10 Essential Income Stream Ideas for an Independent Artist

Posted by Rahul Patil on

10 Essential Income Stream Ideas

So you know you have the skills to be an artist but don't know how to earn money making art? You have come to the right place. Let me be your guide today. I hope these tips will help you in your journey ahead.

Come With Me If You Want To Be An Artist

I’m Rahul and I’m an independent artist. It wasn’t always this way for me. I was working as a 3D artist in the animation industry for eight years and earning almost a six figures salary.

Not 3D Art

But I’ll talk about what made me quit my job some other day. Today, let’s talk about income streams.

If you have already decided to make a living as an independent artist or are planning to quit your job to be one, bear in mind that it takes a lot of time and skill to get started as an independent artist. It's no cake walk.

No Cake Walk

Along with being the artist you also need to be a businessman. Or maybe you are lucky to have someone to do that for you. Let me prepare you on the different income streams that you can implement to earn money as an independent artist and make the job a bit easier for you.

I am from India so I will be writing from an Indian point of view but I'm sure this will apply to you the same if you live anywhere else in the world.

Also, in the last section of this post ill talk about the income streams that I have currently implemented myself and how I am going about the whole thing of making a living as an independent artist.


What are income streams?

Income streams are ways to earn money.

If you think being an artist is about creating art and selling it let me stop you right there. Maybe if you are a very famous artist and people are lining up to buy your art this would have been the case. But you are not one, are you? You need to start doing a lot more than that my friend.

Let's begin with the easiest one.


1. Commissions.

The number one income stream for an independent artist is drawing for other people or ‘commissions’ as they are called. A commission is basically something you create for a client and get paid for your service. This is the most active of the income streams and provides a direct income source. You create and you get paid immediately.

What Can I Draw For You

If you ask me this is the worst way to earn money as you need to be constantly working to make money rather than working once and sitting back to let the money flow in.

So the goal should be to slowly move away from this way of earning money to more passive sources of income. But I’m getting ahead of myself. You need to start somewhere so let’s talk about this.

Here are a couple of tips for doing art for clients if you are new to this.

  • Always take an advance payment. If you can't get a full payment atleast get 50% of your charges before starting any work. This makes sure the client follows through on the payment and if they dont you still have compensation for the time and efforts that you have spent working on it.

I Dont Have Money

  • Never lower your asking price. If a client starts bargaining to lower your price they probably don't value your art that much. And it might create problems in satisfying them later with your finished work. Consider it a red flag for taking up the work.

So how do you get people to ask you to create something? This brings me to the 2nd income stream for an independent artist and that's...


2. Instagram / Facebook

No matter how talented or skilled you are as an artist, it will be difficult for you to build authority and establish yourself as an expert if you don't have a social media presence.

No One Wants My Art

By continuously posting your work on social media, people will start recognising you in your field. This will be your very own portfolio. Get your work out on social media. Get it visible to as many people as possible on the internet.

Most people search Instagram for artists to work with for their needs.
It takes a lot of patience and dedication to grow a following on social media. Heck it took me more than a year to reach my first 1000 followers but it does get easier after that. The most important thing is to be consistent in creating content to post as it will push your work to more people.

Keep Making Art
If you don't have a volume of work to post regularly or don't know what to create, you can try taking part in drawing challenges like the #100daysofsketching challenge by Kesh where you create something everyday, consistently for 100 days. I completed this challenge in 2019 which gave me the kick start I needed on Instagram.

Drawing challenges will not only get you more following but also tremendously improve your skills by practicing daily. Also be sure to reply to as many comments and DMs as possible as it creates a real connection between you and your followers. 

What I also like to do is greet someone with a welcome message when they follow you. This does two things. It not only helps building a connection but also helps to figure out who your real fans are. Trust me, you don’t want a follow for follow follower. They won’t interact with your content and it will only hurt your growth.

Now this isn't a direct source of income but this is where most of your potential clients will find you in the beginning.


3. Youtube

The 3rd income stream for an independent artist is YouTube. You have to understand that creating content on YouTube isn't as easy as instagram.

It requires conceptualising videos, shooting videos, talking to camera and editing. Not everyone is able to do all this to create quality content.

All this will also require equipment and softwares and also the returns will take time to materialise.

Camera Vlogging Equipment

But as long as you are consistent in creating content that your subscribers expect from you, you should be fine.

You just have to be more patient to get the ball rolling. The returns are better if you are successful at creating content for YouTube.

4. Affiliate Marketing

To generate any money on YouTube you need to meet a threshold of 1000 subscribers and 4000 watch hours which will take a really long time to achieve so till then how do you earn with all the videos you are making?

That brings me to My 4th income stream idea for independent artists which is affiliate marketing.

Most brands have an affiliate marketing program and you need to write to them to ask about it.

The easiest one to set up is the Amazon Affiliates program. Once setup, you need to put specially generated links for products you recommend or talk about in your videos or blogs and when people click on them and make a purchase you get paid a small percentage of each sale.

Affiliate Marketing

This will help you earn through YouTube essentially from day one instead of waiting around to get monetised.

They even have a bounty program you can check out in which if someone signs up by clicking the link they will get access to 2 free ebooks on audible by Amazon.

5. Brand Collabs

The 5th income stream for independent artist is working with brands. Now if you are into illustrating or making videos and you have got a lot of work on social media, brands might start to approach you and you can collaborate with them to sponsor their products or create marketing campaigns for them. This is basically what influencers do.

Why not actively approach your favourite brands and they just might be interested in your work?


6. Merchandise

My 6th idea for income stream is creating your own products to sell physically or on ecommerce websites. Certain products which involve printing can be designed once and made copies of as an when required which doesn't need you to actively create products every time.

You could also make handmade craft products which require a bit more efforts. This goes hand in hand with social media to promote the said products.

Someone great has said never do just a project, always make a product. So in the end you are left with something to sell.

Digital products like e-books are also a great way to make money.
You can also take part in exhibitions and conventions to set up stalls to sell your products.


7. Workshops

My 7th income stream idea for independent artists is workshops.
If you are good at teaching your craft to others you can consider holding workshops. Workshops are also a great way to directly interact with your fans and followers. You can contact certain people who help organise workshops for artists.

A lot of artists also conduct online workshops on live steaming platforms.

Expert Workshops

My tip will be to start by attending the same type of workshop by other artists in the field first to know what they are teaching and how they conduct the workshop. This will give you a great insight into how to conduct a workshop yourself with better content.


8. Patreon / Ko-fi

Patreon and Kofi are membership platforms which provide business tools for creators to run a subscription content service.

Now that might sound complicated but it's basically doing exclusive things for fans or subscribers for a one time or monthly fee of as little as $1.

Patreon Sponsors
This can be as simple as giving thanks to the supporters with shout-outs and mentions or as effort taking as creating and shipping physical products for them. You need to first have a PayPal account setup and linked to your bank to get paid by these websites.

You can check out my own Patreon Page as an example where my fans support my work.


9. Freelance Websites

The 9th income stream for independent artists is freelance Websites like Fiverr and Upwork. These sites can be helpful when you don't have a following on social media yourself as they have an active audience.

You can create a gig on these sites and put up what services you can offer.

The only downside is they take a big cut from your payments as commission. You can still give it a go to earn some quick money.

Fiverr Freelancing


10. Your Own Website

The most important idea for an income stream for an independent artist is having your own website. Social media platforms can come and go and your income should not be dependent solely on them as they keep changing and can even block you if things go wrong.

What will you do if everything that you have worked on for years just disappears in an instant?

That's why it is very important to have your own personal space on the internet.

You can share this website with potential clients too as a portfolio which makes you look super professional. It also becomes very easy for your potential clients to find you and contact you. You can also have an ecommerce website to sell your products.

I have hosted my own website with Shopify as I wanted to sell my products. It also gives me a way to have my own blog that you are reading right now. You can use your affiliate links on your own website too.

Welcome To My Space

It does take a lot of planning to setup your website and also a rent to host it on a hosting site bear in mind the expenses.

My tip for having a website is always register your own domain name and never go for the free ones. It takes about Rs.1000 a year for a domain name but it's worth it to make your website look professional.

If you want to create your own website or have one and don't know how to make it successful, let me recommend my friend Angela's blog and resources. I swear you will read one blog post and be hooked! She is seriously the best person to get info from when it comes to blogs. She also helped me big time setting up this website for me. Go check out her Ultimate Business Plan Guide with the link below. Also I highly recommend you to sign up for the free 7 day email course on her homepage that teaches you how to start a profitable blog from day 1!

Straycurls Business Plan Guide


A bonus idea for passive income will be print on demand sites like redbubble, teespring, society6 etc. These websites enable you to sell your artwork as prints on t-shirts, mugs, stickers and a lot of other products without you managing anything.

You just have to setup an artwork once and forget about it. Every sale gives you a percentage of the income. The downside is that these websites are international and very saturated so you need to work hard to stand out in them or cater a very specific niche. If you have an international following on social media these websites will work better for you.

So those are all my ideas for income streams. It is always advisable to work on one income stream to make it more autonomous and then move on to working on the next. This will help you focus on setting up one stream first.


My Plan of action

If you are still reading this, let me share with you what all I have implemented till today.

Reveal My Cards

In November 2018, I started taking my art seriously and setup my Instagram account. I've been posting consistently on it and patiently growing it for the past year and now I have crossed the 5k followers milestone.

Instagram gives me clients for commissioned artwork And illustration work which is my main source of income right now as I quit my full time job in January 2020.

I have setup my Patreon page on the side which has given me 7 Patrons as of writing this. I'm very lucky to have these guys!

I have started a YouTube channel and made a few videos on it. Will be working to create more soon but they take a lot of efforts to make.

I made my own shopify website live in February 2020, to sell some merchandise with my art on it. I started with button badges and stickers. I share this same website with my wife Kishori to sell her products as well as she makes some really pretty handmade jewelry. I have now started writing this blog and plan to expand my reach further.

I have also made my commissioned art info page on the website to show clients examples of my work and give them the required info to get an order. This cuts down the conversation time with clients and I only need to talk to them when everything else works out for them.

If you want more insights in my art journey, do follow my Instagram account as I regularly post my work there and also info on what I’m currently working on.


Final thoughts

Once you start on working at one income stream your journey as an artist has just begun. Do not become overwhelmed by having so much to do all the time. Work on one thing at a time and things will slowly start falling into place.

Sometimes you will feel frustrated that you are getting nowhere but don't let it bring you down. It will take a lot of time and perseverance. All you need is to work hard and be consistent at it and trust me that the rewards will be more satisfying than any salaried job out there.

Let me know what you are planning to do as an artist and what worked for you. Thank you so much for reading my first blog post. If you have any queries you can ask me in the comments below or DM me on Instagram. I will try my best to answer all of them.

If you like my work consider supporting me on Patreon or buying something from my online store. It will help us a lot.

If you want to get notified of my next blog posts, subscribe to the newsletter on the bottom of the page. I promise not to spam you. ;-)

If you found this post helpful it would mean everything to me if you share it with the world and drop by to say Hi too.

As always, thank you for the support and happy creating!

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  • This article is really helpful for artists like me…Every word gave insighful ideas to plan a better business in this fast moving world…Thank you Rahul for the insights…looking forward for more such informative articles😊

    Srinjal Jain on
  • gov

    Matilda on
  • Thanks a lot for these insights Rahul. This is gold!

    Prashanth @Unsurecomics on
  • Love it, I can see your effort to mention every possible way to an independent artist, I used to think I know everything but even I’ve learnt a few things. This is an extremely useful article for someone who is seriously considering to be an independent artist. I can’t appreciate your efforts enough! So lovely of you to talk about straycurls as well. Btw I love those cartoons you did for each paragraph, so expressive and made reading fun!

    Srineha on
  • Thank you so much. This is really helpful

    Karan Singh Virdi on

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