Making money from your art. Ah, that’s the dream, right? But if you’ve ever told someone (like your parents) that you want to become a full-time artist, they’ve probably said that there’s no money in the art world. That’s not true, especially if you become a freelance artist.
Freelance artists have the freedom to build their careers in their spare time, focusing on projects they’re passionate about while also finding ways to make money from their craft in the meantime.
How to Become a Freelance Artist in 2021 (And Actually Make Money)
What is a freelance artist?
Freelance artists work for many clients at the same time. They’re self-employed and contract out their artistic services. The freelance lifestyle can be a good fit for artists because there’s a lot of freedom and flexibility in how you work.
It takes time to build your freelance career to the point that you have full artistic freedom, and you’ll definitely have to take some gigs you don’t love in the beginning.
Working as a self-employed artist consists of a wide range of mediums and creative skills. You can be considered a freelance artist and paint, draw, sculpt, weld, make jewelry, knit, weave, and so on. But the most successful artists, no matter what the medium, find other ways to monetize their art besides selling one-of-a-kind works.
You can digitize your art to sell prints, t-shirts, stickers, and so on. There are also teaching opportunities with coaching, workshops, online classes, and one-on-one lessons. What’s cool about these opportunities is that some can become fairly passive income streams, which gives you more time to pursue your artistic endeavors.
Now that you understand what freelance artists are, let’s talk about how you start your career.
7 Tips to Become a Freelance Artist
1. Don’t quit your day job, yet
You’ve heard the “starving artist” trope, right? Unfortunately, it’s become a way to describe artists as not earning enough to support themselves. While there’s some truth to that, artists aren’t the only freelancers who can benefit from starting on the side of their day job.
It takes a while to build any kind of business, and keeping your day job means you’re not sacrificing your finances in the meantime.
Find a way to dedicate a little time almost every day to your art. Some days you’ll want to focus on the business end of things (I’ll explain more about those things in a second), but other days you should be actively creating.
As someone who started a business on the side of a full-time job, I definitely understand how much work it takes. It’s exhausting at times, but being able to focus on your financial obligations, like paying off debt or savings, will position you better for when you eventually quit your day job to become a full-time freelance artist.
2. Remember, you’re running a business
This will be the least creative aspect of becoming a freelance artist, but it’s incredibly important to treat this like a business. This will help you organize your work, get paid, take care of taxes, and plan for the future.
Here’s how to take your work as an artist seriously:
Set working hours
Your working hours might be all over the place when you’re first starting, especially if you take my advice and start on the side of your day job. Still, you need to give your days and weeks a little structure. It could be deciding on specific days to work, or committing to working at least so many hours at a time.
Legitimize your business
This might sound a little premature, but it never hurts to make your business official by setting up an LLC. It’s not expensive to set one up, and it creates a legal separation between your personal and business assets.
Know what to do about taxes
Freelancers should set about 30% of their income aside for self-employment taxes, and you may eventually need to pay estimated quarterly taxes. Understanding this now will save you stress at tax time.
Start keeping track of your finances
Keep track of any money that goes in and out of your freelance business, which helps you at tax time. You may want to set up a dedicated business account.
Write a business plan
The word “plan” sounds strict, so think of this as setting goals. Where would you like to see your freelance career in a year? What about 5 years? Writing down your goals will help you take action and grow your career.
3. Build your portfolio
You probably have a large body of work to choose from, and you’ll want to spend some time picking out pieces that really show who you are as an artist. Your portfolio shouldn’t be a complete collection of your work. Instead, pair it down to the most powerful pieces.
As you create more, you can get pickier about what you show in your portoflio. All you need to do right now is picking a handful of pieces that show your aesthetic and range.
One of the best ways to display your portfolio is with a simple website. A WordPress site hosted on Bluehost is an easy and inexpensive solution. Plans start for as little s $2.95/month, and they have a selection of beautiful yet simple templates that won’t distract from your art.
Keep your site super simple. All you need is three pages:
- About Me: Write a short artist statement, but you can also include where you’re from, education, interests, etc. But short and simple is best.
- Portfolio: You can call this page “My Work” or “Portfolio.” Make sure these are high res images that show off your art.
- Contact: You’ve gotta have a way for people to contact you. It can be a simple box set up to capture emails, or you can list your contact info and social media handles.
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4. Market yourself online
Designing a website with a portfolio isn’t enough for freelance artists who want to find paying patrons or clients. You need to put yourself out there on social media.
Instagram is an obvious choice for artists because it’s an image-heavy platform, but don’t overlook TikTok or even YouTube. You can make videos of yourself creating artwork, showing different techniques, or displaying artwork. Process videos are really popular right now because they’re a bite-sized look at how artists create.
Find other artists in your niche to follow, learn hashtags when applicable, and really engage with your audience. That last one is what people really love. They want to know that you’re interested in hearing what they have to say.
5. Actively look for work
The dream for some artists is that a wealthy patron walks in your studio, looks at your work, and says, “I’ll take it all.” But the reality is far from that, especially when you are first starting out.
Most artists will have to look for freelance work online, and it’s something you’ll need to devote time to if you want to make money and eventually go full-time with your business.
Here are some of the best places for artists to find freelance work online:
- ArtJobs: This is an online job board for artists of all types. There are art contests, internships, jobs for performance-based art, and more.
- Upwork: There are a lot of jobs on this platform for freelance digital artists, like logo design, book cover design, video editing, etc.
- Fiverr: I’ve seen jobs on Fiverr from designing art based on DnD characters, illustrating maps, and turning pictures into cartoons.
- 99designs: This platform is specifically for freelance digital artists.
Warning, some of the jobs you’ll need to pursue in the beginning won’t be your dream job. This is the case for all kinds of freelancers, but I want to be clear about that before you start looking. Instead, focus on getting paid and building your portfolio with professional-looking work so you have the money to pursue what you love to do in the future.
6. Maintain a good work/life balance
You’re working a lot, trying to create in your spare time, and you may also have a family or other responsibilities. That’s a lot. When you become a busy freelancer, it feels like you’re being pulled in so many directions
You can burn out quickly if you aren’t taking care of yourself. Make sure you do things like go outside for a little bit every day, even for a short walk, or to sit on the patio. Drink plenty of water, and take breaks to eat.
Take help when it’s offered, whether that’s with childcare or someone offering to take you out to dinner. People want to help you pursue your dreams, and offering help is how they can be a part of it.
At some point, you’ll also need to stop saying “yes” to every job that comes your way. You can start prioritizing ones that pay better and clients you enjoy working with.
7. Diversify your income
Diversifying your income means you’re bringing in money from multiple sources. It protects you and your business while also helping you earn more.
For example, if you’re a freelance graphic artist who’s only using Upwork for work and something suddenly happened to the platform, it would be like completely losing your job. A solution is to look for work on other freelance platforms, but you diversify beyond that.
Best ways for freelance artists to diversify their income:
- Sell prints on your website: You can list originals on your website, but the average customer can’t afford the hundreds or thousands of dollars you are charging for an original. Running a series of limited edition prints is a good solution, and there are studios that can help you photograph or scan your art and get it ready to print.
- Sell merchandise: If you have a popular illustration or small piece of art, you may want to consider merchandise. You can do stickers, hats, t-shirts, and more.
- Sell e-printables on Etsy: Digital printables are files that can be bought and sold over and over again with very little work on your end because they’re delivered electronically. Etsy is a great place to sell digital files for invitations, decorations, cards, planner pages, and more. It’s like selling prints but on a mass scale.
- Create an online course: One of my readers started as a freelance graphic artist and started creating and selling online courses on Udemy and Skillshare. Her courses teach others how to use graphic design software, and she’s seen over $5 million in course sales since she started in 2017.
- Teach online workshops or lessons: This is a less passive alternative to courses, but working one-on-one with others can be incredibly fulfilling. You can set up online workshops through your website and teach people specific skills. Some artists start doing free mini-lessons on Instagram live, but you need to eventually charge for your time.
The final word on becoming a freelance artist
Earning a living from your art is a dream for many artists. It takes a tremendous amount of work for some people to realize that dream, but there’s so much potential when you leverage technology to get started.
Sites like Upwork and Fiverr can help you find freelance work in the beginning, and technology can help you expand your business over time.
Don’t overlook the importance of treating your art like a business. That means paying taxes, bookkeeping, setting money aside for retirement, and making a plan for the future of your business.
The business end of things might not feel very artsy, but it’s how you’ll continue pursuing and making money from your art into the future.