At some point in the natural life of any creative, you might find yourself wondering: can I make a living off of this?
With so many avenues open for amplifying and monetizing art – whether that’s fine art or writing, filmmaking, crafts – the trope of the starving artist is all but dead.
That said, selling your art isn’t a walk in the park. There’s no exact playbook to go from new artist to commercial success. What’s more, depending on your medium, you may have more difficulties than others due to a saturation in the market, a lower demand for your kind of craft, or the sheer good luck it takes to break through and build an audience.
In this article, we’ll dive into a few ways to start selling your art online. What we won’t cover are all the real-life ways in which you can sell, which vary widely based on your domain. For instance, if you’re a fine artist, you might look to approach galleries, whereas if you’re a writer, you might try to find open calls for submissions. Instead, we’ll focus on what you, your artwork, and a computer with internet access can do!
Set up an online shop
If your discipline is something tangible that you can sell – think art prints or pottery, or clothing, or accessories, to name just a few – you might consider setting up a shop online and making your goods available for sale. There are a number of ways to do this, either leveraging existing platforms or starting a shop of your own and branding it.
Using an existing platform could be a good fit for you if you don’t want to worry about attracting a new audience. Websites like Etsy or Society6 allow you to set up a shop and your goods are made immediately searchable by their many users, so there’s inherent discoverability there.
• Etsy is a great fit for those in the crafting space, and can even work as a great reseller of vintage goods!
• Society6 is perfect for graphic designers and illustrators who want to create prints and make them available across a number of formats, including mugs, pillowcases, prints, sheets, and more.
• Shopify has several out-of-the-box solutions for those looking to create their own e-commerce experiences.
If you are hoping to build more of a brand around your art, you might want to have full ownership of your online shop. In that case, you might consider setting up on Shopify or a similar e-commerce site, where you can brand your landing page and have more end-to-end control of the digital experience.
The downside here is that you have to cultivate an audience of your own and bring them to your Shopify site, however if you have already built up a following on social media or over email (or even in-person with people!), this could be a better fit for you and you’ll avoid higher platform fees that come with using Etsy or Society6.
Leverage your words
For the writers, or even artists who want to create a blog alongside selling their goods, there are a number of options for making money off your words! Many popular writers have built publications on Medium and put some content behind a paywall, so their loyal readers will need to pay a subscription fee in order to read their latest content.
• Medium is great for a low-lift, high reward way to get your writing out to audiences. When you've built an audience, their paid tiers can be appealing to users.
• Newsletter platforms such as Substack or Buttondown have supported new and established writers seeking a way to monetize their niche expertise via free and paid subscriber tiers.
While setting up a blog is a go-to for any writer or creative, you could also consider creating your own email newsletter. Substack has also become a hit with many writers and content creators, from Roxane Gay to Alison Roman. Newsletter creators can set up their own publication easily on the platform and set their prices for content, whether they want to have a free tier or immediately charge their readers.
Additionally, the platform offers the ability to archive your content on a website, which can essentially serve as a blog for all paying subscribers. There are a number of other platforms with similar offerings, including Buttondown.
Document your process
People love watching creatives create. If you need any proof of that, just pop on your TV and watch the countless number of shows dedicated to this (Top Chef, Project Runway, and Great British Bakeoff are just a few that come to mind!).
There are a number of ways you can consider monetizing your process. A more incremental approach would be to take process videos of your work and share those to your social media or on YouTube. If you begin to amass a following on YouTube, you can put ads on your content and bring in passive income from there. With a large enough following, you might be able to garner a few sponsors, and then unlock an even steadier paycheck!
• Video platforms such as YouTube offer ways to monetize your knowledge with ads once you've hit certain audience thresholds.
• Creators of any kind can leverage platforms such as Patreon to share exclusive content with paid subscribers.
If the waiting game is not for you, you might want to try a service like Patreon. Patreon allows you to share content with your followers for a subscription fee. Creators can establish different tiers of membership. A low tier might include a monthly newsletter whereas a high tier might involve sharing an actual custom creation with the subscriber; the choices are up to you! While you may run into the same issue here as with Shopify (i.e., you need to bring in an audience to the platform rather than leverage discoverability there), you can start making income from day one.
Teach others how-to in your discipline
That old saying of “those who can’t do, teach” could not be more wrong in the modern digital world. If you know how to do something, teaching others how to build their own practice is a great way to (1) get more fulfillment out of your craft, (2) grow your network, and (3) generate a new revenue stream from your art.
Education platforms such as Skillshare offer a built-in audience, improving the likelhood of discovery, albeit with more constraints than free video platforms.
Creatives can use a platform like LinkedIn to offer course content, or turn to popular open source class platforms like Skillshare if they want to optimize their discoverability. YouTube has more freeform in what you can post, whereas a platform like Skillshare will have more structure around the class content you can submit. The benefit of a Skillshare or the like is that they already have an audience of members looking to take classes, and you can make money based on minutes watched of your classes from day one versus slowly building a following on YouTube.
If video content is not for you, consider using a newsletter platform and teaching your audience in the written form!
Selling your art: A quick recap
No matter the avenue you choose for selling your art, an important first step is to start building your brand as an artist. In order for folks to want to open their wallets to you, they want to see who you are, what you make, and what you stand for. The good news is – there’s platforms for that, too!