How Do Graffiti Artists Make Money?

Learn how graffiti artist, Gene Gonzalez, took his passion for graffiti art and grew it into a serious side hustle.

Morning artrepreneurs! Welcome to another edition of the Stay Sketchy newsletter.

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This week we’ve got:

  • ⭐️ Gene Gonzalez as our featured artist

  • 🤖 Chatbots that’ll engage & grow your audience for you

  • 🚌 A painting found at a bus stop might sell for $32 million

Gene Gonzalez - Graffiti Artist

Courtesy of Gene Gonzalez

📸 Instagram: keverones

🌐 Website: keverones.com

They say you’re a product of your surroundings.

This holds true, at least in part, for artist, Gene Gonzalez, who specializes in creating vivid graffiti-inspired works of art.

Born and raised in New York City, Gene used to live on the third story of an apartment building with windows that faced the elevated railway tracks. Everyday, he’d watch as trains tagged with colorful graffiti raced by.

As he took the subway to school, his attention would be drawn to new splashes of spray-painted lettering seen high up on walls and in hard to reach locations.

He’d wonder how people got there, how they did it, and how they found the time to make these elaborate works of art without being seen.

It was this wonder and love for the art style that inspired Gene to become a graffiti artist himself.

Through the early 1990’s to 2000, Gene familiarized himself with the craft and the intricate form of graffiti known as Wildstyle. He filled sketchbooks and learned what he could from those around him that were actively contributing to the graffiti scene in NYC.

But in 2000, he moved to Orlando, Florida for work and his passion for graffiti art retreated to the back of his mind.

It wasn’t until 14 years later, when he reconnected with some artists in New York, that his ambition and love of the art style was revived.

From 2014 on, Gene dedicated himself to the craft.

For years, Gene has been posting 3+ times per day on social media, showcasing his art under the branded persona, Kever Ones.

He’s built a studio in his home that any artist would be jealous of, and spends his free time creating works of art on canvas, paper, even on metal spray paint cans themselves.

As Gene’s presence online grew, people began asking to buy some of the pieces he shared pictures and videos of.

It wasn’t long until people were messaging him every week asking to buy his work they’d seen on Instagram or Facebook.

He built a website and created listings for all his available pieces.

From there, Gene continued to hone his skills and grow his business.

He’s sold his work on canvases, stickers, & apparel, organized and participated in local graffiti art festivals and competitions, been involved in many collaborative deals with various art supplies companies, and has even been commissioned for several large murals.

Below are some takeways we had from our time spent talking with Gene.

Courtesy of Gene Gonzalez

Network with Other Artists in Your Niche

On several occassions, Gene stressed the importance of networking with other artists.

Not only can it lead to learning tips and tricks about your craft, but it can also lead to cross promotions, collaborative art pieces, and brand deals.

Gene has made a lot of friends in the graffiti space where he currently lives in Florida. Together, they’ll organize events where they can share their skills with each other and members of the community, as well as sell their work.

By taking the time to interact and get to know other artists, Gene has also landed several sponsorship deals - one being with Fredrix Canvas. Part of the sponsorship agreement provides Gene with an allowance to spend on canvases every other month, so he rarely ever buys them out of pocket anymore. This sponsorship eventually led to the release of his own marker pad through them as well.

At the very least, reaching out to artists that are a few steps ahead of you in their business is a great way to learn what you don’t know and what steps you should take next.

Try to Get the Attention of the Brands You Love

Gene has had a lot of success partnering with different art supplies brands just by tagging them in posts on social media and hoping they reach out to him.

For instance, by using hashtags and tagging the appropriate Instagram accounts, Gene’s favorite marker brand, Chartpak, got in touch with him and they worked out a sponsorship deal.

In some of these collaborations, artists will get supplies for free, while other times they may receive cash payment for generating some sort of content around the product itself.

Gene recommends targeting brands you actually love and enjoy using. Don’t change the tools you use to create your art in the hopes that a brand might recognize you one day and offer to collaborate.

Another thing Gene pointed out is that you’ll have more luck with smaller brands. Big companies will have a hard time finding you amidst all the other users of their products. Smaller brands are different, however, and are still happy to reward those that are marketing their products for free.

Additionally, try to actually show the product in your content. A video demonstrating your painting process isn’t likely to win you any attention from the paint manufacturer if there’s no way to tell you’re using their paint in the video. Do more than just dropping one or two relvant hashtags in the caption of your post.

Lastly, be consistent with this. Don’t talk about your favorite pencils once or twice then give up when you’re not immediately contacted. You’ll need to mention the brand consistently for a long time in order to increase your chances of getting noticed for your free marketing. This is another reason why you should only do this for brands you truly love.

Courtesy of Gene Gonzalez

Apply to the Amazon Influencer Program

After growing a large following on Instagram, and social media platforms in general, Gene was getting a bit tired of responding to peoples’ questions about what supplies he uses.

Followers would ask every week what markers he used, where’d he get his storage shelves, and what kind of lighting he used in his studio.

Eventually, Gene created a storefront via the Amazon Influencer Program that he could fill with his favorite Amazon products and direct people to when he got these sorts of questions.

The added benefit is that Gene earns a small commission each time someone buys something through his Amazon storefront. So, not only does he not have to answer the same questions over and over again to his followers, but he can actually generate some income in the process.

It’s not clear how many followers are needed for someone to get accepted into the program, but it’s worth applying to. That way you can list your favorite products (if they exist on Amazon) and direct your own followers there if they ever ask.

If you can’t get accepted into this program, you can always apply for the more common Amazon Associates Program that accepts nearly everyone. The main downside here is that you’re unable to build a storefront that showcases your favorite products all in one place. Instead, you need to share individual affiliate links for each product listing (or gather a bunch of them in a Google Doc that you share with followers when asked).

Courtesy of Gene Gonzalez

TL;DR
  • Network with other artists in your niche. Build relationships that can lead to collaborations and new business opportunities.

  • Tag the brands you love in your content. Share what products you use in the hopes of capturing the brand’s attention.

  • Apply to the Amazon Influencer or Amazon Associates Program to earn affiliate commissions on products you recommend to your audience.

Additional Tidbits
  • Gene offers Instagram followers an exclusive content subscription for $4.99/month. This includes behind the scenes looks, tutorials, motivational goodies, and much more. He also offers a more in-depth version of this space on his website for a one-time payment of $150. Both subscription models are smart ways to generate revenue from the content he’s creating around his artwork.

  • Instead of simply offering standard merch alongside his artwork in his online shop, Gene also sells mystery boxes and specialty artist packs - collections of unique objects, stickers, and drawings that Gene has created or otherwise altered in his own unique way. Some of these packs might include an empty spray paint can with a custom painted exterior or a toy plastic dumpster that Gene’s tagged and made to look like something you’d see in a city somewhere. Some fans may find these sorts of products more engaging than the typical products artists sell.

  • Just like what other artists we’ve interviewed have said, Gene has benefited from tapping into audiences with cult followings. Some of his work occasionally includes cartoon and anime characters from popular shows like Dragon Ball Z, Rick and Morty, Invader Zim, and more. By including elements of these shows into his artwork, Gene increases his chances of gaining new followers from these various fandoms.

Gene’s Tech Stack
Why Email Beats Social Media ✉️

Imagine a scenario where the social media account you spent years growing gets hacked.

Maybe it gets suspended on accident, or Instagram changes their algorithm and begins suppressing your content.

In many cases, completely losing access to a social following can be devastating for artists and creators.

Letting the success of your art business be determined exclusively by the whims of social media companies implies huge risk.

The best way to counter this risk, is to create a mailing list of your followers’ email addresses, and to reach out to them occasionally in an email newsletter.

Email newsletters are a professional means of mass communication to your most loyal customers and fans.

Better yet, there is no way for someone to take your mailing list away from you. No algorithm changes will prevent you from communicating directly with these followers of yours.

In this sense you truly own your audience’s attention, whereas on social media, you’re only borrowing their attention (which can be lost at any time).

Email marketing can also drive sales far more effectively than social media can. It’s way easier to sell new art by letting your mailing list know about a new product drop than it is to announce it somewhere on Instagram and hope people rush to your link in bio to buy.

Fortunately, you can start your own mailing list & make your own 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!

Chat Automation Tools to Help You Grow & Engage with Your Audience

via Chatfuel (left) & Manychat (right)

You’ve probably seen other artists, coaches, and influencers on Instagram telling you to DM them or “drop a comment below” in order to receive some free guide, spreadsheet, or e-book (hell, we’ve even done this on our Instagram account in the past).

Offering your audience a taste of something they might find valuable (i.e. a lead magnet) is a great way to engage with them and sometimes obtain their email address or generate a sale.

For instance, you could ask someone viewing your post to like, comment, follow, and DM you, and in exchange, you’ll give them a discount code to your online store or maybe a step-by-step guide of how to paint pet portraits.

You’re basically rewarding someone for engaging with your post, thus boosting it to a wider audience (as engagement increases on a post, Instagram will show it to more people).

An issue that arises here is that responding to tens, hundreds, or especially thousands of people can become extremely time consuming (or straight-up impossible).

Enter chat bots and chat automation tools.

These software tools allow you to send automatic replies to comments, direct messages, and even to people who mention your account in their Instagram stories. They work on platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, and of course, Instagram.

Of the many social media management tools out there, two are uniquely created to address the above scenarios and much more. A previously featured artist, Aaron Long, told us that he plans on using one of these tools to run future art giveaways (just to give you a potential use case).

  • Chatfuel - Great for offering a full AI chat experience for users, lots of free automation templates for getting started quickly, and better at handling more open responses.

  • Manychat - Better at communicating on more channels (including SMS & email), very intuitive & easy to use, and can even integrate accepting PayPal payments directly into your chats.

While Chatfuel offers a free trial, Manychat actually has an entirely free plan that won’t ever require payment.

This article does a great deep dive into both tools if you’re looking for more info.

Art Business News (that’s not gonna put you to sleep 😴)
  • Bus Fare 🚌 - A masterpiece found at a bus stop might fetch up to $32M at auction. If you were curious, that’d cover the cost of over 17,112,000 bus tickets in the city that it was found.

  • Man Beats Machine 💪 - A photographer won an AI image contest with a real photo he took of a flamingo. After he bragged about it on his website, the judges disqualified him. He claimed he did it “to prove that human-made content has not lost its relevance, that Mother Nature and her human interpreters can still beat the machine, and that creativity and emotion are more than just a string of digits.”

Thanks for checking out another edition of Stay Sketchy. Catch you next week! ✌️

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As an Amazon Associate and affiliate of various partnership programs, the owner of this publication may receive commissions to linked products or services in this newsletter at no additional expense to the reader.

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