Successful Art Business | 12 Marketing Strategies Professional Artists Use to Sell Art
If you want to sell more art then you need to incorporate a marketing strategy into your business plan to reach your goals. Marketing art is an art in and of itself and very few artists are willing to develop the necessary skills or tackle this challenge beyond their normal art practice.
Not having a particular skill at the outset should not be an excuse though, and this is what separates the amateur artist from the professional artist. The truth is, many professional artists struggle with some aspect of their business but they are passionate enough to find another tool, software program, or someone else that can help them manage it.
Creating art in your studio space is probably your number one passion and outsourcing some aspects of selling may make perfect sense depending on who you are and what kind of budget you’re working with. So, as you read through these 12 art marketing strategies, think about or better yet jot down whether or not this is something you will do directly or something that you will delegate.
You might also want to bookmark this page to revisit certain ideas that make more sense to pursue as your art business shifts and expands.
Side note: if you feel resistance around being a salesperson and an artist, read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. It’s a short and entertaining book and may just be the kick-in-the-pants you need. Another relatively easy-to-read and short book that challenges us to get clarity on our values is Mark Manson's The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck:
1. Meet people interested in the arts
Initially, exposure will most likely be the biggest challenge. After all, no one can buy your art if they don’t know you exist. The work doesn’t stop there, however. Once you’ve got a bit of a following, you then need to turn these viewers into collectors of your artwork.
Many times, people want to buy art that they connect with and knowing the person that made something can strengthen that connection so it is worthwhile to visit art galleries, go to their shows and events, sign up for their newsletters, and show up to their “First Fridays” to connect with other gallery goers. You never know who you’re going to meet. If it feels intimidating, go with family members or friends.
Connect with other artists in-person and on social media. Other artists understand the highs and lows you will inevitably experience and it can be wonderful to have a mutual support system. They will also offer you honest feedback so you can improve your work and perhaps even introduce you to a gallery owner or collector that might be looking for art that is similar to yours. Many artists are happy to refer a buyer to another artist if that artist is a better fit for a project so the more people you know, the better.
Networking is necessary to some degree. There’s no way around it. And if you are introverted or antisocial or live in the middle of nowhere, then seek gallery representation and/or market heavily online and in magazines.
2. Connect with interior designers
Reach out to interior designers that have an aesthetic similar to yours (i.e. you can easily see your artwork in the spaces they design). Interior designers often place artwork in client’s homes.
Look through the luxury magazines in your area and “Top Interior Designers” lists online and contact them with a link to your website.
This could be a way to get your feet wet on the way to gallery representation or these could be great ongoing relationships.
3. Post on social media
While Instagram and other platforms may not result in direct sales of originals, it’s a great place to offer items at a lower price point such as prints. Social media is also a way to generate excitement around your work, offer insight into your process, demonstrate to art galleries that you are serious, and give collectors the chance to place dibs on works in progress.
If this isn’t your cup of tea, you can at least post your finished pieces. Having Instagram is a great way to show people your work at a glance. Think of it as a portfolio in your pocket. You can also organize photos of your finished pieces into an album on your phone for the same purpose.
4. Have a website
Websites are digital real estate and your virtual gallery space.
You are a brand, define your brand and make all of your online and printed material cohesive. Don’t use multiple fonts and colors. Keep it simple so that your artwork is what stands out.
Make your website easy to navigate. Look at the websites of artists that you like and get inspiration for how to set up yours.
Set up an online store. Having an online store makes you more professional and you will waste less time sorting through scams because it’ll be instantly obvious if someone is making a genuine inquiry.
Offering trusted payment services like PayPal and secure credit card processing encourages people you have never met to feel comfortable buying your work. Having photos of yourself on your website also makes your site seem more trustworthy and shows that you aren’t afraid to stand behind your work.
5. Improve the SEO of your website
Use Google’s free SEO guidelines to further optimize your site so it ranks highly. If it’s in your budget, you can hire an SEO expert to make more advanced changes to your site.
6. Send out email newsletters
Have a form or place where people can easily sign up for your newsletter on your website. As of this writing, Mailchimp lets you have up to 500 contacts at no cost. I’ve heard many marketing experts suggest sending an email every week or two to keep an audience engaged and this seems not only excessive but impractical. First, most artists are not producing enough artwork to send out emails that often. Second, we all get too many emails as it is. An email every quarter or even twice a year is just fine. When it comes to email content, keep it short and sweet and make sure images of your art are the main focus.
7. Send out postcards
I see you sitting there mindlessly scrolling through your phone…! We all do it. Take 15 minutes a day to add recently sold listings over $2 million from Zillow to a spreadsheet. Once you have at least 200 addresses (this is the minimum amount you need to qualify for a campaign and get a reduced postage rate from USPS), you can use VistaPrint’s postcard mailing service, which prints and mails your postcards directly to recipients. Be sure to choose a delivery day that is furthest from the day that junk mail is sent! Most cities deliver junk mail on the same day every week; avoid that day.
8. Buy magazine ads
This can get expensive and you may get more bang for your buck via postcards, however, a well-timed ad (i.e. if you paint horses have your ad published in the month that features equine art) in a magazine with a very targeted audience can result in sales.
“Rule of 7” — keep in mind that it can take up to 7 instances of exposure (or more) for someone to take action such as signing up for your newsletter or making a purchase.
9. Sell more than just originals
Why limit yourself to only one sale per piece? Fine Art America and others allow you to outsource print and merchandise sales as well as license your work. People can choose their own size and get custom framing and it’s passive income for you. If you only want to offer the highest quality prints, such as giclees or lithographs, then find a high quality local printer. Whatever you do or don’t do print-wise, be sure to get high resolution photographs taken of your work.
10. Exhibit at art fairs
This can be a great strategy for some artists but a waste of time and money for others. If you are personable and have relatively inexpensive and small artwork that has mass appeal (i.e. a lighter palette and neutral subject matter like flowers) then you may do very well. On the other hand, if you are not extroverted, your work is large or expensive, has a darker palette or more niche subject matter, then it may be less successful.
Choose festivals and fairs that attract people that are there to buy things vs are just there for an experience.
11. Enter art contests and apply to residencies
Juried art contests and group exhibitions are another great way to gain both exposure and credibility. Call for Art Entries aka CaFÉ is the central hub for finding and entering art contests and applying to artist residencies both internationally and locally. You can sort content to find relevant listings.
12. Teach classes
SkillShare is a curated platform that allows accepted creators to share their knowledge and get paid for it, YouTube is an open platform that anyone can join and share videos of any kind, and Kajabi, Thinkific, and Teachable are independent platforms that can incorporate online courses directly into your website. Some artists have gained sponsorships, gotten free art supplies, and made steady incomes by putting out quality content and amassing large followings.
Teaching classes either in-person or online is another way to attract new fans, make extra income, and help you articulate your process. If you’ve ever taught a class you know that you always end up learning from your students, too.
Recommended resources to grow your art business
You don’t have to have a passion for or expertise in marketing to sell art but understanding the value of it will make all the difference in the success of your art business.
Whatever strategy or strategies you pursue, just remember that success usually doesn’t happen overnight. Professional artists are also entrepreneurs and at the heart of every successful art business is a person who is consistently willing to put in the work. Many artists who have “made it” say it takes at least three years of doing art full-time to start getting momentum, and then steady effort and output for another decade or more before there is a feeling of financial stability.
Below is a list of additional resources that will prove invaluable to growing your art business. If only they had taught these things in art school (sigh):
I Love Marketing podcast. The hosts of this podcast offer more general branding and marketing ideas, which can easily be used by artists to refine their identity and messaging.
Red Dot Blog by gallery owner Jason Horejs. Jason Horejs has been running Xanadu art gallery in Scottsdale for over 20 years. He wrote the very helpful book, Starving to Successful, and started the Art Business Academy to help artists succeed.
Art Business Blog by consultant Alan Bamberger. Learn everything from how to apply for grants and residencies to how to price your artwork from art consultant and appraiser Alan Bamberger. Speaking of how to price your art, Saatchi Art has written a solid guide, which you can read here.
How to Start and Run a Commercial Art Gallery by Edward Winkleman. As an independent artist, you are essentially your own art gallery and your social media accounts along with your website are your virtual gallery spaces. As a professional artist, you can apply many of Winkleman’s suggestions to your own business. His insights also provide a look into how art galleries work, which should be of interest if you are or plan to work with them in the future.
Business plan guide available for free from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
Choosing a business structure (i.e. sole proprietorship, LLC, etc) also for free from the SBA. The SBA has many excellent outlines and guides, including a sample marketing plan, to help you consider different factors and assess priorities based on your situation and goals.
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