August 1, 2018
How to get started getting paid for your art
I've always loved to draw. And my parents encouraged me. They supplied me with an endless supply of paper, crayons, pencils, colored pencils, pens, paints, you name it. I was one of those kids who had the GIGANTIC crayon set, and I was always drawing and painting. I learned how to handle various media with color-by-numbers, I studied the great masters as I got older, such as Mort Drucker, Jack Davis, and the usual gang of idiots of Mad Magazine. I refused to buy any Batman comic that wasn't done by my favorite artist. As I got older, and interested in comic books, I studied the great work of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. I read books on their techniques and I taught myself to work with pen and ink. In high school I discovered Andrew Wyeth and my head just about exploded.
But I hadn't considered making my art commercial until it was suggested to me, and the rest of my class, by Mr. Shauer, who taught art at Washburn High School in the 1970s. Looking back, I really have no idea what he was doing, but he certainly didn't just consider himself just a high school art teacher. He would sometimes talk about the value of his art, often referring to it as the work of genius. And it was. I liked his sense of humor, and his snarky attitude. It was from him that I heard for the first time that you should try to sell your artwork the first chance you get, when someone compliments it.
Now calm down here, I'm not talking about showing it at galleries, or selling it on auction, I'm talking about having the guts to ask someone if they wanted to pay for it. It was his suggestion that whenever someone said, "hey that's a great drawing" to at least try to give it to them. I found that most people are all talk, and wouldn't even bother to take the drawing from me to go throw it in the trash. But some people did give me stuff, sometimes it was a candy bar, sometimes it was the reward of their friendship, and they did cherish my work. And over the years it built up my confidence, and I was fortunate enough to find many people who liked what I did, and paid real money for it. I made a career out of my artistic ability.
When I started teaching commercial art in the '90s, I tried to talk a little bit about this. Like most people, most of my students just imagined that they would get a diploma and money would just fall out of the sky. Many of them were offended that their artwork would be degraded by becoming commercial. That struck me as strange, as they were paying a lot in tuition to learn how to have a career in commercial art. You'd have thought that the exchange of money for their artwork would have occurred to all of them, but it rarely did.
If you're pondering this, don't be discouraged. There are a lot of people who have gotten paid for their art, whether it's drawings, painting, music, or whatever. And yes, there are a lot of people out there who will want you as an artist to do stuff for free, that's never going to change. But there are people who recognize the value of your talent, and are willing to put their money where their mouth is. It's a small percentage, but it's enough.
So stay strong, you know your value, and ask for it. People will pay for what they value. If they want your artwork for nothing, that's what they think it's worth. Smile, let them go, and find someone else.
Posted by Brad Hall