Choosing to be an Artist & Money

Updated: Aug 23, 2020

Working at a bank and being an artist uniquely qualifies me for this topic. However, there is a caveat— in almost 30 years I have only made about $400 as an artist. This wasn't without trying.

Since about 2011 when my hatred of the food industry was at its peak, I have been applying for every internship and artist job I could find. I think I have applied to Disney well over 20 times. I wasn't always qualified or good. I am always getting better. This is the age of the computer, so I can tell you that more than likely the jobs I was applying for probably has a filter for their requirements. Most of the jobs I have applied for required a college degree, which I will have soon.

The amount of money I have spent on my art is ridiculously disproportionate to the amount of money I have made. I have $20,000 in student loans which doesn't include $5000+ I spent out of pocket already (4 classes at IUPUI and 2 classes at Ivy Tech— doesn't include books) or the $6000 (6 classes = about $1000 each plus books) I will spend to finish school. This doesn't include materials— $11-$15 for my favorite paper, favorite pencils can range around $1-$7, Micron Pens $16 a pack or about $3 at United Art & Education, a light box about $50, a Wacom digital drawing tablet $280-$1000+ (I have a $300 one and a $1000 one), Photoshop subscription $10 per month (because you can't keep the student version and everything is heading towards a subscription), Word subscription $7 per month, or a computer etc. I also bought and manage my own website. The domain for 5 years was on for $150 and I manage my website on for $33 per month— this is the business version and includes a store and the ability to accept card payments. The artist stereotype of being broke all the time should make sense now.

This isn't meant to discourage would be artists. I knew what I signed up for. My father is a mechanic and has spent thousands of dollars on his tools. I don't see it as too different from that— apart from the hard labor. The problem comes in when companies won't pay a decent wage and the lack of jobs proportionate to the amount of graduates. If I were to get an entry level job now, it would be a cut in pay. It is very unfortunate that the thousands of hours I have spent on drawing or on writing are not worth more. That was my motivation behind Faeryland: The Defeat of the Troll King. It was for the experience and for something to put on my resume. As an added bonus, it also helped with my depression.

I chose this lifestyle and this direction. If I had know some things sooner, I would have planned better. I would've graduated early and stayed with my parents while I took internship after internship after internship. Experience is key and a higher commodity than talent. It takes a lot more time to build and it cannot be rushed. I would've made a better support group of people that were emotionally intelligent and actually cared about me. That support would have made my fall into depression more of a trip or slip up. I spent too much time around people whose self interest were my detriment. They were nice to talk to for intellectual conversations, but their words cut like the sharp steel blade of a knife. I prefer now those whose words mean well, but they have more finesse in dealing with emotional matters.

I don't regret choosing to be an artist. It still feels like the right decision. I really can't imagine myself in another field and I have tried. Outside of art, I have a talent with numbers. I am really good at managing a low budget— which is an absolutely essential skill. It shows you what you can do with less and makes you all the more thankful when things turn around in your favor.

There are a few financial resources and tidbits I will share: —free credit report for each of the credit reporting agencies (transunion, equifax, and experian) per year; don't pay for it — free credit score from Equifax and Transunion (not 100% accurate score, but it useful in showing what makes up your credit score)

Mint— this is an app that you can link up to all of your accounts and be able to see your whole financial picture

Auto Savings— First open a savings account (you can't save if it's in your checking account), Second auto-saving is your friend (transfer at least $25 each time you get paid)

Pay down debt— start with your collection items first and set up a payment plan with them, then see if you can consolidate your debt if you can get a better interest rate than your credit cards (I have learned I am 100 times better at paying off loans than I am a credit card)