Crash Course in Making Rad Stuff

I received a letter this week from a fellow artist who was seeking to take his game to the next level. I He said I gave him some helpful advice so we thought we'd share our discourse with you all. Our conversation went as follows...

Dear Tim,
I've been trying to figure out exactly where my art belongs and what is most marketable.

At the moment, I'm illustrating, making comics, t-shirts, and trying to sell my paintings. My goal is to begin making consistent income with my art.

What are good ways to really start consistently selling my work? I'm in my late 20s and it seems harder now to market to younger crowds. What would you advise?


Hey Thad, thanks for your questions.

Here’s a couple thoughts that come to mind. I would start by looking at your current body of work and asking yourself some questions.

Determine What is Already Working Well

Which pieces of my art have people responded to most enthusiastically? What specific things about those pieces connected so well? Subject matter? Color? Style? Mood?

Now seek to replicate that in more of your work.

Basically the rule here is find what’s working, and do more of that thing.

Another super relevant question is what are people asking for?

As an artist, we’d like to think that we exist within our own stratosphere of self-generating radness, exempt to keeping up with trends. Alas, we are not. So part of the challenge is also making things that people really want to hang on their walls.

You mentioned you had a T-shirt company. What were your best sellers? Consider what worked for you in the past and what is currently working for you.

Do Few Things, but Do Them Well

It seems like right now you’ve got a shotgun approach with comics, illustration, paintings, and T-shirts.

I would recommend narrowing your focus a bit. What seems to be the most productive use of your art making time right now. Where are you getting the most return?

Start with that.

If you try to do too many things, you will spread yourself too thin and you won’t get anywhere. At least not very fast.

Working the Trifecta

There’s a podcast called the SeanWes podcast you should definitely check out. (Honestly I listen to a lot of podcasts and his is by far the most relevant to creatives such as yourself)

Sean talks about “working the Trifecta”.

The Trifecta is basically three primary ways to make money as an artist.

  1. Client work
  2. Selling products
  3. Teaching.

According to Sean, working the trifecta is the most effective way to make a money with their creativity.

I would look at each of these three categories in your work. Try to find one money making endeavor within each of those categories to focus on and experiment with. Get a plan going within each of those categories and see what works.

About Comics

I don’t want to discourage you in making comics. In my experience self-publishing my graphic novels and indie comics, I was always stoked just to break even. You could always shoot for the stars and seek to get work from Marvel DC, Boom Studios, Image. Just remember if you do your own indie comics, it will likely be because you love making comics, not because you’re pulling in the big bucks from them.

That is my experience at least.

The Lightning Round

Here’s some more questions to ask yourself…

  • How can I notch up my current level of professionalism as an artist? 
  • How can I begin to move my art out of the realm of “hobby” and into the realm of “serious professional pursuit”?
  • How good is my presence on social media? Do I have a primary social media platform?
  • What kind of message am I projecting with my work?
  • What kind of client work do I want to do?
  • What kind of industries does my art style lend itself to?
  • How could I take my current drawing/painting style to the next level?
  • How could I use my abilities and styles to accommodate clients from completely different industries?

Have you considered taking commission work? That might be an easy place to start if you’re already making comics and setting up at comic cons.

Figure Out Who Your Audience is

Spend some time thinking about who your target demographic is. Who will be buying your art? Why will they be buying it? What do they connect with?

Think about where those people are at, in real life and on the internet. Start posting and engaging on Instagram if that’s your social media platform of choice. Comment on other people’s posts. Start conversations with artists whose work you like.

Honestly so much of it is meeting people, helping people without expecting anything in return, and experimenting with a lot of trial and error.

Some things will work, others won’t. And everybody’s art journey is slightly different.

Ask yourself What is your ultimate goal with your art? Then consider all the ways to reverse engineer that.

Make weekly goals for yourself. Do something every day to get there. Hope this helps!

P.S. Check out the book "Real Artists Don't Starve" by Jeff Goins.