Producing art is one thing, selling it is something completely different. As artists we all dream of making a living from our artwork, but finding out how to sell art can be tricky. At the time of writing, if you search for ‘how to sell art’ on Google you get nearly 40 million results – a lot of people clearly have an opinion and advice on the matter! There are no magic answers to this issue, but there is some useful information to be had from various people who have spent a lot of time exploring different aspects of how to sell art. I just want to share with you some of my own reflections and research around this subject, which is clearly very close to hearts of many of us, then let you know about a couple of sources of expert help I have come across.
We all want to know how to sell art in order to make a living as an artist, but the reality is that most of us have to do other things too in order to make ends meet. I personally have slightly conflicted feelings about it. If I have to produce my art solely with view to making something that will sell, I kind of lose interest in doing it. My art is about self expression, so it rather goes against the reasons I create art in the first place. I once did a series of commissions when I needed some money, and the work was very different in nature to what I would normally do. By the end of it I was dreading sitting down to paint and couldn’t wait to get to the end of it.
Having said that, if I have to choose between working in a factory and making a living by producing artwork that will sell, it is naturally a no-brainer. Of course it isn’t just about the artwork – you have to let the right people know about it. You can be pretty sure there is a market out there for your artwork, but how do you reach out and find all those people that will happily pay you what your work is worth?
I'm not putting myself forward as any kind of expert on how to sell art, but I think what most artists want is not so much advice on their artwork, but guidance and ideas on pushing it out into the world for the right price. I think if you are flexible about the work you produce too, then there really are lots of opportunities for selling art online and in many other ways.
First things first - I think it is essential today to have your own website to promote your artwork, and I have expanded on my own experience of doing this in my page on how to make your own website. One crucial point in this respect is to build a site that will generate an income even if you don’t sell any of your art. If you already have your own website, or are have started creating one, make sure you are up to speed with search engine optimization if you want to make sure you get plenty of visitors.
Selling work on Ebay seems to work well for some people. I have to say it isn’t the right mechanism for me, but I think that is just because of the way I need to work. I did dabble a bit a few years ago and I found that it just didn't fit with the kind of work I produce or the way I produce it. If your style of working suits the requirements of Ebay selling, or if you are flexible about the work you produce, it could be great for you.
On the face of it, what strikes me about Ebay is that you are unlikely to achieve very high prices – that is the point of Ebay for buyers - so my guess is that it will suit those whose style of work means they can turn pieces out relatively quickly, with a low material cost. If you can produce and sell in high enough volume, then you may have a good business model for Ebay. If you think that selling art online through Ebay might work for you, I do not know enough to offer any useful guidance on this vast and competitive market place myself, but a guy called Brett Raven has been doing it very successfully for about ten years now, and has produded an ebook guide on how to do it. You can check out what he says Here.
Pricing is of course a difficult area. You can be systematic about your pricing and work out the cost of your materials and an appropriate hourly rate, taking into account your overheads. These can be used to calculate what you should charge for each piece, but if that price does not correspond with what the market thinks is reasonable, you are not going to sell anything.
The best thing to do to begin with is to use the internet to research what other people are charging for their work. There are hundreds of online galleries and artist's websites. Check up on the artists concerned and try to focus on people who are in the same sort of career stage as yourself to get a reasonable comparison. Whatever structure you arrive at, build in some flexibility to allow you to drop your price a bit if necessary. Set up a system so that people can make an offer below the asking price. Agreeing a discount makes people feel they have a bargain.
After lots of digging around on the net I came across several artists and specialists who have written guides setting out what they have done to earn money as a professional artist. The important thing with these is to make sure you only take advice from people who are actually walking the walk. You don’t want fine theories from people who have not actually put it into practice. I, for example, do not earn all my income from selling artwork, so would not dream of producing a detailed guide on how to do it. The following are chosen on the basis of being by individuals who have demonstrably put their theory into successful practice and for being good value for money:
In terms of Ebay selling the one clear leader is Bret Raven, whose comprehensive guide is already mentioned above.
One of the best general guides I came across was by an American glass artist called Steve Popkin, who has earned himself something of a reputation for being a real authority on how to sell art. He doesn’t claim to be an amazing artist, just to have worked hard at finding lots of successful ways of getting people and businesses to buy his artwork.
What Steve has done is to put all of the detail about what his practical experience has taught him into a comprehensive downloadable course on how to sell art. I tried to find evidence of anyone buying it and not being happy, but the feedback seems to be consistently good. There are all sorts of ideas about possible new sales areas and opportunities and how to encourage repeat sales, etc.
This kind of guide is going to be most relevant and useful if you are reasonably flexible in terms of the art you produce and how to present it. If you are not US based, you will find a couple of references that may not translate directly to other countries, but this only affects a small amount of his substantial course. Have a look at his website here.
British artist Colin Ruffell has produced an excellent e-book called 'How To Make A Living As An Artist'. This is packed with useful practical information based on over thirty years of living as an artist. While Colin is now extremely successful, it didn't happen overnight, and this guide distils the knowledge and techniques he and his successful colleagues have developed over years of striving. The book is comprehensive and broken down into step by step chapters, covering all aspects of becoming a successful artist. Definitely worth a read - check it out here.
My final recommendation is for an art marketing guide called Online Art Marketing, aimed specifically at helping artists to develop successful online selling techniques. The author Steven Marwick is a successful internet marketer, who turns his knowledge and experience of online marketing to the particular problems faced by artists in promoting and selling their work through their own websites and other online systems.
If you have read any of my own pages on how to make your own website or search engine optimization, you will have a taste of what a vast area this can be, so some early guidance from an expert can save a lot of time and trouble. Steven's book clearly has a website design focus, but does cover lots of things that only a very experienced online marketer would know and provides invaluable advice on many things that most of us would not even know could be an issue. You can find out more about his book 'Online Art Marketing' here.
If You Are An Artist Who Hasn't Yet Got A Website...
If you haven't yet set up a website, or have recently started exploring this area, you MUST check out the information on my website design page about a package called SiteBuildIt. It is essentially a complete package for an online business, and as an artist, you already have the raw ingredients for a great site if you go about it in the right way.
Already got a website? Found this useful? Add a link to me!