7 Ways to Make Money from Urban Sketching (What, Where & How)


What if you could earn a bit extra each month to cover the costs of art materials, or perhaps even a part-time income to supplement your day job, or even a full-time income so urban sketching becomes your day job?!

Not everyone wants to earn money from their art or hobby and that’s fine. However, for those who are intrigued as to how urban sketching could bring in a little side income or perhaps even a full time income, we will explore some options available to help you make a few bucks.

For some, the idea of making money from something they love doing (that doesn’t feel like work) is the holy grail.

I am one of those people.

However, having had a little taste of this, I know earning money from a creative passion can actually detract from the enjoyment of it and in some extreme cases ruin it entirely. It can be a double-edged sword. 

Sometimes when we place a financial (or any sort of) pressure on something, it’s just not fun anymore. Proceed with caution!

Where to Start?

There is such a wide array of platforms, markets and products out there that are geared towards helping us make, sell or teach our art that it can be a bit of a minefield to navigate and find the things that actually work. It can be hard to know where to start with it all.

There is never a ‘one size fits all’ solution but in this post, we shall take a look at some of the methods I personally have found useful as well some I know other people have had success with.

We will break down why and how these methods can work. Hopefully, this will help you take a more targeted or strategic approach to how you can start making money through your urban sketching.

Not everything I suggest will work or be appropriate for you personally but I aimed to cover a variety of methods to help as many of you as possible. 

I have used a few of these methods to help me achieve a part-time income. I was able to go part-time with my “day job” and start to travel more, knowing I could make a bit of money through my art and do my day job remotely.

My life really changed at the end of 2018 being able to travel full time and work along the way. While I certainly do not make a full time living from art-related pursuits (yet), the concept of making a bit of money through something I love has certainly changed my mindset as to what is possible. 

The most important thing I have learned so far is to identify which projects or work to say no to. This has helped me not fall back into the trap of disliking my creative passion because of placing financial pressures on it.

I hope some of my suggestions and personal experiences in the post below can help you to earn some extra pennies from your talents.

What Can I Sell?

Let’s first take a look at what we can sell, in the next section we shall discuss where and how we can sell these things.

I don’t want this post to just be fluffy suggestions, I want to give you some solid avenues to explore along with recommendations backed up by the experience of myself or other people I know.

These suggestions are not get rich quick schemes. The best idea is perhaps just to pick one of the areas below and pursue it wholeheartedly with maximum effort.

If you try a bit of each and never put your full effort behind just one of them, the chances of success are significantly reduced.

Unfortunately, I have just described my own actions but I am working to change this! I think it’s fair to explore each option a little bit at first but then commit to just one for the long term. 

One of the first things that may spring to mind when discussing making money from urban sketching is selling your artwork in some way. It’s an obvious place to start but there are so many formats in which to sell, I’m sure you have not thought of them all…

PRINTS

A print for sale in my Etsy shop

This is a relatively simple way to get your artwork out into the market for an affordable price.

You can simply make a high-resolution scan of your artwork and then print it on high quality paper. You can either print it yourself if you have a decent printer or you can have it printed by a professional fine art printing service. 

If you would like more information on how to scan and edit your artwork for printing, check out my post here. Or you can check out the video below:

DIGITAL FILES

Another way to sell your artwork is to apply it to physical products.

You can join print on demand marketplaces such as Society 6 or Red Bubble where you can upload your digital artwork and apply it to things like t-shirts, clocks, phone and laptop covers, notebooks and even curtains!

You can position how you want your artwork to appear on the product and set your own selling price too.

While this is a great concept, I don’t really know many people who have been successful with such sites (myself included). I get the odd sale here and there but I haven’t really looked at it for a few years now.

Also, the company provides the item, does the printing and sends the product to the customer, so obviously, they keep most of the money from the sale. In order to make sales, you need to help drive traffic (visitors) to your ‘shop’ on these sites, your products will rarely appear in searches as these types of marketplaces are so over-saturated with designs. Its arguable that fro the small profit margins you earn whether it’s worth it.

Most of these kinds of print on demand services seem to be based in the US. I had a friend make an order from the UK and they got stung with a hefty import charge – certainly something to be aware of.

I know of artists who have had their own calendars made (for example) of sketches they had of their local area and they sell well to people in that same area. Not a massive money-spinner but there’s an added benefit of raising your profile and you never know what sort of opportunities may come if that calendar falls into the right pair of hands! This leads me on to my next suggestion…

LICENSING

You can license your artwork to allow companies to place it on products to sell. It’s a similar idea to the above but a company would generally offer you royalties (a percentage of sales) for the use of your artwork.

If you can land a contract with a big brand then this could potentially be extremely lucrative. Think of a large homeware brand like IKEA, Target or Bed, Bath & Beyond for example. The exposure would be massive and you would be far more likely to be earning money from this situation than the one outlined above.

There are some very practical steps to consider when thinking about licensing your artwork:

  1. Research the companies and brands you wish to approach, make sure your work is a good fit, or that you can produce work that would be a good fit for them and their products.
  2. Design artwork in sets of 4 or more. Think about products you or others may buy with designs on them, such as sets of mugs, sets of tea towels etc. They would each have different designs on them but form a collection. Put your commercial hat on!
  3. Research how to pitch to these companies – there’s information out there on this. It’s something I do intend to try in future so if I learn more on how to do this I shall make sure to share with you guys! Make sure to join my newsletter to be kept up to date on this.
  4. Make sure you do not sign over ownership of your artwork to someone else. If you do get offered a contract, invest in a lawyer to look it over, do not make expensive mistakes!
  5. If you have some design skills or the technical know-how you could produce some mock-ups of products with your design on to send along with a pitch to help companies envisage what your work would like.

COMMISSIONS

This is actually the area I have had the most success in and made the most money from. At first, I obtained commissions from friends, then friends of friends and then colleagues of friends of friends…and so the spider web of word of mouth marketing goes! One of the oldest yet still one of the best forms of getting your work out there. 

As an urban sketcher, I predominantly love drawing buildings so I let friends know that I would produce a custom ink and watercolour painting of any special building they hold dear. This tended to be wedding venues or house portraits but I have also illustrated a garden and a gig venue.

Drawings and paintings such as these make excellent gifts, especially wedding anniversary gifts for which no one ever has a clue what to give each other as a present! If you are good at drawing animals, then pet portraits are very popular too.

I’ll go into further detail in the next section about how I have got a lot of my commissions but as mentioned it started with friends when I mentioned it on Facebook, so starting with your personal network is always a good way to get going. People you know tend to always be your first supporters!

BOOKS

You can produce a book of your sketches or illustrations. I love these types of books. I have a few books by David Gentleman: one of his illustrations of London and another of the whole of Britain. I am hugely passionate about travel and illustration, so books that marry these two things together are gold to me.

You could also produce a book that teaches people about something, it could be art but it could be any other subject that lends itself well to an illustrated guide. For example, James Hobbs, an urban sketcher from London produced a book about designing your garden using his distinctive sketching style to illustrate it. 

You can self publish your book and sell it digitally as an e-book or PDF, or sell print on demand copies, or even seek a traditional publishing deal.

I have a very large project coming up in 2021 which I will be pitching to traditional publishers. I shall keep you all updated on the process – if I’m successful I will absolutely share how and what I did to get the deal. If I’m not successful I shall also let you know and discuss the alternative route I’m taking to get the book out into the world.

Make sure to join my newsletter to be kept up to date about such things. I really love to connect with other people passionate about urban sketching from all over the world, especially to help each other out and share tips!

BLOGGING

There are ways and means to make money blogging, it isn’t dead! But it is time-consuming, especially at first and you can make a lot of false starts as I have certainly done in the past.

To pursue this path, you definitely need a passion for blogging, which is essentially writing and marketing. You need to be self-motivated and constantly keep learning what is and isn’t working in the ever-shifting boundaries of the internet and SEO (search engine optimisation).

There are a lot of blogging “gurus” out there who are totally open to taking your cash to teach you blogging and you don’t end up learning much or get taught things that are incorrect or out of date.

The money-making part of blogging comes from being an affiliate partner with brands (earning a percentage of money for each customer you direct to buy or sign up for something), placing adverts on your blog and a variety of other things. It’s a rather large rabbit hole with a warren of opportunities if you have the stomach to fall down it.

If you are really keen on the blogging idea, check out ‘Project 24’ by Income School. Jim and Ricky are the most authentic people who teach blogging on the internet (in my opinion). I am not an affiliate but I am a huge supporter of the work they do and their vibes as human beings.

Also, Pete from Do You Even Blog(podcast, blog and Youtube channel) is an excellent human being with lots to teach and courses/communities to join.

Those are the two main sources I wholeheartedly trust and recommend.

As you can tell from this website, blogging is the thing I spend a huge amount of time on but not because I make money from it (I don’t, yet) but because I just love writing about urban sketching, sharing my enthusiasm and passion about this subject with the world and hopefully sharing some useful information and tutorials that help other people get started or get better at sketching.

TEACH

My final recommendation on ‘what you can sell’ is yourself. Not in an illegal way. But in an imparting your wisdom way.

Some people think they may not be good enough yet to teach but I say it’s all relative.

There’s a quote from someone somewhere that says something like…

To teach you don’t need to be an expert, you just need to be one step ahead of the student.

I probably butchered that quote but I think you understand what I’m saying.

I did plenty of sketches when I was getting started which random people would remark on as being ‘amazing’ (possibly some of them were being polite but others may have meant it). I look back at those sketches and think “woah, they are BAD” but some people were impressed at the time. And those people (if they wanted to learn) are the people that would want to be your students. 

If people see work that they can relate to and think “I could do that, I could sketch like that”, they’re more likely to want you to be their teacher.

I attended a “workshop” once with a fairly well-known urban sketcher. It was approximately 3 hours long and didn’t cost too much money. I really like this urban sketcher as a person and I love their work but I have to be honest, the workshop was not a workshop. There was no teaching involved at all. Maybe I misunderstood what was involved but we mainly just sketched together as a group in 3 different places, one each hour. That was it. No instruction.

I still enjoyed it anyway as I was with a group of sketchers, I got to meet and chat with the instructor who I admire and I got him to give me a bit of feedback on some of the stuff in my sketchbook so I felt good that I attended. 

My point is that there is a very wide range of what you can offer as a teacher or instructor and how.   

You can offer to teach in person in your local area, privately or perhaps through a community programme or college. You can also teach online. There are so many platforms that allow you to teach a course and earn money from it.

There is a bit of a learning curve in regards to filming and editing – this could be a very large learning curve if you have never done something like this before.

We shall go into a bit more detail about the different platforms available in the section below.

Where & How Can I Sell?

ETSY

Etsy is a marketplace for creatives to sell handmade goods, whether physical or digital. Etsy is certainly more popular in the US, however, they are putting more efforts into marketing the platform more heavily in other countries such as the UK. It is a platform that can be used worldwide, but when buying and selling physical goods across the world you just need to factor in shipping costs and delivery times.

I focus my Etsy shop at UK customers because I am UK-based (even though I’m not physically there most of the time).

How do I do this?

When customers place an order for a print, I send that order to a printer I work with in the UK and they print, package and send the print to my customer on my behalf (this is called dropshipping).

In this way, I do not have to have any physical stock and I don’t have to be in a specific location to make this business model work. I just need an internet connection.

I have dipped my toe into the Etsy market and have not fully committed. However, I have a friend (in the UK) who does reasonably well at selling her prints on the platform as she has committed all of her efforts to it. This ties into what I discussed earlier about picking one avenue and putting a lot of effort and commitment into it.

I do believe Etsy is oversaturated but I think there is still money to be made, there are people making a living from this method.

You can sell digital products on Etsy as well. You could sell digital versions of your illustrations that can be used to place on things like wedding invitations for example. Having digital products to sell is a great strategy because the issue of buyer and seller location, as well as shipping fees, is removed from the situation entirely.

SOCIAL MEDIA

I am including social media next as this is one of the ways my friend directs customers to her Etsy shop. The majority of her customers come from Instagram. In fact, she very rarely gets random sales generated by being on the Etsy platform.

I personally have had success with getting commissions from both Facebook (which was mainly friends and friends of friends) as well as Instagram (strangers). I don’t really use Facebook very much, although it is a good platform to reach my personal network. I do put a fair amount of work into Instagram though.

I think the same advice applies to social media as it does with what to sell – focus on one channel. I would highly recommend Instagram as the channel to focus on as it is entirely geared around visuals and for some reason people there seem to be more open to buying! 

In my opinion, Facebook is better for being in urban sketching groups where you just hang out with like-minded people and share your work. If you use Facebook anyway to keep in touch with family and friends, then it’s a great way to let your personal network know (gently and not too often) that you are selling your work and where they buy it or how they can commission you.

E-COMMERCE SITES

Instead of (or in addition to) something like Etsy you can set up your own e-commerce site to sell your work.

This is basically a website that has a payment functionality built-in. You can customise your ‘storefront’, add some products and get selling. 

Examples of websites such as this are:

  • Big Cartel
  • Shopify
  • Woocommerce (powered by WordPress)
  • Wix
  • Gumroad
  • Squarespace

There are pros and cons to each and to go in-depth on these is a bit out of the scope of this post but if you want my opinions on this just email me and I would be happy to let you know. Perhaps I can write a separate post on this if people are interested? Let me know!

Why would you choose this option instead of Etsy?

Because by selling directly to your customer, you do not need to pay 5% of your sale (or whatever the fee is) to Etsy, you keep all of the money. However, you need customers to find you, which arguably is where Etsy should help but as discussed it’s actually fairly unlikely your work will come up on the first page of search results (which is where you need to be for customers to find you) just because the platform is so full of products. If you are using social media to drum up business, why then send them to Etsy? Why not send them to your own website?

Ok, so why would I use Etsy?

Because people trust Etsy and are more likely to put in their credit card details to such a site. The site also stores their details if they have an account so this makes it easier for customers to see something and just hit the buy button without giving it too much thought!

Some customers buy everything from Etsy and are very loyal to the platform. Also by having your products on Etsy you can reach a wider audience (although this is debatable as the platform has so so so many products on it).

MARKETPLACES FOR DIGITAL PRODUCTS

If you have digital products to sell, such as illustrations that can be placed on products (stationery, mugs, t-shirts, etc) there are many marketplaces you can sell the digital design on. 

Examples of marketplaces are:

  • Etsy
  • Design Cut
  • Creative Market
  • The Hungry JPeg

Again, the advice here is to just start with one marketplace. Some marketplaces have an application process. To learn more about how to sell your illustrations as digital assets and how I highly recommend this course on Skillshare by a successful watercolour illustrator selling her products on such marketplaces.

She explains exactly how to develop an idea, judge the market and how to create the illustrations and products to upload. 

The course is free to watch if you are a premium member of Skillshare. If you want a 2 month FREE trial of premium membership to skillshare click here.

PHYSICAL MARKETS

I won’t go into too much detail on physical markets. I think you have better chances if you are based in certain areas, for example, larger cities or arty areas. My friend definitely makes some money selling prints of her artwork at markets all around London (as well as selling online via Etsy).

You could sell both prints and original pieces of art at the market, either mounted or unmounted, framed or unframed – just ensure you price things appropriately.

If you intend to sell at physical markets regularly it’s wise to have a way for customers to pay via credit card. Many people no longer carry cash and certainly not in large amounts. You can get a device which plugs into your phone in order to accept card payments. There are quite a few different options available so best to do a bit of research to find the option that’s right for you.

I think there are pros and cons to selling at markets and it’s not something I have personally tried. You should research the markets you want to sell at, speak to other people who have been (as buyers or sellers). Make sure the target audience of the market matches your products so you have the best possible opportunity to be able to sell your products.

Pros: A great way to meet your customers face to face, it allows people to physically browse your artwork, it puts you in front of an audience who are there to buy (theoretically), you can network with other people selling their wares, community atmosphere (especially nice at Christmas I would have thought).

Cons: You physically have to be at the market from start to finish (which could be all day), it could be cold or boring (especially if it’s not very busy), you need to have physical stock (which means buying in advance if you are selling prints), you need somewhere to be able to store that stock and a way to transport it to the market, you have to weigh up how much it costs for a stall at the market versus how much you estimate you may be able to earn. 

Both lists of pros and cons could be expanded further. 

If you have a big personality and love chatting to people and networking, absolutely think about attending a market, you may do a roaring trade!

FIVERR

This is a bit of a leftfield suggestion but I have actually had some success with Fiverr. Fiverr is a platform that allows people to offer a specific service. Historically this used to be for US$5, hence the name of the platform. Since then Fiverr has evolved into a fully-fledged site for freelancers to offer any kind of service and for customers to find someone to do whatever they need.

I offered my service to illustrate any building or scene in ink and watercolour. I then went on to describe the types of commissions I’ve done before and the perfect gift they can make, added some photos of previous work and added a pricing structure for my service. You can offer different levels of service, basic, standard and premium at different price points. You can check out similar services to research what sorts of things to put in your ‘pitch’.

If someone is interested they will generally message you first and all being well then order your service.  I have had a few orders placed this way.

Obviously, Fiverr keeps a percentage of the sale as does any platform you use but I certainly made sales there much quicker than any other site I have used so far.

KICKSTARTER

Kickstarter is a crowdsourcing platform where people can pitch their product or idea and members of the public can decide to financially back it. The pitch can be anything from a game, film, music album, art project, the list goes on…

This is a fantastic way to raise funds to help self-publish a book for example, or launch a project.

The use of Kickstarter to fund an art project came up in a podcast episode I listened to again recently (which I discuss in my post about which art-related podcasts to check out).

The artist, Sharon Bamber, decided to walk 1,000 miles, stopping to paint every 5 miles with a donkey as a companion. She ended up raising an incredible $25k on Kickstarter in order to fund her project. She managed to do this with no existing social media following or an email list. Quite an incredible achievement.

I’m not saying everyone can do this but Kickstarter is certainly an avenue to explore if you have a project or book you want to make and require funding to get it off the ground.   

ONLINE TEACHING PLATFORMS

As well as teaching in person there are many ways in which you can teach online and make money doing so without the requirement for any formal teaching qualifications. Teaching an online course, which is recorded once and can be sold many times over can become quite a nice passive way of earning income. 

Skillshare

One of my favourite platforms to learn new creative skills is Skillshare. There is a free membership where students can watch a very small number of classes for free, and a premium membership which is approximately US$15 a month which allows members to watch unlimited classes in any of the creative disciplines the platform offers.

It’s easy to join and easy to become a teacher. The difficult part comes in not only deciding on your course content and structuring it well but then the filming and editing side of things which is no mean feat.

Filming and editing is a learning curve especially if you haven’t done it before. However, if you really put the time and energy into learning techniques and software, you will be able to make your course. The more effort you put in and the more focus you put on providing a quality course, the more successful you will be. Here’s a great quick video on Skillshare with tips on filming classes for the platform.

You can sign up through this link to get 2 months of premium membership for free and then check out the urban sketching courses I suggest in my post here. You can see there is a definite range of teaching styles and production values of the courses.

You can read more here about how the payment structure works. As you can see once you publish your class you can earn royalties from it forever depending on how many students watch.

Teachable

Teachable allows you to create and sell your own online course. Rather than being part of a membership platform where you are one of hundreds of teachers and you get a percentage of royalties, Teachable allows you to create a beautiful-looking course where students can interact with the course content and you as the teacher.

You can then sell this course directly to students and keep most of the profits. The platform allows you to set up your own subscription-based pricing or membership course, has an affiliate program you can utilise to get other people to market your course for you, as well as many other advanced features.

Here is an example of the front page of a teachable course by watercolour artist Angel Fehr. If you scroll down you will see the curriculum along with the price to enrol.

Teachable is certainly a more advanced option but one that can really open up a serious level of earning potential if teaching is your game. It’s also a fantastic option if you already have a strong following to market to.

Final Thoughts

I sincerely hope this post has helped you figure out some ways you may be able to make some money from urban sketching if that’s what you want. As mentioned at the beginning of the post, I know this is not a route everyone will want to take.

If you would like to keep up to date on how I make money as an urban sketcher, join my email newsletter where I go more in-depth about these types of things, more so that I do in my blog posts. By signing up to my newsletter I know you are a bit more invested than the average person about these sorts of conversations. Also, you can reply back to me with any questions you have!

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