How To Make It as a Traveling Artist
Updated: Feb 5, 2020
You might be thinking, I'm a traveling artist and I’m starving. This is probably true. Artists that don’t know how to make it can often feel like they’re starving, not doing well and can’t be successful as an artist. It’s painful if you love your work so deeply but can’t find a way to make ends meet. I assure you, there is a way to make it as a traveling artist. I have been freelancing as an artist since 2018 and I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to travel and do this work at the same time. Here are the strategies and practices I’ve used to make it as a traveling artist with lots of success along the way.
Know your “why” and run head first towards it
Why do you want to be a traveling artist? Are you interested in the freedom of sharing your art with many people? Are you tired of the 9-5 and want to pursue work that you’re good at? Are you doing it for your community? Does making art and being mobile make you feel empowered and liberated?
Whatever your reason for pursuing this path, you must be clear on your “why”. If you don’t know why you want to be a traveling artist, it will be easy to lose track of yourself and fall off the path to success. It took me a long time to learn my “why”. But this year (literally 2020), I learned that I want to be a traveling artist because I am a philosopher. I love sharing words and wisdom with those around me with the hope that their lives will change.
I write poetry about world injustice like poverty, famine, racism, sexism, homophobia and a number of other human rights topics. Why? Because I want people who can relate to these issues to feel heard and seen. But I also want people who can’t relate to feel enriched with new information and knowledge about another way of life. I do this because I absolutely love sharing ideas and I want the world to be more open-minded and awake to the lived experiences of their fellow human beings.
Once my “why” became clear, my fire to give, serve and share was ignited. Now, I can only see the light at the end of the tunnel. I know that my purpose is to share my gift of writing with the world. I'm much more confident now and know that no matter what obstacles come my way, I can survive and thrive.
What’s your why? Leave a comment below.
Believe in yourself
This sounds cheesy but I know there are nay-sayers in your life who don’t believe in you and can sometimes impact how you feel about yourself. Have you heard the following lines from your friends and family:
1. Be practical.
2. Get a real job.
3. You can’t make it as an artist.
4. Why don’t you try a safer career?
5. If you’re not a XYZ person, then making it as an artist isn’t going to be possible.
I hear this all the time. From my loved ones, colleagues and friends. It can be extremely annoying but more importantly, it can impact the way I feel about myself and my art. If your friends and family have said this to you, I can imagine it can make you feel that perhaps they are right: that you can’t make it. When you allow people outside of you to project their fears and attitudes about your art on you, you allow them to control your thoughts and beliefs. You allow them to control how much you believe in your own ability to make it.
I am here to tell you, don’t allow other people to tell you how you should feel about yourself and your craft. If you believe you can make it as an artist, you can. You must visualize your future self as successful. I encourage you to write, draw, paint, dance, meditate, etc on your future self. If you want to make it as an artist, you must whole-heartedly believe in yourself. You must be confident that your vision for your future self is unshakable. You must know and believe you will succeed. Then, one day you’ll wake up and you’ll be exactly where you dreamed of. It all starts with you.
Travel to places you can afford
How are you going to make it as a traveling artist in some place like LA or NYC? These places are very expensive and can cause you to take jobs and opportunities that aren’t related to your work. Expensive places can be a distraction. If your rent is $1,500 a month and you’re just getting started with your art career, you cannot expect yourself to be able to afford living in places that are outside of means.
Live within your means. Be able to price your work at a rate that is fair to you then live and visit places that are affordable for you. For example, places like Thailand, Costa Rica, Mexico, Vietnam and a host of other countries are super affordable compared to countries in the western world. $1 can go a long way.
I lived in Costa Rica off and on for months and I spent $300 a month on a beautiful room in a hostel with a coconut tree in the backyard, lovely guests, and a house cleaner every morning. This same accommodation in the USA would have cost several times more. I was able to focus on writing, making new work and selling it for a fair price ($20 a book).
Sometimes when you’re trying to make it, it’s best to travel and live in places that allow you to build yourself, network and your income until you can afford to live in places like London and Moscow.
Visit places that inspire your work
If you want to make it as a traveling artist, you’ll need to visit places that inspire you. I know as a writer, my surroundings are very important to the quality of my work. If I’m living somewhere that doesn’t inspire me, I’m less likely to create excellent work. Without excellent work, I’m not living up to my standards as an artist. It’s all related.
Go to places where the food is different than home. Visit places where people speak a totally different language. See churches, monuments, landscapes and cities that make you feel something unique. When I feel something unique in a particular place, my best work comes out. Go to places that inspire you so you can continue to make stellar artwork that also inspires others.
Places like Costa Rica, Russia and Mexico really inspire me. I feel a sense of awe and wonder when I visit these places because they offer me a very different lifestyle than my home environment. When I visit new places, I meet new people who also inspire my work. Romantic relationships or flings while traveling abroad can sometimes be the fuel to my next poetry project.
Sell your art as you go
This is one of the most important strategies that will help you make it as a traveling artist. Why make art abroad if you can’t sell it abroad? There are so many people who are fascinated and intrigued by traveling artists. They want to know what you’ve been working on for a week at the hostel. They peek over your shoulder and see you have been writing all day long and want to know exactly what you’re making. Or these people befriend you and want to support you along the way.
Sell your art to people who want your work. When I was in the Netherlands, I had just finished self-publishing my book, My Mind’s Eye: Poetry and Visual Art on Social Justice, Philosophy and Identity. I had no idea where to share it when it first came out. So, I went to an open mic in Amsterdam and shared my work there. After my spoken word performance, I casually mentioned I just released a book and if anyone wants one, I have a few. People swarmed me. They loved my performance and were hungry to get a piece of me that they could take home. I sold out that night.
A week later, the business that I performed in offered to host a book release party for my new poetry book. I ended up having shared my first book at an amazing poetry bar in Amsterdam.
Take side jobs to make ends meet
As a traveling artist, some months are slow. No one wants to buy your work for some reason but the bills keep racking up. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and take a side job to help make ends meet. I get it, it’s real life. Do what you have to do but don’t lose track of your “why”. It’s best to get a side job that supports your art in another way.
For example, when I was tight on money, I had just moved back to the states. For about 8 months, I got a job working at an art studio. I loved it because I could hold space for other artists to come in and do their work, but I also had permission to practice my craft and get paid for it. The art studio job was liberating in the sense that I needed the stable income but I never lost my vision or interest in my artistry. That’s the key. If you choose to get a side job to make ends meet, don’t allow that job to pull you from your artistry. Keep practicing, writing, painting, drawing, dancing, sculpting and so on. Do it in the evenings after work or early mornings before work. Never lose your “why” while you’re handling your business.
Make sure your finances are in order
The final tip and perhaps the most important is to make sure you track your income and expenses while being a traveling artist. The government is watching and will want their piece of the pie. I highly recommend keeping track of what you earn and what you spend in a spreadsheet or a monthly budget. Keep pay stubs, copies of checks, and screen prints of expenses. This will really help you when tax season comes around. I made the mistake of not keeping very good track of this stuff in 2018 and I really got burned.
Don’t be like me. Get your financial stuff together while traveling so you can end up on top at the end of the year. In addition, I recommend putting aside 15% (or more) of whatever you earn to pay your taxes at the end of the year. You’re technically a self-employed person, and as I said, the government is going to want their chunk. So be ready to pay up when they ask for it. Otherwise, you’re in deep trouble.
If you’re like me and keeping track of all of those receipts and transactions can be hard with a suitcase by your side and a backpack on, you can certainly use Quickbooks Self-Employed. I absolutely love this service. They connect to your bank accounts and make keeping track of income and expenses so easy. I highly recommend it for travelers who are disorganized (like me) and need a digital place to keep track of finances and help you estimate what you will pay at the end of the year.
If you are a traveling artist or interested in becoming one, please leave a comment below with your craft and why you’re interested in this lifestyle. I want to hear your story!
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