10 Legitimate Ways for Artists to Sell Art

Published on Dec. 5th 2008

As an artist, there’s probably no greater thrill than seeing your artwork on someone’s wall. . . and whether you’re a part-time hobby artist or a full-time professional, there are always opportunities to sell your work.

Not sure where to start? Then read on. Today I’ll be listing out ten different ways that artists can market and sell art, and perhaps one of them will strike a chord with you. If so, try it out! As the old adage goes, Nothing ventured, nothing gained. . .

1. Promote your art through the local art community

If you haven’t already done so, check out your local art scene. Many communities have events designed for the budding artist, like classes, exhibits, information on local events where artists sell art, and other art related resources.

You may also find resources through your town’s chamber of commerce and various local colleges and universities. It’s a great place to start.

2. Get others talking about you and your art

Great word of mouth is every seller’s dream—after all, it’s free! However, it takes time and effort to develop good referrals and you may have to jump-start it yourself.

In the long run, produce good work (exceptional work is better!) conduct yourself with integrity and go above and beyond for your collectors and clients. If you do, a great reputation will follow.

3. Start accepting commissioned work

With commissioned work, you sell it before you create it. As long as you and the buyer agree to a contract you’re guaranteed to get paid for the job, assuming you deliver as promised. The only downside is that you’re obligated to paint within someone else’s parameters rather than just your own.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give commission work a try—you may find that you do some of your most creative work when presented with the unique challenge of fulfilling someone else’s vision!

4. Rent a booth at community events

Event booths at fairs or niche trade shows can be a fun way to sell your artwork and participate in the community. Depending on the venue, booth rentals can be relatively inexpensive for the amount of people that will see your art.

There’s also the human factor. You’ll get to talk with people face to face, which means instant feedback about your artwork—everything from style and content to size and price. And even if you don’t make sales, you’ll always have the opportunity to give out business cards or add people to your email list or newsletter.

If you choose to sell your art this way, you’ll have to decide how you’re going to accept payment (credit card, cash, check). For many artists, cash or checks are easiest, but you don’t want someone to walk off with one of your paintings and then later on find out their check was bad. Cash and credit cards are the safest solution.

You’ll also want to sell enough to cover your booth expenses, and event opportunities may not come around often enough to make this a full-time option. Sometimes artists will team up in pairs to rent a single booth and split the costs.

Remember to encourage spontaneous purchases by offering lower-priced, smaller artwork, or art cards. If you have a website or you sell your art somewhere online, make sure people know about it. Market yourself as much as possible—anyone you meet could turn into a buyer later on.

5. Display your art on your own website

Nowadays, nearly every artist seems to have their own website. In fact, if you have anything to sell, people expect you to have a presence online.

The biggest reasons to get a website are that it’s fast and convenient, and you’ll never be confined to any one location. Getting online can be done on the cheap, too.

On the other hand, putting up a website is only half the battle. You must be willing to learn about search engine optimization and art marketing—if you don’t, your website will most likely only be found by people to whom you have personally given your web address.

You will also need to have a payment and delivery method built into your website, or use PayPal and email to arrange purchases.

Conclusion: If at all possible, at least get a web page. Give people a convenient way to see your work and contact you by email. It’s expected.

6. Place your art in a group gallery online

Showing your artwork on a hosted internet gallery is a fairly fast and easy process. It’s someone else’s website so you don’t have to know as much about the technical stuff, and it’s usually relatively inexpensive.

Many online art galleries will ‘host’ your artwork for free or a small annual or monthly fee. In some cases, you must handle the sale process and shipping, but other companies take care of accepting payments, shipping and returns.

A few, like Imagekind and Redbubble, will make prints of your art on demand, so you never have to ‘buy’ the print before someone places an order for it.

The problem is that most hosting sites make the bulk of their money by selling their services to you (hosting and producing prints), not by selling your original pieces of art. In other words, they make money even if your art doesn’t sell. In some cases, the hosting company may also take a percentage of the sale price for themselves.

Additionally, you will always have to provide your own digital images—and if you plan on offering large prints you will need to use some sort of high-end capture method (like a professional-quality camera or a large scanner).

Group galleries can still be a fantastic way to get your art on the web, just make sure to find one that gives you your money’s worth.

7. Submit your artwork to juried shows & galleries

The right art shows can attract lots of interested buyers. Usually these events are advertised by the host, so you don’t have to do much advertising yourself.

Art shows can be a great way to introduce yourself and your art to the local market (and possibly larger, if a licensing agent sees your work). Plus, with juried shows, you have the opportunity to sell your work OR walk away with an award.

Unfortunately, not all artists get accepted into shows—and some require you to pay to enter. Galleries are also very particular about the work they carry, and you can expect the gallery to take 40-60% commission right off the top.

Of course, it’s impossible to beat the ‘real thing’ when it comes to viewing art, and most high-end sales are still made in the galleries. So if you can get in, go for it.

8. Sell prints of your artwork

Selling prints of your original art is easier today than ever before. Printing companies are widely available on the internet and elsewhere and—depending on your budget and the company you go with—you can have control over the type and quality of prints (on paper or canvas, for example) as well as the choice of selling limited or open editions.

You will have to invest in the digital capture and printing services and hope that you can re-coup those expenses over time. Choosing to sell prints is also a personal decision. The advantages are obvious, yet for some, it goes against the grain.

9. License your art to individual companies

“Licensing” is your permission for someone else to market and sell images of your work. How the image is used is agreed upon in the contract.

This is as close as it comes to free money. Your art continues to work for you long after you have created it, generating a passive income. Once you have a contract, licensing your artwork is a no hassle way to sell your art. Just be sure to sell your license, not your copyright!

10. Use a commercial licensing agency

With this type of licensing your image is contracted out to multiple companies through a single agency. How your images are used is agreed upon in a contract.

When you license your art like this, your work could be used on anything from mugs, dishware, cloth, napkins, art prints, T-shirts, stationary. . . any number of things in the manufacturing industry.

Licensing may not be for you, just like selling prints is not for everyone. In fact, many of the methods listed above may not suit you—but if one doesn’t work, move on to the next. For the creative artist, there’s always a solution!

For more articles by Cathy Robertson, please visit www.fineartcastle.com.

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