The image above is one I did when I was just leaving college. I was about to embark upon my journey as a freelance illustrator…
(All I wanted to do was draw and lift…college photo from 3-ish years ago^)
Sporting a decent portfolio and a potent drive for success, I began emailing people frantically in search of work.
I sent over 50 emails in the first week alone, using a list I had compiled through a technique I call “lead scraping.”
To my surprise, I actually got a few gigs.
The pay wasn’t great, but at least it was something. I completed the jobs, collected the money, and….
My clients were happy, but their budgets were limited.
They didn’t have the funds to rehire me to continue their projects– let alone pay me enough to keep up with my student loans.
This was a painful realization. My inbox was quickly filling up with No’s and my bank account was draining along with my inspiration. Things were looking grim.
I had to do something, ANYTHING…Or I was going to drown in depression and debt. My anxiety was at an all-time high, and my drive to succeed and all-time low…
but that didn’t matter, I had to find a solution.
I began to read books on business, and to dig through art blogs from artists who had already “made it.”
I kept my spirits up by confiding in friends who I knew would understand. I watched motivational videos and listened to audio programs that would help me keep things in perspective.
But above all, I did 3 things.
3 VERY IMPORTANT things.
It took me months to figure them out, but once I had these 3 keys to artistic success…doors opened, rejections mattered less, and my bank balance got out of the red.
It’s my sincerest hope that sharing these 3 methods with you will enable you to prosper as I have. Any artist who’s willing to improve their work knows that you have to improve yourself and your approach to life as well.
So here are my 3 my gifts to you:
1. Diversify you income.
2. Charge what you’re worth (to people and businesses who can pay it.)
3. Reinvest in yourself and your craft/business.
Sounds simple, no? Let’s take a closer look at each of these keys:
DIVERSIFY YOUR INCOME
Anyone, artist or not, who only has one way for money to come to them, is in jeopardy. You MUST spend time opening up new avenues of currency to come to you. In order to be sustainable as an artist, this is pretty much non-negotiable. Having just one client won’t cut it. You have to find people who will hire you on a regular basis and then find others who will do the same.
You can also start thinking about product creation, or selling your work online to fans instead of doing commissions. There are many, MANY ways to open up different income channels.
Spend some time thinking of ways you can use your art to provide value to others. I recommend taking 15–20 minutes a day to brainstorm methods through which you can open up avenues for your work to flow out and currency to flow in.
The point here is to really take the initiative with your income, realize that getting repeat clients and finding new ways to sell your work is going to help ensure that you’re growing your profits for years to come.
CHARGE WHAT YOU’RE WORTH
Seriously. So many artists have the terrible habit of under-cutting. I myself was guilty of this as well. It’s really hard when it seems like people won’t pay you more than $50 for a piece that takes 8+ hours.
The simple fact is, there are many people who will pay you more than that. MUCH more than that. The key is to connect with this people and not to be shy about asking for $500 instead.
Funded kickstarters, certain indie game teams, businesses that hire artists, the list goes on.
There’s always someone who you can make contact with who will pay you more. The key is to focus on digging for those people and then making a good impression with your work and personality.
If you’re lucky, you may have a decent industry for artists where you live– look for studios, as they’ll typically start with $33,000+ a year at entry level. It’s not great, but it’s definitely livable while you plan your next move, which should be to….
REINVEST IN YOURSELF
This is non-negotiable. You should be taking classes, going to figure drawing sessions, buying art books, finding courses and/or mentors to help you along your journey.
GROWTH is the factor that keeps you green and mean. Stay hungry, and be vigilant in looking for ways to do things better. I wouldn’t be anywhere NEAR where I am today if I hadn’t continued to take at least 15% of my income and put it back into increasing my skills and optimizing my process.
There you have it. These are the 3 things that will help you step it up in terms of your abilities and your income. Above all, don’t stress yourself out– It can be emotionally and mentally taxing trying to improve your work, find new clients, serve the ones you have, and reinvest in your creative business/brand. Take it one step at a time. Even if you aim to do things just 1% better than you did before, you’re making progress.
It’s not a race, there is no end in sight. You’ll never be done learning, growing, making mistakes, correcting your drawing, refining your style(s), and opening up new doors for your career to grow. Making a living as an artist is a wonderful and challenging journey, and it’s certainly not for the faint of heart.
Seeing as how you’ve read this far, I’m sure your heart is plenty capable.
Remember the 3 keys.
And keep up the good work.
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