Ending The Struggle of the Struggling Artists: A Free Guide

You guys remember my Wattpad guide, right? It turned out to be useful for a lot of people.

I decided to post more things like that and not just book reviews and publishing related stuff. I have not been in the best shape physically and mentally so I didn’t blog a whole lot most of 2018 and a good part of 2017. (That is also the reason why I wasn’t able to write this post 2 years ago.)

Anyway, that terrible slump is over and I am pretty much reborn from my ashes like a phoenix and going to be hell of a lot more active. I owe my grand awakening and rebirth to an amazing composer I have discovered within the last few weeks. Long story short, some Jedi master info he shared on social media turned out to be a crucial life-changing catalyst that has awakened me from this terrible slumber of stagnation and mental paralysis. This is the topic of a whole another blog post, and I will make a detailed post on that soon.

Now back to the topic at hand: There is a number of struggling artists among my friends & social media connections and I noticed a lot of them are struggling to pay their bills, selling their work far too cheap and exhaust themselves to promote their art, to little avail. That is because they don’t have much of a choice. I see people who do art commissions for ridiculously low prices and it truly breaks my heart. I screamed like hell on Facebook but it goes unheard in all the noise and never reaches the audience who needs it. Now I’m sacrificing my fiction writing time to do this piece cause it makes me literally sick to see all that unfairness and I want to help making a difference.

As someone who has made pretty decent money from art before, I am going to give you some useful -perhaps vital- tips. Now the full disclaimer: I don’t want anything in return other than seeing you guys out of poverty, I am not upselling anything or dropping any affiliate links whatsoever. Good karma and making a difference is more than enough. I am going to be frank though, there will be no sugar-coating and no bullshit. I’m autistic so being frank is in my nature anyway. Think of me as the doctor making a diagnosis and prescribing the medicine to fix it. You may not like some of it but if you really listen and follow the tips here, you will get out of that vicious cycle of poverty sooner or later, depending on how quick you act and how much effort you put on it.

It Is Possible To Make $50 An Hour Or More – How I Did It

I will give some background info before getting to the heart of it so you see I know what I’m talking about: I never talked about it on this blog, but I happen to be a self-taught pencil artist, even though I haven’t been active for a number of years. I took commissions back in the days and made pretty good money.

I quit doing commissions after doing a few pieces cause 1) I didn’t need the money (I was making good money from my corporate IT job at the time) and 2) I wanted to draw what I wanted to draw and doing commissions was literally strangling me due to my severe untreated ADHD. Drawing was therapeutic for it but commissions were not. 3) The whole reason I did commissions in the first place was a challenge to myself -to prove that I could get decent money for my art.

This is why I cringed so bad when I saw a pencil artist doing pet portrait commissions for a measly $15 and others doing custom art for $10/hour or less. The lowest I charged was $150 for something that took me a couple of hours and I thought that too low. That is $150 in 2006, which was 12 years ago, and that bought more food back then than it does now. I am a super autist so I got curious and checked the USDA statistics just now: Retail price of a pound of beef was $3.97 in 2006 and $5.80 now in year 2018 so go figure. Nearly 50% more buying power, so that $150 would be $225 in today’s currency.

Highest I charged was $500 ($750 in today’s dollars) for something more detailed that took a good part of a day. I am dropping these numbers here so you see it’s quite possible. If I did it, so can you. The only reason you are not making this kind of money is the unfortunate circumstances you are in right now, which means bad environment factors. These can all be fixed in no time using the methods I am about to tell you.

So how did I manage to make this kind of money as a nobody? Did I do free work for “exposure” or sell my art super cheap to get my name out there? Did I have connections? Not at all. Like I said, I made pretty good money from my full time IT job and drawing was just a hobby for me. Commissions were to prove myself I could actually get paid for it.

How and Where I Found The Clients

I found clients from fandom forums, Yahoo groups (which were quite big at the time) and what limited social media we had back then, in the form of now defunct msn, icq and nearly extinct irc. I had a Deviantart gallery (I still have it!) and uploaded my work there and my own web site, showed it around on the aforementioned primitive social media, posted my LOTR and Harry Potter pieces on fan art forums and the clients came to me. I’d done a peculiar Nazgul piece for myself using a movie still as a reference and received offers up to $2000 to sell it or make another one like it. LOTR was pretty hot back then with the movies newly released so it was super duper easy to get visibility and clients flocking to you left, right and center by posting something better than the average fan art floating out there. 2k was good money but I didn’t want anyone else to have that piece and it was the kind of work you do only once. You are artists so you know what I mean. I spent 3.5 hours on that blade alone, making the worn texture with sewing needles. 2k was good but not good enough (Hint: That is the exact mentality I want you to develop about your art. If I didn’t have faith and confidence, people wouldn’t offer that kind of money for it.)

So, here is your first tip:

Do some fan art of the hottest trendy thing you like, post it around on fandom forums, Instagram, Deviantart and Twitter, post on fandom-related Facebook groups and what have you. On Twitter, Instagram and Deviantart make sure to stuff your keywords and hashtags to death. You have stiff competition so better give those pieces all you have, this will be your premium portfolio and storefront. It is crucial that these fan art pieces MUST be your absolute best. It goes without saying that you need to keep track of what sells on the fandom market and deliver the same kind of quality.

I gave everything I had to that Nazgul drawing and worked on it every day for 2 weeks, put easily 15-20 hours and it still gets shock and awe reactions 15 years after I have created it (Holy shit, time flies! 15 years! When the hell did 15 years pass?!) I could easily get high-paying commissions if I pimped it around right now.

You guys have hell of lot better platforms and broader opportunities than the limited tools I had back then but you are making some grave mistakes and this is why you are struggling.

What Is the Biggest Mistake That Is Sabotaging Your Livelihood

I observed a number of artists for a good long time and analyzed their patterns, they all have one major thing in common (other than the fact that they are struggling to make ends meet and selling their art way below what it should go for.)

It is super obvious to an outside observer like myself, but when you are in that situation and worrying about what to eat tomorrow, you won’t have the time and mental energy to see those things. Well that’s what I’m here for.

So lo and behold, here is the biggest mistake that has become the ball and chain keeping you down: You are trying to sell your art to other poor people. Your network is mostly poor folks who can’t really afford to buy artwork and/or penny pinchers who order commissions and stiff you. Surrounding yourself with poor people is not going to get you anywhere if you want to make a living from art.

You need to change this and start building a network of affluent clientele. Thing is, you can’t just go around adding the affluent demographic that isn’t the right audience for you. You need to determine your target audience first. Choose the target audience right and you will make a killing.

How To Get The Right Kind of Clients

First of all, write down what circles/tribes do you belong. Are you a geek/nerd type? Are you in any fandoms? Do you do specialized stuff like pet portraits, wedding portraits? Do you do anime/manga stuff? Are you into erotic art? Do you do tarot, witchcraft, occult art? Do you do religious themes? Are you in the indie publishing scene, can you do book covers? So on and so forth.

Write down your fandoms, main interests, what genres of art you are willing/able to create. Then write down the same for your target audience, who they are, what they buy. No clue? You can go around look at Deviantart and see who sells and buys commissions there. Almost all of the artists I follow do commissions for pretty penny. We are talking about hundreds to thousands of dollars for mid-tier to high-end digital art. There are folks who do ink and watercolors but I didn’t pay attention to that market. Folks who write fan fiction order commissions for their fan fic characters all the time. We are talking about a damn lot of money here.

Many of these same artists make a killing from book covers also. Custom book covers go anywhere from $150 (stock photo manipulation) to $2000 (original hand-drawn digital art). I know for a fact cause I shopped around and got quotes to figure out self-publishing costs for some future projects I’m planning. I didn’t just query the artists on Deviantart but also those I found via Artstation, Instagram and Facebook. Instagram is a great platform for showcasing your portfolio and not very hard to build a following if you do fan art/niche art and use the hashtags wisely. However the competition is rather fierce so you have put your absolute best on there get attention and clients. I can’t emphasize this enough. If I was able to score such deals, you definitely can, without question. The market is hell of a lot bigger now compared to 2006 and it’s so much easier to reach the audience.

How To Avoid The Shysters Who Stiff You

This one is rather straightforward: Charge a decent fee and get half of it upfront. If you are making money from art then you are a professional and this is what professionals do. However, if you follow the tips I gave here, your chances of getting that kind of clients will be quite low. Still, you need to charge half upfront or the clients won’t take you serious especially the affluent clients. They have certain expectations and you need to deliver them. The first one is acting like a professional and this means charging the upfront fees and having a solid price catalog. You need to have a list of standard prices for your original art and prints. Most importantly, don’t sell anything short unless it’s a bundle deal for a repeat customer, a holiday special to attract new clients or upselling something more expensive.

There are other reasons you are getting those shysters and I will get to this in a bit.

Creating More Income

When you are catering to the affluent clientele, you have the options like creating repeat business and upselling. You can offer a discount for a second work or upsell something that costs more. You can also offer discount deals or a small freebie for referrals. If they bring you x number of referrals, do a freebie piece for them (one that does not take too many hours.)

Once you are dealing with the this kind of clientele, there is a whole different ballpark and different work and tactics involved, but that is outside the scope of this article.

The Last and Most Important Piece of Information

One major issue I have been seeing around is the lack of confidence. It is not easy to be confident and have a high self esteem when you are struggling in abject poverty conditions. Believe me, I have been there long enough and I know how that goes.

You need to value your art first and foremost, if you don’t no one will.
If you have even a sliver of doubt, people can tell. It will show one way or the other. It will show when you fold and not charge that upfront fee, it will show when you cut prices before the client asks for it. This gives the subconscious message to the clients to haggle it down as low as possible -even if they had no such intention in the beginning. It doesn’t matter if you are the next Picasso, if you lack self esteem, people will pay low prices and stiff you more often than not. In fact that kind of psychology is what attracts the sort of people who stiff you in the first place.

Many of you have anxiety and depression issues which come with low self esteem. I’ve been there longer than I’d care to, I should know. Here is one easy no-brainer way to fix this. Grab a piece of paper and write the following on it:

My art is valuable.
I am going to make X dollars a month form my art. (Put whatever is the decent living wage where you are. Not a dollar less.)
I charge at least X dollars an hour for the commission work.
I will cater to affluent clientele, they will buy my art and bring me referrals.

You can add more items as you like. Read this aloud every morning when you wake up and every night before going to bed, like a religious ritual.
Do that every single day twice a day until you see that X dollars. It is simple, costs you nothing and requires no effort other than reading a few lines. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. This is called autosuggestion, a simple yet extremely powerful method to program your brain to remove all the anxiety and low self esteem that is sabotaging your art business.

You are going to see that X dollars, I guarantee that 100%.
And when you do, pay it forward and teach this stuff to any struggling/starving artists you come across.

Oh, and BUY MY BOOK when it comes out and post a glowing review on Goodreads for it and buy it for Christmas/Yule/birthday gifts for all your friends and family. You will have enough money to buy a whole bunch of first edition hardcovers.

Ok I lied when I said I want nothing in exchange for the info I am giving away for free: There is no such thing as something for nothing. I took the hours to write all this (instead of working on my book!) cause I want you people to make a shit ton of money so you can each buy a dozen or two hard cover copies of my book 🙂

There you have it.

Now go make some money!