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How to Make Art Full-Time and Still Pay Your Bills

Many of us dream of becoming full-time artists and having that art generate a sustainable income. Yet the reality of what it takes to make art full time is sometimes hard to grasp. How do we take that leap? And, what if we have others whose livelihood depends on our income? Let’s face it, oftentimes it’s not just us taking the plunge into being a full-time artist: They are diving in with us.

Below, two successful full-time artists share their advice on how to transition into making art as the only source of income. Enjoy!


Karin Nelson successfully made the leap from an artist with a traditional career to an artist with art as her main career. Working with her husband, they took a business-like approach to her work transition, focusing on the financial aspect of the career change. “One thing we did was look at our fixed expenses and made a few adjustments,” explains Nelson. “That can be as simple as selling a car with a high car payment and buying a good used car. If you can, you may be able to work with one car.” Nelson’s point is an important one to note. We can’t predict the unexpected: a broken furnace, a building going co-op or needing a new refrigerator. But we can look at, and budget for, our fixed expenses and see where savings can be made. This brings up another crucial aspect: If you have one, getting your spouse or significant other on board with the idea. Unless your partner is an artist, he or she may see things differently than you, and this is a good thing. No, it’s a great thing.

Understanding the Business of Art

Art is art. But being a successful artist is business. It’s imperative to look at this transition from a financial point of view. “It took a little working to get my husband on board with the idea. He takes a different approach to things — seeing what may not work,” says Nelson. “His worst-case scenario approach balances my idealized and more intuitive approach to things.” In the end, she continues, “I was able to see the change from his point of view and address his concerns. This balance in our personalities allowed us to look at the exciting possibilities of my career transition with a critical, facts-only eye on the details of such a move.”

To make the transition from a two-income to a one-income household easier and eliminate the element of surprise, the couple took the change for a test drive. “We practiced living with our belts considerably tightened for a couple of months, to see how much less we could feasibly spend in a given month on discretionary expenses,” notes Nelson. “The results were very encouraging: We proved we could spend a lot less.” And having a positive attitude throughout the process certainly helped. “I think it’s important that you approach the budget changes with a fun attitude of adventure,” Nelson says encouragingly. “Attitude definitely makes all the difference.” An added bonus of the experiment: The savings made during the test was set aside for use when Nelson transitioned to art full-time.

Letting Go of Financial Freedom

When both spouses work, finances are more likely to be stable. And when both partners work and manage their daily expenses independently of the other (meals, entertainment, clothing) there is a lot of freedom. What happens when you rely solely on your other half for day-to-day pocket money and other expenses? Letting go of that freedom is difficult, as artist Konni Jensen recalls. “I made my own money; and if I wanted that new handbag, it was not an issue. We had the bills paid and I had complete freedom with the rest of my income. It was great. But when I left my traditional job to start my full-time art career I had to work with his, now our money, for everything,” says Jensen. “This took some getting used to. I learned to separate needs from wants, rely on another person and be completely transparent with my finances — in fact, we both had to.”

Before you decide to set your sites on being a full-time artist, set some solid footing in place.

  • Make a budget. Record everything you spend money on, everything. Then look at what you can continue to afford on one income, and for how long.

  • Consider the cost of art. Make a list of what you buy and how much you spend to create your art. It’s a business expense, but for a while, your partner may be covering that expense. It needs to be in the household budget.

  • Keep the time clock rolling. Just because you have 24 hours to devote to your art doesn’t mean you should. Family time, personal time and time with your spouse must be preserved. If you are accustomed to having dinner every day as a family, will that change? How does your family feel about that?

  • Know your priorities. Now that you’re not reporting to an office, does your partner expect you to pick up more chores and errands around the house? Discuss with your partner, and set clear expectations about time management: when you will work and when you will help around the house.

Making Ends Meet

When you are completely honest about your finances, you don’t have to guess when you will run low on funds. You will know. Beyond eliminating a lot of unnecessary stress, knowing your long-term financial timeline allows you to prepare, rather than react. How long are you both comfortable relying on one income? If that date arrives and the art has not contributed to the finances, what is the next move? Long story short: Go for it! But before you do take the leap to be a full-time artist, be completely honest and open with your family about the finances and time expectations. Having everyone on board with facts will make this an exciting and, hopefully, not too stressful time in your art journey. Onward, artists!

Article contributions by Jennifer Smith by Artists Network Staff

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*the pictures have references to the artistic in alt text and they are links to the artists' platforms.

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