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10 Ways to Diversify Your Income as an Illustrator

Updated: Jan 29

The nature of freelance work is that it will ebb and flow, so what can illustrators do to help bring in additional income streams?

Let's be honest, making a living as a freelancer isn't always a walk in the park, especially when you're just starting out. Some months are like riding a roller coaster, while others can feel like falling off one. While many illustrators begin their journey by trying to get client commissions, it often takes a considerable amount of time and patience to build up a decent client list and a steady stream of work. And whilst commissions are indeed valuable, the money earned (especially when starting out) may not be sufficient to cover all your living expenses. Fortunately, there are numerous additional avenues for illustrators to bolster their financial stability…

For the past seven years, whilst working as a full time freelance creative, I've been a firm believer in the art of income diversification. I've made it a rule not to rely solely on one source of income, and the saying, "Don't keep all your eggs in one basket" has become a bit of a mantra in my journey. Currently, my income comes from a number of different sources, with new ones frequently joining the mix. 

I was recently invited by The Association of Illustrators to speak at their 'AOI Discusses' online event (together with artist Pei Lam), where we took a deep dive into how to diversify your income as an illustrator. It was a great discussion with loads of valuable takeaways, and I had heaps of people contacting me afterwards with further questions and insights. I realised that this topic is something that a lot of illustrators struggle with, so I thought I'd pull together my top ten tips in one place! So below you’ll find ten of my top tips on how to start making more money from your illustration. 

10 Ways to Diversify Your Income as an Illustrator 💰💰💰

1. Client Commissions:

Building a thriving client base is essential. Beyond creating great art, invest in marketing your services. Maintain an impressive online portfolio showcasing your versatility. Engage with potential clients on social media (especially LinkedIn), and don't underestimate the power of personal relationships. Happy clients become repeat clients and referrals are a goldmine. If you're unsure how to find contact details for prospective clients, you can download up-to-date directories of contacts in Publishing, Editorial and Advertising from the Association of Illustrators.

Client commission for The Yurt, Canada

2. Print on Demand:

Diving into print on demand can turn your art into a passive income stream. Platforms like Redbubble, Society6, and Etsy offer various products to feature your work, from prints and apparel to accessories. Some of these sites will do the printing for you (eg Society 6), whereas other such as Etsy will require you to find a printer that offers Etsy Integration, meaning that when someone places an order, it is fulfilled automatically by your printer (I use The Printspace). Don't forget to optimise your shop with compelling descriptions, eye-catching visuals, and a consistent brand aesthetic.

Mexico print on Etsy

3. Utilizing Other Creative Skills:

Don't limit yourself to your primary discipline. If you possess additional creative skills like graphic design, animation, or writing, consider offering these services. By diversifying your creative offerings, you can tap into a wider client base and provide more value to your existing clients. I offer freelance graphic design services through my remote design studio, Molly Maine Creative.

4. Licensing:

Licensing your artwork can be extremely lucrative for illustrators. It involves granting permission for others to use your art in various commercial projects, such as merchandise, books, or advertisements. The key is to understand your rights, negotiate favourable contracts, and ensure your work reaches a broad audience. One of my favourite creatives Cat Coq has a great online course teaching illustrators how to create a strong art licensing portfolio, which I highly recommend. If you've already dipped your toes into licensing, consider partnering with art licensing agency to help you to navigate the complexities of licensing agreements. This allows you to concentrate on what you do best: creating. The right agency can act as a bridge between your creative vision and commercial opportunities, ensuring your artwork is placed on a wide array of products and platforms, from everyday items like greeting cards and apparel to digital media and home decor.

Limited Edition Toykoiter print

5. Teaching and Workshops:

Teaching and hosting workshops can offer an opportunity to share your expertise while also making you some extra income. Platforms such as Skillshare and Domestika allow you to connect with a global audience eager to learn from your experiences and skills: This could be anything from drawing to animation, graphic design, watercolour painting, or something more specific such as Photoshop skills or Colour Theory. Creating online courses, webinars, and tutorials can not only supplement your income but also enrich your professional profile, positioning you as a leader and authority within the community. In addition to online platforms, you could also consider in-person teaching and workshops in settings such as local community centres, collaborating with local businesses, or even arranging your own life drawing classes.

6. Merchandise, Product Sales, and Wholesale:

Create your own merchandise line featuring your artwork. Beyond prints, explore options like enamel pins, stickers, calendars, wallpaper, tote bags, T-shirts or custom-made products. Building a dedicated fanbase through consistent branding and engaging storytelling will drive sales. Additionally, consider selling your art prints wholesale to retailers, providing a steady income stream and increased exposure.

2024 Illustrated Travel Calendar

7. Patreon:

Patreon can be a great platform for illustrators looking to build a sustainable income while creating a strong connection with their audience. This platform allows you to set up a subscription service where your fans can become patrons, supporting you financially on a regular basis. The beauty of Patreon lies in the flexibility it offers; you can create various tiers of membership, each with its own set of exclusive rewards. These can range from early access to your latest works and patron-only content to personalised art and direct interactions through Q&A sessions or live streams. Engaging with your audience like this not only gives you an additional income stream but also invites your fans into your artistic journey, offering them a glimpse into the creative process behind your artwork.

8. Substack:

If you love to write as well as illustrate, then Substack could be for you! Substack focuses on written content, allowing you to publish newsletters that can carry anything from detailed explorations of your creative process to stories behind your latest projects, and even tutorials or tips for aspiring artists. What makes Substack particularly appealing is the option to have both free and paid subscriptions, enabling you to reach a wider audience while still offering exclusive content to your subscribers. This platform is ideal for illustrators who enjoy writing and storytelling as part of their artistic expression, providing a space where words and images can come together.

9. Events and Art Fairs:

Participating in events and art fairs is an excellent way to diversify your income. These gatherings provide opportunities to showcase and sell your work directly to art enthusiasts and potential clients. From local craft fairs to prestigious art exhibitions, these events can boost your visibility and sales. Explore both physical and virtual events to maximize your reach and revenue. A couple of my favourites is The London Illustration Fair.

My stand at The London Illustration Fair

10. Illustration Blog using Affiliate Marketing:

If you like to write, or you have a passion for sharing your creative journey, consider starting your own illustration blog. Share your experiences, tips, and industry insights with a broader audience. You can monetise your blog through affiliate marketing, and also start to drive more traffic to your website and portfolio. Your blog can be great for recommending tools, resources, and products that align with your illustration work, and earn commissions on sales generated through your affiliate links. This not only diversifies your income but also allows you to connect with a wider community of artists and art enthusiasts.

These are just a few strategies that encompass a wide range of possibilities for diversifying your income as an illustrator. If you can think of others that aren’t on this list, then please feel free to share your ideas in the comments! Together we can inspire each other to make the most out of our artwork and build thriving illustration careers :)


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