How To Make Money As An Artist And Prevent The “Starving Artists” Stereotype

There are many “starving artist” memes and angry comics floating around the net, mainly artists trying to push a message that THEY WILL NOT WORK FOR FREE!


Have you ever been asked to do a project for free or exposure? If you’re an artist, photographer, writer, etc, it probably has pissed you off and gets annoying after a while, however I assure you, subscribing to the “advice” that many of these raging web comics suggest will leave you penniless.

Some Popular “Angry Artist Pay Me” Comics


See the full comic here.

This one is probably the most popular and humorous, but the moral of the story is that “no other industry offers exposure as a means of payment, so why do so many people ask artists to do it for the exposure?”

Is this claim actually true? I will argue that it is not and will explain more in depth below.


You can view the full comic here.

Basically the moral of this one is similar, however this comic, when we stumbled across it on social media, incited the most hateful, angry response from fellow artists who were posting about their experiences, how much they hate cheap clients, etc…

Again, is this type of comic actually going to help artists learn how to get higher paying jobs? No. All these comics seem to do is stir up the hate and anger that dwells deep inside artists who have been burned by past clients.

Here’s Some Real Advice On How To Get Clients to Pay

First of all, I have been involved in marketing sales pretty much my entire life, we have a lot of experience with small businesses or clients who are unwilling to ante up the budget. We do have ways of getting the pricing that we want however, and the “secret sauce” really is a touch of professionalism.

Prior to my experience in marketing sales, back in my college/ high school days, I was an aspiring photographer dealing with much the same issues as many of these artists have had.

I can tell you from a sales perspective that if you want to guarantee you will make $0 on any given job, then feel free to take the web comic’s advice and tell your client to “Shove their project up their butt….”

I mean, heck it will probably feel really good to say something like that to a cheap client! BUT it will also not help you make the money you so desperately desire.

Learn to Negotiate

Being an artist is a hobby… Being a professional is a job. If you expect to “make a living” doing your passion, then you will need to learn how to convert it into a business. The first step is to learn the language of money.


I won’t be able to provide you with all the knowledge you need (That is best learned on the job and through experience), but I can provide some quick pointers.

Let’s assume that a potential client has emailed you and told you “we don’t have a budget,” what are some potential ways you can still squeeze some money out of this client?

  • In business, it is common practice to under exaggerate the budget. This is a tactic used to grab the client’s sympathy and perhaps get a lower cut. ALWAYS pitch a price regardless.


  • When pitching your price, be sure to pitch higher than you are actually looking for. Chances are the client will pitch you a counter offer, which is lower than what you offered.


  • If their counter pitch is within an acceptable range, then you should accept it! However, if the client does offer you a counter pitch which is lower than your original pitch, this provides a good opportunity for you to make a “compromise.”


  • In exchange for accepting this lower pitch, you now have the opportunity to possibly take of some details of the job. For example, if they were asking for a 10 minute video reel, but they offered you a lower price, then accept it and give them the compromise of a 7 minute reel instead.


  • (Let them know, they can always pay the original pitch and get the full 10 minutes if they really wanted.) But it is a WIN WIN situation for you and the client, lower price for the client, less work for you!


  • If your original pitch was the exact minimum you were looking for, then no matter what you will be offered a counter lower than you would want!


  • Always be polite, detailed, and punctual. Chances are, this client has probed several artists, not just you. So make sure your response is more stellar than the rest, this does not guarantee you will get the job, but it can put you a cut above the rest, especially if the other artists are giving rude responses back to this client.

An Explanation: Why I Think These Comics Are So Wrong!

First of all, there are tons of people (in any industry, but especially tech) who are willing to work for free or intern at a large company for very little pay, in order to get experience, get their name on a big project, etc…

The problem here is that many people, particularly in the creative industry, have realized the hard way that just because you’re highly skilled doesn’t necessarily increase the demand for your work. And so I think a lot of artists and skilled creatives are frustrated that they are living the “starving artists” life.

But you must understand one very important fact of life. If you want to be paid (or paid more) then you must also be able to speak the language of money, and convince your client that the better art or whatever it is, will result in an increased bottom line for the client.

Without this very valuable skill, (in any industry) you will be a “starving _____.”

Business Is Business

It doesn’t matter if you’re a template using logo designer or a seasoned professional, those who have business skills are likely the ones who will reap the rewards.

And I think this type of comic is actually detrimental to artists, because it doesn’t teach artists anything other than to be angry at cheap-o clients.
As opposed to an artist who can sweet talk, and possibly milk the client for whatever they’re worth.
Anyways, I leave it up to the artists to choose how they want to conduct their own business. Just laying the facts for those who might want to actually make more money as an artist.


Yes that’s right I said it! Exposure is a form of payment, so suck up your pride and deal with it. Remember where I spent my life working? Companies spend millions of dollars in buying exposure, it’s called Marketing.


Now I know what you’re thinking, but before you rise the pitch forks, I do realize that your typical client is probably not capable of actually giving you the same type of “exposure” as you might be able to get had you worked on some AAA project.

Realize that the exposure is actually on you. Just because you worked on some AAA big budget project does not mean people will come rushing to you begging for you to be involved with their project.

Ultimately, your portfolio is your portfolio, and you will have to make sure you mention your qualifications at every opportunity you can, these things just don’t sell themselves!

And I don’t advocate for clients who want to pay in “exposure,” I think that’s a dirty tactic! But I also would never advise that someone NEVER work for free, that kind of mentality is backwards. Realize that yes, you can actually gain something from working for free and it’s not just some “myth” that will never come true.
I think artists secretly hope that clients will be brainwashed by these comics and fork over their money. Not so! Negotiation is key and putting yourself out there constantly is one of the best ways to get paying jobs! Surprise, sometimes business involves taking risks!

Final Suggestion, Get a New Job

Again, please put down the torches and picket signs, allow me to complete my thought. While it is certainly not a good thing to see so many artists online crying that they aren’t being paid fairly, please also understand that some are “making it” and living out their dream.

If you are crying and complaining on the internet that you can’t “make a living” doing art, then you clearly aren’t a professional. What I mean by this, is that you clearly are not fully invested in the business of rendering art services to clients.

Your still running a lean “startup” and your art services business is just not yet fully capable of sustaining itself! Getting a day job is the best thing you can do to keep yourself afloat! And I mean this with all due respect.

Back in our marketing firm, we had been involved with so many hot, new, tech startups. These are ordinary entrepreneurs like you and me, hoping to make it big with their new business! However, even these guys knew they needed another source of money to fund their projects, so many of them were working day jobs and building their businesses by night.

This is common practice among many aspiring entrepreneurs, and just because you call yourself a “creative” doesn’t mean you should get any type of special treatment. It is a cruel world out there, people loose their savings pursuing their business, the market does not spare anybody!

Be Smart!

Play it smart people! Do not subscribe to these emotional rants and “angry artist” memes that clearly only serve to enrage fellow artists! It pains me to see so many artists angry and bitter about clients, I don’t want to live in a world where marketing art and advertising is bland, tasteless and boring. I want artists to thrive! Just be smart about it okay?

Business skills are some of the must useful skills you can learn!