by Kevin Fierro

It’s not easy trying to find ways to make money from your art. We all know this, but it’s what we love to do and we are always told to follow our hearts. The starving artist is fine as a romantic notion, but we need to also feel safe and not worry if we will eat today.

Whether you want to make art as your primary source of income or just to feed your passion enough to be able to buy art supplies, how you spend your time trying to sell your art could tell the story of your success.

The Art of Making Income from your Art, does not give you a step by step path to making income, it’s a trial and error process with luck thrown in. After a while and after many attempts at marketing your work, you tend to feel what will work better than other methods. This street fair or that website will provide me x dollars, or it’s a waste of my time with zero return.

Instead of “feeling” what might work, you could just take it a little step further to quantify what you feel is working and not working so well. Yes, we will do some math as proof, but it’s not complicated and will steer you to the best use of your limited resources. Even if you do not want to do the math, you will be primed to understand what you need to consider to become an artist that will receive income from your chosen line of work.

If a course of action you have taken to promote your work has not provided you with the anticipated flow of money, don’t fret or consider yourself a failure. You’re not. In fact, it’s rather scientific.

Merriam Webster The Scientific Method “: …pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.”

So next time a parent or someone tells you you’re wasting time with your “artsy” pursuit, tell them you’re in fact a scientist. Consider this. You are not making money from your art and you want to find out why (the problem); you have tried blogging or posting on certain websites and seen the results (you experimented and this data is collectable); and now you want to test some more ideas you have based on limited information (hypothesis). To be a true scientist, we do have to work with data, numbers. Before we do this, it will be a good idea to build a framework so we don’t go crazy attempting every conceivable “opportunity” to make money from our art.  The following will almost seem contradictory:

Rule #1 when trying to make money from your art: consider every conceivable money making opportunity.

Rule #2 when trying to make money from your art: don’t waste your time trying every conceivable money making opportunity.

So the subtlety here is to open your mind to every chance to make money, but discriminate fiercely to which opportunities you actually pursue.  I will provide some examples to make this concept clear, but first let me explain why you would want have more than one revenue stream to fund your art work.

The most important rule in creating sound investments is diversification. No 401K plan in the world, for example, has stock in one company (unless that company is diversified itself) or one product. The reason is to reduce risk of loss and increase the probability of success. So unless you are making art for fun, a noble cause, you need to diversify your assets—you and your art are the assets—with wide ranging investment vehicles (ways to market, for example).

Since you and your art are the assets, your time to create the art is the value (money is the value given for a 401K, for example). Then you want to exchange your value (eg. your time) for some future value through an investment. The investment vehicle for the artist could be a street fair, blog, time spent on website, doing a seminar, collaborating with others, etc. In simple terms, time is money.

The formula is: t (your time) = m (money); where m is [($price * units sold) x investment probability] less cash cost (if any) of investment.

Don’t worry about this formula; here are some simple examples to get the point across.



You decide, like thousands of others before you, to try Craigslist to sell your amazing orchid painting, called “Amazing Orchid.” Brilliant! You give your chances as 50/50 that your painting will sell. It doesn’t take very much of your time, so you create a nice listing and in 10 minutes you post it at $10.00. Here’s that calculation you hypothesized (you scientist you!).

10min (t) = ($10.00 * 1unit) * .50 (50% chance it will sell);

10 min = $10.00 * .50

10 min = $5.00

Ok, not bad, you’ll take that $5.00 bucks for 10 minutes of work. Now over time of selling art on Craigslist, the data starts rolling in like a red tide. It actually took you 20 posts to sell that one piece of art; then it took you 18 posts to sell an identical piece; then the third time it took 25 reposts. You average that out and discover it takes 21 posts to sell one piece of art. You find that it takes you about an hour to post 21 times over a period of days, but when you do, your chances of selling that art goes from 50% to 95%. High probability of a sale! Now let’s look at the return on your investment.

60 minutes = ($10.00 x 1 unit) * .95 (probability index).

60 minutes = $10.00 * .95

60 minutes = $9.50

1 minute = $.158

10 minutes = $1.58

So using the scientific method, we prove out the value of our time. Although we have a higher chance of success by posting 21 times on Craigslist, the money payout is only $9.50 for an hour of work. Now we have more evidence to use to improve our chances for success, using experiments. What if I could post faster, my hourly rate would go up; maybe raise my prices, but will I still sell at 21 times posting on average?

So here’s a quick check-off list when deciding on new avenues for funding your art.

Best scenario: low time required + high chance of success + high dollar + low entry cost

The best scenario is a rare scenario, but play around with this concept when you decide to make your next time investment choice.