If you’re already a professional artist, or if you want to be a professional artist, do you NEED to sell your art online?
You might think by now this question has clearly been decided. But the debate is still ongoing, with strong convictions on both sides. What’s the right answer? Is there a right answer?
What’s the purpose of an art website?
Plainly put, an art website is there to market your art.
Artists who want to make a living from their art first need to market their art. There’s no way around it. You can’t sell your artwork to people who don’t know you exist. So you MUST make them aware of your existence.
You also have to find a way to physically show them your work, and offer them a way to purchase it. Today, one of the easiest ways to do that is by having a website and selling your art on the internet. I don’t think anyone would argue that point.
But the question remains: “Can you be successful without an art website?”
Why would you not want a website for your art?
The most common reason (that I’ve come across) is to prevent people from stealing images of your art.
Let’s face it, this is a major problem in today’s world. Anything on the internet is accessible wherever people have computer access. A popular misconception among web surfers is that if’s online, it’s free to use (even if it’s not.)
And a lot of artists are terrified of having their work copied. So they avoid putting it online. But there’s always the nagging question. . . “Must I have a website in order to succeed at art?”
Truthfully—no. It’s still a personal decision, not a requirement. If you don’t want an art website, don’t have one. You’ll just need to market your art another way.
What are some offline options for marketing my art?
Maybe you’re one of those artists, and right now you’re breathing a huge sigh of relief. No more questions about hosting, servers, blogs, and content management. :)
But wait. You still have to market yourself and your work. . . how are you going to do it?
When I began selling artwork, the internet was barely a gleam in a developer’s eye. There was no concept it would become so widespread or that it would become a viable and valuable marketing tool.
But I started out painting portraits. Sans internet.
How did I do it? And how did all the other successful, pre-internet artists do it?
Here are a few offline art marketing ideas for artists:
1. Browse magazines
One of the first things I did was subscribe to a few favorite horse-related magazines. (I did a lot of equine art.) I read those magazines not just for the articles, but for pictures of horses.
Whenever I saw one I liked, I wrote to the owners, explained who and what I was, and asked their permission to paint a picture of their horse. Sometimes, they replied. Sometimes they didn’t.
Sometimes I received photographs of the horses, which always made my day. Sometimes I even sold the resulting painting.
What’s your special interest? What do you love to paint or draw?
My recommendation is to find magazines that cater to that interest in some way. Just make sure to find out who the photographer is and get their permission before you create artwork based on a photo. It’s incredibly easy to end up in hot water if you use someone’s photography without their permission, so always ask first.
2. Print flyers, handbills, business cards, and postcards
I looked through magazines to find potential clients outside my area. When I wanted to reach clients closer in, I made flyers and handbills. I posted them in the local feed stores, at boarding and training farms, at horse shows, and at the county fair. Basically if someone gave me permission to put up flyers or handbills, I jumped at the chance.
I also carried them with me and gave them to anyone interested in my work.
Later, I got business cards and used them the same way. Full color postcards can also be used this way. And speaking of business cards, they aren’t dead. Far from it. Keep a stock of professionally made business cards handy, in color if you can.
NOTE: A lot of printing companies are also now offering marketing booklets that can be used like mini portfolios. Check them out. They can be very beautiful and very effective.
3. Attend art and craft shows
I sold at local art shows and craft shows, often partnering with my sister, who did fabric art. The local shows usually didn’t cost much and usually drew a pretty good crowd. Ultimately I found that visitors to craft shows weren’t looking for fine art. Oh, they appreciated it and encouraged me, but they were looking for low-cost items and I just didn’t have any.
NOTE: If you go the craft show route, look for ways to put your art on low-cost items such as mugs, shirts, and key tags.
4. Find your own niche events and trade shows
Since my work was all equine, I eventually left the art and craft shows and started doing horse shows, including local county shows whenever possible and major trade shows whenever I could afford it.
I was a regular at the Lansing Stallion Expo each March for over a dozen years. The three-day show was not only a great place to display artwork; it was a great place to see horses and interact with horse people. Expensive, yes, but a weekend I looked forward to most of each winter.
And don’t limit your trade shows to those directly related to your subject. If you do floral or landscape art, for example, try a builder’s show or a home and garden show. A nice art booth makes a good change of pace for visitors.
5. Enter your work in art exhibits
The art exhibit I attended most regularly was the Clare County Fair. I entered in every class for which I had eligible artwork. My work became so well known that when I missed the show one year, a neighbor asked about it. I was amazed.
Most of the time, all I got out of the shows was exposure, a handful of ribbons, and a premium check. Once or twice, paintings were selected to go to the Michigan State Fair. I don’t remember ever making a sale from those exhibits, but when I was at the show arena and someone asked what type of art I did, I could take them to the exhibit and show them.
To sum up—you don’t have to sell art online
The internet’s not the only game in town. It’s probably the biggest game in town, and it may be the least expensive. But you DO have other options.
Just be prepared to spend money on postage, print advertising (whatever form you choose), travel expenses, and printing expenses, to name a few. Also be prepared for lots of weekends sitting at art shows or trade fairs, and potentially slow growth.
Despite the popular sentiment that “everyone’s online,” not everyone is. A lot of very good artists have chosen to let their galleries manage their online presence. Many others have chosen not to have an online presence at all. It can be done.
In short, if you really don’t want to try to sell your art online, don’t let yourself be pressured into it. The choice is yours, and you can succeed either way!
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