hey I'm an independent artist and I've wanted to sell my art for a while now. I really admire what you've done for yourself and your art and I wanted to see if I could get some advice. would you suggest selling prints or originals? also I was wondering if you could give me some advice on publicizing artwork.
Um… This ended up ridiculously long but I still have more to share I didn’t get to. Please ask me if there are any other art business questions you have so I can throw more walls of text at you ;)
Thanks so much! I honestly wouldn’t call myself successful yet, but we always have someone better to compare ourselves if we choose to compare ourselves at all… Maybe I should stop doing that.
I remember how long it took me to learn all this stuff (I’ve been in this career for 8 years wtf) and I’m still in the stage where I’m trying really hard to get more exposure as an artist, so I can share some stuff that helped me a lot that I’m still doing. I’m super involved with art in general (my full time job is at an art supply store) so I do different things IRL and online that help.
1. Get involved in your local art community! Make friends!
Artists love to help each other and you can find a lot of opportunities to sell and show work by making friends with people. You can offer to volunteer at a nonprofit gallery show for an easy “in” that makes them really like you for helping out, and the people that go to those shows are often artists and gallery owners and they’ll remember you. I used to be on staff at a nonprofit gallery and made tons of great connections with people… Now that I work at the only art store in town I literally know everyone who uses art supplies at all, and just knowing that many people means I have lots of conversations with people about their work and my work and we swap business cards and become active followers of each other.
This ties into online, because all those people generally have social media and will follow and promote you if you help them out and post their stuff too! This is more Facebook than Tumblr for me since I actually don’t know a lot of people who use Tumblr IRL. Facebook is really helpful because people post calls for art in local artist group pages, so look for and join some of those. Also on Instagram, see if there’s a hashtag for your local art community, visit it and try to connect with the people that use it by following, liking and commenting on their work. They will likely return the favor and you could start a long lasting friendship!
I know I’m speaking out of privilege about the IRL stuff; I specifically moved to Charleston, SC because of the art community here and it’s special to have so many galleries and artists in one place. But everywhere else I lived, the places with just a few galleries meant that it was even more important for artists to try go to those gallery openings and meet people.
People are the backbone of the art world, not the art, I’m sorry to say. This is how people like Damien Hirst become millionaires. You can skip the salesperson aspect of the job if you outsource it by putting work in a gallery- but getting into a gallery also requires an interpersonal connection. Galleries generally don’t accept random submissions if they’ve never met the person, in my experience. So if you live in rural Alaska, it’s going to be pretty hard to get into a gallery- your best bet would actually be in somewhere more like Juneau. I moved to start my career…
2. Get your shit together!
This should be 1 but since 1 is so encompassing they can kinda be done at once… I’m currently guilty of this too because I took my site down to redo it a few weeks ago… And it’s still down, since I need to finish it. It’s super important to have a professional looking portfolio (the URL doesn’t matter, but make sure your site iseasy to navigate and minimalist enough that your work can stand out- don’t make it too fun with colors and patterns and banners, use another site for that. Black and white are perfect) as well as social media pages where your work is represented, at least a Facebook or a tumblr… I have them all. The more accounts you make to share your work that link back to your portfolio site, the more Google will love you ;)
You need to have good, clear pictures of your work- iPhone quality is actually good enough as long as it’s at a straight angle and isn’t blurry and is appropriately cropped. Try to have the highest quality image you can because you don’t want people to misjudge your work from a bad photo. You might want to borrow a camera if you don’t have one- it only takes a few minutes to photograph work if you do it all at once. I usually do it on a cloudy day outside when the light is strong but diffused so my photos turn out really clear.
Once you have good photos, and you’ve cropped them and edited the contrast or white balance or whatever to make them look as close to the real thing as possible, put them in a folder with all the info for it in the title of the image.
Also make a document with all your work listed in the same format, like the one below. Medium is what you used to make it (acrylic), a substrate is the thing you did it on (canvas). This is a standard format that many galleries and museums use.
[Medium] on [Substrate], Size (standard is width x height)
Believe me, doing that and having the document in a folder with all the images in it will save you SO much time!! You will inevitably forget how big something is or when you did it or even the title eventually, believe me, and you need that recorded somewhere you can easily copy and paste it any time you want to put it in a proposal or online as a picture caption. Having your pics together makes it so easy to use print on demand sites because you can just upload, copy and paste, adjust your settings and you’ve got something up for sale.
Also, make a non personal email for your art. Put it on your business card and website. Now people can contact you without stalking you, and you can keep all your inquiries in one place!
Make a business card with your name portfolio and social media links and leave it around local businesses like little bookstores and cafes where bored people are sitting around looking for cool stuff to Google! You can try making it yourself, getting it printed, or go halfway to save on cost by getting one side printed and painting or block printing the other side with an image that represents your work.
3. Originals or Prints?
Definitely try to sell your originals if you can. Art is usually priced by how much you were able to sell a similar piece for in the past… Which means it’s totally arbitrary and defined by your self worth. That makes it tough to price your own work as an artist. I usually come up with a number that accounts for the size, complexity, material cost and the time it took and ask friends if that sounds reasonable… Don’t forget about weight if you’re shipping it, I’ve met losses before by charging too little for shipping heavy work that turned out to be a lot to ship. Also, international shipping is a lot!
I used to have a store on Etsy but I prefer BigCartel because you can edit your own web store and it’s much nicer looking, honestly.
Prints are much easier to sell because they’re going to be cheaper. (I consider handmade prints by printmakers in a seperate tier, closer to originals; here I’m referring to giclee and other factory printing techniques)
There are some options for prints here: you can order a bunch of prints online for yourself from a printshop in bulk, and sell them on your own at a markup (better return, but more work since you ship or sell them yourself) or you can go to a PoD (print on demand) site and upload your work. PoDs host your work as products (some will let you put prints on hats, phone cases, clocks, dildos etc) and let you set the markup you want to recieve, which changes the price accordingly from the base price. Keep in mind there are lots of other products on those sites so you are competing with similar things.
I’m too lazy to get links because I’m typing all this fucking shit, but here are the print on demand sites I currently have work up on:
Redbubble, Zazzle, Society 6, Cafepress
I haven’t had a lot of sales on PoD sites this year because all my work on there is outdated (like, 4-5 years old…) and I haven’t marketed it at all. Still, I occasionally sell posters which are a nice source of regular income without really doing much. If you post links to your products regularly on your social media and website you should see a steady little stream of sales.
I usually price my prints at right around double what I’d pay for a Justin Beiber poster that size. I mean… I guess I consider my art to be twice as good as a picture of the Beibz that some factory spat out a million of.
3. Market your work!
Oh boy this is so much shit that I’ll just make it pretty brief and promise to go in depth in another post if someone asks me to later ;)
Get on all the sites. Just… All of them. All the social media you can, make a profile or page for your art and schedule up posts all of your work and links to your store. Even if you have a portfolio, make a portfolio tumblr that links to your site. Just get out there as much as you can, use a watermark if you have to. Google up other art sites and blogs where you can submit your work- niche sites are great! You’ll get way more exposure as a horse painter from people who like horses if you submit to an art blog dedicated to horses.
Don’t post all your stuff at once on any site! You’ll annoy people with a flood of pics, if they see them at all- you want to give people time to react to one piece before you post another. Try to schedule it out so you post once or twice a day. Obviously you can queue stuff on Tumblr and Facebook; on Instagram I just post around noon and around 5…
Wow that was a lot but I hope this is a good reference for people who are hoping to make art their business!
Please feel free to ask me again if you want me to go more in depth on anything. I’m in wall of text mode.