Freelancing is never easy, but artists have it especially tough. “Tortured artist” and “starving artist” stereotypes have followed the artistic community for years and show no signs of dying out.
Successfully “making it” in the art world requires more than raw talent: you’ll also need to market yourself. For most artists, that means getting your art on display at an art show, trade show, gallery or convention.
Unfortunately, art shows can be costly. From $25 for a small table at a local street fair to $350+ to exhibit at San Diego Comic Con, whether you’re self-publishing comic books or oil painting on linen canvases, expenses can add up — especially when there’s no guarantee that you’ll sell any of your products after your initial investment.
Lucky for you, we found Indiana-based artist Heather Landry, owner of Sandpaperdaisy Art. Landry is quickly becoming an expert on saving money — while still creating amazing art! — and was willing to share a few of her favorite methods.
The money-saving technique with the biggest impact on Landry’s artistic wallet has been upcycling. From frequenting flea markets to scour for previously-used frames; to busting up old furniture; to creating collages and decoupages out of obsolete electronics, scrap paper and toys her children have outgrown — Landry is always looking for ways to make artistic treasures out of “another man’s trash.”
“Once, I had a very violent piece for a client involving a lot of gun imagery, so I walked into a gun shop and asked if I could have any of their discarded bullet casings. I got a huge sack full, free!” said Landry, adding, “I’ve [also] seen other artists make beautiful driftwood frames or marvelous creations from old appliances, signs and broken glass … the list is endless. Just make sure you’ve cleaned up everything you use and ensure there are no sharp or rusty surfaces left to harm you or your future buyer!”
“As a bonus, telling people that you’ve used upcycled materials is generally a selling point,” Landry said. “Many people who love art also care about the environment.”
Do you have old art pieces collecting dust in your portfolio? Or unfinished work from your “learning period” that never quite came together the way you’d planned? Landry suggests recycling that art, turning it into something new.
“I paint or draw or even print over [my old artwork]. I’ll even cut it up and use the elements I want to create an entirely new work of art at my current skill level,” said Landry. “In this way, I transform something I had no use for into something I’m proud of, that people can see and enjoy.”
Landry also told us about several successful trades she’d made with patrons while exhibiting at local art shows. She once traded a $5 unmounted print for a $45 ticket to an amusement park. She’s also traded art for jewelry, headphones and art supplies.
“Other forms of bartering include offering to do work for a client in return for getting something desirable from them besides money. In my case, I do the promotional art for a small convention,” she said. “In return I get a free table in their Artist Alley every year. This table always earns me hundreds of dollars.”
“I’ve also designed a beer glass for a local brewery,” Landry continued. “In return, I got a $100 gift card from them. This brewery has delicious food and of course, great beer, so this was a very nice thing to get!”
Landry explained that when it comes to saving money on exhibit costs, it’s best to be a part of a group. By banding together with other artists in her area, Heather Landry has successfully made deals with local business owners for art exhibit space for little to no commission.
“Nature centers, breweries, restaurants, framing shops and other local businesses have all opened themselves to having our art there for sale and hosting special art sales. Generally all we had to do was ask!” said Landry. “In these scenarios, everyone wins, and the artists save a lot of money.”
“Better yet, the more artists you know, the more great tips and opportunities you will get on how to save money. Everyone has their own little tricks and secrets,” continued Landry, adding, “While you’re at it, let all your friends and family know the kinds of things they should ask you about before they throw it out — house paint, wood, broken furniture, sheets, curtains, lids, etc.”
“As the creator of a piece of art, you begin by owning the full rights to your work. Take advantage of this by selling instances of your artwork through as many non-exclusive venues as possible,” said Landry. “For example, if you have an image that is a nice print, shirt or both, you have every right to sell it on Redbubble and Society6 at the same time. [Or] if you make your own comic and choose to self-publish, nothing is stopping you from having it on both Comixology and IndyPlanet.” (Like this idea? Click to tweet it!)
“Just make sure you read the terms and conditions of any place you’re thinking of offering your art,” she warned. “If they have a non-exclusive license to sell your work while explicitly stating you retain the rights and ownership, go for it! The more places you are seen, the better.”
In the end, when it comes to saving money on creating, marketing, displaying, and selling your artwork, all it takes is a little creativity.
Your Turn: Have you ever used your artistic creativity to earn or save money?
Lauren Tharp is a freelance writer and the owner of LittleZotz Writing. Through her website, Lauren helps small businesses bring their brands to life through written content; and she also helps fellow writers get started as freelancers via weekly blog posts, bi-monthly newsletters, free e-books, and one-on-one mentoring.