View Full Version : How do you support yourself as an artist?
02-21-2007, 04:05 AM
The old saying "starving artist" came about for a reason.
Some, but not many of my artist friends are able to make a living solely from the sales of their art. They make enough to buy all the necessary supplies to produce and market their creations, and even to travel to shows around the country. They support themselves, some have families, nice vehicles, homes, great studios, and all the comforts of a successful life, all from the sales of their work.
However, there are a lot more highly talented motivated folks that have to take outside jobs leaving little time to sculpt, paint, to make art.
Many colleges don't really teach the business of art, the "how to" of becoming successful working artists. Many don't even encourage that type of thinking and instead, encourage careers in teaching art.
I've managed to make a small income in the past solely from my sculpture by working for the home decor industry, but as I break into making bronzes and journey away from commercial work, it's been a struggle. I've even taken to cleaning bathrooms, painting figurines, anything to pay the bills while I'm sculpting for bronzes.
So I'm curious, how many of you are able to make a living from your sculptures, or what outside jobs have you had to do to support yourselves and your passion for sculpting? :confused:
02-21-2007, 07:22 AM
I recieve a small stipend from NY state for the stab wounds I recieved in the neck and hand as a prison guard (yes, I am lucky to be here) even though this dosen't provide enough to live on. Selling sculptures is helping, doing the occassional haircut in my 1961 Avion camper/barbershop helps a little. I used to do hair full time and owned my own salon. Now I can't hold my arms up long enough to do a woman's haircut , let alone a perm. Something about vertabrate and muscle damage in the neck. I am starting a PT job at the local auto parts store March first cause the money is going out faster than it is coming in. I have always been good at turning a profit in buying and selling things I run across. Wheeler ,dealer! Antiques , junk, what have you.
Goals:1) Get more exposure,
2)get more galleries selling my art,
3) more exhibits.
4) Be competely free of outside employers.
02-21-2007, 11:26 AM
since 93 I have been a self-employed artist. I have applied my creativity in my studio in every way imaginable to keep the boat floating. My wife is a good partner, handling management duties and general business relations and upkeep. As long as I stay in the studio with the soot and the tools I can't run us out of business. everything from furniture to spiral staircases to big sculpture (I even peddle an oil painting on occasion) goes out the door. I have only ever executed my own design work (my abilities are probably not useful to accomplish anything else). I taught at several universities as an adjunct professor for about seven years but theres only a few extra bucks there. The profit margins change drastically from year to year. We never know whats comin up for the next month.
I havent had a "real" job since 1978.
Been supporting myself as an artist and craftsman since then.
Since I really like making things, I have always been willing to make whatever "things" I can find somebody to pay for- sometimes its been art with a capital "A", sometimes its been ornamental iron, jewelry, clothing, hats, furniture, knick knacks, signs, store fixtures, or parts of buildings.
I have been very lucky in that somebody always seems to want most anything I make, although sometimes it takes a few years to sell it.
I have sold my work wholesale to stores, exhibited in galleries, worked for architects and decorators, been a partner in artist co-op stores, and done lots of private and public commissions.
02-22-2007, 12:38 AM
I support myself as an artist by being the only one available and foolish enough to committ to the manifestation of peoples crazy ideas and interests. By the time folks get to me, they realize that there is no one who can help them. There's some aspect to their project that no one will touch. I support myself by saying yes after every one else has said no. I do a good job, gain customer loyalty and live off my reputation as the go to guy for unconventional projects. For the most part, the custom metal fabrication pays the bills.
02-23-2007, 04:09 PM
Since income from my art arrives in unpredictable waves, my cash flow solution is to practice traditional Chinese medicine part time.
02-24-2007, 11:02 AM
I graduated with a BFA in sculpture in 1975. Fifteen years later I attained an MFA in sculpture as a part-time student over the maximum time-period allowed by state law.
Since officially becoming a sculptor in '75 (i.e.; according to the IRS), I have pumped gas (before self-serve took over), managed and operated a convenience store (don't miss that), been a retail salesperson in a hardware store (learned a lot of practical info there), have custom-built furniture & repaired antique furniture, been a private art gallery conservator,handler/show installer, taught sculpture students privately, have taught sculpture at local art centers, done the local-area school artist-day demo circuit, been a partner in a small high-end picture frame shop, am a some-time conservator/curator/exhibit-designer for small history museum, have designed/fabricated/installed displays for art museums, teach sculpture & design part-time at university level (several schools), repair both antique and contemporary stone carvings & sculpture, make bases & pedestals for other sculptors . . . and of course (though one might say un-ambitiously) have marketed my sculpture in both commercial galleries and alternative venues for the less-than-upon-a-regular-basis sale.
I have accepted only a few sculpture commissions over the years because I have found them to be too constricting conceptually and aesthetically. The only commission I truly enjoyed working upon was for a couple (both artists) who trusted their own instincts about my work and allowed me complete freedom, simply agreeing on a cost beforehand. As it turned out, they got a real bargain because I enjoyed the results of this freedom and spent much more time than budgeted because the piece was turning out so well — so it ended-up being a piece I was proud to have in my portfolio but for which I allowed myself to be paid perhaps one-third of its labor value. All my other commissions (which paid much better) are placed in the very back pages in my portfolio, with some blank pages in front of them so they never get seen unless there is a specific aspect about them that I wish to share with the client. Frankly, I would rather keep my sculptural freedom by working in art-related areas outside of sculpture rather than do commissions I cannot consider the best that I can do as an 'artist.'
On average my sculpture income nets a modest profit perhaps one year out of five, the rest of the time it is usually a modest loss. The other income-producing activities allow me to pay the mortgage and put food on the table, though my wife (also an artist & educator) is an equal partner in meeting those shared expenses.
I would just add that my ambition has never been to be a financial 'success' as an artist, but instead to simply enjoy my life by following the path it leads. A great part of that enjoyment comes from both the sheer physical activity and the perceptive insights I gain through working in the studio, and in turn sharing many of those insights with the world at-large through my work. I must also admit that I was surprised to learn how much I could gain conceptually when I began the activity of teaching, and how teaching became another venue for me to both learn-from and share my perceptions.
02-26-2007, 03:31 PM
I currently hold a desk job at one of those huge multi-national companies. Not interesting work, but it pays the bills and doesn't physically exhaust me before I get my hands on a hammer and chisel at the end of the day. More vacation time would be a bonus, though!
02-26-2007, 07:48 PM
I make enough to stay in supplies and buy a new tool or 2 each month with a little left over to do home improvements and pay the taxes on the house.
This last January was my best month for sales. I'd like to continue to see months like that.
02-28-2007, 12:11 PM
My day job as an engineer pays for all the bills. I woodwork, and sculpt and turn wood and stone (at night and on weekends), my wife paints. The art we sell pays for all the tools, supplies, shop and studio, with the occasional course thrown in. So it’s mostly a self-paid-for passion with little or no actual income. However, this year is I received a large furniture commission (not my favorite activity) which will net us an actual income. The reason I accepted a furniture commission is that the person said ‘this is what I want, you decide what it looks like’.
I'm still new in the business of art... and I know I'm far from completing my education. I have been making money of my art... but not much. I keep looking for ways to market myself and get myself out there... you have to start small. I hope to one day support myself fully on my art.
03-07-2007, 08:33 PM
I teach art in a public school for my day job. Its not a path I would recommend to someone who wants to make art because a working with 180 or so students doesn't leave you with a lot of energy, but it has worked for me. My goals have always been:
-Always make room for my art.
-Try to keep it growing.
-Try to figure out how to market it so someday it will support me.
Now 2-4 years from retirement I have always managed the first two, but never figured out the last one. I have always managed to pay for my art expenses with money from sales, but have never sold more than a fraction of the work I make. I'm not too disappointed though, I've had lots of enjoyment and satisfaction in my career and i'm always curious what will come up next.
Whenever possible, I stand at the freeway on-ramp with a cardboard sign that reads, "Will insult you for food".
03-16-2007, 03:42 PM
Nice one EJB!... I'm a screenprinter doing mostly tees & stickers... constantly beating deadlines... it pays the bill but I enjoy it... heck!... got used to thinking flat... in raster & vector files... I'm losing my 3d mind!...
I got tired of working 55 to 60 hours a week, Art was always on my mind. I found myself drawing things I wanted to make in sales meetings and i just woke up one day and my wife said quit. I did, it was a tuesday. So I started a small Carpet cleaning company three years ago and I have plenty of time to go after my dreams....I used to be in the dry cleaning business about 8 years ago, so it was an easy step for me....So today (Monday) I spent half the day at a junk yard, man did I have fun, a big old junk yard dog was my buddy for half a day.. I found about 30lbs of old worn painted sheet metal and about 20 license plates dated back to 1941 ( for a new project)...spent about 50 bucks and had a great time...Then it was off to the farm equipment junk yard that was great, but I think my Saw Zaw is burned out, I got about 75lbs of metal and it cost me zero..I made a deal with the owner on carpet cleaning...
I could not do all this with out a great wife that supports my dreams..
04-10-2007, 05:02 PM
I'm fortunate enough to run the shop for another sculptor who does commision work for churches and municipalities (ie making monuments for fallen firefighters and police personnel).
I get to excercise all the skills I've built up over the years. The downside is that after making his art all day/week I have little energy or ambition to make my own craaap...sigh...
04-18-2007, 05:16 AM
My money job is as an Alcohol & Drug worker caring for inner city homeless people. Downside is the hours & sometimes the emotional drain, upside is the great people I get to meet (both clients & other workers) also I'm interested in exploring issues of social justice in my art practice so the two careers dovetail rather nicely, oh yeah and then there's the money!
04-19-2007, 04:24 PM
I do computer jobs for a while, then work full time on sculpting. When no money anymore, I do computer jobs again. Sculpture sells a little bit, much better with foreign collectors than in France tho :/
04-20-2007, 05:40 PM
"Proper job" in the "real world" Engineroom rating on Irish sea ferry.
Gave it up after taking over small workshop Fabricating / General repairs in Steel / Aluminium, Boats / Trailers........anything that can be glued with electricity or gas.
Try to repair what ever comes through the door,usually for not very much Client "What! You only put a small weld on that!" :(
"Ok Try a small weld without a welder." :p :D
In between these interuptions, I Sculpt, I love the way people react to them.
I`m new to this and most are surprised at the various bits.
I Will post pictures eventually.............So........
First workshop got sold from under me,eventually managed to find another,running out of "rainy day money"
So back to the "real world" for a while.
However the materials/consumables/electricity, are now for free :cool: and the Engineers shake there heads and grin at that strange Motorman making sculptures in the shop when I should be watching T.V :eek:
I have crossed the road of madness and now wander down the path of eccentricity
04-20-2007, 07:36 PM
I have not posted into this thread as my situation is not really relevant to the intention of the original question. I am fortunate that I have retired from my long career and am now supporting myself, and my art, on my savings.
I create sculptures for my enjoyment. Hopefully others would also appreciate and enjoy them.
I take my sculptures seriously. Doing my best is my enjoyment. It is most certainly not a hobby as it is my full-time work. My first solo exhibition is coming up soon.
04-20-2007, 08:54 PM
Great job Merlion, congrats on the show!
I do supportmyself and my family fully through my art. I am an art professor, I also make art and sell or exhibit it where I get paid to do so. My wife is also an artist and is approaching my salary just in her painting sales, she's amazing, once she starts making more than I do I think I will just start making art and quit the teaching gig??? We will see, I do love teaching and it actually is the best job to have as an artist. My schedule is very flexible, if I am not teaching or in a meeting I am under no obligation to be there, although I am most of the time, I get a month off at christmas and three months off in the summer and a week off at thanksgiving and spring break, lots of time to make art. I also have a great teaching gig, for instance today it was 70F, sunny first day to reach 70 this year, so I opened the doors on the studio, and some of my students worked outside, and some worked inside, I helped each one but most of the time I was outside enjoying the nice weather, having discussions about art and what was happening in the art world, wow! So I feel very blessed to be able to do what I love and live with my wife who also does what she loves and we can share in this with each other, and our kids are growing up with both of us there for them and art is not something that you do on occasion but something you do every day and is essential to existence, they understand this on a very deep level.
04-20-2007, 10:14 PM
It sounds like an enviable place you inhabit Matt. One that has sidestepped me. I taught at several universities for many years but my region (NYC) was intensly competitive and I wasn't willing to put so much damn effort into getting that full-time job. The adjunct money did help with diapers, beer and other such consumables and in the end exceeded my student loans tenfold, but I'm a terrible studio rat and often resent energies applied elsewhere. My wife is the face (and the knuckles) of my art business - handles general affairs and promotions. Its possible that the right college job will yet occur, but it will have to find me. You know Tom April? I think hes the sculpture man at U of I. (or state?)
04-20-2007, 10:31 PM
I am actually in South Dakota now, I grew up in Iowa and went to the University of Northern Iowa, Tom Stancliffe was my undergrad professor, I don't recognize the name Tom April. I do get back to Iowa quite regularly as family is still there, although I haven't lived there for about 4 years. evaldart, It sounds like things are working out for you regardless. We have had to go through hell to get to this point though, we are still considered below poverty by the govt. but we have what we need and we get to do what we love. What more could you want?
04-21-2007, 06:25 AM
I work as a full time sculptor. Like you the government would consider my wife, who is also an artist full-time, and myself working below the poverty line. but, if the house is paid for, bills paid, money set aside are we really at or below the poverty line? By whose definithion? Should we let other people in on the secret that you can be an artist, pay your bills and still not live the life of a wretch in a garret somewhere?
10-15-2007, 10:51 PM
I don't yet... After getting my BFA in 95' I have spent the last 13 years putting my husband through school and raising our son. I have been in retail management most of the time, but now that I am at a place in my life where I can spend a lot of time sculpting again, I am glad I had those years of retail and business management experience. I hope to do what I love, and just market that. Maybe the public will bite, and maybe they won't. But I will be much happier either way.
10-16-2007, 12:22 AM
Yeah, I do odd jobs. I love working with my hands, but Aesthetically I usually cant stand the plane symetry of new construction. I help disabled people live at home for a job. But that don't cut it. My wife is a social worker and we have 2 kids. They all have sacrificed for me to do what I must do. I take up too much money for supplies and way more space than they do. I can not afford a studio and keep about 8 thousand dollars of metal working tools and welders in the basement and piles of metal in the yard and a big welder's truck in the driveway. I can not seem to "sell" my work, though eveyone says I should, its great! I love the topic. and I love getting all that I do from this web site. What is the best way to make money? I am looking at going back to school because I got my BFA in 2001 and making art is not an option to choose, I just do it. I also do not make money doing what I like because of all the Qualifications you need these days. You must be CERTIFIED in everything. Thanks
10-16-2007, 09:28 AM
Ah the million dollar question.I graduated in 85 from Art School,and I have been sculpture full time since.I built props for photographers,I hung and installed art for varous galleries and clients,I worked with differnt artist ect.I also was doing 12 gallery shows a year back then,tons of charity shows or anything art related.The past five years I have settled more down and I prefer to work on commisions.Last year I had three museum shows,two univerities,and two in galleries,and one at city funded art center.It can ware you out,but it is great for networking and searching out commision work.It wount just come to you,you have to hussle and work your butt off,and basically deticate everything you do towards your art.Hey if it was easy,everybody would be an artist....IA
10-16-2007, 10:30 PM
Well I have a day job, but hope to leave it before long.
I downloaded my DHL shipping history for the last two years and just for the heck of it I tallied the columns in excell for weight and invoice totals to see what they were.
Since January I've paid almost $2,000 to DHL to ship almost 100 sculptures weighing around 3,500 pounds total
And last year about 130 sculptures went out the door, costing $2,400 to ship and 4,050 pounds.
So it shows steady sales for my work, so I can either hang out at my day job for another ~ 3-4 years and maybe build a shop to work in, or leave spring of 2009 with no shop but $12,000 in the bank and maybe later build it if there's enough sales growth to warrant and pay for it from that source.
I'm mostly inclined to leave spring 2009
10-17-2007, 11:40 AM
Landseer, not that you need a push, but imagine how the sculpture side of things would change WITHOUT the best hours of your week belonging to someone else - those numbers you quoted up there would increase very significantly - as well as your own personal ability to imagine pieces and projects far more ambitious than you've done before. Not just the numbers but the ARTWORK would change. No safety net though...but you get used to it.
11-01-2007, 08:56 PM
My day job is as a Realtor on Saint Simons Island, Georgia...selling homes in one of the nations premier golf resort communities.... Kayaking, sailing, dolphin watching, shark fishing in the world shark breeding grounds, and your choice of 7 world class golf courses.... Real estate running from 80k to 35 Million.... Come on down and take in some open houses..... :)
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