I’m a creative, experienced, multi-purpose artist and art director
who can take projects start to finish in a variety of styles.

Good designs sell –
my designs sell out!

Saturday, September 13, 2014


My neighbor offered me $5 to draw her cat.  I said no.  My sister ripped into me for it because I should’ve been grateful for the opportunity.  “I don’t want to draw her cat and $5 isn’t enough!”  Sis stomped off muttering, swearing about my uppity nature.  I was a teenager then, but I can’t say how many times I’ve lived moments like that since then.  I recognize exploitation.

I’ve been thinking about the way artists market themselves these days, and I don’t like any of it.  Somebody always makes more money than me when all is said and done – studios, businesses, galleries, websites, framers, art supply stores, whoever.  They all get a piece of me and I feel prostituted by a gang of abusive pimps.

I see people selling things on Etsy and other websites.  I also read the fees that go along with that, and read about how to push further up in line when customers search sites.  I got tired just reading about it.  I really just want to paint pretty pictures instead of selling all the time, and I strongly suspect that most of the artists selling have another source of income.

The median household income is $53,046 nationally.  That means if I only aspired to average, I should net $1,000+/week every week after paying off my pimps.  If I spent a couple of months on a painting, I’d have to net that $1,000+/week x the number of weeks I worked on that painting.  I’d have to include time spent gathering reference, buying art supplies, cleaning my palette, getting it framed, etc.  Keep in mind that if I didn’t have a “real job”, I’d have to pay for my health insurance out of pocket too, so factor that in too.

Then, think about the in between time of paintings.  What if I had a dry spell without ideas?  I’d have to figure out how much recuperation time I need and divide that into the weeks of the year and add that into the price of a painting as well, plus remember all that time I’d have to spend selling paintings too.

I’m really glad the internet lets us all post our work for free and lets us talk to each other about what we’re doing creatively.  People can buy cheap prints of a painting and feel happy.  On the other hand, there are so many people online that I don’t know if anything really looks that special to art buyers any more, or if they understand the difference between a print and an original.  How many people are out there who can afford a $25,000 painting?

I've been poor often enough that I can make do when funds are tight, but why are artists expected to live so poor?  We have skills that other people don't have, and why shouldn't those skills be compensated sufficiently to keep us sheltered and fed?

I would really like to know if anybody out there is actually painting what they want to paint AND earning enough with their art to live comfortably?  Please tell me how you’re doing it.  In the meantime, I’m keeping my day job.


  1. I think your experience is pretty spot on. I am not a painter, but I am lucky enough to be able to live of my creative craft. I still have to do work that isn't necessarily inspiring, but we all have to make a living somehow, no? But, yes, mostly creative work is not paid for very well, is it. Can't you just take a picture, it won't take long, so you should be able to do it for free? Or can't you paint your neighbour's cat almost for free? I say like you: NO. Either I get paid for what I do or I do my own stuff without getting paid.

  2. When I was a teen, a secretary in my highschool wanted me to draw her some geese, and in exchange she got me some abominable plastic paintbrushes (even the bristles were a sort of coarse plastic). I never finished her geese and felt guilty and resentful at the same time. It didn't occur to me at the time to just say no.

    I, too, am grateful for the opportunities on the internet to share art and writing without having to actually get published. And I've learned gobs from others doing the same thing.

  3. The cheap plastic paintbrushes are giving me flashbacks. Somebody did the same thing to me, which is probably how I learned to say no to the cat drawing. I like the way you said it Otto, "either I get paid for what I do or I do my own stuff"! Thanks for the comments!

  4. Come to think of it, you come the closest for people I know who make a living from creating artwork! But, I like to think that, in the end, all us "artists" make livings from our art skills - they just manifest themselves differently.

  5. I wish I had answers for you, Linda, but these are the same questions and observations that cause me to lose good sleep, my hair to go gray, and my expression to look haggard. In our two-artist household, this topic comes up rather a lot. We are clear that making art is our gift and our path, and have come to the conclusion that if we make that our priority, the "all else" will be added. This being real life, the all else is usually added in strange and often uncomfortable ways, which cause us to hate being dependent, do things we'd rather not do, be seen as slackers or somehow less-than good citizens. Our long-time neighbor's highest praise for someone was always, "So-and-so was a HARD worker!" They must not know how difficult and spirit-challenging making art can be, not to mention sticking with it when it looks so hopeless. Why ever would someone want to stick with something if they can't make a killing from it?? I could spend the day talking with you about all of our musings about why the world and being an artist looks this way in this day and age, but I won't air that here. Suffice to say, we have come to the conclusion that the "answer" lies in another realm entirely.

  6. I think you're right Abby when you say our art skills manifest themselves even when we're doing other things, but I still wish there was more fertile ground for the art itself.

    Susan, I think some of us just don't have a choice about making art even when it doesn't pay. It's who we are. Maybe we get a few rewards when we get to that another realm? Obviously I share your complaints.

    Thanks for the comments!

  7. Non-artists don't see "artist" as being a real job.

  8. Unfortunately most of the people that approach me for illustration jobs want me to work for free. I'm not joking. Uff da.

  9. Nope. I'm not able to make a living off my art either. Sigh. Good for you about the cat. That made me smile. :)

    I get approached a lot about people wanting to "collaborate" with me on children's books. They can HIRE me if they want, but I don't "collaborate." :)

  10. Having seen both sides of the wage earning fence (of art as a living, vs. living as an artist), I can honestly say that the "pimped" feeling is always there, even in the best situations. And I can feel the pain of each of the artists' comments, above...Wish we could all offer those (who would criticize) a pair of those artistic shoes to walk a mile in, but most of us don't even have an extra pair, or if we did, they'd probably be threadbare! ;o)

  11. Once I sold a commission. The person who ordered the commission refused to pay. He said I should be grateful he was doing (unasked for) P.R. for me. I was so shocked. Not only because I had trusted him, also the brutality to take advantage of an artist. Eventually my persistent reminders made him pay.
    Your post reminded me of this experience. Lots of people think art should come for free. Luckily there are art loving people who think the opposite. In between there is indifference to art. I think that is the trouble; art is high end and low end, with nothing in between.

  12. Sometimes it's good to know that I'm not alone, but it's also sad that all of you understand my complaints too well. I think you've got something there Paula in noticing that art is high/low end, but not appreciated in the middle. It means we all have a very small market and too many people competing for it. Good luck to all of us!

  13. Definitely people don't consider art a job, except maybe famous painters or commercial things like book illustrators, maybe. When someone says, why can't you draw me a cat it will take you 10 minutes! Hello, idiot, it takes me 10 minutes because of 20 years of working on this skill. Should a lawyer give you a free 10 minutes? It's very depressing but it's like fighting against a brick wall.

    I have a full time job. And I do hope to be able to quit that and license my art maybe, but the other thing is that most every day I am working on improving my skills. Life is weird and we can only do what we can do! I don't have an answer. :)

  14. I never admit anything takes me 10 minutes. Takes me that long to hear what they want, get out the art supplies, clean up afterwards, give them the final thing. I'd rather give things away to good homes :)

  15. Such a good post...you've hit the nail on the head. I've had people imply that since drawing is a "fun" activity, not "work", it doesn't require the same kind of pay as an unpleasant chore.

    One painter in my weekly drawing group said that when he's asked how long a certain painting took to paint, he tells them "a few hours to actually get the paint on the canvas, but 40 years of preparation".