Hint: Forget Galleries
If you’re an artist, you would probably love a reliable way to sell your work. Galleries used to be the best way for artists to get their work seen by art buyers, but in the past decade, many galleries have gone out of business. Those that remain often struggle to attract buyers.
Solution: Take advantage of today’s increasingly diverse ways to sell your work without using galleries at all.
This is more feasible than you might imagine because artists have one big advantage over writers, filmmakers and other self-employed creative professionals. While a writer or filmmaker needs tens of thousands of people to read his books or watch her movies to make a significant income, full-time professional artists often produce just 30 to 35 original works a year. They can establish a career if 50 to 100 art collectors buy their pieces regularly or if they can get a licensing deal.
Here are six ways that artists can get their art seen by potential buyers in this “post-gallery” era…
Find Art Buyers Online
Join online groups. If you paint equine art, for example, join Facebook and Google Plus groups for horse owners, rodeo fans and other horse-related hobbies. If you produce drawings of cars, join online groups of classic-car collectors. Become known and respected in these online groups by posting useful information, answering questions and/or writing articles. Mention that you’re an artist who produces work in this area only after you have become part of the group—it is much easier to sell to people who already feel that they know you.
Once you are established, you can post appropriate pictures of your work from time to time…ask for opinions…and provide a link to your social-media page or website where people can view and purchase your works if they wish to. You also can create special offers for group members.
Advertise on Facebook. Advertising this way can be surprisingly affordable. For less than $100, you can promote a Facebook page featuring your artwork to hundreds or thousands of potential fans, though ad rates can vary based on numerous factors. One effective strategy is to target Facebook users who already have expressed an affinity for art comparable to your own. Example: If your art’s style is sometimes likened to that of Vincent van Gogh, you could have Facebook send your ad to people who have expressed an interest in the art of van Gogh on their Facebook pages. For more information, go to Facebook.com.
Post on SaatchiArt.com. There are hundreds of “virtual gallery” websites where artists can post and sell their work, but Saatchi Art is the most effective. While other sites often are little more than a place to post pictures and make occasional sales, Saatchi Art allows artists to promote themselves as well as their work. Artists can create profile pages and then link those profiles to their own social-media pages. This helps artists forge deep connections with buyers, inspiring repeat customers and loyal fan bases—the real key to success.
Unlike many other virtual galleries, Saatchi Art does not charge posting fees—artists pay only a reasonable 30% commission when their works sell. Nor does it bar artists from marketing works through other venues as well. Follow the excellent tips on SaatchiArt.com to improve your sales on the site.
Connect with Buyers in Person
Rent booths at art shows and fairs. Renting booths at art gatherings is an old-fashioned technique but still can be an effective way to sell art and network with potential collectors. Choose your shows wisely. In many areas, there are dozens of these events every year, and some inevitably are not worth the time and booth fees.
Visit several shows in your area before taking a booth. Arrive at a quiet time—early or late in the day often is best—when there are few other shoppers and the artists selling their work have time to chat. Ask these artists about their opinions of the show you are attending and other ones in the area. Pay close attention to responses from artists whose work is close to your own in terms of price and style. You also can solicit opinions about local art shows and fairs through the websites and social-media sites of local art associations.
Helpful: When you take a booth at a show, focus not just on selling the art you have on display but also on building a list of potential collectors. When people ask if you have a business card or catalog, say that you don’t but that you would be happy to put these people on your e-mail mailing list—and have a pad and pen so that they can write down their e-mail addresses. E-mail lists provide an effective ongoing reminder about an artist’s work. Send out periodic updates about your latest pieces.
Arrange home shows. If a well-to-do art fan starts collecting your work, casually ask whether he/she would be willing to host a home show for you. The host invites his art-fan friends to his house…and the artist displays his art there, chats about his work and provides wine and cheese. It’s a win-win—the collector looks like a patron of the arts to his friends, while the artist networks with potential buyers.
Display your art in local businesses—but not restaurants. Having your art hung on the walls of a high-end boutique, spa or antiques store can get it seen by the sort of people who tend to buy art.
Having your art hung on the walls of restaurants or cafés is less likely to be useful. In my experience, even when diners do notice restaurant art, they almost never purchase these works. Approach restaurants about displaying your art only if you have a lot of art to show and no better place to show it.
License Your Art
Licensing art means granting a company the right to reproduce it on products such as notebooks, wallpaper, shower curtains and dishes. Licensers generally look for art that is highly decorative—that is, visually appealing to a broad audience. That could be anything from colorful patterns to cute cats to seashore scenes.
Example: Florida painter Paul Brent (PaulBrent.com) has made millions of dollars licensing mainly tropical coastal scenes.
Before you can get involved with licensing, you need to know the basics of the business. An Internet search for terms such as “how to license artwork” is a good starting point. Also helpful: Maria Brophy offers a wealth of licensing information for artists at MariaBrophy.com. After your initial research, start reviewing the websites of the exhibitors at Surtex, the premier show for licensing artwork held annually in New York City, to get a feel for what kinds of art are licensed.