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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Illustration

How Artists Make a Living With Patreon

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"You won't make any money as an artist."
"Art is not a career."
"Get a real job."

We've all heard them before. The 101 reasons why art will never be a sustainable career. But it's time to throw away all that negativity and pick up some real hope, because the digital age is changing the game for artists.

In today's world, there are more opportunities than ever which allow artists to do what they love while creating a sustainable income. And if you're willing to put in the time and work, you too can reap the incredible rewards of this new age in being a creative.

using a graphic tablet
Stock photo: using a graphic tablet (Envato Elements)

Today we'll dive into one avenue that artists turn to when they want to figure out how illustrators make money online. We'll take a look at what Patreon is, how to use Patreon as an artist, how to set up an account, look at sites like Patreon, and consider the alternatives to building these types of businesses online.

So let's get to know more about Patreon.

What Is Patreon?

Creator Jack Conte was looking for a way to support himself and his YouTube channel when he decided to found Patreon. Patreon is a crowdfunding platform that allows creators to fund their projects by fans, or patrons, who donate money on a recurring basis.

How Illustrators Make Money on Patreon

Similar to crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, Patreon allows users to create their own profiles where fans can support their work, either through pledges of monthly Patreon donations or donations per project.

You can help your favorite Patreon artists hit their goals and be one step closer to supporting their dreams of making a living doing what they love.

Patreon is reinventing the way artists are supported by their community. Pledges are separated into several different tiers, with amazing rewards at each level. And with fans able to pledge as little as $1 per cycle, there's a real sense that you're able to support artists without needing to break the bank.

Paid to Do "Nothing?"

So how do you convince people to give you Patreon donations? And are they really okay with it?

Don't be fooled by the naysayers who don't understand what it takes to build a business online. The number one misconception you'll run into is people thinking that you're getting paid to do nothing.

But let's be real. Patreon artists by no means are accepting handouts.

And it's not just a platform for visual artists. Writers, musicians, podcasters, photographers, and creatives of all different shapes and sizes use Patreon to fund their projects. Each of these projects takes from dozens to hundreds of hours to complete, on top of the years of experience put into mastering their craft.

So think of all those years you spent creating for others without ever receiving a single penny. Allow Patreon to buy back those years by supplying you with a way to support yourself reliably.

How Do I Start a Patreon?

Learning how to start a Patreon takes a few simple steps. Let's walk through them together.

1. Head to the Patreon Website

The first step in learning how to start a Patreon is to head to their website. In the upper right-hand corner, click the red button that says Create on Patreon.

Patreon homepage

2. Choose a Sign-Up Option

You'll find three sign-up options: Sign up with Google, Sign up with Facebook, and the choice to create an account without linking.

Signup options

What's the difference? Choosing either of the first two sign-up options will link your Patreon account to Google or Facebook, meaning you won't need to make new login information. However, that does mean that if you lose your Google or Facebook account, you lose your Patreon account too.

3. Complete the Account Creation Steps

Once you've signed up, you'll be greeted with five steps to get your account ready.

Choose Content Categories

On Patreon, you can promote anime, podcasts, films, and other creative arts. You can choose up to two categories from the list to describe the content you'll show on your Patreon.

How Do I Start a Patreon Tutorial Content Categories

18+ Age Filter

This is an important step for Patreon artists. Patrons on Patreon come from many different age groups. If you have content that's appropriate for older audiences and not for younger ones, this will add an 18+ pop up to visitors of your page.

How To Start a Patreon Tutorial Age Filter

Currency Options

Patreon offers three payout currency options to creators: US Dollars, Euro, or British Pounds.

How Do I Start a Patreon Tutorial Select Currency

Don't worry. Even if you don't see your local currency, you can still create on Patreon! This article from the Patreon Help Center addresses how you can receive payouts if you're not based in the United States, United Kingdom, or Europe. 

Offer Exclusive Merch

Part of the appeal of making Patreon art is connecting with patrons, and you can build that relationship with merch. If you choose this option, you design the merch and Patreon will handle production and shipping for an added fee to your membership plan. 

Pro tip: tying merch to different tiers is a great incentive for patrons. Learn about the relationship between tier pricing and merch from the Patreon Help Center.

How to Start a Patreon Tutorial Merch Patreon Reward Ideas for Artists

Merch through Patreon isn't mandatory. There are plenty of other Patreon reward ideas for artists that you can find to show your patrons love.

Reserve Custom URL

If you want to set up a custom URL for your Patreon page, you can do so here. You'll need to connect at least one social media account on this page to be able to use this option.

Take this opportunity to connect all your social accounts to your Patreon. This is how to use Patreon as an artist with an interconnected presence.

How to Start a Patreon Tutorial Reserve Custom URL

4. Set Up Account Details and Launch

We're almost done learning how to start a Patreon! Your last and most important step will be filling out the important account details. This is where you share information about you and what you create, customize tiers, choose merch, edit payment information, and other account information. Note: you won't be able to launch your Patreon until you finish the required items in the checklist (shown below). 

How Do I Start a Patreon Tutorial Required Checklist

Once you're finished with this step, click Launch in the upper right-hand corner. 

How Do I Start A Patreon Tutorial Launch Patreon

And you're done! If you've been wondering "how do I start a Patreon", now you know how quick the process is. 

How to Be Successful With Patreon

Want a look at a day in the life of a creator? Illustrator Andreas Rocha shares the reality of what it takes to become one of the successful Patreon artists. Their insights are useful if you need some Patreon help.

"Posting my work on Patreon is different from posting paintings on my online portfolio. There is not so much freedom as I have to prepare the files and paint following certain guidelines so people can more or less follow what is going on when they watch the videos. I also have to try and find themes that people appreciate and find interesting.

It's challenging, because ultimately you have to keep motivated to post but that can only work if people support you. If you set pledge levels too high people won't support you, but if the income is too low it ends up not being rewarding. You must have patience as the number of followers rises, very slowly. My goal with Patreon is to share my workflow with people interested in knowing how I work and, of course, to provide another source of income."
Art by Patreon Artist Andreas Rocha for Patreon
Patreon Reward, "Fiery Path" by Andreas Rocha.

I asked even more artists about their insight into what it takes to be successful on Patreon. Let's take a look at what they all have to say.

Set Realistic Goals

As with any project, goals help not only with motivation but establishing what your end game is. And for Patreon donations, goals also allow your fans to help you by understanding what your needs are. Need new equipment? Say it. Looking to make this your full-time job? Be honest. Don't be afraid to post your real goals while asking for pledges. It's how illustrators make money from Patreon.

Digital artist DanteWontDie knows all about goal-setting on Patreon. Here is what he had to say:

"I think Patreon is a place that you need to prove yourself. You have to let people willingly pledge to see your art. My page was set up at the beginning of 2015 and I think I'm pretty satisfied with my monthly income on that, but I'm still far from my ultimate goal ($2000 per month).
I know there's still a lot of space for me to improve and I really appreciate those who have already pledged on my page now. Accumulating Patreon pledges is like setting up your own business. Do you want to be a full-time artist, or just do it for fun? The good thing is you have almost zero costs, so you can manage your time accordingly."
Patreon Art by DanteWontDie Patreon Artist
Pharah Reporting, art by DanteWontDie.

Post Regularly

This is one of the most important pieces of Patreon help you'll get. If you showed up to your work only a few times a week, you wouldn't have the greatest reputation. So just like any other profession, make sure you're able to post regularly in order to keep your patrons interested and Patreon donations coming in.

Icarus, artist and creator of the analog scifi comic Inhuman, offer his advice on the best way to approach posting regularly:

"Engage, engage, engage! Build your brand before launching as much as possible, and then encourage people to check out your Patreon whenever possible.

Rewards are a must, if that's WIPs or access to zips of unreleased art or whatever. People just like to get "something" for their money besides just the knowledge they're helping you. Patreon is half of our household income, so it helps a lot. More than anything, being friendly in whatever you do also pays!"
Inhuman Patreon Art by Icarus
Inhuman Comic by Icarus.

Offer Valuable Rewards

Though it's not uncommon that people will support you just for the heck of it, one of the best ways you can keep your patrons happy while garnering new ones is to offer them valuable rewards. This could be Patreon anime commissions, shoutouts, or other rewards.

Freelance Digital Artist Didi Esmeralda offers tutorials and commissions for her patrons depending on the reward tier they select. She reminds us why it's important to have Patreon reward ideas for artists and to keep in communication with your fans for support:

"Each artist must divulge their own work on social networks to be appreciated by followers and fans, and then communicate to their followers that they can support the work in patreon, and get exclusive content that can be found there."
Patreon Art by Didi Esmeralda
Patreon commission by Didi Esmeralda.

Alternatives to Patreon

But remember, Patreon is not your only option here. While there are other sites like Patreon, taking advantage of social media and online business goes way beyond just crowdfunding sites. Here are just a few other areas that are some great alternatives to sites like Patreon:

  • Sell products on Envato Market.
  • Open online shops.
  • Stream live for donations.
  • Take on paid commissions.
  • Offer video tutorials and instruction.
  • Offer your services as a consultant or speaker.

Though artist Racheal Scotland is new to building her presence on Patreon, she's a talented artist with years in the industry. Take it from her on what other sites like Patreon and alternatives you can look to:

If you're looking to live off your art, you can open shops on DeviantArtINPRNT, and Etsy. If you're confident in your work, open commissions. There's always someone who's bound to help support your work.

As long as you make sure people know where to find your work, market all your avenues. Create a portfolio. And use all the platforms available to you.
Art by Racheal Scotland
Laughter, art by Racheal Scotland.

Graphic Designer Roberto Blake is not a Patreon artist but definitely knows the online grind. From his popular YouTube channel to his offline speaking engagements, he's found a way to not only build a community but one that supports his creative endeavors. Here's his advice:

"A service based business is not sustainable long term. My variations of diversifying income (advertising/affiliate marketing/public speaking/paid writing/consulting/webinars) may not be a fit for everyone. However, creating a product that can generate a combination of passive and active income can make you more secure.

Envato, for instance, is a great marketplace and I buy assets to modify to save my time pretty regularly. Align your passions to a purpose and the work in between is figuring out a practical application of it. Making your moves with intention and clarity makes all the difference in where you end up."

Graphic Designs by Roberto Blake
Book cover art by Robert Blake.

Where You Can Find These Artists

Thank you to all the artists who gave their wonderful advice. If you want to learn more about them, feel free to follow their work on social media and support their pages below:

Conclusion

Whether you make Patreon anime or abstract illustrations, there's an audience out there. If you point them in the right direction, your fans will support you more than you could ever imagine. So take a risk and put yourself out there to build an incredible community that will back your dreams. 

Who knows, maybe with the help of Patreon or other online avenues, you'll be able to make a living doing what you love. Now that you know how to use Patreon as an artist, it's time to get started. So how will you put yourself out there today?

If you're an artist starting out online, you can find more helpful articles and social media graphics from Envato Tuts+ below. Have any experience with Patreon? Let us know how you like it in the comments below.

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