Starving Artist: How Creatives Actually Make Money

When it comes to life advice clichés, “do what you love and the money will follow” is the one that pisses me off the most (mainly because I’ve never been paid to eat pizza and binge-read New Yorker articles in bed). My issue mainly lies with the second part of the phrase, which somehow implies money-making to be effortless.

Persistence can be rewarding but problems come up during that period of persisting – like, you know, paying rent.

If your passion is a creative one, some people don’t even believe you ought to be chasing a profit from it. As the host of the Starving Artist podcast, Honor Eastly, puts it, “Making money creatively is either a mystery, or hidden behind a big banner reading ‘SELLOUT’”.

And it’s just that dichotomy that she’s out to change. Honor says she uses the podcast as an excuse to get nosy about taboos around art and money.


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The art of making money

In the first nine episodes she’s sat down with artists of various disciplines to chat about quitting your day job, crowd-sourcing money for creative pursuits, negotiating a raise and figuring out tax. This isn’t wishy-washy “do what you love and the money will follow” style advice; it’s the nitty gritty of actually making a living.

“The art-money equation is an equation that has caused me a lot of pain and angst for a long time”, says Honor, who is also a multi-disciplinary artist with a focus on mental health awareness.

The podcast project has allowed her to unpick some of those challenges. “I think that I’ve learned a lot more about success in ways that don’t make good media stories”, she says, like “Woman runs successful business for seven years.”

Passion for pay

While the idea of making your passion into a pay cheque is an appealing one, it also comes with its own set of problems – one of which is how much it can set you up for exploitation. It’s something that Honor is well aware of. “The idea of the artist selling out has been around for a really long time,” she says. “That can actually work towards really unfair and unsustainable working conditions for a lot of people.”

One way to counter this, says Honor, is for artists to value their work and their time. The second episode includes an interview with Wendy Syfret, editor of i-D. Wendy shares her experiences of asking for – and securing – a sizable raise. In the process she learned a lot about how much her peers were making, and the going rate for her professional skills. Asking for what she was worth paid off.

Day job shame

Not every creative has the security of a salary to support their work. But for others, a day job allows them to keep the lights on. But as Honor found, there can be shame around having a non-creative gig: some artists believe it undermines their image.

“If people knew that we had a day job or whatever, that would mean that we weren’t a successful artist. And that would mean that we wouldn’t be upheld with the same reputation that we would otherwise.”

But Honor says that’s a lie that disadvantages artists and would-be artists: “It really screws over everyone”.

Honor’s advice for starving artists

While there’s so much wisdom to be found by popping in your earbuds and having a listen to the Starving Artist podcast, Honor was also generous enough to share some of her tips for creatives trying to figure out the whole “money” thing.

#1 Build your community

Or as Honor put it, “community, community, community”.

“You need a group of people or a couple of people, however many you need, that you can ask questions of. That are peers that you can ask questions of to try and work this out. Because you can read all of the books. You will still have questions and you need people to bounce them off.”

#2 Educate yourself on money

Financial literacy is key for all of us, and artists are no different. Honor recommends the books Making Your Life As An Artist (available as a free PDF!) and The Barefoot Investor to get your head around the basics.

#3 Make sure you’re paid

Honor hopes society as a whole begins to value the work of artists more. While there’s a top-down issue of changing mindsets, she also encourages artists to demand their worth. “I’m like, bottom up, how can we can we get artists to be like, ‘Actually, no, you need to pay me.’”

Amelia is the Editor of The Cusp. You can find her on twitter @amelia___m or instagram @ameliamarshall.

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