Mable Tan


15 Ways to Make Money As An Artist

It’s been a little more than 12 months since I jumped heads on into the world of art licensing.

One of the most important lesson I’ve learned is that it’s really important to diversify my income. What that means is, we shouldn’t depend on our art licensing income for our business.

Licensing our work is just one way we earn money as surface designers. Because in reality is, on top of all the challenges of licensing your art, there will also be slow months. Which is why it’s important to have alternative revenue streams in place. The good news is, there are at least 15 different ways to create several revenue streams as a surface designer.

Of course, you won’t have to do all 15. That would be heading towards Overwhelm Street. If you can pick up just four different ways to focus on, you can be sure as rain that it would make your business more sustainable. Think of those four as the legs to a table — it will make your business strong and sturdy.

What are types of revenue a surface designer can make? Plenty. And I’ve separated it into two schools: Passive and Active income.

Passive is basically making money while you sleep. Having said that, I don’t mean you don’t need to put in any effort. But it’s investing time and effort at the beginning and then, letting it go on cruise control. Think of it like a slow cooker. You cut up all the ingredients and place it in the pot, then the rest is up to the slow cooker. You don’t have to stand by the stove stirring the stew. The stew kinda happens on its own. It’s pretty magical.

So, examples of passive income are:

  • Print-on-demand platform like RedBubble, Society6, Spoonflower
  • Royalty from licensing your work and publishing books
  • Writing ebooks or creating e-workbooks, e-planners or anything your audience can download
  • Selling patterns, templates, mockups, or presets on Creative Market, The HungryJPEG
  • Teaching a digital classes / course like Skillshare, Teachable
  • Creating a membership program (like Bonnie Christine’s Flourish)
  • Being part of an affiliate program like Amazon, Hello Fresh
  • Using dropshippers like Printful, Gooten to sell your products
  • Advertising earnings as a blogger, podcaster or YouTuber

‘Active revenue’ for surface designers are essentially work you have to come up regularly to make an income. So this requires you standing by the stove, making sure the stew doesn’t boil over or burn. It requires consistent effort and energy. Examples of active revenue are:

  • Licensing your work outright
  • Being at markets selling your handmade products
  • Approaching retailers to stock your products (wholesale)
  • Making products to sell on Etsy, Shopify
  • Teaching in-person workshops
  • Creating subscription boxes (this is both a passive and active income as your audience prepays for your subscription boxes in advance).

Case Study 1: Stacie Bloomfield of Gingiber

Stacie Bloomfield is the maker, artist and creative business owner of Gingiber. She first started on Etsy selling nursery prints, and gradually grew her business by offering wholesale to over 600 retail stores, and licensing her art of notable businesses like Land of Nod, William Sonoma, Crate and Barrel and Moda Fabrics.

Now, she offers physical products on her website, digital downloadable kits, offers in-person workshops, teaches online courses and has even published a book.

Stacie’s strength is in leveraging her art and maximising the potential from it the best she can.

(NOTE: Good news, Stacie is currently teaching an intensive 8-week course called ‘Leverage Your Art‘ and enrolment is from June 16 – 23 2020. And yes, I’m an affiliate (talk about practicing what I preach))

Case Study 2: Bonnie Christine

Bonnie Christine is a fabric designer for Art Gallery Fabric (AGF). She is also an online course educator on her own platform and Skillshare. Bonnie has an online membership portal for aspiring and professional surface pattern designers. She first started by selling aprons on Etsy but realised quickly that there was a limit to how many aprons she could make a day, therefore capping how much she could earn. Her philosophy evolves around ‘selling without ceiling‘ meaning once something is created, it can be sold over and over again.

Bonnie’s strength lies in her ability to add multiple residual income streams to her business. So instead of trading hours for money, she has excelled at crafting her business around passive income.

Case Study 3: Lisa Congdon

Lisa Congdon is an illustrator known for her bold and colourful designs. She is a Skillshare teacher, has courses on Creativebug. She has licensed her designs to various companies including (but not limited to) Nerida Hansen fabrics. She has written multiple books, and owns a brick and mortar store in Portland, Oregon. She also sells physical products on her website.

Find your four ‘legs’ to your business

Diversifying your income is a great way to protect yourself from the natural ebb and flow of industries. Art licensing deals comes and goes and in those quiet moments, you have the assurance there is income coming from another revenue stream.

Here’s a few questions that can help you decide on which ‘legs’ you can add to your business:

  1. Aside from making art, do you have any hidden talents (like writing, or photography)?
  2. How can you combine your other passions to surface design?
  3. What problems can you solve?
  4. Who can you help? Other designers or makers?
  5. Where can you start? Online? Within your community?
  6. What can you make once and sell repeatedly?

Then, let me know below which ‘leg’ you think is right for you.

comments +

  1. Kate Frances says:

    The case studies are a great feature of this post Mable, there’s nothing like seeing how people do it in real life 🤩

  2. April says:

    Thanks for the info above and putting this event together. If we’re not able to make it, will there be a recording available possibly at a reduced price?

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Hi, I'm Mable! I'm a surface pattern designer. I'm passionate about creating designs that adds prettiness to every day life.

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