Selling art is a lot more difficult than creating it, and it always has been. Yet many artists want to earn a living from their creative efforts. And there’s nothing wrong with that; it’s the best way to be able to make art full-time.
But building a business based on art—any kind of art—is not easy. Nor is it quick.
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In fact, the most important thing to remember about marketing art is that it takes time to build enough of a following to generate a livable income. Most “overnight successes” spent years laying the groundwork.
Here are 5 steps to help you achieve your art marketing goals a little more quickly:
1. Understand yourself and your art
Hopefully you’re already working on making the best art you can. If you’re not making art right now, set aside time every day or at least every week to make art. Create art on a regular basis.
If you are already making art, hone your skills. Learn new skills and always be looking for ways to improve your artwork.
The more art you make, the more you’ll discover the type of art you most enjoy making. Knowing your favorite subject and favorite style of painting or drawing may sound simple (and easy) but it’s a key first step to successfully marketing your art.
Because you have to love what you do if you want others to love it too. You have to be passionate about what you’re creating. And you need to be willing to commit to hard work and long hours before you ever see success.
All that is much easier to do if you actually enjoy what you’re creating. And your passion for your art will translate to buyers and collectors as well.
2. Know (or find) your target market
This second step is a little more difficult, but just as important. Once you discover what type of art you want to create, you need to identify the people who are interested in that type of work.
The easiest way to do this is imagine all your potential clients or collectors represented by a series of concentric circles.
The people who are like you are in the center. If you like horses and like drawing horses in a realistic style, then people who like horses and realistic art are going to be at the center of your target market..
You don’t need to limit yourself just to those people, but they’re the place to start.
The people in the second, larger circle are people who share some but not all of your interests. In my example, they might like horses and art, but not realism. Or they might like realistic art, but not horses.
You should market your art to them, too, but they’re not your core market.
You can add as many layers as you like, but the further outside the core market a person is, the less likely they are to become clients or buyers. That’s not to say they never will. It’s simply that your return on marketing investment is likely to be less.
Draw your own circles, and make notes of who your core audience is, and who might be in the larger circles as well. This will help you focus your marketing time and dollars as efficiently as possible.
3. Follow the money
This step may sound crass, but it’s still true. People who don’t have money can’t buy art, no matter how much they like it. Art is not a necessity; it’s a luxury. So you need to market your work to people who have sufficient income to afford some of the luxuries in life. Especially if you want to sell your original work.
If some of the people in your core market don’t have the money to spend on art and the inclination to buy art, you may need to look elsewhere. Sure, these folks may know people who are able to buy your art (never underestimate the power of word-of-mouth) but make sure to spread your marketing efforts to those who can actually buy.
Oh, and one other thing: Don’t market to other artists. Most of them want to sell, not buy, art. You can share your work with them, but don’t expect a lot of sales.
4. Start local
Social media is good, but despite being able to reach the world, social media is not going to sell much art for you. You’ll do better by beginning in the place where you live, where people already know who you are and are familiar with your work.
Find and make satisfied customers among them, and they’ll help you sell more art more quickly than all the ads you can buy and all the posts you can publish on social media.
Remember that the places you look for possible subjects for new art are also good places to find potential buyers. I visited a lot of horse shows when I was getting started because that’s where I found opportunities to photograph horses. It’s also where I found potential customers and clients for horse art, and especially for portrait work.
5. Build slowly and consistently
Remember the theme of my opening paragraphs? Generating art sales takes time? Find the marketing tools that work for you and use them consistently and persistently. Try new things as you’re able, but don’t give up the tried and true.
A slow build on past successes will always be more effective in the long run than trying a hundred new things in the hopes that one of them will pay off big.
So there you have it. Five steps for creating an effective art marketing strategy.
Neither I nor anyone else sharing art marketing advice can guarantee success for you—there are simply too many factors involved in selling art. But these five steps are how I got started, and I know that they CAN work for you too.