3 ways to make money as an artist in Malaysia

3 ways to make money as an artist in Malaysia

Thinking of going full-time as an artist? Painter Kay Lynn Chua offers some tips on how she diversifies her income to sustain her artistic career.

By Kay Lynn Chua

Making ends meet as an artist in Malaysia is not easy. As a practising artist, I support myself through various creative streams of income including working part-time at a gallery, teaching, and freelancing so that I can do what I ultimately love – Art!

Here are 3 ideas on how you too can earn that extra cash to help pay the bills.

1. Merchandsing

Turning your work into affordable merchandise is one of the easiest ways to increase your income. Just ask Howard Tan – Penang photographer and store owner. Howard spent 16 years in the computer engineering field before realising that photography was his true calling.

To fill his rice bowl during his early career as a photographer, Howard often sold prints of his work at the Penang Street Market. Through his belief of “testing the market out by trial and error” and “maximising on well-received responses”, he found that selling merchandise of his artwork was the best way for him to earn the cash he needed to sustain his art career.

Today, Howard runs two souvenir shops in the old quarter of George Town. Some of the products he sells are key chains, prints, and bags featuring his own photographs.

You as an artist can start today. Rent a booth at your weekend local art market like RIUH  or Hin Pop Up Market or consign your merchandise to lifestyle stores such as The Warung, Naiise KL, or even at Howard Tan’s shop!

2. Workshops or Teaching
Photo by Rae Hong

What better way to share your passion than to teach someone about it and at the same time get paid! Teaching allows you to share your skills and inspire people of all ages to learn something new.

There is a huge hype on art workshops going around in Malaysia at the moment and you should hop on the bandwagon. The National Art Gallery holds workshops every month and even major online magazines like Time Out Penang advertises art workshops as ‘Things to Do’ for their readers.

Another alternative is to check out places like Scoopoint, Hikayat Bookstore, or even Mano Plus. These venues are open to workshop ideas from creatives that match their brand’s audiences.

However, if you are the type of person who isn’t good with large groups, opt for teaching private lessons. Being an artist myself, I teach art to young children. In addition to being a fruitful source of side-income, private teaching is a rewarding experience as you watch your students blossom and grow over time.

A useful tip for creatives is to always keep business cards in your wallet. You never know when you might run into someone who is looking for an art teacher.

3. Commission Work
Image courtesy of Ahmad Rais Azmi

If you have a style or skill that people can’t seem to get enough of then you might consider commission work. This involves a client that hires an artist to create a piece of work based on a specific subject.

Ahmad Rais Azmi, a recent fine arts graduate of UiTM Shah Alam, branched out to accepting commission work as a form of earning extra cash. Rais landed the job through a recommendation from his colleague to the producer of Astro GO’s latest show Cinta Elevator. The producer then commissioned a painting to be featured in one of the show’s scenes. Rais signed the agreement and received RM900 for work. He says, “Let’s be realistic, if you are an artist and are financially struggling, any opportunity that comes your way, you grab it”.

Another way to find commission work beyond your own social network is through online platforms like Fivver.

Try these 3 useful ways to earn extra cash to help sustain your creative career. For more advice on how to start out as a freelance artist, check out Charis Loke’s article on her experience as a freelance illustrator.

Kay Lynn Chua studied Fine Arts at the California Institute of the Arts. As an artist, her work is a candid and constant exploration focusing on the emotions that are triggered by the constant changes in modern day that affect the social nature of our daily lives. Through her paintings, she deconstructs familiar characters, personas, and places to expose emotions such as alienation, isolation, and solitude.

Cover photo courtesy of Howard Tan