Creativity,  Self Development,  Themes and Inspiration

Creative Ideas As Currency: Growth for Artists In The Digital Economy

If content is currency, then artists, you are already wealthy. You have enough unique, interesting and useful creative ideas to turn into a wide range of quality output. In the newest incarnation of our evolving economy, content creation is the most valuable currency. Artists are the original content creators and you are sitting on a potential gold mine. Today we’ll look at pushing the envelope of self-actualisation to mine the rich seams contained within you for profit and self fulfilment. Lets look at how you can start to leverage your creative ideas for increased returns.

Unshackle Yourself from a Limiting Belief

What would you want your life to look like? What is the gap between that and the reality of your life now? I’m guessing that if you are a visual artist, or any other type of creative practitioner, then you want a life of fewer constraints. Time to paint, time to write, time to practice and make better art. The luxury of not having to work a 9-5. More time to work at the times you want to. More time to explore your creative ideas.

If you think that selling more art is the answer, then you are missing the untapped potential in yourself. Lately I’m seeing a glut of marketers on social media pushing their systems to sell more art. It’s great to sell more work. We all want to do that. Let’s wake up to the reality that this has limited potential for most people. The likelihood of this replacing your 9-5 income is remote.

If we want to make a living from creative skills, we are going to have to think outside that limited framework. Creating artwork is not easily scalable and is highly labour intensive. I’m not saying don’t do it, just realise that it’s not going to be the way you replace your 9-5.

You want to have an audience who truly value your work and connect with your ideas. In the short term, you will benefit more from limiting that audience. This is a challenging concept and runs contrary to what the social media marketers might be telling you.

Stop Counting the Likes – Start Nailing the Content

Most current thinking is about expanding reach and growing as fast and far as you can on social media. This is not without its benefits and a very large audience can be a valuable asset if they are engaged and have the potential to be harnessed for income generation. However, a large audience with shallow to no genuine engagement is much less valuable than a small audience of genuine interest.

We get too focused on counting the numbers of followers and likes, etc. Really, what we need to grow is the genuine engagement. Stop counting the numbers and measure your success by how genuinely engaged you feel with that audience. Stop relating to your audience at a transactional level. It needs to be relational and authentic and you can achieve this through a shift in the content you produce.

Hopefully, you have spent some time thinking carefully about who your audience is and what they want from you. If you are a hobbyist, then that likely won’t matter to you. If you want to earn a living from your creative skills, then this needs some attention. I’ve written more about how to do this in my article on the business model canvas and value proposition for creators.

You will benefit more from a small band of loyal followers (both on and off-line) than many thousands of ‘followers’ who care not a jot about you or your work. The 80/20 rule (the Pareto Principle) will apply here. 80% of your meaningful attention will come from that important 20% of your audience. You need to leverage your creative ideas for more potential with a niche audience to swing this percentage much more favourably.

You Already Hold the Key

You have the potential to do so much more with the same raw materials that you already have. The content you need to grow and expand your reach is inside you now. Creative ideas are your principal currency. The work you create from that can branch in many directions and in to many types of products.

At the moment, you might labour under the illusion that your artwork is your product. It’s only one of your potential products. Your creative ideas and original thinking are the raw materials used to make everything. You could be leveraging that creativity in a way that is scalable and sustainable for larger returns and in doing so cultivate more authenticity.

Think about how you envisage yourself in terms of creative output. If you are like most artists and creators that I speak to, it’s probably like the diagram below. You are a creator who outputs products (your artwork). Those created artworks (or prints thereof) are your currency. You exist to create these products. Through these products you engage with your audience.

If you went all in creating artwork at top efficiency, how much could you create? You already know where I’m going with this. I know you’re not all about the money and that ‘efficiency’ is an uncomfortable word in relation to creativity. Ditto ‘profit’. What about ‘freedom’? Does that resonate? Stop thinking that making money is the capitalist nightmare. Money can buy you the most valuable thing…your time back. Leverage your creative ideas to buy more time to be…more creative. Interested? Read on.

Why are People Fascinated by Artists?

Ask yourself this question. What is it about creativity that is so fascinating? Artists are lightning rods for the universal emotions. We have the ability to express and display something about the condition of being human that is indescribable in any other way. Whether it is through written words, images, music or whatever your medium. Artists are a conduit for these often complex and sometimes controversial ideas.

Your (true) audience is in love with your ideas. Your view of reality fascinates them. The artefacts you make are one facet of your creativity. They are the visible iceberg above the waterline. Only you are aware of the true nature of the mass below. Here’s an interesting thing; your audience knows that hidden mass is there too. That’s part of the attraction to your creativity. They know that there is other stuff in there waiting to revolve round to the surface when the emphasis shifts and the iceberg turns in the water. It’s implicit in your role as an artist.

Realise the Broader Potential of Your Own Creative Ideas

Let’s shift your perspective. What if we pivot to think of ideas as the main output? How does that shift your perspective and ability to connect with a more authentic audience?


The sooner you realise you are about ideas and that ideas are the focus, the sooner you will be liberated above the level of a production line. You will stop becoming another interior decor outlet and evolve into someone who has the ability to resonate more deeply.

Here’s the bottom line. You can repackage those thoughts, ideas, experiences, and perspectives as a wide range of products…not just artwork. If you are an artist who exposes their work on social media channels, you already have a toehold. That’s all it is. You know by now that this alone guarantees nothing.

Being on social media is like putting your trainers on before a long run. It’s a pre-requisite, but it is only where the work starts. If you don’t want to put in more hard work in a much more diverse range of ways, learn new skills, and challenge yourself, then step off the train.

Using Your Creative Ideas for Growth

Once you realise that ideas are the currency and not the products of those ideas, you can open yourself up to additional ways of connecting with your audience. The products you make (and hopefully sell) are how your audience gets to meet those ideas. The options for how you introduce your audience to your ideas are much more numerous now.

Let’s be clear. This is going to take effort. You’re going to have to work at, and master, some new ways of working. But the possibilities, and payoffs could be enormous. You’re about to change from someone who creates visual art to someone who has created and writes about your creative practice.

You Must Learn to Write About Your Creative Ideas

If you want to clarify your ideas and connect more authentically with an audience, start writing publicly about your practice. I can personally vouch for the transformative power of writing. Years ago, I discovered that I could enhance and profoundly refine my practice by writing about what I do. If you are an art student, then you will already feel the pressure of a lack of writing skill bearing down upon you. My own students understand the importance of expressing themselves in writing and that this will emerge as a necessity at some point. More importantly than any external pressure to produce writing is the discovery and clarity it brings to your own thoughts.

In my working life, there are two epochs; before I wrote about my thoughts and after. The latter is a new country of clarity and possibility. Writing has taught me about myself. It has made me realise that I believe in some things and that I am happy to stand against some things. It has taught me about my own interests and enlightened me to the ideas of others. I implore you to start to write about your work and practice. It will change you and it will change your relationship to your work.

Gift for Authenticity Gains

The authenticity gain in the eyes of your audience will take some time to become apparent, but it will grow over time. Writing about your work is talking to your audience. If you are honest, unpretentious and sincere, it will come through. The genuine audience segment will become baked in to your eco-system. You will have people in your audience now who cannot afford to purchase your original work, or even prints. Give them something back. Provide the gift of connection to your creative ideas. Give them a way to be involved and engage in the relationship with you.

But does it enhance my ability to make a living from my work? You might ask. There are several models of monetising your writing. Arguably the most accessible is affiliate marketing. Study the concept of content marketing, start a blog to publish your content and join an affiliate program. There is no shame in this. You are providing a means of connection that far outweighs the value of any affiliate program. As long as you are upfront and transparent about your affiliations, then none one has cause for complaint.

Polarise and Grow

It has often been said that to make one audience segment really love you, another has to hate you. Personally, I don’t believe that it has to be as manufactured as this. You will probably find that as you grow in the confidence to express yourself, some ideas will not resonate with everyone. Learn to be OK with that. Remember that you’re not doing this to people please. The purpose of the exercise is to increase your authenticity and connect more deeply.

The plot twist is that focusing on authenticity and the expression of your creative ideas via a wider and more accessible range of methods will allow you to reach new audiences. If you go beyond the production of artwork to a wider range of publishing options you will connect to new people who would never have found you. Connecting to new people means connecting to new opportunities.

Writing about your work is the keystone. This practice in itself enables you to branch out in terms of other methods of monetisation.

Use Your Creative Ideas to Publish a KDP Product

Following hard on the heels of starting a blog is the opportunity to use the publishing platform KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). This is free to join and enables you to create and sell both hard copy and digital (Kindle) books internationally. You can do this entirely using your creativity and free tools. From zero outlay, you can create books and market them to an audience around the world! Tell me that’s not a great opportunity for someone with creative ideas like you.

Write and illustrate a children’s book. Write a book about your art. Create a nice artwork book and sell it via your channels. Turn your sketchbooks into purchasable products. There are numerous options for turning your ideas into more marketable and more affordable products.

Start a YouTube Channel

Everything has an overhead, creating media for a platform like YouTube, not least of all. If you study this medium, though, you will quickly discover that you can get started with minimal expertise. Your videos won’t be good, they will blow…hard. Successful YouTubers widely acknowledge that starting somewhere and starting now is necessary. You need to get the rubbish out to get to the good stuff. Staring now is the only answer because this is very likely going to take years to come to fruition, if it ever does.

Hate the sound of yourself or the way look on camera? Get over yourself. No one cares. There are a thousand people more self conscious than you with stronger accents…and half the expertise, or less, cashing in right now. Just get on it and see where it goes. Audiences get built around the value of the content. People love to watch artists work. I love to watch artists work. There is always the option to start a ‘faceless’ channel.

Start making videos about your process, your work, how you work. There is a possibility of monetisation, eventually. It’s years away from you in reality. The longer you take to start is not going make the waiting period any shorter.

There are more options, but these are a few starters to get the ball rolling. Of these, I’d say that writing has the most potential as it underpins everything else. YouTube scripts; writing. KDP storybooks; writing. Blog; writing. That funding application; writing. Instagram post caption; writing.

The Caveat: No Such Thing as an Overnight Success

You’ll see plenty of content on YouTube claiming many ‘techniques’ for making quick money using these platforms and techniques. Don’t trust anyone telling you that you’ll go from zero to hero in a few months. I have experience with all of these and they take work. Every one has a craft to learn, and that takes time. Like every business venture, you have to invest in yourself and stick with it. One way to guarantee failure is to give up too early.

Remember that although I have not explicitly stated this; the goal is to build an audience. A loyal and authentic audience who have genuine interest in you and your work. Showcase your creative ideas but remember the first pillar of content marketing – provide something of value to the customer, for free. You build an audience through trust. They need to see that you are not out to scam them or trying to exploit them.

Broaden your practice, leverage your creative ideas through other more mass mediums. Be patient. Eventually, though it may take years, your over night success will come.

Maturity is a Bonus for Creative Ideas

So this is a message specifically for the mature practitioners. You are not too late. If you have stayed this far to read, then you feel there is a possibility for you to broaden how you work. You have doubts, though. Social media is ‘young persons’ game. You may think that you’ll look ridiculous at your age on YouTube. Banish these thoughts. They are the polar opposite to the truth. This is your time. Brands are now favoring maturity for all sorts of reasons and specifically looking to partner with mature associates. You have kudos that is unique.

When it comes to writing about your practice, I’m going to stick my neck out here and venture that your maturity is a distinct advantage. You have the bonus of stability of mind that often eludes our younger selves. You gave the benefit of experience; you have perspective and you have the patience to make this work.

Specialisation is for Insects

As a closing thought consider that you are more than a production line for artwork. Robert A. Heinlein, the sci-fi writer, said that:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyse a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialisation is for insects.

You are a unique and adaptable synthesis of ideas, feelings, experiences, and perspectives with a lot to offer the world as an artist. You might want to consider what I have said above and consider how you might change your creative life. Broaden your options and double down on the exploitation of your thoughts and ideas. In doing so, you might find that stretching yourself leads to clarity and focus you wouldn’t have thought possible beforehand.

Remember that likely most of your audience cannot afford to purchase your original artwork at the prices you’d like to sell it for. So offer them something else. Unshackle your market for original work from the artificially low prices that you hoped would entice them to buy. Replace this model of income with something that is free (to the customer), more affordable, infinitely scalable and accessible, and start to charge what your work is actually worth. You are providing something invaluable to more people in the means to connect more authentically with you.

As always, reach out if you want to discuss further.