Computer ArtsFeature

Make more money

The digital creative industries might not be renowned for their high earning potential, but at least you're not short of ways to make your skills pay. We show you how to squeeze even more cash from your pastimes.

If there's one good thing about a recession, it's that it encourages creativity - and who better to capitalise on creativity than illustrators and designers? If you're paid to be creative, this should be your forte.

There's more to money than making a quick buck. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, spending money can actually result in more work, and high-profile personal projects that get noticed will draw in more paying commissions. Sean Lynch runs Ten Point Press and publishes beautifully illustrated limited-run poetry 'broadsides', which he prints on his own letterpress. After years of work, these publications have begun to turn a profit, developing from a hobby into an unusual business.

"The key is to find a unique idea," says Lynch. "I found broadsides, which are a specialised market different from fanzines knocked-out on computers."

For Lynch's buyers, the broadsides' early industrial print aesthetic is central to their appeal. "I put the extra effort into the materials and spend some time doing things that people rarely see," Lynch explains. Aside from the broadsides, he also performs short-run commercial work for clients who appreciate the pre-digital aesthetic the press offers.

If running a small printing press and publishing company from your studio sounds tiring, how about running an entire clothing line? That's what London-based and Australian-born designer Dave Black does as one half of acclaimed T-shirt design duo The Affair, along with designer Zoltan Csaki. Having launched just two years ago, The Affair has become an iconic producer of limited-edition T-shirts in super-quick time.

"It is primarily a creative outlet but it does make money," says Black of The Affair. "I had experience in [design for clothing] but I had moved to digital web design.

"In terms of getting the word out, as much as possible we've tried to get away without paying - fashion and design blogs gave us a lot of exposure."

As with Sean Lynch, Black's hobby has become a kind of mutant second job ("It takes up most of my spare time. I'm struggling to finish a design at the minute and I'd like to get other designers involved") but, aside form the financial reward, the designer finds that The Affair is just what he needs to keep him on his toes: "It can give you ideas and it's something nice for your folio. If I have a bad day at work, I can take comfort in going home and doing my own thing."

Outside of their main gigs, both new and established designers are fortunate to be faced with a multitude of side project options. There is no shortage of small art groups, clubs and membership organisations that can't afford to pay commercial rates but are in dire need of good design, for instance. The trick, however, is to ensure you get something in addition to financial gain from contributing - otherwise you run the risk of simply undercutting your usual rates or, worse still, feeding the expectation that design comes cheap.

Like many creatives, designer-turned-lecturer Keith Martin is something of a polymath. Having earned a living as a designer and design writer, Martin became a lecturer at London's University of the Arts several years ago. Of course, not all potential teaching need be at this level. Teaching evening classes, for instance, doesn't require an advanced degree. However, it's Martin's other creative enterprise that is the most interesting: he moonlights as a creator of interactive panoramic photographs.

"It's a hobby turned into a semi-business," said Martin. "I've been interested in panorama since I saw the early QuickTime demos. I was never attempting to make a serious amount of money out of it because I [now] teach full-time, but it's paid for all of my kit - including some very expensive items."

Speaking of snappers, photographers have been earning extra cash from stock image libraries for years, and in these cash-strapped times it's a harsh reality that more and more small businesses are buying readymade designs rather than commissioning bespoke logos. With this in mind, a few hours working in Illustrator of an evening could give life to a profitable sideline. Think of it this way: at the very least you'll be reducing visual pollution.

Despite their diverse range of activities, all of these designers share a common bond: their creative obsessions have led them in unexpected, interesting and often lucrative directions. The question is, how can you turn your hobby into a money-spinner? The answer: love what you do.


Interest payments
Five ways to reap rewards from your recreation

Make T-shirts
A classic side-project, printed T-shirts are simple to produce and eternally popular. Starting a couture clothing line might require a serious investment, but T-shirts? Not so much. From simple silk-screening to mass production, T-shirts have always been easy to make and, if your ideas are good, easy to sell.

Micro-publish
You don't need a letterpress to produce interesting books and pamphlets; any designer with an interest in literature or fiction can use print-on-demand services to produce fantastic work.

Photography
Many of us are hobby photographers anyway, so why not put it to good use? Professional snappers aren't going to be quaking in their boots, because their key service is availability, but niche areas of photography remain underserved even in the age of ubiquitous digital cameras.

Teach
Everyone has to learn somewhere. While most professional designers have studied at art college, there are hobbyists queuing up to learn how to use design software, so why not teach them? Think beyond digital design, too; if you can draw, why not teach art classes?

Go commercial
Image libraries are becoming increasingly popular with businesses feeling the pinch of recession. Those photographs, digital images and logos didn't fall from the sky, though; people made them and were paid for it. Why weren't you one of those people?

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