Art Smarts

5 Ways to turn your creative interests into cash
Magazine Contributor
15+ min read

This story appears in the March 1996 issue of . Subscribe »

You've probably heard it before: There are those who are -minded and those who are creative, and ne'er the twain shall meet. Right? Well, not necessarily.

If you're a creative type who's overwhelmed at the thought of turning your artistic pursuits into income or just uninformed about how to do it, read on. We've explored five fields where and income not only meet, but enable thousands of entrepreneurs to make successful careers from their talents. We've also listed Reader Reference Sources that can provide additional information about the specifics of these industries. So let your creative juices flow, and turn your works of art into economic masterpieces.


When Gary Benson graduated from college in 1978, he was given the boot. Literally.

Benson was hired by REI, a recreational equipment retail company, to take product shots of boots-and tents, ski jackets and backpacks-for the store's catalogs, brochures and internal newsletters.

"Because the college photography program I was in provided a mostly fine- background, it didn't teach us much about how to make a living as a photographer," recalls Benson. "But as a staff photographer, I got on-the-job training in the commercial world, where I had to learn how to meet deadlines and work with designers and layouts."

Now a homebased freelance photographer in Seattle, Benson has developed a successful career for himself. His clients include numerous national and local magazines, including Time, Newsweek, Forbes and Seattle, as well as such companies as Chevron and Airborne Freight Corporation.

Benson's first freelance job after leaving REI was for a stock photography agency, a kind of picture bank featuring a variety of images from hundreds of photographers on thousands of topics. Clients purchase the rights to reproduce these images in their publications. The agency then splits the payment (generally 50-50) with the photographer. Some freelancers choose to shoot only for stock agencies, but because income is dependent upon the clients' specific and often unpredictable needs, this type of work can be highly speculative.

"With freelance photography, I've learned that pre-planning is as important as taking the shot," explains Benson. "When you're on the job, the photography part is about 10 percent of the job, but the preparation is about 90 percent. Having background information on an assignment can be really helpful. Although most people are patient and accommodating, some don't like being photographed. It's important that you assess the person's limit. The last thing you want is a frustrated and upset subject."

Getting your photographs published begins with getting samples of your work to the right people, usually the art directors or photo editors of the publications or companies your photographic style complements. There are a number of ways to do this, each with its own price.

One option is to submit samples of your work to a national sourcebook, a high-quality, hardback compilation of national photographers that's distributed to the art departments of most publications across the U.S., but it'll cost you. A single page in a sourcebook usually runs between $2,000 and $3,000, and because books are updated each year, so are the bills.

A less expensive option is to mail promotional samples of your work, printed on postcards, to a well-researched list of contacts. You can also approach local publications and companies to advertise your services in your hometown.

"The local lab I work with has been very helpful in displaying my images to promote their print processes," says Benson, who recommends keeping in contact with the designers and graphic artists with whom you've established working relationships.

"Try to specialize," advises Benson. "If you show a client too much of a variety, they probably won't remember you, so present your best work and let people know of one or two things you're really good at."

Reader Reference Source: The American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) is a national lobbying organization for photographers, providing legal advice, a national directory and discounts on seminars. "The ASMP is the photographer's advocate," attests Benson. "I definitely recommend them." American Society of Media Photographers Inc., 14 Washington Rd., #502, Princeton, NJ 08550-7033, (609) 799-8300.


While driving home from an antique show, Nancy Settel was struck by an anachronism. No, it didn't crack her windshield, but it did spark a million-dollar idea.

The anachronism-newly manufactured candles displayed in antique candleholders-was enough to inspire Nancy to create a hand-dipped candle that would complement, rather than contrast with, the antiquity of the collectibles. "I couldn't stand new candles in my hogscraper push-ups!" recalls Settel, referring to the antique iron candlesticks she and her husband, Bill, collect for The Sheepish Grin, their Wilmington, Delaware, antique shop. "They looked so out of place together."

Nancy started experimenting with wax and wicks in her kitchen, trying to recreate the candles ("a little crooked and bumpy, with grungy, faded colors") used in the mid- to late 1700's. She learned from a Colonial history museum that early settlers rolled their candles in spices to counter the occasionally rancid odors of the tallow wax, so she tried the same approach with hers, and the result was a hit. Now, almost all her candles, including the Colonial Grunge Nubbies, Rolled Lumpies and Primitive Hearthsides, are rolled in some type of herb or spice mixture.

"To tell the truth, I've never spent a dime on advertising," admits Nancy. "We started displaying the candles in the candlesticks at antique shows, and when people bought the holders, they wanted the candles, too." Soon, when they were spending more time fulfilling candle orders than attending antique shows, the Settels realized they'd found their market. "We used to go to 45 shows a year, and now we're down to maybe seven."

Nancy, with the assistance of three part-time employees, continues to produce all her candles in her basement. Bill, who picks up supplies, runs errands and has thusly titled himself "Head of Transportation" for the candle , also keeps the books, handles investments and maintains the antique store.

The candles are now sold worldwide, have been featured on the cover of Country Living magazine's holiday issue, and were even used on the set of Jodie Foster's movie, Nell. With 1996 sales projected at more than $1 million, the Settels are looking to buy a farmhouse with a barn, which they'll use as a candle-production center.

"We intend to keep our office at home, because there's such a different feel to it," says Nancy. "People come to my house and we sit and talk over coffee at my kitchen table. I don't know if I could work in an office anymore."

The Settels have also displayed their candles at craft shows, which are great venues for crafters wanting to present their wares in a common forum. You can find out about regional craft shows by consulting Arts & Crafts Showguide, a bi-monthly magazine that contains information, opportunities and resources for the entry-level and intermediate crafts professional, as well as a national craft show listing for the upcoming year. Available at most local newsstands, Arts & Crafts Showguide can also be ordered by calling (800) 832-7674.

The Settels advise fellow crafters to remain committed to the quality of their work. "Don't sell yourself short," suggests Nancy. "I made up my mind that if I was going to work this hard, it was going to be for something. We can all say that we have this overwhelming desire for , but the bottom line is that we all want to make a decent living."

Marketing By The Book
As a nine-year-old, Janice West was fascinated with the world of freelance. She sent her first query to-and received her first rejection slip from-Jack and Jill magazine.

Now that she's all grown up, West has channeled her 20-plus years of artistic, marketing and writing experience in the freelance world into Marketing Your Own Arts & Crafts: Creative Ways to Profit From Your Work (The Summit Group, $24.95), a comprehensive guide to earning a living in salable arts. West encourages artisans to follow these tips on their way to market:

1. Take stock of your assets. "Not only money, but energy: Do you have the energy to go to shows? To set up and tear down? How about resources? Could you go into production if your product was a hit and the buyer needed a large order? And time: Do you have enough to fulfill the commitments involved?"

2. Find the markets that interest you. "Shows are a great place to display your crafts," explains West. "But because some people are shy and don't really feel comfortable with them, I wanted my book to provide plenty of alternatives." West gives 50 different venue suggestions for marketing crafts, including museum gift shops, local merchants and kiosks.

3. Research (and visit, if possible) the stores you want to approach. "Nothing upsets a vendor more than when artists approach their store with completely inappropriate or unrelated merchandise. Often, the buyer's question will be, 'Have you been to see the shop?' If the answer is no, it's a real turn-off."

Marketing Your Own Arts & Crafts can be ordered from The Summit Group at (800) 875-3346.

Reader Reference Source: The American Craft Association (ACA) is the membership branch of the American Crafts Council, providing benefits, services and opportunities, including competitively priced health, casualty and property insurance programs, for its more than 3,100 members. The ACA also provides its members with subscriptions to American Craft Magazine and The Voice, a bi-monthly crafts newsletter. American Craft Association, Membership Services,
21 S. Eltings Corner Rd., Highland, NY 12528, (800) 724-0859.

Makeup Artistry

Even a pack of Harleys can't stop Shawn Gallagher.

On her way from a wedding assignment in Half Moon Bay, California to another in Santa Cruz, Gallagher got stuck behind a fleet of Harley-Davidson motorcyclists. "No matter what I did-flash my lights, beep my horn-they just wouldn't let me pass," recalls Gallagher, who had fortunately scheduled her two freelance makeup appointments with an emergency time-cushion for just this reason. "I was reminded of how important scheduling is in freelance work-especially for weddings."

Gallagher began freelancing her makeup artistry after accepting her fiancee's marriage proposal in March 1995. "I realized I was going to need some extra money," she remembers, "so I considered my marketable skills and found that one of my best was makeup application." So with more than six years of retail cosmetics experience working for both Chanel and Prescriptives, and with intensive training from both companies in the elements of color application and skin care, the 26-year-old started Shawn Gallagher Makeup Artistry.

While Gallagher continues to work full-time for Chanel, her freelance work keeps her busy during her time off. Although she's been commissioned for holiday parties, the bulk of her remains weekend weddings. "On the wedding day, I bring all the makeup, tools and brushes with me, and spend a full hour with the bride," says Gallagher. A consultation prior to the wedding, to help ensure the bride's satisfaction on the big day, is also included in the fee. "The bride is the one who determines if I get hired by any of her friends. If she doesn't look absolutely beautiful, I won't get any referrals, so she's my main focus."

In addition to word-of-mouth and advertisements in local newspapers, Gallagher advertises on the Internet via a computerized wedding planning service called Weddings Online ( Couples can browse 27 different wedding-related topics, including florists, musicians and makeup artists, while planning their big day. Gallagher's advertising page in the Health & Beauty section allows clients to browse a background biography detailing her credentials, view photographs of previous makeup assignments and read testimonials from satisfied clients.

Bridal shows are another popular forum in which makeup artists advertise their services. Booth rentals provide the opportunity to meet brides one-on-one, display photographs of past work and distribute brochures detailing prices and contact information. But watch your budget if funds are tight; booths can be quite costly, sometimes ranging from $300 to $500 a day. Weddings Online also lists upcoming dates and locations of bridal shows in more than 12 states.

"There's a lot of bonding going on when you're doing someone's wedding makeup," says Gallagher, who plans to hire a professional makeup artist for her own wedding day. "You're just a few inches from their face and they're really nervous and excited, so you're almost acting like a counselor, too, telling them that they look great and that everything's going to be fine. You sometimes become friends in just that one hour."

Reader Reference Source: The of Makeup, by Kevyn Aucoin (Harper Collins, $60.00 hardback). "This is a great book for anyone who hasn't had a lot of experience with makeup," attests Gallagher. "Aucoin offers great advice on how to deal with different skin undertones and provides plenty of large pictures showing different techniques and effects. Words can only say so much, but pictures can show you. After that, it's practice, practice practice." To order The Art of Makeup, call (800) 242-7737.


Melissa Grimes' career choice was an easy one. Freelance illustration suited the Austin, Texas, artist's personality perfectly. "Even though there's less job security in freelance, for those of us who are fiercely independent, there's really no other choice," she says.

Grimes has now operated a freelance illustration from her home for 17 years, and has created innovative collage images for such clients as the Texas Monthly, T.G.I. Friday's and The Learning Channel. One of her favorite assignments, an illustration to accompany a story about superband Pink Floyd, appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone in November 1987. "I've even done work for Benson and Hedges in London," says Grimes, "which was amazing, because we were able to conveniently work just by fax and phone, even though they were so far away. I just had to remind myself of the time difference."

Approaching the illustration market is much like approaching the photography market. Direct mailings help keep directors current with your work, and stock illustration agencies also work on a percentage-of-sales basis. Seventeen years of experience, hundreds of freelance assignments and twelve years of teaching college level illustration make for some helpful suggestions from Grimes:

  • Because the nature of freelancing is often feast or famine, you have to learn not to despair when the phone doesn't ring, as well as how to cope with having several jobs at once.

  • Try not to live from job to job. Most companies take between 60 and 90 days to pay their invoices. I recommend keeping about three to six months' worth of running capital on hand and never touching it, because you never know what will happen.

  • Since I've been in the business for so long, most of my leads come from experience. But direct mailings can also be effective. I've even purchased advertising pages in national directories of illustrators to publicize my work.

  • Working from home can be isolating, but you can't let it take over your life. I create a schedule for work time-no weekends and late nights, if I can avoid them-and try not to overdo the caffeine on deadlines.

    Reader Reference Source: The Society of Illustrators (SI) is a national association for professional artists in illustration, cartooning, animation and graphic design. With more than 900 members, SI organizes community projects, distributes a monthly newsletter and publishes The Society of Illustrators Annual of Illustration, a yearly compilation of more than 400 pieces of current illustration on the market. Society of Illustrators, 128 E. 63rd St., New York, NY 10021,
    (212) 838-2560.

Jewelry Making

Carole Meier has a secret identity.

A 39-year-old artisan with an eclectic fine- background, Meier spends about thirty hours per week making pottery at Palms Up Pottery in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. But when she returns to her Edgewater home, she becomes The Bead Lady.

Meier runs a unique sideline designing, baking, stringing and selling beads, so in itself, the title fits her work. But here's the unique part: Her beads are shaped like tiny human skulls. She calls them Ragna Rocks, after an ancient Viking prophecy depicting Ragnaroc, the proverbial Last Battle.

"Kids, and by that I mean 15 to 25-year-olds, really love this kind of accessory," notes Meier, whose creations have captivated the attention-and necks, wrists, ears and hatbands-of bikers, surfers, bead collectors and "Deadheads" across the country.

Meier came up with her skull bead idea while managing a motorcycle shop with her boyfriend, partly to decorate the store and partly to offer additional merchandise. She scored on both counts; the store's decor developed and the customers loved the work. Hers is an untraditional, but innovative, approach to jewelry: "I use leather and hemp cords with my beads, not metals and jewels," Meier explains. "I prefer to call my work 'personal adornments,' because that's what jewelry really is."

Meier sells her creations to local stores and craft shows, but her most unique marketing approach was a month-long, cross-country road trip she took to sell her wares to vendors face-to-face or, well, skull to skull. "I'm a shy person by nature, so when I approached people, showed them my stuff, and they said 'Oh, wow! We've got to have them,' it made me feel great," recalls Meier, who has found a second lucrative market for her adornments through wholesaling.

If you don't have the time or resources to market your creations to vendors across the country, you might want to consider having a crafts broker do the legwork for you. Usually requiring a minimum production of $1,000 per week from their crafters, brokers market crafts to catalogs and specialty shops, and charge artisans a commission on each item sold.

Reader Reference Source: Americraft, one of many craft brokers in the U.S., specializes in catalog brokering for artists producing large quantities of personalized crafts. Americraft/The Gift Brokers Inc., P.O. Box 814, Wendell, MA 01379, (508) 544-7330.

In addition, The Crafts Report: The Business Journal for the Crafts Industry, provides monthly information about the business aspects of the crafts and jewelry industry, including information on trade shows. The Crafts Report can be ordered by calling (800) 777-7098.

Contact Sources

  • Gary Benson Photography, (206) 242-3232.
  • Shawn Gallagher Makeup Artistry, (408) 429-6900.
  • Melissa Grimes Illustration, (512) 445-2398.
  • Ragna Rocks, (904) 426-6137.
  • The Crafts Report, 300 Water St., Wilmington, DE 19899, (800) 777-7098.
  • The Sheepish Grin Antiques, 1304 Arundel Dr., Wilmington, DE 19808, (302) 995-2614.

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