“Artists are terrible at business.”

I hear it all the time. “Being an artist is a sure-fire way to eat top ramen for the rest of your life.” “It’s great as a hobby. At some-point you need to get a real job.”

I call bullshit. Creating and new ideas are what keep commerce chugging along. What needs to be redefined in our culture is the use of the starving artist trope in order to be a legitimate creator. There is more than one way to be successful.


Let’s start off with the fact that your creative mind doesn’t owe you anything, least of all a full-time job. You are an artist and a creator just by affirming the fact within yourself. Want to be a “real painter”? Pick up a paint brush. Want to be a “real writer”? Write something. You don’t even have to share it, let alone sell it to legitimize your standing as a creative. The very act of doing is all you need.

What if I want to make a go of it as a full time artist?

Right On! High Five! Now, let’s get down to business. The monetization of your work is absolutely possible. It is a business. It needs to be treated as such.

I am an artist. I was terrible at math and didn’t do well in school.

Don’t count yourself out yet. You are not expected to know it all. Find folks that are smarter and more savvy than you. Hook yourself up with a mentor that has been through where you are now. Join a discussion group online or in real life with other people making a go of it. Surrounding yourself with good council is one of biggest assets that you can give yourself. The president has a cabinet of advisors. Why can’t you? Form your own council of creative bad-assery.

Be The Brand

As a creative you are your own brand. Your brain and the ability to communicate your thoughts and ideas are your commodity. It is imperative that you educate yourself on the market that you are participating in. How are your neighbors and fellow artists in the area selling their stuff? Are there natural opportunities around you to get your work in to the hands of those who will pay to enjoy it?

That’s great idea but it doesn’t work for me. I live in the middle of no-where. Cow-tipping is seen as art around here. It is hopeless for me to try and do something.

Never fear! The internet is here!

There is more than one way to sell your work. Don’t pigeon hole your curiosity. Print sales are only one avenue. Perhaps you put your art on apparel. Maybe you work cooperatively with other small businesses outside the creative sphere to get your work out there. I started painting on shop windows. Keep your eyes open. Opportunities will come. They may not look like what you originally expected. Your success lies with your ability to assess your strengths and weaknesses and adapt as the market changes around you.

Have a plan – work the plan – when it stops working – change the freaking plan.

Make a business plan. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It needs to answer some questions in a format that feels authentic to you. It is a choose-your-own adventure novel where you are calling all the shots. Put down on paper a statement of who this brand is and what it wants to accomplish. Be as specific as you can. Who are you selling to? How do the people you sell to communicate with one another (target market)? What is your sixth month goal? What is your one-year goal? Now that you have your goals outlined, what are you going to do today, this week, this month, this quarter to get you there? What resources will you need along the way to accomplish your goals? How will you know if you have achieved your goals?

Let’s talk about cash

Do you have a business budget? Is this based on reality?

Are you turning all earnings back into the business for supplies, marketing, and overhead or are you taking a personal cut back into your own finances?

Your council of creative bad-assery is essential once again. Bounce ideas off each other and make sure that the decisions that you are making are in your own best interest and sustainable.

Keep Learning

All of this is a process. Come to grips with the reality that you will screw up at some point. Your business could go up in spectacularly epic flames. Your ability to make a living on your work isn’t what legitimizes your worth as a creator of cool things. You are an artist or a writer, or a creator even if you never sell anything. It is in the doing not the monetizing where we find our worth. We are more than the work that we create. We are far more than the work that we sell. You don’t need anyone’s permission to make what you do. You have a right to be here.

You can do this. Keep going. Keep making.

The world needs what you have to offer.

It’s worth it. I promise.



Jerusha Gray

Jerusha Gray is insatiably curious. This curiosity, coupled with a brain that never shuts up, drives her to paint and draw, read prodigiously, make music, write, and sing in grocery stores.


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