Today’s world is changing rapidly. And so is the art market. One of the things that wasn’t, true probably even 10 years ago was the fact that many artists have unprecedented access to an audience through the Internet. They also have access to researching art museums, art galleries, and other venues to exhibit their art. Another new event is the fact that artists have many websites that they can sell their artwork on.
I’m a 50-year-old artist who one could say is “midcareer.” I don’t make enough to live off of as an artist and I never have, but I do have a full-time day job as a professor teaching art and art history.
I’d love to make the transition to becoming a painter full-time and recently I’ve had a 75% jump in sales due to some practices that I’ve started doing. One of them is that I’ve chosen to leave brick-and-mortar gallery sites even though I had representation in them and move into online sales. I still get offers for shows and there is a gallery that still hold some of my work, especially the large expensive ones and occasionally makes a sale for me. So I’d like to share with you some things that an artist today should know as a type of overview or plan for an artist to starting out to think about in terms of marketing and selling artwork.
First I want to start with the traditional approach to selling art which is through art galleries. Basically a first step that most artist should make in terms of trying to find brick and mortar gallery representation is to look at hundreds of galleries online and compile lists of artists and galleries that are sort of cross referenced and cross-linked that will help you to understand what each gallery does. A couple of things to think about would be making sure that the gallery shows work that has the same subject matter that you show, and also, has similar quality work. I’ve discussed this in depth in another blog post about finding venues and the differences between museums and galleries and you might want to take a look at that blog post.
The second thing that you have to think about when you’re approaching these galleries is that you have to have giveaway materials to send them and this means you also have to learn how to do some things with digital imaging and photography. So I suggest that you buy a secondhand single lens reflex camera on Craig’s list or on eBay to start. You can get away with using a cell phone camera like a galaxy Samsung five but sometimes the quality is a little sketchy and you have to make sure the lenses really clear and clean. Right now I’m still on the fence and I use my digital camera is much as I use my cell phone camera to market my work. However, you probably still need a smart phone to be able to do some online marketing so it might be best to have both.
Becoming Tech Savvy: Software, Cameras, And Digital Imaging
Next you need the software to be able to do the things with your camera that you need to do. One of the things that’s available for free are older versions of Adobe Photoshop. Just Google it and see what you can download and use. If you have enough money I suggest you go for the latest version. You also need to learn how to use Photoshop and their couple of different ways of doing this. One way, which may take quite a bit of time to get out of it what you need, but I’ve done this, is to do the tutorials that Photoshop comes with. Also going to the library and getting a book out on Photoshop for dummies is a big help believe it or not.
Another resource that is excellent for teaching you Photoshop is to go to YouTube and search for basic lessons on how to use it. Another video venue for you to look at to find lessons for Photoshop is actually on Amazon. If you have an Amazon prime account you can actually look at free to view Photoshop lessons. I’ve done this to it’s a little long and boring at times but it’s well worth putting in the 20 to 30 hours to do it. Nothing worth doing doesn’t take time. I also offer in my online class a complete tutorial that consists of five or six videos that show you exactly what you need to do to generate catalogs, images for use online, and even make greeting cards. Any of the sources above will do.
Some of the things that you should think about being able to do as you learn Photoshop are, learning how to clean up and enhance images, learning how to save different size and resolution images, learning how to organize your documents and save them, and learning how to make documents, such as catalogs, regular 8.5 x 11 paper sheets with 4 to 5 images on them and even greeting cards.
If you’re not tech savvy and this really freaks you out one of the things that you can do is use Microsoft Word to create catalogs and cards as well and they also have plenty of templates that you can download and use for that kind of stuff including templates to teach you how to design your resume.
Once you’ve gotten a handle on these skills, and you do want to learn how to do this on your own because hiring someone to do it for you is super expensive and if you’re like me you don’t want to throw away $500 to get work photographed and edited and sent to you on a desk so I really suggest you learn these skills.
Another thing that you need to learn how to do is approach galleries. I have an extensive video and article on my blog for you to look at to learn how to do this but the bare bone basics are you have to visit the gallery at least online and look at what their requirements are for submitting work. Many galleries are very specific about how they want you to present the work whether they want you to send it as a digital file or as a paper package. They even include things like how to name the files that you’re emailing to them. By the way, it’s never good idea to visit a gallery and act like you’re going to buy something and then spring on the person who spent some time with you that you’re actually an artist and you’d like to apply to the gallery. It’s just bad form so if someone comes up to you and introduces themselves to you the first thing that you should make clear to them is that you’re not going to buy that you’re just looking. If you can engage with them in a pleasant conversation that isn’t too self-promotional that’s a great idea too.
Your Online Presence: Using Social Media
The next thing that an artist should probably learn how to do is to set up some sort of online site that showcases their work. I think probably the easiest of these to do is to either use Word press and or Google blogs which actually comes with a lot of storage space and comes with your Google account. This is the quickest and easiest way to create some sort of web presence is to use Google. Lately I’ve also been experimenting with deviant art.com, but I haven’t seen much action from it so I’m a little suspicious about it.
One of the things that you have to do with your blog and your online presence is make sure that you’re not just blogging about your own work and constantly posting your own stuff. You have to do features on things that you’re interested in, such as other artists, political stuff, anything sincere and in fact probably eight out of 10 of your post to your blog need to be about something that’s art related but not about your art. Again I have some complete lessons to teach you all about how to do that.
Another good bet is to set up a website for yourself but this is a bit complicated in my PB on some people skill level but again if you don’t know how to do something a really great place to learn how to do it is to go to YouTube and look it up there and watch at least 3 to 5 videos before you even try to do anything. If you invest time in the beginning doing some research then you might have an easier time trying to set something up.
Couple of things that you might also want to think about are setting up a site on a for sale websites such as eBay or Etsy. I sell a lot of work through Etsy.com. In fact in the last five years I’ve sold about five or 600 drawings and paintings on Etsy.
You’ll also have to, or want to learn, how to market yourself and create some sort of buzz about yourself using various social media on the Internet. There are lots of ways to do this but I have a sort of tried-and-true set of sites and things that I do that have had a really positive affect on my sales. Again in my course I have some great videos that really outline this and you can check those out if you’re so inclined.
The first thing you have to think about is probably getting yourself and Instagram account so that when you are making art and you have several pieces you’re able to photograph it as you’re working and also photograph it when it’s done and posted to Instagram. You should also photograph tons of other fun things with your Instagram account so that it’s not just about your art. Instagram will really get you a good web presence.
Tumblr is also an excellent way to share images of your artwork and to create a following. Another rule of thumb is to make sure that only two out of 10 posts are about your own artwork. You need to re-share other people’s images and other artwork that you admire and share other people’s Tumblr posts in order to get a following. Again if you want to learn more about this you should either go to YouTube or check out some of my courses on how to do this on our marketing.
Tumblr also is a neat tool because it allows you to schedule posts further out or queue posts so that you can just keep working in your studio without having to keep going back and doing promotion every day.
Another two good sites to create accounts on are Twitter and Pinterest. Those two sites are very easy to use and are often integrated in with sites like Etsy and Tumblr.
By far the most important tool you can use besides Instagram is Facebook. Some of the things about Facebook are very complicated and you should really look at some of the videos on YouTube and the ones that I have offered on my channel but here’s an overview of some of the things that you should do and should know how to do.
Facebook you should have a personal page that you communicate more social friendly stuff with your friends and family on. You should have a fan page or a community page that is basically a sort of professional page that’s about mostly your art. You should also join many artists groups, as well as groups that talk about art, and groups that are related to the subject matter of your art, for example if you’re painting dogs and cats make sure you join a bunch of dog and cat groups and post pictures of your dog and cat but also drawings and paintings that you’ve done of cats and dogs. Another example, especially with me is I make gay art and so I am in a bunch of gay or homoerotic art groups as well as groups that feature semi pornographic images of men. These groups also provide me with reference material to work from.
The cool thing about Facebook is it’s got so many options in the groups and in the community pages that you can schedule posts, schedule advertisements, and create an incredible following by being super friendly and sharing lots of stuff and commenting on people’s things. Again a rule of thumb is to make sure that you share more than you advertise yourself or promote yourself. Another really important rule is never get into an argument in any of the social media platforms if someone is nasty to you unfriend them or just ignore the comment. Nasty exchanges in any social media platform escalate and can only hurt you and you will never win. So always be polite always be friendly and never post anything that you would want your mom to see.
Now let’s say, that you have either created the site to sell your work or you’ve gotten a gallery to represent you they’re going to be a couple of things that you have to know how to do that you would not expect how to do. The first thing is probably setting a price for your work.
Pricing artwork is really super complicated but the bottom line is don’t be greedy and don’t overvalue yourself. It’s hard to back off of high prices once you’ve established a taste for it and also sold some work. I have actually done this and cut the cost of my work literally 75 to 80% when I started selling online and I’ve been selling like hot cakes. A lot of people will advise you against this and it’s up to your own discretion. The thing that I think you have to do is do comparison shopping on websites where you’re selling your work for similar work and price your work accordingly so that it matches or is lower than the prices of your competitors. I don’t mean that there really competitors because I share a lot of work that people who do similar subject matter to me do but what I’m saying is it’s better to have a lower price than they have so that they can afford to collect your work. Again, I would Google pricing artwork and look at the various articles online and I would also look on YouTube for videos about it and I also have some ideas about it as well.
What to Do after You’ve Gotten a Gallery or Selling Online
The next thing that you have to be able to do is write about your work and develop advertising materials and mailing lists to promote your work. I’m talking about email mailing lists because it’s really costly to send out postcards even though everybody wants to do that the return on your investment is so nominal that I suggest you do not do postcards for show let the gallery do postcards for you. So I’m advocating that you develop an email list and also shout it out on all the social media that you can for promotion. Also learn how to write cogent clear essays that are short about what your work means. Don’t make it to intellectual unless you’re a real hot shot is people will look at you like you’re crazy.
Also, you need to learn how to package and ship your own work inexpensively and safely I actually have a video on YouTube for this and it is basically how to order shipping supplies and how to use the post office to ship work. Other organizations like UPS are very expensive and if you bring your work into ship it with them and you haven’t prepackaged it it will eat up literally all of your profit. There also people called art shippers and they make regular routinely scheduled trips across the United States and basically they ask you to wrap your paintings in plastic and they come and pick them up. The average cost to ship a painting across the country within our chipper is somewhere along the lines of $200-$700. So collect lists of art shippers and comparison shop online. Especially if you have a show coming up. Something that you might want to consider that you might not think about doing because it’s a little scary is hiring a mover to move your paintings to and from the art gallery. I did this with a bunch of shows that I had in museums and I was so satisfied that now for local stuff I actually hire movers to do it so that I don’t have to do it myself and I don’t have to worry about parking and a set of extra hands. You may also want to look on Craig’s list to see if there are people who have carpeted vans who advertise themselves as art shippers in your local town.
So basically outlined a lot of things that you should think about if you’re starting an art career of course this is a little bit of a promotion for my art marketing course but my art marketing course that’s available online which is all videos is very inexpensive. Right now it’s going for $20. And includes about 30, 20 minute videos that talk about each of the topics that I’ve discussed in this blog post.