making rough time-lapses for my painting to share on social media. The next logical step seemed to be to take those videos, do a voiceover, and create a product out of them that I could sell. The thinking is, I am already making the painting, so why not turn on the camera, if I am already making the video to share, why not turn it into a downloadable tutorial? I upgraded some of my equipment and started creating more professional videos.
That led to starting a Patreon so that I could develop an audience specifically for the videos. Those who join my Patreon (you can join for as little as $1 a month :)) can get the videos for much cheaper with a subscription than if they purchased the videos on their own. I spend a day a month creating my content for Patreon, or 12 days a year, but it represents some decent income now.
I like to hire models when shooting references for my paintings. I look for actors, artists, dancers, athletes… whoever makes sense for the painting. I found myself shooting a couple hundred images for a painting. It took a bit of time, slowly investing in better gear, but I reached the point where I had a pretty good setup and could take some useful images. It occurred to me that since I was already hiring models, setting up my studio for a shoot, and arranging costumes if I just shot more images I could create some reference packs for sale for other artists to use.
Covid hit, and reference packs really started to gain in popularity since it was harder than ever to find models and space to shoot references. I spend about another day a month doing photoshoots and compiling and posting. Not a huge amount of time, but it has also grown to be a good source of income. Having the reference packs let me open up another tier on my Patreon and also add more content to my Gumroad, Artstation, Cubebrush, and Flipped Normals stores. Patreon also just added a ‘shop’ feature. So far, it hasn’t done anything for me but it has only been a week or so. It has made sharing content with my patrons easier though! But I think as it gains awareness it will be another great outlet.
I have even been able to utilize some of the newer skills I’ve learned through all this, like using Lightroom, to make additional instructional videos!
Here are some more examples of recent reference sets. I have loved seeing works created from the sets. I have seen the images used for paintings done for the Portrait Society Conference, for prominent galleries, and even on a recent cover of Fine Art Connosuier! If you’re interested in checking more out, including my painting tutorials, I recommend my Gumroad page or Patreon.
The great thing with all of these is that once you have the content, you can apply it to new sites, shows, events, and whatever other opportunities come up. It does take time and effort, but now that it has grown I have hired someone to come in and do all my shipping. Which has let me create more products and special offers. Before, I was wary sometimes when I knew I was going to be very busy, offering a new product or having a sale because it was going to take my time, or my wife’s time to fulfill orders. A great problem to have, but time is limited. Now that I have hired someone it has opened up more opportunities. It’s a big step, but see if it makes sense for your own path to eventually hire an assistant to help you do more with your time.
I am certain that I am missing a lot of opportunities, and I am always looking to improve and learn. I hope that you’ll share things in the comments that you are doing that feel like a great hack, so to speak. Things that you do that don’t take up tons of time but have some real payoff! I look forward to reading your tips!