This is a compilation of stories, tips and advice from artists who have made money selling their art online. Here’s the query we sent out:
For people who’ve sold at least 1 piece of art online that they created themselves, what led you to selling art online and what was your experience like? Are you glad you did it, what advice do you have for aspiring artists trying to sell art online, and how/where did you find a buyer? All stories welcome.
If you’re an artist hoping to earn an income selling your art online, it’s our hope that these stories will give you some inspiration and actionable tips that will help you out. 🙂
Also, if you’re an artist who has successfully sold your art online, please add your story here. I’ll continue to update this piece as new stories come in.
I started selling my art online after I realized that if I wanted to work in a creative field, then I would have to create my own opportunities in which to do so.
I sold my first two art pieces on Etsy in 2018, and since have only sold one or two art prints a month on Etsy.
It took me a few months really to focus on one particular subject - cats! I create cat-themed art as I think they are wonderful inspiring creatures.
Currently I'm working on connecting with my potential art customers through social media. I am also focused on building my website and hope to make more sales directly from my website.
For those wanting to start selling their own artwork, I would say be true to yourself, build a body of work around the one subject that you’re the most passionate about.
This quote by Andy Warhol really sums this up for me, "Don't think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it's good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art."
On the business side of things I would advise, try to stay positive as it can be a long journey, and always keep learning.
Also, don't be afraid to break the established 'rules' of the current art industry!
--Helen Garfield, Kitty Cats Joy
I'm a dark fantasy illustrator and the creator of the ShadowMyths system. Like most professional artists, I definitely do sell art online. It's just another area that I can get my work out.
1) Why do I sell online? The simple answer is the exposure to a large customer base and it also allows people to purchase at a later time. I sell a lot of my work (originals, prints and ShadowMyths cards) at comicons, tattoo events, curiosities shows, etc. There are plenty of times where someone sees the original there but 1) does not have the money for it and wants to purchase at a later date or 2) wants to see if more paintings are available. Since I normally can only show 3 - 7 paintings at a show, it allows me the potential to sell one of the ones that I didn't bring to the show.
2) I love selling online. In addition to the sales, it also makes it easy for someone t share your work with another person. Just last week, an old customer told me that he loved my paintings and shared my site with some friends to see if they were interested in some pieces. I hadn't seen him in over a year and he was interested in seeing new work. Online sales are great for maintaining and getting new collectors.
My biggest advice is that they are not going to come to you. You have to do the marketing and get the traffic to your site. There are so many artists out there with a variety of skills that you easily become buried. Most of my online sales for originals have been through events where I was physically showing the painting. Online images aren't quite the same as looking at the original. The ones who have seen my work in real life can see the difference between what the painting really looks like and what it looks like on the computer. This allows them to mentally make the shift to get an idea what the other originals, that they haven't seen, look like.
--Doug Hoppes, ShadowMyths
I was accepted to my first art show when I was 12 years old. Going into the show, I needed a way to be able to sell my art if people weren't able to attend the show in person. So I created an online store.
The experience has been great. I have sold my work to collectors all over the world, including those from NYC, LA, Toronto, Dubai from my site.
Because there was a lot of interest in my work, I have been able to build a significant list of people (1000+) who want to purchase my paintings.
When I complete a painting, I notify people on the list and many get back to me that day.
I would definitely recommend a good website and an online store to artists to help sell their work. I also get requests for my work on Instagram and LinkedIn, so a strong presence on these two platforms has been very helpful.
--Evan Sharma, evansharma.com
I am a 3D cardboard artist. What this means is that I use heavy-gauge industrial cardboard to make handmade 3D poster pieces. I make historical posters, comic book posters, and even custom family designs. An example of my work (sharing my technique) is displayed in a Mother's Day YouTube video on my Homemade Game Guru channel.
What I do is incredibly niche and I have been making 3D posters by hand for years via my YouTube channel. After visiting a couple of comic book and craft conventions and sharing my art 2 years ago, I discovered people really liked my unique poster designs. As one customer told me, why have a flat poster when I can have one that reaches out to me! I am also a publisher of indie comic books. I have multiple contracted artists who work for me.
Because of the lack of comic book, craft and art conventions due to COVID-19, my pieces are now sold on Etsy.com and my personal website. Every product on my website is handmade by me. Sales have been slow since the pandemic started, but that is the challenge of offering a unique art form in a digital realm. At conventions, you can talk to people and explain your work. Online, you are a stranger with strange things to sell.
I do enjoy the control and freedom online sales provide. My advice to other artists, regardless of your discipline, is to constantly update your promotional plan and explore every avenue you can to get your artwork out to the masses. Leverage social media like YouTube and Instagram. And even create limited free custom pieces that can help a charity or public organization - which can lead to some amazing media coverage. You have to be as innovative with your promotions as you are with your art!
--Lue Nuwame, handmadecardboardinnovations.com
I'm a 10+ year vet in eCommerce, and have been selling art and fashion for the past 5 years on my curated boutique Fizzm.com.
1. What led you to selling art online and what was your experience like?
What initially led me to start selling art online was moving to Miami, FL about 5 years ago. There's a great art scene here in Miami and my first piece of art sold was through snapping a picture for my company's Instagram and having one of my followers offer to buy it. It was during Art Basel Miami in the Wynwood district and this brings art lovers from around the world. This gave me the confidence to start listing in my boutique.
2. Are you glad you did it?
Yes, it was actually one of the best things for my business. Not only, did it allow me to connect with the local art scene here in Miami, but it also gave my company the credibility in being able to find and curate art to show people from all over the world.
To expound on my first sale, I actually ended working on a collaboration with that same artist and we created a beautiful piece that was sold to a major celebrity sports figure.
What advice do you have for aspiring artists trying to sell art online, and how/where did you find a buyer?
I think the best thing aspiring artists can do is making sure they produce their art on multiple social networking platforms. Having art profiles on networks like Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr are all great avenues to get discovered. Using hashtags for the type of art their doing is also a great way to quickly garner support from individuals that enjoy their specific style of art.
Another really impactful way new artists can get their name out there is by offering tutorials and visual demonstrations of how they create their art. Whether this is step-by-step videos or timelapsing media that showcases their skills in real-time. I've noticed the more transparency an artist gives to show their skills, the more appreciated they are.
--Yosef Solomon, Fizzm
I became a professional artist later in life and also began with the disadvantage of being legally blind from combat wounds suffered while in the Army. But despite the apparent drawbacks, I quickly became known for my work in scrimshaw and unique portrait paintings on mixed-media canvases. I won many local art competitions including several Best of Show awards but I wanted to reach a wider audience of collectors, and given my late start as an artist, I wanted to reach those collectors in as short a time as possible.
To that end and with limited Internet skills, I built a very basic website to present my art and accept commissions. Once up, I started telling all my existing collectors and friends about my website. Via the magic of word of mouth, and better Internet skills than mine, those people emailed their friends and so on until I began drawing a small but international audience – and my first Internet sales.
My first Internet sale was also my first international sale to a collector in Trieste, Italy.
I continued to enter art shows, expanding my entries to other cities, listing awards won on my website, taking on a few commissions and selling a few works of art. And as my works became noticed, the media also began taking notice. Over the next few years my art and my story of being a legally blind artist appeared in over 50 television and media publications.
The media interest brought my work to the attention of gallery owners in Seattle, Denver and Rhode Island and my work has been galleried in those cities along with temporary showings in other cities around the country.
To someone starting out, I would say do not discount the value of entering juried art shows and then using that history to invite media attention to what you are doing. Also, have a story to tell about yourself that ties into your art. Your story is just as important as your art when it comes to why the media decide to feature you and your work.
Also, your website does not need to be super fancy. It just needs to work well to feature your art and allow a person to inquire about a piece or buy it directly from the page it’s on. My first website was a bare-bones affair, but it was easy to navigate and the images of each work of art were the best I could put up. I also had an email link on each page to inquire about a piece, the price for each piece and a button for them to click if they wanted to buy it right away.
Today, I pay someone else to manage my website and schdule so I can concentrate on creating art and completing commissions for collectors.
--Jim Stevens, The Scrimshaw Studio and Art of Jim Stevens
Honestly, I accidentally started selling art online. At the time, I was painting as a way to express myself. People started messaging me to either purchase a piece or commission a painting for their home. This led me to create a simple website. I am really glad that I posted my art on social media first. This was a great way to figure out my target demographic while still practicing my craft. While it feels great to sell my art, I am still pleasantly surprised every time someone wants to purchase a piece. For aspiring artists, I recommend making space to create often and posting their art on social media. This will help aspiring artists determine their target demographic while helping them hone in on their craft.
--Courtney Ruth, courtneyruth.com
I’m a watercolor artist, I make custom portrait paintings based on my clients photos. I don’t sell prints though, I only sell originals (commissions). I’ve sold dozens of paintings in my online store.
I started selling my art online when people of my community that used to buy my art in the local farmers market, encouraged me to reach a broader clientele.
So last year I opened up an online store, www.sentimentalvalue.ca At first it required a lot of hard work networking and developing marketing skills which are not a skill set that comes naturally to artists. I tried Facebook ads, selling on Etsy, even partnering with social media influencers and none of that worked. It was a big challenge, but the best marketing tool that did work was the happy customers coming back to buy more art to give as gifts, or their friends and family. That network of people falling in love with my art because someone they know has purchased a painting from me is what has really brought my business to the next level.
My advice for an aspiring artist: Make art because you love it, and because you enjoy the process, not because you expect to sell hundreds of it. And don’t have high expectations, as promoting an online store takes a lot of time and effort. Your art is worth it, and making yourself visible in the ginormous place that internet is is going to be your biggest challenge. People buy art because they find a connection with the piece, (unlike other items that are bought because of a necessity), so you will find your tribe and raving fans online it just takes time.
Overall I’m glad I’m selling my art online as I enjoy having a lot of paintings to make, but the most rewarding part is to know that my art is been displayed and enjoyed by several people not only in America, but Europe and Asia as well.
--Dalhai Badillo, Sentimental Value
I have been a mostly full time artist for about 7 years now. Most of my sales have come from art festivals, gallery shows and shops, but in the last year I have gotten additional sales and supporters through my Instagram account. My website has been more of a placeholder until recently. People at shows always ask for a card with website info, so I set up a basic web presence to fill that need. Last year I began using my paintings to create fabric and inspired home decor pieces- things that are not one-of-a-kind and it's made more sense to have them photographed and placed on my online store.
Now with the pandemic forcing art festival and gallery closures, it's clear that having an online presence is more important than ever! Shortly after Oregon issued its stay at home order, I began snapping pics and uploading new art and accessories to my website, and wouldn't you know it, it's been selling!
I'm a big fan of snail mail and love wrapping my art like a special gift with a hand written card to send to buyers. Having the time and ability to add that personal touch is wonderful! Every time I see a new online sale, I get a little giddy and it encourages me to dig deeper and try to reach more people.
For those just getting started, here are a few tips:
- invest in good photography if you're able. Take both lifestyle and product photos to share your work in detail and in use. People need that extra visual context.
- Learn about using SEO keywords and metadata. Most web platforms are now set up to make this pretty easy on you!
- With so many avenues to sell art, using them in concert is far more effective than going all in on any one venue. A website is great, but you can also use social media and email blasts to drive people to it. Collecting email addresses is a fantastic way to stay on people's radars and remind them you are always making new work for them to check out, and hopefully purchase.
- Asking galleries and collectors to tag you on social media when they share your work, or link back to your site when you get a mention on a website, can also help your SEO standings, and drive more traffic to your site as well.
- Think of your website and social presence as online networking. Find ways to stay connected with your buyers and potential collectors, while being your authentic self. As an artist, it's you they're really interested in anyhow- your work is an extension of your story. Use your website and social presence to really share our story!
--Nicole M Curcio, nicolemcurcio.com
I first started selling art online with the goal of achieving my lifelong dream of being a full time artist, capable of supporting myself financially solely from my artwork. Art had always been my passion, but for years I listened to naysayers who said to get a “real job” and claimed it was too difficult to make a living with art. I jumped around from job to job as I was never truly happy. I finally decided to follow my heart and so I took a chance and quit my 9-to-5. That’s when I set up an Etsy shop and I’ve never looked back since.
At the start it was quite difficult. Unless you're an established artist, it can be difficult to get visibility on Etsy and so I priced my artwork very low to get some traction. I started getting orders and people loved my work. So this provided proof that my work was in demand and gave me some confidence to value myself, my time and my work. I also used this time to figure out who I was as an artist and to refine my personal style.
Once I had a steady stream of orders coming in, I decided it was time to create my own website. Etsy is great for starting out, but as an artist it is important to build your brand and having a website can certainly help you do that. I also started focusing my efforts heavily on Instagram. It’s very important for new and aspiring artist to use the platform to help get discovered. Post great content and post regularly. You also need to figure out who your customers are and refine your target market. If you try to sell to everyone with a shotgun approach, you will end up selling to no one. You want to grow a following of engaged fans, turn those fans into customers, and finally turn those customers into raving fans who will help promote your work. The most important piece of advice I can offer is to follow your dreams and never give up. If I can do it, so can you.
--Laura Connelly, Stellar Villa