It’s not always easy to make it as an artist. As with most creative professions, it requires passion, dedication, expertise—and an income.
Drawing ever since she could hold a pencil, Nadia started to take it seriously when she was about 15 or 16 years old. “When I was a teenager, I realized that I needed to put in the hours to be a good artist.”
After graduating with a BFA in Graphic Design in 2019, she soon found herself in the midst of a global pandemic. With no job or prospects at the time, she decided to focus all her energy on getting better and trying to sell her artwork.
And it paid off. She now has a successful online store selling prints and other products with her artwork. Keep reading for Nadia’s top 7 tips for earning money as an artist.
In 2021, Nadia created an illustration of two ghosts holding hands in a pumpkin patch that went viral, and it’s now her most popular drawing. Luckily, she was using Printful at the time, so she didn’t have to print, pack, and ship a high volume of orders herself—Printful took care of it. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Going viral is every artist-turned-entrepreneur’s dream. Viral content brings more awareness of your work through shares and exposure on social media. It also means more people are visiting your website and your store, which generally translates into more sales.
Although there’s no exact formula for how to go viral, Nadia does have some advice for artists who are trying to grow their social media presence.
“I’ve realized that art that goes viral is:
Has to do with romantic love
Has text that’s relatable and/or inspirational
If you have 2–3 of those elements, it’s likely that your art will go viral.”
Even though Nadia’s work doesn’t always follow the above points to a T, she’s had success incorporating these elements. “I tend to have weird line drawings that aren’t necessarily cutesy and I don’t put any text in my art, but I’ve learned to sometimes change it up. I had a black-and-white version of the ghosts in the pumpkin patch drawing, and it was already doing super well. I thought, ‘wow, I wonder how it’d do in color.’ And in color, it just blew up.” She posted the illustration of the ghosts holding hands on October 1, and it was perfect timing for the spooky season.
Pro tip: Download our Ecommerce Holiday Calendar to stay up to date on seasonal celebrations and get ideas for your art.
It’s no secret that developing an effective marketing strategy is key to building a thriving business. In Nadia’s experience, it’s the same for selling your art. She shared a few straightforward (but valuable) things you can do to sell smarter.
Have seasonally-appropriate promotions
Most of us don’t buy swimsuits in winter and sweaters in summer, right? Nadia follows the same logic for promoting her art. “Make sure it’s current. I wouldn’t be promoting my pumpkin patch drawings in the middle of July, for example. That wouldn’t make sense.”
Create a sense of urgency
Another thing that’s helped Nadia boost sales is making her work available for a limited time. For example, she doesn’t have certain illustrations (like the ghosts holding hands) in her store all year round. They’re only available for the month of October and then they vanish November 1—until next year. “That sense of urgency, that it’s a limited time, incites people to buy immediately instead of thinking ‘oh, maybe I’ll hold out’ and then they forget about it and you miss out on the sale.”
Make it an exclusive experience
Also consider making your artwork available in limited quantities. Even if it’s not, everyone wants to feel like they’re getting something exclusive. “It’s important to make sure your customers feel like they’re part of an exclusive club, that they got a good deal.” You can always make certain prints or artwork available again later on.
3. Define your style, but also experiment
The type of art that Nadia is known for (loose, yet detailed pen-and-ink drawings) evolved from what she enjoys. “What I found most soothing were black-and-white line drawings done with a pen. It turns out everyone else really likes them as well. I think people can see that I have a passion for it. For example, if I had tried to make super-realistic, colorful oil paintings, my heart just wouldn’t have been in it, and I think people can tell that. The skill wouldn’t have been there, the hours and dedication wouldn’t have been there.”
“You have to find a style that you love doing and you’re willing to put time and passion into.”
Even though her signature work is still her bread and butter, Nadia also dabbles in other styles. “I think every artist is going to grow naturally. You’ll figure out what you’re known for and what your style is, but don’t be afraid to experiment.” She maintains that if something isn’t working or if you’re bored of it, creatives shouldn’t be shy about switching it up. Even if you’re doing well commercially, there’s no reason not to try something else.
“My style has evolved. I started out just doing black-and-white drawings of cities, but I’ve expanded on that. Now I also do drawings inspired by real life, or from photos, and of course gothic-themed works. The bookstore black hole drawing is one of my most popular pieces and that’s not a city at all.”
Putting her artwork on different products has been another area where she’s experimented. “After prints, tees and totes are huge sellers. People are more willing to spend money on clothes than they are on art (i.e. just prints), so it’s super useful. If any potential artists are looking to make more money, definitely branch out in your product selection.”
“Prints and original drawings will always be the closest to my heart, but clothing and other merchandise is a great option. My brother actually said to me, ‘I didn’t know how good you were as an artist until I saw and loved what you were putting on your clothes, and I wanted to wear that.’”
Read more: What types of art can I sell online?
Nadia is adamant that community is also a big thing. “You want to be able to connect with other artists. I definitely wouldn’t have gotten to where I am without other artists helping me. You should reach out to artists that you respect and admire, and DM or message them. Most of the time they’re nice enough to respond. When you connect, other artists are more likely to support you because they’ll think, ‘oh I know this person, she asked me for advice’ and they’ll be more willing to repost your work, share it in a story, or follow you.”
Nadia says it’s also important to notice what other successful artists are doing and think about what they’re doing that you’re not. Most of the time, it’s pretty simple tweaks. For example, once when she asked another artist for advice, the artist told her to put mockups on her store. “I just had the image of the drawing. I didn’t show what it’d look like in a frame or in someone’s house. Once I did that, I started getting a lot more sales.”
Top-notch customer service is important because it builds trust and inspires customer loyalty, which in turn helps your business grow. Nadia has been clear on this from the beginning: “I always try to respond as soon as possible. If someone has questions or concerns, or their order hasn’t shipped yet, I’ll always do my best to respond promptly. I think that’s a big reason why I have a lot of return customers.”
Nadia has also learned over time that you shouldn’t always be trying to get new customers, you should instead be trying to keep your current customers. “They’re more likely than a new customer to buy from you again.”
She’s not wrong. According to a recent consumer behavior report, the percentage of new customers retailers are seeing has been going down since 2020, yet repeat consumers have remained loyal to their favorite brands.
Read more: 5 Ways to Build Customer Loyalty
How did Nadia make her first sale? “A lot of my initial customers were people who knew me—family, close friends, etc. Then it started getting bigger and bigger as I built my social media platform up.” She did a few things at the jump to keep the momentum going:
Lower prices (at first) – “When I first started out, a lot of my work was around $5 or $10 so it wasn’t a big money risk. If you start your prices small, people are more willing to buy, and you can always raise them later.”
Verify trustworthiness – “I’d show peoples’ prints arriving safely, so that was a big thing in fostering good will.”
Highlight satisfied customers – “I made sure to feature all the 5-star reviews I got (especially from Etsy). It’s important that customers see that others are happy with their purchase.”
Nadia encourages other artists to take advantage of an exceptional moment we’re living in. “People are more willing than ever to support small businesses, so that’s really cool.”
Print-on-demand is the key that’s enabled Nadia to grow her business. “I was using Etsy for a while. Then when I created my own website, I was using a service to get prints printed in bulk. I’d have them in my house and would have to mail them out myself. It was getting to the point where packaging and sending out several orders a day was becoming a major time suck. It doesn’t sound like a lot but it was really time-consuming. And if I wanted to get to the point where I was sending out 100 orders a day, it just wasn’t going to be possible.”
So she started looking into print-on-demand services and came across Printful. She liked the fact that Printful easily integrated with her website on Wix, she could set her own prices, and that she’d be notified when orders were shipped out (plus what her profit would be). “My experience with Printful has been really great. In addition to handling a higher volume of printing and fulfillment than I could alone, all the record keeping is super easy because Printful takes care of that. It’s made doing taxes easy.”
What’s the best part? “Customers have always been really happy with the quality of the prints and the merchandise, which is awesome.”
There you have it, 7 effective tips for earning money as an artist. Let us know if you’ve tried any of these in the comments, and what’s worked best for your business.
Sarah is a Senior Content Writer at Printful with experience in editing, translation, and teaching. She holds a Ph.D. in International Relations and is passionate about language.
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