Can an artist become a millionaire?
There have been plenty of creatives who have managed to forge a successful—and profitable—career in the arts. And while you might not have your own sights set on making millions with your work quite yet, figuring out how to sell your art and translate your skills into passive income can be a great way to turn passion into profit. You might even be able to turn what you love to do into what you do for a living.
As with most creative endeavors, there are never any guarantees that you’ll be able to make a living off of pursuing your art. What there are, however, are various ways for artists to make passive income, including tried-and-true practices that today’s artists use to diversify their profits and get more eyes (and more dollar signs) on their work.
Whether you’re just curious about how to sell art online or you have big and ambitious earning goals and don’t know where to start with achieving them, we’re sharing the artist-backed tips that can help you make it happen. Keep reading for some of the very best passive income ideas for artists—including some that you might have never thought of before.
What Does Passive Income for Creatives Mean?
You work hard to create stunning pieces of art, so what if you could take your most loved pieces and use them to generate income time and time again?
In its simplest terms, passive income is money that you earn with minimal time and effort. For creatives, this usually means taking art that you’ve already created and finding new ways to market and sell it. Think of it like the artist equivalent of owning a rental property, with your major investment occurring up front and your profit rolling in slowly and steadily over time.
We think Cat Coquillette, a freelance designer, artist, and Skillshare instructor out of Kansas City, put it best when she said, “One of the greatest perks of passive income is the time it frees up, allowing you to focus on other avenues of life. For me, that means working as freelance designer and traveling the world for creative inspiration.”
The gist: the more passive income you can earn as an artist, the more freedom you’ll have for exploring your craft, as well as for finding time for everything else that you like to do. In addition to padding your bank account, earning passive income as an artist also helps you get your work—and your name—in front of a wider audience. And the longer you do it, the more potential avenues you open up for future profit potential.
7 Creative Ways to Make Money as an Artist (Straight From Real Artists!)
You know why you should, but how do artists make passive income? It might seem like a tall order, but there are actually lots of ways for artists to make passive income, from figuring out ways to sell art online to monetizing their expertise through e-books and videos.
If it sounds too good to be true (or perhaps too overwhelming to get started with), you’re in luck. The internet has made it easier than ever for artists to turn a passive profit with their work—truly, anybody with the skills and the drive can do so.
Below, artists share their solutions for how to earn money online with their talents, with plenty of helpful takeaways that any creative can use to generate more income and free up more time for doing what they love.
1. Partner With a Drop Shipping/Print-on-Demand Site
Amanda Creek is a photographer, designer, and business coach (not to mention a Skillshare instructor!) who has come up with a lot of creative solutions for how to sell your art on the internet. Among them: hook yourself up with a company that will do the marketing and selling for you (Society6 and Printful are the two that Amanda recommends) to increase your chances of making money off of the work that you create.
There are a couple of big benefits to going this route, notes Creek. Depending on who you work with, you can either have the site sell your artwork directly—and send you a percentage of the profits when they do—or you can integrate their platform with your own personal website to set prices on your own.
In addition to prints, you can use drop shipping and print-on-demand websites to sell a ton of other items featuring your original work, including mugs, throw pillows, and stationery.
Pro: These companies have huge existing followings and marketing budgets, both of which can mean big things for your potential payout.
Con: There’s a lot of competition on these sites, so it may take some time to get noticed.
2. Create Informative Ebooks
The Abundant Artist, founded by art-focused writer and consultant Cory Huff, is a go-to resource for artists wondering how to earn money online. And for those who are asking “what can I sell as an artist?,” the site has some useful, expert-driven ideas for monetizing your skills.
One of the best we’ve found on the site is to take your expertise, knowledge, experience, and techniques and compile them into ebooks that you can then sell for passive profit to those who are looking to learn.
You can self-publish your work on Amazon or do it on your own via your website. And since your book will exist purely in PDF form, there’s no need to worry about up-front publishing costs. (Though, depending on what your specialties are, you may need to hire a copywriter and/or graphic designer who can help you put it together.)
Pro: Depending on where and how you sell your ebooks, you set the price and retain all of the profit.
Con: Your sales will depend on how well you can market the product, which could make this a not-totally-passive effort, at least at first.
3. License Your Designs to Brands
For this tip, we’re circling back to Cat Coquillette, who mentions art licensing as one of the top passive income ideas for artists. For Coquillette, that means licensing out her designs to brands like Urban Outfitters, which then have free rein to use the work on apparel, home décor, and anything else they want to sell. When a customer buys an item with her art on it, Coquillette gets royalties—i.e. a percentage of the sale profits.
You don’t need to hook up with a major brand like Urban Outfitters in order to gain some passive income through art licensing, though. Consider reaching out to local companies or smaller online brands that you’re connected with on social media. Usually, you can expect to make a flat fee at the time you sign the contract, as well as additional income through royalties as items with your work get sold, with a standard rate of about 3% to 7% of each sale, depending on the terms you work out.
Pro: You’ll get a chance to see what types of products your work does well on, all without putting up the capital yourself.
Con: You won’t have final say on the quality of the items your work is used for (though you may be able to gain a bit more control through your contract language).
4. Sell Digital Downloads on Etsy
For illustrator Lisa Glanz, Etsy has become a great place for generating passive income with her art.
The first step to making it work for you, she says, is not to figure out what you want to sell but who you’re selling it for. “Don’t aim to please all the online buying customers, because you won’t no matter how hard you try,” Glanz writes. “But rather aim to please the customer base you think is best suited to your style and type of products you love creating.”
Some of the things that you can turn into digital downloads for Etsy customers to purchase include prints, fonts, and planner pages, with a small initial fee per item that you upload for sale (at this time, it’s just $0.20 per resource). From there, you’ll get a limit of 999 downloads per item and 95% of the purchase price, which isn’t bad considering you only have to do the work of uploading an item once.
Pro: The more digital downloads you have, the more you can earn. And with such a small upfront cost, it’s easy and affordable to maximize your inventory.
Con: Any download runs the risk of being pirated, and the onus is on you—not Etsy—to act if you find out that your work has ended up on a torrent site.
5. Start a Blog
There are various ways to turn an artist blog into passive income, from selling ad space through platforms like Google Ads to posting affiliate links for the products you swear by. It’s also a fantastic place to market your work and bring more traffic to your site.
According to Amanda Creek, affiliate links are one of the best ways to monetize a blog, and it’s not too difficult to get your affiliate status set up with a site like Amazon—though you’ll need to make a few sales every month in order to maintain it.
Explore various strategies for making money on your blog, capitalizing on what works and eliminating what doesn’t. While you’re at it, focus on traffic, since the more people who are viewing your links, ads, and content, the more income you’ll be able to bring in.
Pro: You have complete creative control over your blog, and you also get double the benefits since in addition to making money you’re contributing to your marketing efforts.
Con: Maintaining a blog—especially a successful one—is a time-consuming process, and you’ll need to post new content on a semi-regular basis.
6. Make and Monetize a YouTube Channel
There are lots of artists who make a pretty profit via their YouTube channels, including greeting card illustrator Jennifer McGuire and painter Jane Font, both of whom boast impressive followings that they’ve been able to turn into cash.
To start making money on YouTube, create a channel and join either the YouTube Partners Program or list your videos on YouTube Premium. You’ll need at least 1,000 followers before you can start making money, but there’s a huge audience on the platform, and with some patience and creative targeting you should be able to get there.
As for what types of content you share, that’s completely up to you. You may choose to upload step-by-step tutorials on your techniques, tips and tricks of the trade, or even time-lapse videos of you working on your art. It’s not as easy to earn money sharing videos on YouTube as it is on Skillshare (more on that below), but it could be a useful way to diversify your passive income stream and get yourself more comfortable in front of the camera.
Pro: There are two billion subscribers on YouTube—and growing. That’s plenty of people who might be able to connect with your artwork and contribute to the monetization of your videos.
Con: A lot of popularity also comes with a lot of competition. And with more than 37 million YouTube channels out there, you’ll have to put in the time if you want to stand out.
7. Become a Skillshare Instructor
How can I make a monthly passive income? Join the Skillshare team!
We’ve shared various ways that becoming a Skillshare instructor can lead to a hefty paycheck, and you can also view our Teacher Handbook for more information. Our top teachers regularly make more than $1,000 each month, even those who only teach one class.
It comes down to logistics. Create a Skillshare course, and from there you’ll usually earn money per minute-watched. As a bonus, the topic is completely up to you. Is your expertise and interest in watercolors? Interior design? Photography? How to make art prints? Whatever you’re passionate about, you can create a class on it and share your insights with others, all while gaining passive income for doing so.
Pro: Making extra money by connecting with and inspiring like-minded creatives, all with the freedom to teach on topics of your choice.
Con: It might take you some time to build an audience (but don’t worry—we’ll automatically notify all of your followers every time that you post something new so that they’re always in the loop).
It’s easier than you think to make passive income as an artist! Try one or more of the ideas above to see what works—and what you can turn into profit for your emerging brand.
Become an Advocate for Your Art
The Creative Guide to Selling Your Art Confidently.