Conventions Aren’t Enough (Why Artists Need Multiple Revenue Streams)

In the community of artists and creatives who have just started or are wanting to start selling at shows and conventions, you hear a lot of “I can’t wait to sell at shows full time” or “I’m just going to sell at conventions for a living”. And for some of us, that IS how we describe what we do, because it’s our primary source of income.

However, especially as our independent, freelancing selves, very few of us are EXCLUSIVELY getting our total income that way – or at least able to live off that income alone. It’s important, even if convention sales are your primary source of income, to have other means and streams of income accessible. You’ve heard the phrase “don’t put all your eggs in one basket”, right?

via GIPHY

Why

Just ask any of us who do it. Working shows full time is EXHAUSTING. Between the traveling, the packing, being on your feet or trapped at the table for hours on end…you get the idea. We all do it because we love it, and we love our fans. But there will come a point where you physically CAN’T do anymore shows this year (since we haven’t figured out being in two places at once OR teleporting yet), or you need or have a break for a month (what if you get sick? Or need to go to a wedding? Or your shows are all clumped in one part of the year?), etc. Unless you happen to have a large savings account, you’re going to want ways to make at least a few dollars here and there.

Shows are unpredictable and unfortunately so is our economy. I have close friends who this year, even at shows that are normally their highest money makers, just didn’t do as well. I know others who did AMAZING at a show that normally isn’t a big money maker for them. And of course, I know quite a few people like us that were victims of a show cancelling at the last minute. There are so many factors from the economical climate to the clientele/attendees to market saturation of whatever thing you’re selling that sales ARE going to fluctuate and therefore are hard to bank on or budget solidly around.

All is not lost

There are a lot of other ways to try to add income. I’m not suggesting any of these will replace or fully supplement your income. Some may work better for you than others, but even if they don’t bring in much money, for us every little bit helps! Some of these avenues will work for multiple mediums and types of artists, others are more limited to graphic and visual artists.

Commissions, projects, and contracts

Obviously, one of the key ways to get more income is to do more work creating more art. Many artists split their time between convention appearances and working on their graphic novels, comics, animated shows or other art jobs, contracts, and projects.

Taking custom commissions is a great way to get extra income. Post openings on your social media accounts, share examples of the type of commissions you can do. Offer things at varying price points to attract a wider variety of takers.

Share you knowledge

Teach! Create online classes and tutorials through sites like SkillShare or Teachable. Or work as a consultant/coach to other artists, or teach local workshops in your skillset.

Online sales

In addition to posting openings for commissions, you can of course also sell your wares online. In fact, if you aren’t doing this already, I strongly suggest you do! If you’re not ready to set up your own website, you can sell on Etsy or Storenvy. If you do want or need your own site, sites like Squarespace, Wix and WordPress have made it much easier to set up an e-commerce site.

Some artists & creators, as part of their online sales, offer subscription boxes, where people can sign up to get monthly or quarterly goodies. If you don’t have something that by itself could make up a box, consider collaborating with other creators to create something where you each contribute.

Additionally, you can promote sales right from your social media accounts. Post your new piece, say something about it (not just “Hey, new art”), talk about pricing, and ask people to comment if they’d like to purchase and you can send them sales details or an invoice through PayPal or Square.

Print on Demand (POD) Services

Print on demand services are only going to work if you have flat artwork, but they’re a great option for some extra dollars. What’s great about Print on Demand (POD) services like RedBubble, TeePublic, Society6 and others is that they are passive income! In other words, the amount of work you have to do is very small. You create the artwork, upload it, and they sell it, they print it, they ship it. You share the money. The downside is the profit margin is NOT large. For most sites, you get very little per item unless you make the prices REALLY high.

The one other piece of work you should do is to keep an eye/ear out for sitewide sales (RedBubble does 20% off sales often, and TeePublic does $14 T-shirt promos) and promote them on your social media to drive more traffic to your POD items.

We know people who have a steady monthly income from RedBubble. Harrison does better on TeePublic. Realistically, you’ll want to upload your art to a few different sites and see which one works for you.

More on POD services from artist Cat Coquillette

From The Abundant Artist

From PlaceIt Blog

Patreon

Again, this can be a tiny bit of income or a lot, depending on what you’re sharing and your subscription tiers. Some people get a healthy supplement to their monthly income from their Patrons, and it’s because they are sharing behind the scenes info, works in progress, first access to new things, input and interaction. It’s definitely dependent on how much effort you put into developing it.

Here are some tips for success from the Patreon Blog.

Crowdfunding

If you have a big idea and the logistical means to do it but not the financial means, crowdfunding has become a huge source of funding for graphic novels and other creator projects. It’s how a lot of self-publishing happens and how a lot of creatives get their businesses off the ground or grow them to the next level. The two most popular sites are Kickstarter and IndieGogo, and each have their pros and cons.

There’s a good breakdown of the basics of the options here.

Licensing

Another option is licensing your art to manufacturers. One artist I know who has had a lot of success with this is Jasmine Beckett Griffith.

Licensing is an area I’m still researching, so I’m linking to some articles with more information:
Laura C. George on the Artwork Archive blog
Creative Bloq article

The one piece of wisdom I will offer here is to make sure you read these contracts very carefully, and I highly recommend having a legal professional look over them too.

Wholesaling and other opportunities

Find local coffee shops, comic stores, other geeky hangouts and talk to the manager/owner about displaying or selling your art. I know creators who have wholesale accounts with boutiques and bookstores, one who sold stuff at a local comic store with them retaining a very marginal percentage, and another who had art on display on the walls of a geeky hangout along with pricing and website info. It’s a nice way to both get your stuff in front of more people and make some extra money.

I asked a few artists to share how their income currently breaks down:

Harrison Webb/Fiendish Thingy Art: This year so far, we’re at about half of our income from shows, with commissions coming in second, website sales & print-on demand running about ten percent each, and the smallest portion coming from Patreon as we’re still working on growing that.

Christine Knopp/Kikidoodle: Right now about just over half of my income is coming from shows with the rest coming from online sales, wholesaling, freelance work, and Kickstarter.

Adrian Keith/Optimystical Studios: If you had asked me this question last year I would have said that around 90% of our sales came from conventions and the remaining split between other events and our website. This year’s dynamic has changed a lot. Part of that is due to lower sales numbers at conventions that has caused us to add more non-convention events, and adding a TeePublic store.  Our “personal” website sales (including subscription boxes) are probably around 25% of our total sales this year, with another 10% coming from non-convention events. Conventions may be down, but they are still our main source.

Valentine Barker: I’d put it at 90% of my income comes from shows.  Maybe more.  The rest of the income comes from commissions (often times from people I met at shows.)  And a small percentage, maybe 2% comes from Patreon and online sales through my shops.

Rebecca Hicks/Little Vampires: This year, about 90% of my income is from cons. Last year we had the Kickstarter, so that made cons about 85%. I don’t have a Patreon (I needs one precious), so the other 10% is commissions and sales to bookstores. Desperately trying to change this to be less reliant on the convention sales!

I’d love to hear how else you’re earning Extra income! Which POD sites are working best for you? Do you have best practices to share?

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