Making A Living

16th February 2017
2 min read
14th September 2020

The majority of commercial artists, illustrators or designers who wish to work as creative freelancers or set up their own business, often do so by registering as self-employed (i.e. as a sole-trader). How each individual creative goes about this can vary, often they have a part-time job which might be in a related or unrelated profession. Part-time jobs can be incredibly useful when you are starting out or as a regular source of income when commissions aren’t forthcoming or when you experience unexpected gaps between freelance contracts.

The Essential Guide to Business for Artists and Designers

As a self-employed artist or designer, being able to live with a high level of uncertainty is something you have cope with. In the first couple of months and even years, until you find your way, income streams can be unpredictable. Once your business starts to take off, you might need to jack in any full- or part-time job, in order to channel your energies and focus in one direction.

If you learn about how business works in your industry this will assist you in developing relationships with agents, clients and customers. Raising your profile by attempting ambitious projects, winning a competition, crowdfunding pitches, developing a large social media presence and developing friends within your industry, are all routes to success. It is vital that any achievements are publicised, so your potential commissioning agents or art buyers are aware. Make sure that digital and printed materials include achievements such as awards, important projects and published work.

Personal relationships, which take time to form, are an important factor in sustaining a creative venture, as word-of-mouth recommendation is one of the most trusted ways to gain opportunities, be these face-to-face introductions or endorsements via social media.

Understanding how to cost your time, how to value it and also the basics of mark-up, commission on sales and calculating profit margins, what to charge for art or design services, and details of current market rates are all covered in chapter 4 of the Second Edition of The Essential Guide to Business for Artists and Designers.

Alison Branagan is a creative industries business consultant, author, and an associate lecturer at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design where she teaches short courses in entrepreneurship, business start-up and self-promotion. To browse Alison's titles, visit

Writing stage