Intro to Budgeting for Artists

Budgets: A budget represents your work in numbers. It also indicates how you value aspects of your work in financial terms. The budget is a big part of fundraising. It helps you determine what your expenses really are and how you meet them, even if you are your primary supporter. Andrew Simonet, host of our online workshop about Intro to Budgeting, shares some quick tips for healthy financial planning.


Every few weeks we post tips straight from the Professional Development Program’s Artist’s Tools Handbook, a 200+ page resource we give to Core Workshop attendeeswritten by PDP Core Leaders Jackie Battenfield and Aaron Landsman. The book covers everything from writing to budgeting, websites to fundraising, elevator pitches to work samples. Similarly, each post is packed with practical ideas to make your life run more smoothly, leaving you even more time for your creative practice. Learn more about our PDP workshops and webinars here.

Many artists avoid making budgets because they are afraid to know the truth behind how their work is paid for. Think of it as just stating the facts rather than trying to compare yourself to a particular idea of success. Another stumbling block is that we are often our own biggest supporters, so it can be hard to put a dollar value on what many of us would do, paid or not. Time tracking can help you here—take stock of the hours you spend on various aspects of your work and apply an hourly rate to them. You should start with what it really costs you to make your work—not your idea of what you think it should cost. Funders want to see that you will spend the money appropriately.

Types of Budgets: Budgets can be confusing because there are many different kinds that can account for different items, leading you to different results. It’s important to know the different kinds of budgets you might need or want to create, how each works and why each is important. You may have three or four different budgets for your work. The two most basic types of budgets are project-based budgets and annual budgets. The project or series budget represents every stage of a project, including development, production and post-production (if applicable). It can cover any amount of time the project needs, from weeks to years. It is important to make clear how much time you’re accounting for, either in the proposal or in the budget itself.

Artists are used to working on a scarcity model; however, grantors want to see artists think beyond scarcity in their budgets. If you know you can create ten paintings for $1,500 in direct cash outlay, your grant budget should be higher. It should include market rate costs for any items you get free or discounted, and a fee for yourself and anyone else you are working with.
Another way to think of it is that if you do other jobs to support the time you spend in your studio, you are paying yourself to make your art. You are getting paid for your time; you just don’t see it because the money comes from one part of your life and goes into another. But you’re still paying yourself.

Some donors want to know exactly how their money will be used, or what percentage of your budget they are being asked to fund. This is most common with traditional grantmakers, but a hardware store donating materials for an art installation might ask as well. Most institutional funders want to see a budget that breaks even, meaning the income equals the expenses. They want you to list realistic expenses as well as possible ways of meeting those expenses. Your final budget does not have to match what you send in with a proposal, but you want to show that you’ve thoroughly considered every potential cost. For some funders, a small surplus at the end of a project will not be a problem. They understand that the money will be well spent on incurred costs, or put toward new work.

Creative Capital hosts professional development workshops in a wide variety of fields such as grant writing, communications, and budgeting to help artists create successful projects from inception to completion. Check our calendar for upcoming workshops!

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