3 Ways to Make Your Living As a Professional Artist (That Don’t Involve Selling Art)

The internet is full of articles, tips, and tricks that promise to teach you how to sell more of your art.

The truth is, however, that being a successful artist depends less on selling art than you might think.

Even if your long-term goal is to make a living entirely through art sales, there are important reasons to expand into other kinds of artistic work until you can get there. The methods I outline below will help you pay your bills, but they will also grow your audience of potential buyers, give you time and space to create, connect you with the broader arts scene, and help to elevate your profile. In short, engaging in this kind of work will improve your ability to sell your art to a broader audience, at higher prices.

Art Teaching Gigs

Many professional artists teach and there are dozens of ways to do it, depending on your experience-level, goals, and lifestyle. There are huge benefits to this type of work: it is rewarding to spend time with aspiring artists and it can be a great confidence booster.

Some of the types of teaching gigs you can seek out as a professional artist include:

  • Local Pre-K to 12 schools: both public and private schools hire artists for after-school programs and “artist in the classroom” sessions.
  • Local art groups, community centres, libraries, and galleries: these institutions often need instructors for workshops aimed at hobbyists. Sometimes these institutions will host and advertise for you, other times they might offer a space rental.
  • Colleges and universities: the requirements here vary. If you are just starting out in the world of higher education, I suggest looking for contract work in “Continuing Studies” divisions or sessional/adjunct faculty roles.
  • National and international workshop circuits: there is a very active scene of instructional art workshops offered by large art associations, groups, and art supply companies. This kind of work can be exhausting (instructors usually fly in for 3 - 10 days of teaching before flying somewhere else to start again), but the compensation is often better than local work. You should be an experienced artist and teacher before you seek this kind of work.
  • Online courses: You can create your own online “academy” where you market and sell your own courses, or you can partner with a larger arts group that would be willing to provide you with students.

Looking for teaching gigs? Book a free consultation to learn about which opportunities might be right for you.

Artist Residencies

Residencies connect artists with institutions and organizations for longer-term relationships. They tend to be highly social in nature. There are many different types of residencies, but most offer artists time and space to create, opportunities to work in new places, art materials, lodging, and a stipend of some kind. In exchange, institutions benefit from having an artist in their community. Some of the expectations of an Artist-in-Residence might include:

  • Teaching.
  • Hosting events, exhibitions, and/or artist talks.
  • Participating in the culture of the institution (attending events, meetings, meals, etc.).
  • Meeting with employees or volunteers.
  • Consulting on institutional projects.
  • Facilitating community arts projects.
  • Gifting art to the organization. 

Arts Grants/Prizes/Fellowships

Arts grants can be offered by governments, foundations, or other types of institutions like universities or galleries. While there are certainly cash prizes to be found for completed art work (e.g. “Best Watercolour Painting in X Juried Show”), the kinds of prizes we’re most interested in here are the ones that support future projects or development. There is often an elaborate research and application process, but grants of this kind are prestigious and can lead to significant funding.

You might consider applying for an arts grant in order to fund:

  • Research.
  • The time you need to complete a large, important project.
  • Materials for a large, important project.
  • Travel related to a project.
  • An exhibition.
  • The opportunity to work with a particular mentor.
TIP: Arts grants are often awarded by institutions based on a written application. The ideas behind your art and its social value will matter most. Consider creating projects that:
  • Facilitate positive change in the world.
  • Include diverse stakeholders.
  • Interrogate important issues.
  • Encourage community involvement.
  • Give opportunities and a voice to marginalized or underrepresented groups.

Looking for Artist Residencies and Grants? Book a free consultation to learn about which opportunities might be right for you.


1 comment


Well written and very informative article. Thanks for the helpful options.

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