How to Make Money in Art - Bread & Butter Lines

How to Make Money in Art - Bread & Butter Lines

Where did the phrase Bread and butter come from? 

question mark

The term bread and butter was first introduced in the 1700s. It simply referred to taking care of your basic needs. It wasn't until well into the 1800s that the phrase started to refer to your income or livelihood. So how does that relate to your art practice?

 As an artist you often need to create a simple bread and butter line, or in broader terms, a line of something that sells quickly and easily and more importantly, sells often. The point of it being that you have a small passive regular income that keeps the bread and butter on your table while you work on your more serious creations.

 At my art classes I often hear students say that they don’t want to ‘sell out’ or become commercial. They don’t want to paint or sculpt décor work, or create art that goes with the new curtains, but in all reality especially in smaller countries like New Zealand not many artists make it to the top of their profession and they will find it hard to live off the earnings of just their art alone. 

Although your bread and butter line does not have to be in the same form, it generally does not need to be as deep and meaningful as the large canvas or sculpture that you laboured over, forgetting time and all else as you made it.

old brass key

The key to it is that the turnover needs to be consistent and you need to be able to keep up with the demand so some other important factors need to be considered.

Some artists will paint small canvases of basic subjects that may be nothing like their usual work. Painters may work on bark or stones. While a jeweller might make some simple bracelets for a craft market and sculptors may produce cute little bowls or dishes under an assumed name. This is so they are not confused with their more serious work.


What I did with my Bread & Butter Lines

For my original bread and butter lines, I created a range of merchandise, and it certainly has its ups and downs. Some products sell like hot cakes while others have either sold slowly or have stopped selling all together, turning out to be not so popular choices after all. 

It’s been a game of trial and error learning what works and what doesn’t. It pays to spend a lot of time on market research so you understand what people want. Great Aunt Myrtle might love your crocheted keyrings and buy 9 but that doesn’t mean they will be a hit and earn you a fortune. The development of the products is also critical, as they need to be affordable both for you to make and for your customers to buy. The time you put into production is critical, so sometimes it pays to outsource. Having someone else make your goods once you have developed the prototype can pay off as long as they don’t charge too much and they sell really well. 

 There’s no simple answer to creating a range of merchandise. You do need to see what your market wants. Specifically, the ‘Boozehag’ artwork targets a broad range of women in the age group of 20 to 70 so I try to make my merchandise more appealing to their wants and needs. It doesn’t mean that they can all afford a painting or want something on the wall but many would happily buy a t-shirt or mug and often come back for more for their friends' birthdays etc.


 Over the years I have created different t-shirt designs, my mugs have changed, there were wine glasses that turned out to be too time consuming due to needing hand-painting which was part of their appeal, they were also not as dish-washer proof as the paint said they would be, which in this day and age made them not quite so sale-able. I don’t know about you but I’m not keen on handwashing dishes!

The range also included perpetual calendars, the ones where you can start them at any time of the year. This gave them a unique selling point. It also created less waste for me in that I didn’t have to throw away leftover calendars each year.

I also created a range of tea-towels and aprons both for artists and anti-domestic goddesses! The aprons featured a feather boa trim and were a touch impractical as part of their charm.

artists apron with feather boa trim

Key-rings have always been popular although my hunt for blinged ones was fruitless and I had to settle for mini versions of my paintings. My greeting cards range sold well and as an artist I recommend having these as I sold so many it often paid the rent on the gallery alone!

boozehag keyrings

My top sellers have always been the hand-painted coasters on Italian ceramic tiles and the coffee mugs. Sadly the green-ware I use for both these items is no longer available so that saw the sad demise of my most popular merchandise lines until I could source some suitable replacements.

boozehag coffee mug

Try Print on demand.

There are many different sites you can work with. You upload your artwork and choose what products you want it printed on. You do need to work on marketing as there is a lot of competition for this sort of thing. This is one of the pay offs for not having to create the products yourself. When customers order things the site will produce it and take care of the sending, charging the customer and then paying you your cut. The other pay-off is that you won’t get a huge cut of the selling price.

This is one site – Shopify where you have a huge range of products to choose from to personalise, click on the image to go to their site


The key things to make sure of with your items are

· That they’re something people want 

· Affordability of production, so you can make enough profit on sales

· Availability of stock to create and to sell

· Distribution, either on the right sites on the internet or in enough volumes to target your buying public 


Sites like and are helpful sites to work with for small fun items. This is because you want to be in control of your sales and reach a wide audience. There are many more so do your research.

Here are some ideas for Bread & Butter lines

1.    Art prints

2.    Greeting cards featuring your art

3.    Mini paintings (Keep them simple)

4.    T-shirts or other clothing with your art printed on them

5.    Coasters both hand-painted or pre-printed with your art

6.    Hand-painted Coffee mugs or wine glasses

7.    Jigsaw puzzles of your art

8.    Print on demand ranges

set of coasters wine types nz Collette Fergus designs

Since the demise of my merchandise range I concentrated on more passive incomes with creating work for things like adult colouring books  and a pack of ceramic coasters featuring my artwork for wines of New Zealand (Pictured ablove) where I get royalties, this is a great way to supliment your art income. You do the inital work and then leave it for someone else to do the production, marketing and selling and just sit back and reap the rewards. I love getting those monthly royalty payments and although a lot smaller than they used to be due to the fab of colouring books, they still trickle in.

You can see and purchase my books on Amazon by clicking on the image below

 Feel free to ask any questions, I'm happy to help. And most of all good luck with finding what works for you with creating your own bread and butter line.





Posted: Friday 22 April 2022


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