studioNOTES: support for artists/ideas and information

Number 22

October - December 1998

Earning a Living as an Artist

This is a slightly revised version of an article we ran in 1995. Its publication caused a woman who sells "career advice" to hopeful artists to complain that it was, among other things, "disturbing, . . . crude, very hard to understand, very discouraging, one-side, illogical, demeaning and inaccurate." But the purpose of the article, then as now, was to give a sense of the amount of art you have to sell in order to support yourself. The rule of thumb is that your gross sales have to be three to five times as much as your desired income, depending on your medium and other expenses.

For example, in order to earn about $15-20,000 a year before taxes - and no medical insurance, sick leave or vacation pay-you'd have to sell one $250 print or drawing every single work day of the year. Or one $1200 painting or sculpture every week. Or one $5000 piece every month.

That would gross about $60,000, half of which goes to your dealers (unless you sell direct to your collectors, which takes skill, luck and time). Out of the remaining $30,000, subtract $5-10,000 for studio rent (you'll need a good one if you're doing this much work), another $800 to $1500 for commercial insurance and business licenses, and $1-3000 for materials and shipping. (Triple that if you're a sculptor working in heavy materials.) Being self-employed, you'll have to pay about another $1500 in Social Security. If you use your vehicle for business, have a business phone, etc., subtract another $1-$2000. This leaves you with a income of $11,000 to $21,000 - out of which you then have to pay the employee's share of SS, state and federal income taxes, medical and dental insurance. The rest is yours.

If you sell only $30,000 worth of art - and your expenses are at the low end of the scale - you'll end up with about $7,000 before taxes, etc. If your expenses are towards the high end, your net loss will be $3000 or more for the year. So, if you want to earn your living selling your work, do the arithmetic first to determine how much you have to gross. In that aspect, at least, it's like any other business.

Copyright © 1998 by studioNOTES

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