David Rollins doesn’t believe in the trope of the starving artist.
Well, actually, he does. He’s painfully attuned to the gauntlet of challenges faced by anyone trying to make a living as a creative.
But, rather than succumb to the hopelessness so many aspiring creators fall victim to as they attempt to make a living off of art, Rollins saw an opportunity. He looked to the growing prominence of side-hustle services like Uber and Waitr, business models that allow people to make money on their own terms and schedules, and saw an opportunity to do something similar for creatives.
Enter BellyFire Studios. Rollins’ new app, soon to be available for free download on Google Play and the App Store, is a hub for artists and crafters to teach lessons in their respective fields, sell their work, book commission projects, and generally make money doing what they do without having to go through a third-party entity like a studio or gallery.
Rollins set off on the path that would lead him to build BellyFire when he began practicing pottery shortly after graduating from LSU in August 2020. Not having access to the requisite equipment on his own, he enrolled in a local studio to practice his skills. He began teaching lessons there after the studio administrator noticed his proficiency.
That’s when he got to thinking.
“I began to realize that the demand was there for what I had to offer,” Rollins says, “but I wasn’t really taking home the value of what I was offering.”
Rollins says he has no problem with studios and galleries taking commissions on artists’ work—you can’t blame a business for wanting to make a profit. But he could not make peace with the fact that so many talented creatives have to take up side jobs or even abandon their passions altogether because of how slim a payout they receive when people purchase their work.
That’s why BellyFire Studio’s M.O. is democratization. Through the app, Rollins wants to democratize and decentralize the avenues by which creative professionals make their money. Standard commercial gallery commission fees vary from about 20% to 60%, depending on the gallery, according to Format. Through BellyFire Studios, though, artists take home an 85% commission for all their services—private lessons, commissioned art projects, musical performances, and anything else offered by the 25-and-counting creatives who have signed up for the app.
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Rollins says one of the most rewarding parts of developing this app has been the reception from artists who have joined so far. Reuel Walker, a part-time glass-blower from St. Francisville, says he is thrilled at the opportunities BellyFire affords him.
“I’ve never been a fantastic salesman,” Walker says.
He’s always loved the work—pouring himself into the craft has never been the problem. But when it comes to marketing, networking and distributing, it’s been an uphill battle. He’s also always wanted to teach glass blowing, but the path to actually doing so has been somewhat murky.
With BellyFire, communication with his students is streamlined, and he says the profits are fair. This opens the opportunity for him to potentially do glass work full-time, something he’s long dreamed of but had not thought possible before he partnered with BellyFire.
That’s one of Rollins’ primary goals for the app: to show creatives that it’s possible for them to pay the bills by doing what they love to do. But he says he cares about the users, too; underscoring the whole effort is the idea of “creation over consumption,” that it’s far more productive and gratifying to make something than it is to aimlessly consume digital content over streaming services and social media platforms.
“I think everybody is innately artistic,” he says. “I don’t think that’s some category that you fall into or don’t fall into.”
Rollins hopes to impart that mentality on all of BellyFire’s users: Everybody can create, and it’s better to create than to consume.
Visit bellyfirestudios.com for updates on the app’s launch.