Confession: I’m an artist who is "marginally successful."
What I’m talking about is I make probably about $10,000 to $20,000 a year on a very good year selling my work. (Almost half my profit goes to shipping, marketing and supplies) I’m constantly trying to find ways to sell the work that I’ve already made. I’m always looking at ways in which to sell art, and market art.
When I first started I thought that the best way to sell art would be through art galleries. And in truth I’ve had a lot of success with art galleries in the last 25 years. However, galleries don’t always sell what I want to sell and they sometimes tell me what kind of art that they would like for me to make. That’s okay and that really did work for me for a long time but they weren’t doing what I wanted them to do.
In the last five years, I switch to selling art just on the Internet. I use the site Etsy.com to sell all my stuff and I’ve had enormous success with it but not enough to live on. I’m a college professor who teaches art and art history and I’m not gonna quit my day job until I retire in 10 to 15 years. However, I do consider myself a happy person I sell a lot of art. I don’t sell it for large amounts of money. In fact, most of the work that I sell is under hundred dollars. Yes sometimes I sell large monumental paintings and they go for a couple of thousand dollars. But the only reason why I charge a couple of thousand dollars for big paintings that are 5 feet tall is because shipping is an enormous cost and to ship a painting that’s about 48" x 60” costs nearly $500 to ship using an art shipper.
I guess what I’m telling you is I’m kinda successful and I’d like to share what little I’ve learned about selling art to people who ask me about it.
Step one, you need to have at least 20 to 30 paintings that are super high quality. They can also be drawings or watercolors, whatever you make. However, in all of my searches on the Internet for how to sell work nobody ever mentions having a large stock of paintings that you’re willing to get rid of for reasonable prices. Certainly, I have not come across many articles that discuss making art that is super high quality and subject matter that people might be interested in. In graduate school I was taught that you had to make a statement. As an art historian it does seem to me that the people we study have always followed their bliss and made really strong artistic statements however, the people we study and art history also were really good craftspeople and made work that was relevant to the community that they were involved in. If you’re sitting in your basement like the “Unibomber” and thinking that you’re making something that makes a statement. That might not be the best way to go. I suggest looking at artists who makes subject matter that similar to yours but are also very successful.
Here's and enormously successful artist names Malcom Liepke. I've been following his career for 30 years and he is consistent in the high quality of his work. His work is so successful that he has spawned hundreds of copycats who ape his style and subject matter. (I tried that too for a while and did very well, but, if felt like I was following my big brother around trying to be like him so now I've developed my own style.)
So the first thing that you need to do is to make high quality work, have a large quantity of it, and make sure that the work is relevant to an audience who might be interested in purchasing your work.
- Quality is the first and most important thing.
- Quantity is the second thing that you need to think about.
- Subject matter is the third thing you need to think about. Is the subject something that other people want to think about?
Ask yourself, "How does my work compare against other people’s work?"
The second thing that I’d like to suggest is that you make enough work that you’re comfortable giving it away. I routinely give away 10 to 15 works of art a month. I figure the first step in getting someone interested in me is to see if they’re interested enough to take it home, spend money on a frame, and live with it.
So what I’m suggesting you do is make enough work that you’re willing to give away 20 pieces before you start thinking about selling it.
I’ll try to continue this series later with tips on how I market my work through the Internet, Facebook, twitter, Etsy, etc. I welcome any questions and requests.