The Artist Pay Project is a series exploring how artists in the U.S. survive and thrive amid a cost of living crisis.
This Artist $napshot tells the story of a 34-year-old painter and photographer who makes $25,000 a year.
Art Practice: Painter, photographer, meme creator, cosplay, and sculptor
Location: Chicago, IL
$25,000 a year
How much of your income is from your art practice?
3%, I'd say I am still trying to break through and not be a brand.
Where does the rest of your income come from?
I work in the service industry. I paint bicycles and repair them as my art experience mixes with my other passion. I'm also a bike courier.
How much did you make from recent art-related gig work?
I've sold paintings I've priced at $200 and up to $400. Recent work I've sold includes:
- $300 for an acrylic on canvas
- $20 for a print
- $50 for bicycle paint
My portion of the monthly rent is $630 and I have roommates.
What are your major monthly expenses?
- Internet and cell phone: $100
- Gas: up to $200
- Car insurance: $90
Do you have any expenses related to your art practice?
Rough estimates include:
- Canvas expense — $100 to $200, depending on size
- Acrylic paints — $50
- Spray paint — $150
Larger financial picture
Do you have any financial support from outside sources?
Have you received any grants to support your art?
Do you have health insurance?
Do you have any debt?
No debt besides rent, phone, supplies, and gas.
Do you have any savings?
I do have savings. $1,000 for a rainy day.
Did you pursue higher education?
I would love to study and earn a diploma.
Anything else you'd like to add?
I would love to have more time to create. Monday through Friday, 40 hours minimum wage eats at my art time. I would love to start silk screening or opening a Redbubble with more time.
Responses edited for length and clarity.
You mentioned wanting to break through and not become a brand. Could you elaborate on that?
From what I've seen in the DIY scene, it's more about self marketing. In the sense that back in the day, they used to do prints and they used to do it by hand, and go through the whole process themselves. They would only have a limited amount of prints that they would have and make art on top of that. Nowadays, [artists] just can go digital and print [their work]. You could technically just become a brand. That's where I'm trying to break through, with more of an art perspective rather than just being like a Banksy.
About 3% of your income comes from art making — would you like that percentage to be higher in the future?
I would love for it to become full time. But in this day and age, I feel like you have to have multiple modes of income. One of those is I'm also a bike mechanic on the side. I like to express myself through painting bicycles and stuff like that. So I would love it if I were just creating and making art and making it that one thing. But like I said in this time, you have to have more than one source of income to make it work for yourself.
What are some of the biggest challenges for artists when it comes to getting paid, or making a living from their art?
It's kind of like when photographers or DJs are being hired for exposure. And then at the end of the night, some of them don't even get paid. They're just trying to get "your name out there." That's one of the biggest challenges, when it's expected of you to just show up and your name's not even on the flyer. So that's one of the biggest things, when people might be using the scene to get themselves promoted without promoting other people. It's not really a community then. It's more like a one way interaction.
What kind of resources would help you make a living from your art?
My dream has always been being in galleries and having that exposure. Getting into galleries and showing each other's art, bringing each other up in the scene, rather than it being about one individual. Like I said, sometimes they don't even put people's names on flyers, but they expect them to show up still, and then bring their own group of people to support their event.
You have to defend yourself, go over and above to get exposure for yourself in that situation. You're not on the flyer because you're "too small for them." But they expect you to bring your people in and buy things from other artists. Being able to bring each other up in the scene, rather than giving each other exposure. When you are inspired by somebody, you want to give that credit too, because sometimes I feel like we get inspired by someone and then the people just like to invent it and then call it their own, which it happens often.
In an ideal world, how much would you get paid from your art?
Per painting, it would be something between $300 and $500. That would pay some of the lights and some of the bills and stuff like that. In this world, you'd still have to have roommates to survive with that pay, unless you're selling a lot of paintings a month, and then you would have to be working a lot to put in a lot of that time and effort. Then if you do make prints and stuff like that, I would ideally just have them limited.
Based on your survey responses, it seems like you're pretty close to that number.
I do, but I don't have that market where I sell [a lot]. I don't like to make the same art over and over. I see that a lot of others have that concept, which is kind of like a pro and a con, because in my perspective, you just become like a machine. You're just making the same thing over and over, which is cool because you're getting paid from it, but I feel like after a while, some people are just going through the motions with that. That's cool, but I just see the stress afterwards and it doesn't look fun anymore. That's what I've seen from some people.
What's your process for finding people to buy your art?
Definitely through Instagram and Etsy. I don't have a huge reach. But I do get some reach. It was easier before. And then sometimes you could get shadow banned. You get blacklisted and then your posts don't show up, and then you can't post or you can't reach. And then the other thing is the DIY scene, I sold prints through the DIY scene.
Do you know why you got shadow banned?
Sometimes it's like self expression, sometimes it's because you could say it's not to the standard of the "community standards."
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