How to sell art online: The Ultimate Guide
After graduating from art school, I was able to master color theory, brush techniques, and composition but I didn’t know a thing about business. How do I market myself? What are the steps I should take to sell my artwork? What price should I set for my work and how much would shipping be? The tools and channels that allowed you to sell and promote your art online at the time were virtually non-existent.
My first week as an artist in residence taught me a difficult lesson: To succeed in art, one must also succeed at business.
A dying trope is the starving artist. Independent artists can fund themselves by selling their work to their fans.
The notion of the starving artist is now a dying cliché. Independent artists can sell their work directly to their supporters and self-fund their art. Although representation by a gallery or agent is still an effective way to reach larger audiences, corporate clients, and buyers with more money, it’s not necessary to be a successful working artist.
Gallerists and curators have seen a shift in how they buy and sell art over the past two decades, which has allowed them to represent more artists as well as expand their online sales to offer affordable art prints to a wider audience.
How to sell art online
This guide will help you, whether you are a creator or curator who wants to make money online selling art. Experts and artists who have been successful in their fields were consulted to offer advice on everything, from pricing to shipping to marketing.
Meet the experts
Two artists and a gallery owner were our experts. They are both active online sellers of art. Their anecdotes will become practical and useful advice for creative entrepreneurs in this guide.
Cat Seto, owner, Ferme and Artist, Papier
Cat Seto is an artist, author and founder of Ferme a Papier in San Francisco. The boutique sells unique products from West Coast designers. Her stationery has been featured in numerous publications, and she has secured partnerships with brands such as Anthropologie or Gap. Cat shut down her retail business in order to refocus and move to a new location prior to the pandemic. Recent hate crimes against the AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) community prompted Cat to make a change. She says, “I have determined that I am at a place and time in my business where my collections must represent themes that matter to me and those around to me.”
Maria Qamar, artist Hatecopy
Maria Qamar is most famously known for her artist moniker Hatecopy. She quit her job in advertising to concentrate on art after her pop art paintings started to be popular on Instagram. It took a while for the success to happen. Maria says, “I did contract work here or there.” Maria says that when you start out, you make zero dollars. However, her full-time job taught her business skills which were crucial in getting her store up and marketing herself as an artist. She now works full-time on her art and sells her work in a variety of formats, including art prints and printed merch. In 2017, she also published Trust No Aunty.
Ken Harman, curator & gallerist
Ken Harman is behind Paragon Books, Spoke Art and Hashimoto Contemporary. These businesses together represent many international artists through physical galleries and online shops as well as pop-up exhibitions. Ken, unlike Maria, didn’t have the opportunity to transition slowly at first. He signed a two year lease when he couldn’t find a temporary location to host a curated event. He says, “I didn’t really have any other options.” “I just pulled that trigger.”
Which is best for you? Selling your own work or buying works from other artists?
You can either create or curate to enter the art industry. Cat has built her career by selling and creating her own art, as well as representing other artists in her boutique. Which is best for you? Let’s look at both.
Artists are creators. You create original art, and/or reproductions, and sell directly to customers, indirectly through a gallery or retail partner or agent. Artists can now sell directly. There are new tools appearing almost every day. Depending on the style and medium you choose, pick a channel that your target audience is most likely to use.
Maria owns her online shop where she sells merchandise and prints. This eliminates the middleman and keeps her costs down. Maria also relies on her relationships with galleries that have experience in selling original art. Galleries are a great way to expose your work to new people and can have access to professionals and resources to help you promote, handle, ship, and display it.
Even if you aren’t an artist, but have a keen eye for art and a passion for it, you can still sell art as a curator. Artists may not be interested in selling their work, so they rely on curators, galleries, and other retail partners. In exchange for your expertise and services, artists can partner with you to receive a portion of the selling price.
You have many options for working with artists. From selling prints or originals to licensing work to be used in publications or printed on merchandise, there are many ways. Ken says that most galleries will accept original art for a 50% consignment split. Spoke says that artists provide the artwork and we try to sell it. Spoke also has its own print shop selling limited-run prints by artists. Spoke offers a variety of prices for their customers.
Originals or reproductions: Which are you selling?
You have the option to either sell your original work or reproductions. The nature of your work and the medium you choose will determine which option is best for you. Fine artists who sell classic mediums at high prices may prefer to sell originals. Digital art can be reproduced with no loss of quality and is ideal for prints and merch. Most art made in 2D can generate unlimited sales.
These are some options to consider:
- Original artNote: You can sell original art and prints of the same work.
- Prints available in limited- and open-edition versionsPrints on canvas, unframed or framed
- Downloads digital(desktop wallpapers, templates, print at-home art, etc.
- Art customMade to order by customers or businesses.
- MerchandiseYour art can be printed on mugs and hatsT-shirts?Enamel pinsStationery, greeting cards, etc.
- Prints can be repeatedFabric, wrapping paper and wallpaper
- Work licensed to other brands and publicationsThis is great for photographers and illustrators.
- CollaborationsWith brands (limited collection sold in the partner brand’s shop)
Some mediums, such as sculpture, are more difficult for merchandise applications to be reproduced or used in reproductions. There are ways to make additional income with a single design that is difficult to scan or print. A 3D printer can create multiple 3D designs from the same mold, so that clay works can produce similar pieces.
Reproductions: Open or limited edition?
Reproduction of art on tee-shirtsA single work of art can bear fruit indefinitely, whether it is in the form of mugs, prints, or art prints. Prints can be sold in unlimited quantities (also known asOpen edition). Some galleries, such as Spoke, prefer aLimited EditionModel (only a limited number of prints are produced) for many of the works that they represent.
This creates a sense urgency and scarcity, which is a marketing strategy that is very similar to a limited-time offer. Ken believes that the decision to limit printing runs is more important. “We do our best to find unique products to sell. He says that special items should be treated as if they were special. Spoke might be able make more selling prints in an open edition but the decision to limit the number of prints increases the art’s value.
However, limited editions have their drawbacks. Ken says that a lot of the items we sell have secondary market value. This means that limited edition pieces can sell at inflated prices in the resale marketplace (think limited-edition sneakers). Spoke will limit the number of prints that can be sold per customer to reduce reselling. Spoke has also created a blacklist of authorized resellers. Ken states that Ken is committed to making sure the true fans get the products they want.
Printing art and selecting printers
It all boils down to being friendly with your printer, whether it’s an at-home or professional one. You have many options to sell art prints and other merchandise to your customers, whether you are a DIY or fully hands-off.
You can create high-quality prints by yourself using the right paper, ink and a home printer. This method is great for artists starting out, but may not be sustainable or scalable. Maria says that she used to print, package and deliver every poster by hand at first. “At some point, the volume was so high that I couldn’t draw. “I was spending all my time delivering and in transit.” Although this method is limited to selling art prints on papers, some specialty printers might allow you to print on canvas or fabric specifically designed for this purpose.
Use a printing company
Local or online printing companies can print your work in bulk and offer bulk discounts for printing multiple pieces. This is an excellent option for those who have a limited catalog and can afford to buy inventory in bulk. You will still need to ship and pack your items.
It is important that we are the last set of eyes to inspect, package, and ship the product to our customers.
Ferme a Papier, Cat Seto
Cat prints large quantities for collections releases. She uses a print on-demand model for custom orders and clients. In both cases, Cat prints the prints first at her studio, and not directly to the customer. She says, “It is important that we are last sets of eyes inspecting and packaging the product before shipping it to our customers.”
Print on demand
Print on demand is the best option if you want to sell your artwork printed on merch such as t-shirts and caps. These print-on-demand companies integrate with your online shop and allow you upload your designs. Once you receive an order, your designs are printed and shipped to the customer. This is a great way to start a business without spending too much upfront. There is no need to purchase equipment or inventory.
Maria switched to a print-on demand company when the volume of orders outstripped her ability to print and ship. She says that all she has to do is upload the files and it will do the rest. “Now, I can concentrate on creating the artwork and connecting to people.
TipAsk for samples from the printer to inspect the quality and colors. This is particularly important if you plan to send printed items directly to customers.
Scanner and photographing art
Online businesses need to be able to accurately and clearly photograph their products. Customers can’t feel the product unless they see and touch it. Clear images are essential to help them get a better understanding of the product. Online selling art is not an exception.
Ken says, “If your image isn’t accurate or if it doesn’t reflect the work accurately, you will have trouble selling it.” You’ll have to deal with unhappy customers or process returns.
Photography art can be more difficult than other products. Even a simple light setup can still produce glare and color irregularities. Hire a professional to photograph larger pieces of art or with glossy or three-dimensional elements.
Selling your work will be difficult if you have a poor image or the image isn’t accurate.
Spoke Art by Ken Harman
Ken suggests scanning 2D work as an economical and efficient alternative to photography. Although his facility does have a camera setup to shoot art, many artists send their work to Spoke as scans. They need the digital file for their archives anyway. He says that the most cost-effective way to accomplish this is to use a desktop scanner to scan the work and then stitch it together digitally. It can be a bit tricky if you have a piece that has a high-gloss or resin coating. But for most works on canvas or paper it is very simple.
You can sell merch and other products featuring your artwork if you follow the product photography guidelines. Clear shots should be taken from all angles. Zoomed-in photos can also be used to highlight texture and detail. Lifestyle photos, which show your product in a scene, are great for your website and social media. They also help you to show scale. Mockup images can be used on product pages by print-on-demand companies.
Your brand as an artist/art curator
Your brand can evolve naturally as an extension of your work. Your preferred style and medium will determine who you are as an artist. This will help you attract buyers and fans. There are many choices you need to make when you begin to see yourself as both a business and an artist.
Your story as an artist can influence a buyer’s purchase decision. Art is often a personal, sometimes emotional purchase. Other business assets, such as packaging and site design, should reflect or complement the visual aesthetics of the work.
Consider the following questions:
- Are you able to create and sell art under your name, a pseudonym or a brand?
- What is your brand story What part of your personal story can you share?
- Are you a person with a vision, mission, values or cause you wish to communicate through your brand’s image?
- What is the visual direction of your brand, besides the art? What is the tone of your communication
- What branding assets are you looking for? You don’t need any graphic design skills to create a logo using free tools.
These questions will help you create a set brand guidelines that will guide your future decisions, including branding, website design, marketing materials, and other aspects. These guidelines will be helpful if you decide to scale up your business.
Collaboration is about being true to your brand and being able to listen to others.
Ferme a Papier, Cat Seto
Cat believes that the causes she cares most about are what define her brand. She is currently refocusing her efforts to support the AAPI community. However, this is not the first time that she has made a statement through her work. Ferme a Papier created the Saving Faces collection, which highlighted stories from women and underrepresented groups.
Cat’s brand values are a major influence on the type of projects she accepts from clients and brands. She says that it is important to collaborate with brands and clients “not only to stay true to your brand but to be able listen to and take action to the needs of others.”
How to determine the retail price of your art
How can you make money selling art online? If you are able to price and value your work, it is possible to make a living as an artist. It is difficult to price art because it does not fit into the typical pricing strategies.
Original art priced
If you are just starting out in the art industry and don’t have a well-known name, you can use a simple formula for pricing your original artwork: your time and labour cost + other expenses + your markup or profit. You will need to set yourself an hourly wage for this method. Artists are known to underestimate the value of their work and time, particularly in the beginning.
Pricing decisions can be made by understanding your products and not compromising on them.
Ferme a Papier, Cat Seto
The problem with the above formula is that art’s value is subjective and does not depend on specific details such as material costs or labour hours. For a piece with roughly the same production costs as a new artist, famous artists can command exponentially higher prices. Compare your pricing to other artists of similar level and adjust accordingly.
Remember that you will typically get half the selling price if your artwork is sold through a gallery. Gallerists are specialists in pricing and valuing art and can help you and your gallery to determine a price that is fair for everyone.
Prints of pricing art
A simple pricing formula for selling art prints and other reproductions is to add the cost of printing to the cost of selling the print, plus your markup. Your markup will vary depending on whether you are selling limited- or open-edition prints.
Cat says that pricing decisions can be made by knowing what your products stand up for and what you won’t compromise on. Cat said that printing on sustainable paper was an essential feature, even though it would increase material costs and eventually the retail price. It is crucial to communicate these decisions with the customer, especially if you have higher prices than average.