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We need to talk about Money...

'We need to talk about Money' is normally what my husband hears right before I try to sell him on this new round-the-world holiday I've been concocting. Not in this case though. Why do we need to talk about money? Because currently we don't. How are we meant to strive for income equality when I have no idea how much my creative counterparts are making?

How much money do you make, Sarah?

The number one question I get asked when I do Q&As at schools is ‘how much money do you make?’ I love this question. I love that the teacher jumps up and shushes the student and apologises. I love the awkwardness in the room afterwards, everyone secretly waiting to see if I will answer the question. It is such a practical question and it should be asked, and answered.

In 2020/2021 financial year my NET income was $140,912 (taxable income $105k)

How can students, or even adults know whether the creative industries is the right career path for them if all they have to go on is the ‘starving artist’ myth and a bunch of blushing adults every time they ask financial questions? I wouldn’t want to be an artist if it didn’t bring in enough money. Hence the reason why I started as a graphic designer. It was a money-making job in the creative sector. Do you want to know the truth?

Graphic design or art?

In 2003, my first job as a junior designer for a telco company, I was making $32,000 a year. Fast forward 10 years and a mountain of experience in multiple countries under my belt, and I was working as a Senior Designer at a construction company and making $82,000. I was working five days a week, with a very high level of stress (think stomach ulcers every month) and very little job satisfaction.

A report released by Australia Council for the Arts reported that in the 2014/15 financial year artists earned a gross income of $48,400 on average. This was 7 years ago, but inflation only adds a small amount to this. This is not ok. The same report also stated that women were earning 32% less than their male counterparts. Let me just say – f*ck that!

A report conducted by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave stated that 61% of women would rather discuss their own death than delve into money matters. It is so important for women in particular to talk about money due to the gender wage gap. Also, women tend to live longer, so we need to be planning for our financial futures. And hands-up, who here manages their household finances? * Hand up *


The next topic that needs to be spoken about is superannuation and investing. This might be a boring topic, and you may want to switch off, but you need to plan for the future. I strongly suggest everyone reads (or audibles) the book ‘Girls that invest’ by Simran Kaur. Or if a book, or their podcast isn't your thing - get onto their mailing list. You should be learning about S&P500 and ASX200. If not for your future financial security, for your kids. In a report conducted by Women in Super they found 34% of single Australian women over 60 live in income poverty. I don't want that for you. I don't want that for me! Women retire with 24% less super than their male counterparts. This could be due to taking time away from the workforce due to family commitments - having babies and looking after elderly parents. The wage gap also equates for lower superannuation. This is not ok. This is why we need to talk about money. Where are you investing? How much do you invest each month? What are your investing goals? Talk about it...

Forecasting and planning

One of my values is Freedom and part of that is having enough money in the bank to take a week off, or to not have to worry about incoming bills or pre-paying for clients paint. To know I can retire at the usual age and not have to work into my 80s. Freedom is knowing I have enough money in the bank to drop everything and run away with my family for an adventure. I work very hard to forecast dips in income throughout the year and supplement those times. This only works if you have been running your business for a few years and have data to work with. For example, let’s look at my 2020/21 financial year income breakdown:

Graphic Design - $23,325 Murals - $67,380 Workshops - $16,914 Art sales - $18,3527 The rest (government support / grants / mentoring / interest) – $15,159

I know that between November – February there are never bookings for workshops in schools, so I organise a couple of public workshops around the festive season (for people to escape their families!) to supplement that drop.

Mural work is always insanely busy during April, May, June and then again in September, October and November. In the ‘off months’ I paint artworks, organise grant projects, develop online workshops and wrangle design work.

Artwork sales are high in June (EOFY) and December (Christmas) so I promote sales around these times and build up my stock in the quiet months.

There is always a project to work on and my business will always be transforming and morphing into what the market needs (and what my my heart wants to pursue). Murals have become very popular in the last two years, so I have increased the number of murals and decreased graphic design work. It’s always a balance and following where your gut leads you.

Have all your fingers in all the pies

I don’t know a single artist that is able to ‘just sell art’ and sustain a liveable income. Not one. Every artist I know supplements their art sales:

  • mural painting

  • education – teaching at university or TAFE or college

  • workshops – open to the public, schools, community centres

  • online workshops – thanks covid

  • selling prints or merchandise

  • selling digital products/downloads

  • graphic design

  • interior design

  • consultant

  • coaching / mentoring

  • brand ambassador

  • you tuber

And the list could go on forever. The point I am trying to make is that you should take what you know and expand your offerings to supplement your income. If none of the above appeal to you, then maybe full time artist isn’t for you? Some of them are hard. I get nervous before every workshop I run. I get anxious before every mural. I’d rather spend everyday in the studio painting and creating, but that doesn’t make enough income.


Working as an artist full time is running your own business. Educate yourself on all the small business aspects: marketing, PR, accounting, photography, content creation, legal. You are running a business. Look at trends. Pivot your business. You’re a creative, be creative with your pivots.

Put together a business and marketing plan. Position yourself and your business within the market. Be professional and be open minded and easy to work with. Show up on time. Be organized with your projects. Educate yourself and grow as a creative. Word will spread that you’re great to work with and momentum will pick up.

If you need help with the business side of the business, I offer a Creative Business Development Online Course and a Workbook to help you expand your business.

Don’t be a dope with the money you make

Have a business bank account. All the income comes into this account. All the money you spend comes out of that account. Make it easy for your bookkeeper.

When a client pays me, I instantly transfer out 30% into a ‘Tax’ account and then 10% into a ‘GST’ account. That’s a depressing moment, but I usually get a pretty epic tax return. Last tax time I bought my family a holiday to Fiji! That’s a good feeling.

I pay myself $1200 a week as a wage. This gets moved into my private bank account and I split that money out into a billion accounts. Yes. A billion. My financial advisor said I had more accounts than any of his other clients. Winner! These are no fee accounts. I move $150 weekly into investments, mixed between super annuation, S&P500 and a few companies I invest in. I move money aside for ‘health’ as I don’t have private health insurance. I also put money aside for ‘adventures’ as this is a priority in my life. I put money aside for my son into a high interest account. Then I have 3 months of wages saved in a high interest account in a different bank. This is my ‘broke my leg during Crossfit’ account. It covers my bum if I am unable to work. I also have income insurance too!

The money that is left in the business account once I take my wages out is a pool. I keep it in there. Sometimes I have to top up my ‘broke my leg at crossfit’ account if I had to dip into it (normally over the Christmas break when little to no money comes in). I know exactly how many weeks/months wages I have in there so I know when I have to get more work in. For example, if my business account has $5500 in it, I know I have enough money in there to pay four weeks of wages and some extra cash to pay rent, adobe subscription and some supplies. So I know I need to find some more work within four weeks.

Talk about it

I have no idea what other mural artists make. It’s the number one question I want to ask. I don't ask my friends how much money they make either. I'm hoping this blog post (as hard as it is to post) starts a dialog and creatives feel a little more open around discussing money. I am also dying to know what my male mural counterparts make...

Shall we move on to discussing death in the next blog?


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