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Beyond the Canvas: 7 Ways to Make Money Aside from Selling Your Work

By in How To


Making a living from selling your art work alone can be a real struggle, especially at times when the financial climate is dire and people don’t have the spare money to pay for artwork. Here are a few suggestions of making money from your artistic talent and experience without relying purely on selling your art.

Cafe Gallery

Open a gallery

This may not sound like an overly realistic possibility for many artists, but the gallery in question does not need to be bought outright or rented on a monthly basis. Think outside the box. Is there an independent café in town that you could collaborate with? You could provide them with fresh artwork for their walls, for a monthly fee. You could curate monthly exhibitions of work from local artists, meaning you help build the local art community as well as reaping the financial benefits. You could even take a commission from each picture that was sold. Of course, this would be the ideal way to sell your own work too. It doesn’t have to be a café or restaurant. You could approach clothes shops, boutiques and concert venues. Anywhere that a large number of people regularly pass through. If you do have the funds to rent a space to run your own gallery, then this is a great way to pay the bills when commissions are slow. If the initial outlay is too much then you could consider joining forces with a a few other local artists.

David BrewsterPhoto by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
David Brewster. Photo by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur

Sell the experience

Sometimes the process of creating the art can be as exhilarating as the finished work. Even when the financial climate is rough, people will spend money on their loved ones. Could you use your work as an experience? It could be a family portrait or something more abstract based on ideas and themes provided by those who are taking part. Open up your studio, people are more likely to invest in something that they feel they were part of. Art students, graduates and other artists who admire your work may well want to be part of this too.

Joseph Beuys Lecture
Joseph Beuys Lecture

Take a fresh look at teaching

Many creatives are reluctant to teach, I blame it on that old adage “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” In reality, teaching can be hugely rewarding and can unlock inspiration and present new creative challenges. Don’t see teaching as a step backwards. Think of the people who inspired you and helped to ignite your own creative spark. Imagine the fulfilment you’d feel if you could touch someone’s life in a similar way. Teaching doesn’t have to involve teaching reluctant GCSE pupils, it can involve using art as a means of therapy or could even include working with other professional artists. Don’t write off the idea of young people completely, you can make a massive difference to their lives at a time when they are hugely receptive and impressionable.

You could contact local schools and colleges offering your services as a ‘guest artist’ this would allow you to show what you do, answer questions, inspire young people and get paid for the privilege. It also means you escape the restrictions of lesson plans.


Commissions can be a great way to make money, but can feel like selling out if you are driven by strong creative urges and like to be led by inspiration. Anyone who is able to use their gift to pay their bills is fortunate. If you are worried about losing your integrity then draw up some very clear guidelines. Make it clear that you will interpret themes in your own way. Commissioned portraits do not need to be traditional, put your own slant on them and hold on to your integrity.

Public commissions are also a great way to make money while gaining exposure. When you hear of a new building being planned in your area, get in touch with the local council and offer your services.

Muriel & Lily - Handmade Wedding Rings (silver and gold)
Muriel & Lily via ArtWeb – Handmade Wedding Rings (silver and gold)


Residencies can be a great way to throw yourself into a specific project, while getting paid for the delight of doing it. Do your research before committing, be sure that the place available would be conducive to your specific form of art and that you would feel comfortable and at ease working there. Residencies do not have to be local to your house, you could even venture abroad. If you are considering a residency that is far from home then be sure to do your research to check out the success of previous residencies. Make a thorough list of everything you need before committing to a residency; consider whether you need specialist equipment, the space of the area available, if a technician will be available if necessary, is wifi available on site, etc. If you are going to be in a different country, it is wise to consider if there are any cultural differences that you need to be aware of. Will your work be acceptable in a different country? It is also so important to check the reputation of the residency before signing up to it. Residencies can open doors, but they can also shut them.

Akihiro Kazama - A Girl in Front of Art
Akihiro Kazama via ArtWeb – A Girl in Front of Art

Public Talks

If you feel confident speaking in public, then why not organise a talk. You don’t have to be a fantastic public speaker, everyone will be aware that you are an artist and not a presenter. Hire a suitable venue, get some promotional material and tickets designed (that feature your most eye-catching work) and prepare for an evening that will make an interesting change from dinner and a movie. The talk will be the ideal opportunity to showcase your work, but you’ll also make on ticket sales. Include a glass of wine with the ticket and exhibit some of your work on the same evening.

Art Busking

Art Busking

Buskers can cause annoyance if they are a little noisy or under-rehearsed, but they often add atmosphere to a city. Lose the idea that busking is a form of elaborate begging, it is the perfect way to exhibit your work while making some money. The beauty of art busking is that you just need to set up where the light is good, paint or draw something that inspires you and quietly get on with it. Make sure you have a stack of business cards available too.

2 comments for “Beyond the Canvas: 7 Ways to Make Money Aside from Selling Your Work

Helena Hadjioannou

November 4, 2015 at 1:09 am

Thank you for your newsletter. It was very much appreciated, I enjoyed reading it and has renewed my creative spirit.

Adriana Mazza

Adriana Mazza

November 4, 2015 at 2:28 am

Thank you for your comment. Hope your streak of creativity lasts and brings you much success!

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