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What Tax Deductions Do You Claim as an Artist?

April 3, 2010

(Illustration by Caleb Morris)

One of the unique things about being a creative professional is the types of things that you can claim as tax-deductible.

Some artists claim everything from supplies and utilities to comic books and movie tickets, while others keep it simple and only deduct traditional business expeneses.

I’ll be having a guest on the EFII Podcast in the very near future to shed some light on this topic, but until then I wanted to put the question to you for this week’s Weekend Forum.

What tax deductions do you claim as an artist?

Please share your thoughts and find out what your fellow Illustrators have to say in the comment section of this post.

See you there!

About Caleb Morris: A 29 year old Gulf Coast native, Caleb “Sheesh” Morris has been exhibiting his work in the streets and galleries of North America and Europe for the past 3 years. In addition to showing in galleries around the United States, Canada, and Europe, he has had the opportunity to work for clients such as: MTV Networks, SJC Drums, Swatch, and many clothing companies, international magazines, and record labels. When not fighting insomnia or deadlines, Sheesh can be found planning his next scheme to travel across the country and record it in his sketchbook.

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. April 3, 2010 6:46 AM

    i have done the traditional studio deductions, but often find the need to deduct crud bought as props or reference… 1 Army Helmet

    MFA expenses can’t be deducted, but if I meet with an art director, or client in an MFA session city, I can deduct the miles – not the hotel, since it’s required I stay a week for each session.

    I’ll be so glad when this degree is finished, so i can get back to normal studio life; standard insanity.

    • April 3, 2010 7:46 AM

      Hi Paul,
      I often forget to save my receipts for things that I purchase to use as reference or inspiration, but I think it’s important, because those things add up.

  2. April 3, 2010 7:07 AM

    2009 was the first year I ever deducted my expenses and registered myself as a Sole Proprietor. I deducted the following costs:

    – My fees for getting/renewing my business license

    – Supplies (pencils, color pencils, tubes of paint, etc)

    – Mileage on my car to the post office, conventions, etc (Standard and not itemized deduction)

    – Costs of mailing things to client (including packaging and postage)

    – Food at all attended conventions (the ones I kept receipts for, anyways. Doh! Must save receipts better.)

    Things I didn’t consider, but might be useful to others:

    – Office space. I live at home, but don’t have a dedicated ‘office’ space since my bedroom is my studio, office, AND sleeping space that I can’t bring customers to. If your space is appropriately set up, you can deduct a portion of your rent/electricity cost/etc

    – Education tax credit. I was in school, but not over part time. If you are in school more than part time, you could get a pretty tasty tax credit back!

    – Depreciation of equipment. I don’t even know how to calculate this yet! But I imagine since I use my car, a wacom tablet, printer, and computer so much, it might be worth it to learn how to do this (especially for digital artists, I imagine!)

    Things I’d like to know from others here:
    – How digital artists claim deductions without ‘physical’ supply costs.

    – Depreciation of art-related equipment (ie. computers, wacom, etc)

    • April 3, 2010 7:47 AM

      Hello Angela,
      Your point about depreciation of equipment is a good one. I’ll have to ask the tax accountant about that when I have him on the podcast.

      • April 3, 2010 8:11 AM

        That would be awesome, Thomas! I look forward to hearing this particular podcast.

    • April 3, 2010 1:46 PM

      That would definitely be interesting to find out more about the depreciation aspects. I really don’t know what the pros and cons would be at this point.

      Right now, I just deduct the cost of the equipment purchased in a given tax period. (I just got a new iMac a few weeks ago, and the purchase price will be a deduction next time I do taxes.) I’m pretty sure if you deduct the cost outright, you can’t take depreciation. (Seems like that’s double-dipping anyways.)

      If you own (have a mortgage) on your home, be sure to get some advice from a professional regarding taking deductions for a portion of your house. If you plan to live there long enough to retire or pay off the mortgage, this is less of an issue than it is for those of us who don’t stay in the same home for more than a few years. I have a friend (and heard many stories of others) who got burned pretty bad after selling a place that he had taken a deduction for studio space (a converted dining room). He didn’t walk away from the sale with nearly as much as he would have had he not taken the deduction. I’m sure all this varies by location, so check all the variables and make sure it’s to your benefit, whichever way you decide to go on this.

      Otherwise, my list echos Diana Ponce’s below. And I also take a portion of my phone and internet.

      • April 3, 2010 3:32 PM

        Thanks Mike. Your story about the house mortgage is a perfect example of why you artists would benefit from speaking with an accountant or other professional who knows the details inside and out. Even if you don’t own your own home, an accountant can point out things that you might not have thought of.

  3. Diana Ponce permalink
    April 3, 2010 10:39 AM

    I typically deduct:

    art supplies
    office supplies
    business/illustration related books
    computer software and hardware
    web hosting
    paid web galleries
    printed collateral (business cards and postcards)
    business mailings
    fees for business/illustration related lectures and conferences
    meals during above conferences

    And now for the first time:

    health insurance and expenses

    • April 3, 2010 10:53 AM

      Thanks Diana. I’m glad you’re able to have health insurance, because often that is one of the first things to disappear when we go into business as a freelancer.

  4. April 3, 2010 8:38 PM

    So far,

    – computer hardware and software (I just recently purchased Adobe Design Premium, whew)
    – online expenses such as web hosting and domain names
    – memberships to illustration or industry related organisations
    – art materials and supplies
    – office equipment, furniture and stationary
    – printing
    – art books, coffee table books, children’s picture books and illustration business books

    And, this one might be a bit of a stretch, but animated films and cartoon dvds as well. But, I do use them as reference, learn things from the extra features and all of that.

    I don’t deduct expenses like power/water/etc in the studio because, my work area is not used exclusively for work.

    I’ve been thinking of other things that might work, like, meeting up with a client and shouting them lunch, but I’ve been told that’s not tax deductable :P

    • April 3, 2010 10:37 PM

      Hello Melanie,
      I’ve actually heard that you CAN deduct meeting lunches, as long as you keep a receipt. It is, after all, a business expense. I feel like this type of thing will go over much better if you’re not taking advantage of it.

      • April 19, 2010 8:39 AM

        If you do have a deductable lunch meeting, then be sure to write on the receipt the person/company you had lunch with and the project. Otherwise, the receipt means nada. :)

  5. April 4, 2010 6:58 AM

    Here in Canada you can deduct for your home/work space even if it is not use entirely for work. What I do is allocating a percentage of the space and utilities that are used for my work and claim that portion.

    When I went to school (animation) I remember one of my instructors telling us to keep the receipts from all the movies we went to since they could be used as reference, research, etc. I’ve never done it, but it make sense in some cases.

    • April 19, 2010 8:45 AM

      My accountant and I push hard on the deductions. It can be a deduction if it furthers you as an artist and/or has ANYTHING to do with your business. I’ve deducted animated movies for many, many years.

  6. April 4, 2010 10:52 AM

    I deduct everything that is truly associated with the running of my art business. This includes hiring a photographer to take lifestyle shots for marketing and website images, and travels (a trip to Australia where we did a painting tour, drive across country for a tour, etc.)

    I’m careful to not deduct any non-business related travel. For example, went to New Zealand for a month last year, only 4 days of it involved the art business, so I only wrote off those four days and the rest was considered personal.

    I’ve been audited before, so I’m real careful not to deduct personal stuff.

    • February 18, 2011 6:54 PM

      do you have to be registered as a sole proprietor?

      when do these deductions get listed on the tax form?

      SO NEW to this method!

  7. May 10, 2012 11:54 AM

    Thanks for this! It can be hard figuring out tax issues as a freelancer

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