Any artist will tell you one of the most difficult challenges they face is making a living by selling their art. The conventional way to achieve financial independence has been through long-term gallery representations, but many artists don't have that luxury and of those who do, few have it on a consistent basis or even when they do, are able to generate enough sales to make decent livings. Fortunately, the Internet has afforded artists an incredible range of opportunities to sell their art, not to mention the fact that artists are among the most resourceful and innovative people out there, and are continually coming up with all kinds of nontraditional approaches to bulk up their bottom lines.
One of the main ways to make more sales is to increase your name recognition. Better known artists sell plenty of art because they consistently keep their names out in front of the public, make their art visible and accessible to potential buyers whenever and wherever possible, and regularly produce enough new work to convince all those viewers that they're serious and in this profession for the long haul. They know that the more art they create and people who see it, the better their chances of making sales. They also know that people don't buy art they can't see, they don't buy art if they don't know it exists, and they certainly can't buy it if they don't know the artist exists.
Pretty much the best way to attain name recognition is to get active online. Keeping your name and art in front of the public via social media, your website, and other art sales platforms is essential. So definitely do that. But also keep in mind that there are still a number of good old-fashioned real-life options for getting your art in front of the public that work just as well as ever. So let's set the Internet aside for a moment and look more traditional ways of presenting and selling your art.
In a sense, your art like is your business card, your billboard, your best form of advertising. Your primary responsibility is to get it out of your studio where it's not doing anyone any good and display it wherever possible, particularly in places frequented by people who like art and have the means to buy it. Restaurants, hotels, retail shops, boutiques, coffee shops, corporate offices, interior design firms, high-end furniture showrooms, and lobbies of office buildings are all good possibilities. Always keep an eye out for any alternative-venue opportunities to show your art, particularly those that have reputations for showing art on a regular basis.
Never make the mistake of thinking your only option is galleries and that nothing less will do. Not only is showing your art in public a great way to convince your fans that your art is worth showing, but even more importantly, you never know who might see it as they're out and about, decide to contact you (or maybe people they know who might also be interested), and hopefully even buy something. Even if you sell nothing, posting professional looking images about a show on social media lets your fans know how good your work can look in their homes or businesses. And as with regularly producing new work, regularly showing it proves that you're serious about being an artist and getting that art out in front of the public.
No matter where you show, always make sure to put your contact information in an obvious place or better yet, alongside each piece of your art. Also take plenty of quality images of your art on display and post them online. Do a good job and you can make your show look as good as if it were taking place at a gallery.
Hold a fundraiser for yourself. Perhaps you need new equipment or supplies, are financing your studies, or need basic living expenses. Fundraiser websites are a great option here, but you have a loyal and large enough following, you can try it on social media and save the commissions. Plus doing it yourself without the fundraiser site as middleman is also more personal. The the most important parts of successful fundraisers are to state your specific goals in easy-to-understand language, be straightforward and clear about all details, offer tiered donation options, and tell donors what they'll receive in return at every level. Donations can be worth face value plus a certain percentage discount on purchases of your art, for instance. Perhaps every hundred dollar donation can be exchanged for $150 worth of art, either now or at any point in the future. Or donations might be exchangeable at the same rate for other services you're capable of providing like framing, mural painting, instruction, or other art-related skills. Maybe donors can get first choice of your latest work. In addition to everything else, you can also raffle off one or two of your artworks at the fundraiser itself with each $10 donation equaling one chance to win.
Those of you who enjoy travel (when that becomes viable again), know how to teach and are good with people, can organize and conduct art trips. Enterprising artists use this method to finance everything from ocean cruises to African safaris and some even end up with extra cash for other expenses when all's said and done. A lucky few turn this income generator into a livelihood. Artist trips work because people who love art also welcome opportunities to see, learn, and experience faraway places through artists' eyes.
Itineraries can include holding art classes in beautiful or exotic locations. If you know the great art and the great museums, include guided tours. If you are familiar with unique destinations from an art standpoint, note that you'll be sharing that knowledge with everyone along the way. If you're more adventurous, also consider off-the-grid and less-traveled itineraries. Other possibilities include organizing visits to small or obscure museums, exploring local or regional art scenes, and maybe even visiting interesting artists or personalities who your fellow travelers could never meet otherwise. The price of a trip might even include a piece of your art specially created to commemorate the event.
If you're doing a tour for the first time, start small, don't wander too far from home, and decide whether you're comfortable leading others. Doing a test run with good friends or your best collectors is a great way to test the waters. Whatever you do, know your territory, talk about what unique experiences you have to offer, be organized, and be able to provide interesting adventures and observations along the way. Getting up close and personal with your fan base, whether online or at a physical location, is always good for business. The truth is that people love to meet their favorite artists, ask questions, and learn about their art.
Especially now and assuming you like to teach, you can also do workshops online directly from your home or studio. As an incentive to sign up, you might also include a tour of your art or studio, a Q/A session where attendees get to ask you questions about your art and your career as an artist, and maybe even include a complimentary work of your art along with the instruction and experience.
Another good way to introduce new collectors to your art and keep current with old ones is to hold invitation-only salons, shows, or soirees at homes or offices of your best clients. Collectors often enjoy hosting events like this for a variety of reasons including philanthropy, support for the arts, ego gratification, and wanting to be around artists. They also love having their environments transformed by art, occasionally even to the point where they allow artists to transform entire rooms into exhibition spaces. Presenting each host with a complimentary work of art in exchange for the time and space is always a good idea.
Invite your host or hosts to include friends and associates from their contact lists, especially those who might be interested in your art. Add select guests from your own circle of friends and collectors as well. Don't invite too many personal friends and other non-buyers, though. You don't want to change the tone of event from a salon into a party.
During any salon, always make yourself accessible to everyone, meet new people and make sure to answer everyone's questions. You might even seat yourself in a quiet room for a portion of the evening so that interested parties can have more personal one-on-one conversations. Show primarily new work as opposed to older pieces that have already been seen. You want your best collectors to be impressed to the point where they'll encourage new people to buy. Keep refreshments or entertainment basic so that the focus stays on your art and not on eating and drinking.
Salons and private shows might not be advisable if you're just starting out or are not that well-known. Your nucleus of supporters should be substantial and dedicated enough to attract a good crowd and to inform and engage the newcomers. Especially now, you can also schedule exclusive events online via platforms like Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp or Facetime, either in groups or one-on-one for your best collectors to get up close and personal with you as well as your art.
A surprising number of artists either augment or make the majority of their livings by playing to niche markets. They advertise on trade websites or publications, or exhibit at trade shows or events that are not necessarily related to art. For example, an artist who specializes in painting railroad subjects might advertise on websites and in publications for train enthusiasts, or exhibit at train collector or memorabilia shows. In addition to advertising, you can also offer to let websites or publications illustrate their articles, pages, or other content with images of your art at no charge, as long as they clearly credit you as the artist and provide appropriate links or contact information. The higher the profile of the website, the better. Appearing on popular websites can do wonders for your reputation and online profile.
Artists successfully market specialty work to sports collectors, science fiction buffs, pet owners, animal breeders, restaurant owners, hunters, fishermen, lawyers, doctors and car collectors, just to name a few. You can find trade shows, specialty websites and publications for practically any hobby, pastime or pursuit under the sun, so if your art appeals to a certain segment of the population, seek them out in groups. For example, artists whose art is more traditional or representational sometimes complain that no one buys this type of art anymore and that everyone wants modern. But plenty of people do buy it and plenty of business are happy to show it. Instead of looking for galleries, focus more on designers, decorators, architects, antique dealers or retailers of home furnishings that cater more to traditional tastes.
The two great advantages to targeting specialized non-art markets online, through social media, advertising, trade shows or retail venues are that you have less competition from other artists. And secondly, you'll be showing exclusively to people who already understand and appreciate the type of art you create. Chances are good that you can make significant sales if you identify, select and present your art to niche markets wisely.
If you're swimming in excess art, have a studio sale. Cut prices in half and invite collectors, friends, fans and tell them they're welcome to bring anyone they think may be interested. Make that discount deep enough to attract attention; make those selling prices hard to resist. Remember-- the purpose of a sale like this is to lighten your load and SELL. Hold back any pieces you'd rather not discount, but at the same time provide a reasonably good quality selection. Leading candidates for the price ax should be pieces you've been unable to sell for a while, ones that have languished online, ones you have multiples or near look-alikes of, and those that no longer fit into how you see yourself evolving as an artist. Don't slash prices too many times with sales like this though because you'll saturate your market and encourage your best customers to wait for sales rather than pay full price. Instead, advertise it as a rare or one-time opportunity for your collectors to save some serious cash.
Lastly, always keep the barter option open. Whenever you can trade art for something you would otherwise pay for, do it. Be less inclined to barter if someone wants to trade you something you don't really need in the first place, but then again, always consider the opportunity before nixing it because making the trade means that one more piece of your art will hang in one more collection where new people will likely be seeing it.
Food, shelter, and clothing are always high on the survival list so consider barter with businesses like coffee shops, bakeries, grocery stores, restaurants, bed and breakfasts, hotels, your landlord, and retail or vintage clothing stores. Staying healthy, solvent, and out of trouble are always nice too, so don't forget doctors, dentists, accountants, and attorneys-- all people who've been known to barter their services for art. If you're relatively well-known or your art has a broad range of appeal, consider signing on with a barter club or organization. Some are so large you can trade art for just about anything.
Article by: Alan Bamberger