How to be a commercial artist
When I first started teaching at the Art Institute of Phoenix, I discovered that there were some people there that needing to feel OK about making money with their art. That is, making it commercial. Of course, it's a school that specializes in helping people turn their talent, and passion, into a living, but it was still an important question to answer.
Now, waitaminute here, I'm not talking about the value of someone's art beyond its monetary value. That is, it may inspire generations, it may change the course of art history. I'm talking about getting money for doing art. And that's where you start. For a lot of people, it's a step that they would rather not take. And I respect that. Put simply it means that art can be your life without it being your livelihood.
I started making my art commercial in high school. I had the benefit of a teacher who was not afraid of placing a monetary value on art. And I distinctly remember him telling the class that if someone complimented your art, that you should sell it to them. And I did so. Sometimes for a candy bar. And once I started seeing that people were willing to give something of value for what I could do, I gained confidence. I volunteered for the yearbook, and was immediately given a budget for art supplies. I wasn't making a profit, of course, but I was getting to use art materials, and that told me that my art was valued. After that it was a small step to freelancing commercial art.
So, really, I've never done anything that wasn't related to my art. I did illustration, and Graphic Design. I have a nice house in the suburbs because of it, and I've owned several new cars. I'm a commercial artist. I never got rich doing it, but I made money. If this is something that you would like to do, here are some thoughts:
• Find out what your artwork is worth. Go online, do some research. If someone asks for your artwork for free, ask them "is that what you think I'm worth?"
• Don't give your artwork away. Start small, but get something. I've done artwork for all kinds of things of value, not just cold hard cash. No, don't turn into an obnoxious sales person, but do ask. They aren't donating to charity, they're supporting the arts.
• Learn how your artwork is sold. It might be at swap meets, it might be on Etsy, it might be online. Find out.
There are a lot of wonderfully talented people who will never make a dime with their artwork. It's also true of any of the arts, like music. But if you do it well, people will support you, and you need to just give them the chance.
Posted by Brad Hall