Making Money from Your Art

By Kathy Bazan, BRC Consultant

At the Business Recovery Centers which provides confidential, no cost counseling, I mentor business owners on how to become more profitable.

When I work with artists, graphic designers, and photographers, I show them how they can make money repeatedly from one piece of art. No, I am not suggesting that the artist surreptitiously slinks through a slightly open window, abscond with the painting recently sold to Ms. X and resell it to Ms. Y.

First, let’s look at copyright.

Copyright protection exists from the moment a work is created in a fixed, tangible form of expression. The copyright immediately becomes the property of the author who created the work. Only the author, or those deriving their rights through the author, can rightfully claim copyright. –

There are two types of copyright:

Official copyright is defendable in court and starts at $35. This how the heirs of Marvin Gaye won $7.4 million from Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke.

After you have copyright, you can license your art for reproduction to earn money from your art.

OK, I might have lost you at the first turn. Let me back up but not over the roses next to the driveway.

In Oregon, you can take a test and get a license to drive. This means the state of Oregon is giving you permission to drive on its roads hither, thither, and yon. (Personally, I really like yon…)

When you license your art to a clothing manufacturer, you are giving them permission to use your art on a tee shirt or a hat. (Hint: you need to negotiate limited rights which means they can only use your art on Product A or Product B. If you give the company an unlimited license, the company may use your image on a variety of products.) The company compensates you with a flat fee OR royalties (which might include an advance).

To build this kind of a business, look at companies in these niches because they are likely to license art:

  • Clothing and fashion
  • Footwear
  • Skateboards
  • Surf boards and Boogie boards
  • Greeting Cards
  • Stationery and office supplies
  • Tourist merchandisers.

I counsel a photographer on licensing her exquisite photographs of Sedona’s resplendent red rocks. After she collects a set of 10 images, she will present to the smaller, local greeting card companies to negotiate a limited license. Since she is an established artist with a recognizable brand, we are negotiating for an advance payment to her plus royalties. (Be aware that any advance is deducted from royalties until the advance is paid in full.)

She is also a fluid artist, creating marbled pools of soft pinks and purples which are perfect for surf boards, skateboards, and boogie boards marketed to young women. Her next project may involve marketing her fluid art to those companies.

That’s how she will make money from her art.

Now, how can I help you? I am available for phone, Zoom, or in person. You may contact me at or (503) 692-0780.


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