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The Blueprint for Making $7,000 in a Single Day With Art

Kansas City painter, Aaron Long, shows us how to jump-start your art business after the Instagram algorithm abandons you.

Good morning, and welcome to another edition of the Stay Sketchy newsletter.

We’ve got a LOT of value to unpack this morning so let’s jump right into it 😤.

This week we’ve got:

  • ⭐️ Aaron Long as our featured artist

  • 🕺 Useful websites for figure references

  • ✉️ Why artists should have their own newsletter

Aaron Long - Traditional Painter

Courtesy of Aaron Long

📸 Instagram: painted_dragon_studios

🎁 Etsy: PaintedDragonShop

Aaron Long is an interesting guy.

And it’s not because he spent several years showcasing his sci-fi fantasy oil paintings on the internet while wearing a Chewbacca onesie - but yes, he did that too (pictured below).

Courtesy of Aaron Long

It’s because the path that lead him to becoming a full-time artist started with Flappy Bird. Yes, that Flappy Bird.

Aaron wasn’t the best student growing up. He had trouble focusing in class and wasn’t interested in much of the subject matter being taught. He spent his time daydreaming in the back of class or drawing in the margins of assignments.

“Homework had more doodles on it than it ever had homework,” he told us while describing his early days in school.

He was born into a creative family, but at the time, he considered himself the least artistic among them. It wasn’t until his senior year of high school when that started to change.

Hoping to get an easy A in his final year of school, Aaron signed up for an Intro to Painting class. He spent most of his time in that class snoozing or playing games on his phone.

Finally, exasperated with his lack of effort, Aaron’s teacher threatened to take his phone away if he didn’t stop playing games and start painting something, anything.

Aaron took the “anything” a bit further than his teacher might’ve expected by screenshotting the game he was playing - Flappy Bird - and painting it.

Although a far cry from the works of Picasso and Monet, Aaron’s Flappy Bird ignited a passion he never knew he had. Creating a painting based on a video game made him ask all sorts of questions about what things people could paint. Eventually these questions led him into the world of fan art.

Aaron began painting all the things he loved from other areas of his life - Skyrim, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars. He posted his work in relevant subreddits and Facebook groups and began growing an audience on various social media channels.

Aaron attended college to pursue a degree unrelated to art, but found much of his time after class was spent painting commissioned pieces for people that found him online. These were his first steps into paid art sales.

This continued for the remainder of undergrad and into the years that followed college.

Eventually, Aaron created an Etsy store where he began selling prints alongside original paintings. As always, his art continued to depict scenes from his favorite video games, books, and TV shows.

Aaron now works as an artist full-time, doing what he loves day in and day out. He manages to generate $10,000 - $15,000 in Etsy sales each month and roughly $8,000 for each weekend-long Comic-Con event he attends. Certain Comic-Cons are larger than others, however, and at those, he may make quite a bit more.

Aaron shared a ton of insights with us on what he’s learned in the last 10 years running his art business. Below, are a few of our favorites.

Courtesy of Aaron Long

Getting the Most Out of Etsy

Aaron prefers selling art online through Etsy as opposed to creating a shop using his own domain name. It boils down to a few reasons.

  • Etsy is it’s own marketplace filled with customers looking for creative items to purchase. It also has a lot of domain authority and ranks highly in Google searches. This means that if you Google “Lord of the Rings oil painting,” Aaron’s Etsy listings may appear on the first page of search results. If he had his own website, and someone didn’t explicitly enter his website’s name alongside that same search prompt, the odds of him showing up on the first page of results is significantly diminished.

    So far, in just 2024, “Etsy search” and “Etsy marketing & SEO” have brought Aaron’s shop over 7,700 visits. This excludes the number of visitors that come from all his social media accounts (which is a much higher number). If Aaron had his own online shop, that 7,700 number would effectively be zero.

  • Etsy also has its own ad system that makes running ads to promote your listings extremely simple. You basically just enter how much you’d like to spend each day across which listings, and Etsy takes care of the rest. Aaron has gotten an additional 500 visits so far in the first 4 months of this year spending $3/day on Etsy Ads.

  • Not only can you purchase postage at a slight discount through Etsy, but if you have an eligible address, you can also request a package pickup from USPS. This means that when a customer places an order, you can wrap up the artwork, buy postage on Etsy, print it & apply it to your package, then request USPS to come pick it up from your front door. Aaron says this feature is a big part of why he’s stayed on Etsy for so long.

Selling Art at Comic-Con

Comic Conventions are held annually in nearly every US state as well as in many other countries around world. You can see their names and dates here.

These conventions draw thousands of people and celebrate all things anime, science fiction, fantasy, gaming, and more. Vendors at these events may sell collectibles, toys, comics, or art.

Aaron’s sci-fi/fantasy art is perfect for these events, and as long as his vendor application gets accepted and he can afford the booth fee, he tries to go to as many Comic-Cons each year as he can. Last year, he went to 8, but this year he’s shooting for 18.

Typically, the convention will have a section called Artist Alley, where artists are each permitted a small table to sell their work from. These spaces tend to be a little cramped and the competition is higher since you’re surrounded by dozens of other artists.

After he spent his first couple conventions selling from Artist Alley, Aaron realized the real money was being made at the larger vendor booths that are more centrally located at each event. Artists are still permitted to sell art at these booths, but the fee is significantly higher than the Artist Alley tables. This typically deters many newer artists, but Aaron knew he would stand out in this section and be taken more seriously, as well as put up with less competition in his immediate area since most vendor booths aren’t selling art. After getting some advice from other artists following this methodology, he moved to the vendor booths where he’s been making significantly more profit ever since.

Regardless of whether you sell art from Artist Alley or a fancy corner booth with 20 feet of table space, these tips apply:

  • Stick to just a few price points - When Aaron started selling art at Comic-Con, he had more than half a dozen different variations of each painting for sale. He had postcards, medium prints, large prints, canvas prints, even bigger canvas prints, and also had canvas prints with hand-embellished UV paint to make certain aspects of the piece glow under the right lighting. Every time a customer asked him how much something cost, he’d have to rattle off a slew of different prices that left the customer confused, and wanting nothing but the $5 postcard. Aaron has since revised his model, and now only offers a single size for standard giclee prints as well as one or two sizes for canvas prints. Giving the customer less options makes the decision they’re faced with much simpler.

  • Offer deals - Aaron offers a “Buy 2 Get 1 Free” deal for his standard prints that most customers take him up on when they hear it. The material cost to produce each print, is significantly less expensive than the standard rate he lists them at, so even though Aaron gives one away for free, he can still comfortably cover his expenses and make a profit.

  • Set up your booth like a pro - Bring a tall chair so your customers can easily see and talk to you. Don’t hide behind your signage or displays. Ensure there is a backdrop of some sort, or bring your own, to display your art behind you. Bring additional lighting even if the event is well lit. People tend to be drawn to art that’s displayed under a spotlight. Reinvest in materials that will improve the appearance of your booth. Customers will gravitate towards the vendors that look the most professional.

  • Talk to the other artists around you - Asking for advice from other artists that seem to be a few steps ahead of you is always a good idea. Most of the time, they’ll be happy to swing by your table or booth and give you some pointers on what you might be able to improve.

Courtesy of Aaron Long

Take Advantage of Giveaways

After a few weeks of lackluster engagement on Instagram, Aaron decided to try something he hadn’t done before - and it may have completely changed his business.

Aaron did a free giveaway on Instagram that ended up generating $7,000 in sales in a single day.

You might be asking, “how does a free giveaway generate any money at all?” That’s a good question. We’ll take you step by step and explain the exact blueprint for how Aaron managed to do it.

  • It started with Aaron choosing one of his most popular pieces - a best seller that he knew would draw the largest audience. It was a high-quality canvas print that normally sells for $350, so the opportunity to get it for free was especially enticing.

  • He made a simple Instagram reel revealing the artwork by slowly spinning it around to face the camera. Across the top of the reel read the hook, “FREE ART” in large font.

  • He explained the rules of the giveway in the caption. He told everyone that he would choose a winner in 3 days. Anyone interested needed to comment what they liked most about the piece, follow him if they weren’t already, and DM him the message “pick me!”

  • Aaron would then paste a message in reply to each DM he received (something he plans to automate in the future). In the message, he thanked the person for their interest in the giveaway and reminded them that if they didn’t feel like waiting, they could check out his shop which was linked in his bio. These simple directives drove a fair number of sales.

  • On the day he was due to announce the winner, Aaron let all of his followers know in a post that it would be done via livestream. The stream ended up drawing roughly 600 people.

  • Before announcing the winner, Aaron told all 600 people that, although only 1 person will win today, he just made everything in his shop 25% off (even original paintings) for the next 48 hours. So if anyone were to feel dejected from not winning the giveaway, they could still pick up some art at a good price.

  • Aaron announced the winner, and almost immediately started receiving orders from people that didn’t win. The next morning when he checked Etsy, he had done over $7,000 in sales.

Aaron obviously did a few things here that were very smart. First, by asking people to comment and DM him, he generated a ton of engagement for his post. Responding to the DMs helped with this as well. Because of the level of engagement, Instagram boosted the reel well beyond Aaron’s group of followers and it amassed over 600,000 views.

Requiring people to follow him in order to be considered for the giveaway ended up gaining him 4,000 new followers by the end of the 3-day waiting period.

Aaron was shocked and thrilled with the result, and is looking forward to finding new and more efficient ways to have repeat successes like this one.

While this probably won’t work very well for artists with 100 followers, Aaron thinks it could still be worth it for those with 1,000+. Even if it only gets you a few sales and covers the cost of the piece being given away, that may be better than not making any sales that day at all.

If you want to give something like this a go, know that you can tweak things like the number of winners, how long the waiting period is, what kind of discount you provide the “losers,” and other aspects of the reel itself (like using trending audio, etc.).

Courtesy of Aaron Long

TL;DR
  • Etsy isn’t just a storefront - it’s a marketplace with millions of active buyers. People are more likely to stumble across your shop on Etsy than they are stumbling across your website using a custom domain name. Etsy also provides discounted postage and the ability for USPS to pickup packages you’re ready to ship right from your door (for eligible addresses only).

  • If your artwork resides in a niche that would be popular at Comic-Con, there are a few things you should know before selling there. Don’t offer customers too many options, do offer them deals like Buy 2 Get 1 Free, and take care in the presentation of your booth and how you display your art.

  • Free giveaways can be hugely successful and lead to lots of new followers and sales if done correctly. Skim the blueprint in the section above to see how.

Additional Tidbits
  • Aaron only links his Etsy shop in his Instagram bio. On other platforms he has a Linktree that provides users with links to all his other social accounts, but on Instagram, he feels it’s more important to reduce the friction of getting potential customers to his store. In any case, he feels Instagram users have no interest in leaving Instagram to go to Facebook or TikTok. He rather give them only one option - to go to his shop - and maybe make a sale from it.

  • Aaron plans out most of his paintings on an iPad using Procreate. If proportions look off or the positioning of something looks wrong, he can just click and drag the selected area into a new position. When everything looks good, he’ll often use a projector to project the image onto a canvas for outlining. Afterwards, he can start painting without having to worry about the composition or spacing of objects in the piece.

  • Whenever Aaron paints something from a book or movie where the creator, or actors, are somewhat accessible, he always tries to send them an Instagram post of the art. Sometimes, he’ll also ask his followers to tag that person in the comments so that there’s a higher likelihood of them seeing the piece and ackowledging the work Aaron put in. Authors, actors, and other creators may share the post to their own audinece, giving Aaron a boost in followers and engagement in general.

Aaron’s Tech Stack
Useful Websites for Drawing & Painting References

Figurosity - A website with hundreds of different animated models in various poses that you can rotate and view from different angles.

Line of Action - A database of photographed figure references including people, animals, hands & feet, expressions, and more. Images can be set to appear for a limited amount of time in order to practice drawing under a time constraint.

HandModel - an app that allows you to track your own hand gestures to create a 3D model of a hand in any pose or position to be used as a drawing reference.

Why every artist NEEDS their own newsletter ✉️

The simplest step an artist can take to improve their sales is to create a mailing list.

That’s right. Not grow a huge following on Instagram or TikTok, but a modest - or even small - list of email addresses belonging to dedicated fans.

Why is this so valuable?

  1. Customer Retention. Don’t just get a sale then send that customer back into the marketplace maelstrom 🌀. Capture their email. Establish a longer term relationship with them. Build hype for upcoming projects. Sell to them again in the future! Maybe they’ll become a collector of your work 👀.

  2. Platform Independence. Don’t be constrained by the algorithms of Instagram, Etsy, Facebook… A mailing list is completely platform independent. You control the narrative, and if you decide to change the platform you use to send your newsletter, you can just export your entire mailing list and take it with you wherever you go. It’s yours forever 🤩.

  3. Cultivate Relationships. Use your newsletter to create long-form content for your fans. These folks love your work and might want to hear more about your process than what you squeezed into your latest Instagram caption. This can even lead to new business opportunites and partnerships down the road 🤝.

If you’re asking yourself where you can get started, look no further than this newsletter! Stay Sketchy is built on a dedicated newsletter platform called Beehiiv.

Beehiiv was created by the developers that made the Morning Brew newsletter into the media giant it is today (so they sorta know what they’re doing). It’s got a ton of tools that help you grow and better understand your audience.

The best part is that you can make your newsletter on Beehiiv for free - and not for a limited amount of time, but free forever.

If you DO, however, want to take advantage of one of their payed tiers that offer more features, the button below will give you 20% off your first 3 months with Beehiiv after a complimentary 30-day free trial.

Whether you want to send your newsletter weekly, monthly, quarterly, or even just a couple times per year, adding this one feature to your business might be the lowest-effort, highest-return change you ever make!

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