As you move forward on your path as an artist, it is sometimes a challenge to manage the money that comes from the sales of your artwork. If your goal is to make your living from your art, it is crucial to get a handle on the wise allocation of that cash flow.
Since 1986, our family (which consists of John & I and our nine children) has lived entirely from the sales of John’s paintings. At times, that income was sporadic as it often is with any small business or commission-based career.
Along the way, we discovered and adopted strategies and tactics that took into account those ups and downs. Here are some tips we learned along the way.
Make a Plan
When we were in Phase I of our career (just starting out, net sales were less than $5,000 per year), John worked full time as an interior designer in our small town in Southern Idaho. He set up a studio in our home where he developed his artistic talent, painting nights and weekends in the hours after his regular job.
The long-term objective was to transition to full-time artist. We made our decisions with that end in mind.
Because we had a plan, we viewed the interior design job as a stepping stone to becoming a professional, full-time artist. The design business helped us create relationships with the most affluent people in our community, and many of them became collectors of John’s paintings as his art matured.
Cover Art Expenses
Our first business goal was forJohn’s art to be self-sustaining, expense-wise.
As his oil paintings started selling in local outdoor art festivals and off the walls of the hospital in our town, we reinvested most of the proceeds into art supplies, workshops, and art-related travel. The income from his full-time job took care of our growing family’s needs.
Once art business expenses were covered by painting sales, the next step was to create a special savings account to build up a reserve fund to pay for art-related expenses during the inevitable sales slump periods.
During Phase II of John’s career (when net sales went from $5,000 to $25,000 per year) we focused on becoming completely debt-free. It just made sense to keep our expenses low and eliminate interest costs in order to make the most of our cash flow and reach our ultimate goal more quickly.
Transition to Full-time Artist
In order to become a full-time artist, we focused on both sides of the money management equation: income and outgo.
Income. As John’s painting sales increased through our own marketing efforts in local venues, festivals and eventually through our own little art gallery, we determined that when the net income from sales of his art surpassed the income from his job, we would quit everything else and John would paint full time. That magic day arrived in the spring of 1986.
Outgo. We lived as inexpensively as possible in our personal life, stayed out of debt, and kept the focus on our goal to be free to create art full-time.
One of our biggest business expenses is oil paints. We found a source where we could buy excellent quality paints at bulk sizes and prices: caulking tubes, quart cans, and gallon buckets. John also devised a presentation for his oil paintings that eliminated the need for framing and that was extremely cost effective. That presentation evolved to become part of his brand that distinguishes his art.
As we expanded John’s art representation, we looked for galleries in areas where we had friends and family whom we visited on a regular basis. That maximized our travel time, and minimized travel expenses because often there were no lodging costs involved in those trips.
Spend Every Dollar on Paper First
Before the beginning of the month, John and I sit down together to prioritize and allocate where our money will be spent that month.
Since I’m the left-brain partner in our marriage and John is allergic to numbers and to paying bills, I make two different lists of expenses that we discuss at our monthly budget meeting: funds needed for the business, and funds needed to take care of our family’s needs and household bills. At the top of the pages, I list the money currently on hand as well as the amount of painting sales for which we are expecting payment during the coming month.
Then in our meeting, we rearrange those expenses starting with the items that have highest priority, to make sure the most important expenses are paid first.
For example, for the business budget we look at upcoming show expenses, needed art supplies, and travel commitments such as attending exhibits, gathering subject matter and taking new inventory to our galleries. We estimate what those business needs will cost, then prioritize.
We then prioritize and total our household and family bills. Household bills include tithing to our church and donations to other charities; housing costs; utilities; food; car expenses; clothing; education; insurance; retirement savings; large purchase savings; allowances; personal needs and wants; and emergency savings.
We don’t have debt, so there are no credit card or loan payments.
The household amount is then added to the business budget, and those funds are transferred to our household account for disbursement.
In those months when sales are great, amounts that exceed business expenses and household bills go into either our personal emergency fund of three to six months living expenses or into the business “cash flow” savings account. When those accounts are comfortable, larger cash purchases happen during those times of plenty.
When sales are slower, we transfer funds from our “cash flow” savings to cover our monthly costs. When unexpected expenses come up, we use our personal emergency fund to take care of them and replace the used amounts as soon as possible.
Although we are far from perfect when it comes to money management, we have been blessed to live a wonderful life, spend time with our large family, and to reach exciting career goals as an artist. We have been able to have homes and studios in both Idaho and Arizona since the early 1990’s, which enable us to maximize sales during the different art seasons.(It also allows us to escape harsh Idaho winters and ridiculously hot Arizona summers!)
What are Your Largest Money Management Challenges?
What are your biggest challenges when it comes to managing money? What money tips have worked well for you? What ideas from this article make sense to you, and how do you plan to implement them? Please share your insights in the comments section below.