5 MIN READ
How Doodling Helped This Artist Start a Business That Made $15K Last Year
Does your nightly wind-down routine include getting lost in (or outside) the lines of an adult coloring book?
Do you find yourself doodling every time your hands are free?
Maybe you’re a student whose heart is screaming for art school, but whose head (and wallet) are a bit more hesitant.
Either way, you’ve got to meet Christine Fleming.
She’s an artist and designer who creates beautiful adult coloring books — and she made $14,000 last year teaching others to draw their own digital patterns.
Starving Artist? I Don’t Think So
Fleming is a professional graphic designer and self-taught illustrator.
Long story short: She’s a super-cool lady making a living following her dreams and creating art.
While sipping coffee before starting her work one morning, Fleming doodled a geometric design. She liked what she created, so she posted it to Instagram — where other people seemed to like it, too.
Soon, she’d doodled nine more geometric designs, and was wondering what to do with them. That’s when she remembered how much she’d been hearing lately about adult coloring books.
“I realized that the line quality of the designs would actually lend themselves well to being colored,” Fleming said, “so I jumped on it!”
It turned out pretty well for her. Three coloring books later, she’s earned about $1,000 off their sales. She sells the books both on Etsy and at craft shows she attends.
Gainful Employment — In More Ways Than One
But Fleming’s doodles didn’t just allow her to participate in — and earn money from — the coloring book craze.
They also helped her hone her artistic skills and realize an even higher earning potential than she expected. She’s also able to share her talents with eager learners through a course she created on Skillshare, a peer-to-peer digital learning platform.
The unique requirements of adult coloring book pages necessitated the use of both sides of Fleming’s artistic expertise.
As an illustrator and designer, she found she had the perfect combination of talents to create the clean, regular and fun patterns that lend themselves so well to meditative coloring.
Starting with her skills as an illustrator — what she calls her “art brain” — Fleming can “stay plan-free and experimental while sketching out the overall design” of the pages.
“Then, I move to the computer to digitize the artwork, and my design brain kicks in, adjusting all the lines and shapes so they are perfectly symmetrical and aligned,” Fleming says.
By using an online time-tracking app to time her work on each project and keep track of how long they take to finish, Fleming tightens her time management and efficiency skills.
“I know exactly how much time was spent creating that first coloring book: 185 hours. SO WHACK!” she said.
“But I’ve made three coloring books since then, and have gotten more efficient with each one. My second and third coloring books took 48 hours, and my most recent, which I just finished last week, took 30 hours.
“The Skillshare classes happened the same way: My first class took me 114 hours, while my seventh and most recent class took 46 hours. So I try to learn with each round how I can be more efficient with the next!”
What’s more, she found another way to monetize this newfound use of her skill set.
“By that time, I was already teaching classes on Skillshare, so I decided to teach a class on how I made the designs to tie in with the book as well.”
Last year, Fleming earned $14,000 off her seven Skillshare courses. Plus, she’s sharing an awesome skill with eager learners, without much cost to them. Skillshare memberships start at just $6 per month.
She’s even sharing the wealth by offering you guys a special deal! Get 15% off her new coloring book on Etsy with the promo code PENNY.
Be sure to check out her Skillshare course if you’ve got the artist bug yourself — or even if you just want to try your hand! You can craft your own coloring book pages, even if you “can’t” draw and have no experience with digital art software.
How to Make a Living as an Artist
Fleming’s story is another great reminder for those of us warily looking at a career in the arts that success is possible — but like most worthwhile things in life, it might not be easy.
And it’s important for passion to come first.
“I didn’t start drawing these geometric designs with coloring books in mind at all,” Fleming says.
I think my best and most successful projects are the ones that grow organically from personal experimentations, not from sitting down in the beginning and thinking, ‘How can I make money today?’
Fleming’s success as an artist is, arguably, directly related to the passion compelling her to make art, regardless of fiscal compensation. Happily-made art is good art, and good art usually ends up being the kind that sells well.
But no matter how much you love what you do, don’t go in imagining you’ll kill it in the first few weeks.
“If you want to be an artist or a freelancer — be in it for the long run!” Fleming notes. “It may look like people have overnight success, but that's hardly true for anyone.”
And once your business starts being successful, Fleming advises you try to spread your focus around so you have a variety of options, in case something falls through.
“Diversify your clients, your projects, and how you spend your time,” she says. “It's good to have specialities, but it's also good to have opportunities to fall back on when something doesn't work out.”
By keeping her fingers in many pots, Fleming has developed “a sufficient income that keeps growing,” earned from enterprises that function “as a kind of web, so that even if something falls through, the whole business still stays afloat and I can still buy groceries!”
After all, who wants to draw or color without snacks?
Your Turn: What kind of adult coloring book would your doodles create?
Jamie Cattanach is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She also writes other stuff, like wine reviews and poems — you can read along at www.jamiecattanach.com.