How to Sell Your Artwork Online: 6 Strategies for a Steady Income

/ real-life wins / 12 min read
Vrinda Singh

The internet has opened up new avenues for creatives to get out there, showcase their work and build a steady flow of income through their creations. While making money might not be the first thing on your mind as an artist, the potential to benefit from your passion is now stronger than ever, thanks to the internet.

One of the best ways to make the most of the art you love is to sell it online.

Let’s dive into some foolproof strategies to start selling your art and set up a reliable source of income for yourself.

But First: What Are Your Goals?

How you grow your audience and build your business as an artist depends largely on what your intentions are. If you’re looking to sell your artwork as a side-hustle or as a source of passive income, then using social media and art marketplaces is a must.

However, if you’re looking to turn your passion into a full-time business, you’ll find that art marketplaces provide too small a profit margin to sustain your livelihood. In this case, it’s best to take some time to cultivate your own brand through a website.

For All Artists: Build A Following On Social Media

A visual platform like Instagram can help you be discovered by the wider world beyond your personal network. Thanks to hashtags and location tags, your creations can get more people noticing your work. Here’s a helpful guide on using hashtags for fast growth.

As a photographer, Instagram is the number one place I build my following. Being active on a daily basis and engaging with the community in my niche has helped me grow. Using all of Instagram’s great features like stories has helped me connect on a deeper level with my audience. More importantly, it has helped me build an authentic brand. My audience now feels more inclined to follow my journey and support it in whatever way they can.
~ Tudor Stanescu, Photographer
Tudor has steadily grown his Instagram audience to 20.3k active followers. 

You can also get noticed on online art communities such as ArtStation and Deviantart. However, do keep in mind that the audiences for each of these communities are drastically different and it’s best to focus on a community that meets your needs. Here’s a breakdown of the most popular art communities for different types of creatives.

When it comes to success on Instagram, the most important thing is to find a definitive style and stick to it. An inconsistent brand can confuse your audience.

“For me, it’s about finding a style that stands out—and that you enjoy. I’ve caught some really great shots and by pushing them through my network, a few of them have even gone viral. Keep an eye on what’s trending and then figure out a way to make that work for your style.”
~ Tudor Stanescu, Photographer

Once you’ve built a following, you’ll start to see more engagement, likes, shares and overall attention for your artwork. However, with positive exposure, there might also be people that repost your artwork, often claiming it as their own or failing to credit you. To protect your art, it’s best to add a visual watermark to all your posts. Make sure to report any unsolicited use of your work to Instagram, and know your rights as an artist.

It's important to make sure that your designs are visually appealing across your social media platforms. You can use online tools to create mockups and designs in minutes. Here’s more on how you can make Instagram work for you as an artist.

For A Side Income: Sell On Marketplaces

Some people create pieces of artwork to be sold as canvas prints while others repurpose their designs to be printed on T-shirts. Others are more interested in selling the original piece of artwork while some like to spread out the products they offer, taking a single piece and creating everything from bags to cups with the design.

The type of work you plan on marketing has a significant bearing on where it would sell best. Here are the ideal marketplaces for your work, based on what you create.

For painters & artists selling original work at high prices

Tip: Sell on an art marketplace.

This is the online equivalent of placing your work in an art gallery. Marketplaces like Artfinder or Artplode allow you to list your work for sale. These marketplaces are often a destination for serious art buyers, so both a broad and high-paying audience for your artwork is guaranteed.

It’s important to note that these marketplaces do often charge commissions or ask you to pay for listings. However, considering that the marketplaces do all the marketing and online store management on your behalf, it’s one of the most convenient ways to dredge up an audience for your work.

For digital artists, potters, ceramic artists, jewellery designers or anyone selling physical goods

Tip: Sell on larger marketplaces.

A cheaper way to reap the benefits of a built-in audience is by selling your artwork on marketplaces like Etsy, Ebay and Amazon. While the audience is bound to be less tailored than a dedicated art marketplace, these platforms charge significantly lower commissions for sales.

A more general audience means that your work is also likely to demand a cheaper price. However, Etsy is the perfect fit for an artist who works with physical goods, where single items might be faster to bulk-produce than a painting.

The best part is that these platforms are a great place to showcase your online store and build a personal brand. The faster you can do that, the quicker you can stop paying commissions to marketplaces altogether!

Another option for digital artists

Source: Printful

If you’re looking for a slightly more passive way to make money, Print-On-Demand (POD) drop shipping providers could be a great option for you. These vendors allow you to upload your work, which can then be printed on a variety of physical goods like hats, books, phone cases, T-shirts and more.

The best part about using a drop shipping vendor is that you won’t have to do any of the actual printing, manufacturing or inventory work. The vendors handle all the backend warehouse work for you, so the only thing you need to supply is your beautiful art.

However, this also means that after factoring in the warehouse costs charged by vendors, you’re left with quite a small profit margin.

If you’re looking for a secondary source of income through your art, drop shipping is an easy way to make that happen. POD vendors like Printful or Printavo integrate seamlessly with most eCommerce platforms, including our very own Paperform for eCommerce.

For photographers

Tip: Sell to digital stock houses.

As a photographer or designer, your best option is selling downloadable content to online stock houses. Much like the popular platform Shutterstock, these stock houses are a marketplace for users who are looking to download original work to use in advertisements, websites and marketing materials.

In most cases, the stock house will pay you a certain amount every time your work is downloaded or used. The amount you receive can vary depending on things like the size of the image downloaded, the customer’s subscription tier or the type of license selected by the customer.

As a rough guide, Shutterstock’s payment tiers start at the rate of $0.25 per download and go up to $2.85 per download. Here’s a detailed breakdown of their payment tiers.

For Full-Time Artists: Create Your Own Online Store

If you’re hoping to work (and earn) as an artist on a full time basis, there is no avenue more profitable than selling your own work on your own terms. Will it take longer to do this than the options listed above? Yes. Will it require more effort on your end? Absolutely.

However, if you’re hoping to create a reliable, sustainable and above all, remunerative, business model to sell your artwork, a marketplace or social media alone will not get you there. As long as you’re relying on a third party vendor or website to sell your work, you’ll be paying heavy commissions for your precious work. While the options above work well as sources for passive or side income, if you’re serious about building a business as an artist, you will need to create your own online store and establish a brand of your own from the ground up.

Here’s how to do this in 5 steps:

Step 1: Set up a portfolio website

In order to sell your work online, it’s best to set up a portfolio website that doubles as an online store. A link to your portfolio would also be the perfect accompaniment to your Instagram Bio or any profiles on marketplaces, where people interested in your work can directly enter your online store and make purchases.

“A website is a centralized hub of all things you. With contact forms and links to social media accounts it can make it really easy for potential clients and businesses to contact you. You can put photos of all your artwork on your website, allowing these prospective customers view all your work and know your style before they even contact you. You can even tell customers what your standard fee rates are for commissions.”
~ Kat Skinner, Artist
Kat's website showcases her work and story, front and centre.

If you’re not sure how to create a website, start with a simple landing page builder that integrates with popular payment gateways like Square and Stripe. A tool like Paperform will allow you to easily set up a portfolio and online store in a matter of minutes.

A simple portfolio and online store created using Paperform.

The tool integrates with popular payment methods, automatically keeps track of your inventory and generates automatic receipts and invoices, so you won’t have to do the manual work that can make store management a pain.

Step 2: Define your brand

Much like having a definitive style on Instagram, it’s crucial that you have a distinctive brand that is consistent across all the platforms you’re marketing on.
In order to define this brand, you need to ask yourself some pivotal questions. This might include:

  • Who are you as an artist?
  • What are you hoping to convey with your work?
  • How is your art unique?
“Figure out the one thing that is most essential for people to know about your work. The thing that if it was left out, or misinterpreted, you’d feel truly sad or angry,”
~ Chloë Bass, Artist

By answering these questions, you’ll be able to define your unique brand and develop an artist statement.

Chloë's website features an artist statement that showcases exactly who she is as an artist.

If you’ve already sold some artwork, it can also be helpful to think about your existing audience - who are these people and why does your work resonate with them? If you haven’t, consider who you want your work to appeal to and any important defining characteristics of your target audience.

While this might seem limiting for your creativity, defining a target audience is crucial for success in business. You are more likely to attract people to your work (and in turn, generate more sales) when you tailor your marketing and messaging for a specific audience and their needs.

Here’s a helpful guide on conveying your story to build a fan base.

Step 3: Get social

While we’ve already covered organic growth on Instagram, organic posts are not your only option when it comes to social media. If you’re looking to fasten the process of reaching out to people, you should consider running paid advertisements on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Here are some helpful guides on getting started with paid ads:

Another great way to stand out to prospective customers is to post videos of your artworks - whether these are behind-the-scenes videos of you creating your work, close-up videos to showcase your artwork or video ads to promote your business and story.

“Artists are not taking full advantage of the possibilities of video. It’s a tool that allows to share your daily practice with your audience, as well as being a powerful tool to really show off your art.”
~ Stephan van Kuyk, Art Consultant

Step 4: Build an email list

That portfolio website you created in Step 1 will not reach its full potential if you don’t ask visitors to leave their email addresses behind. By collecting emails and building a targeted mailing list, you’ll be able to send timely emails to potential and existing customers, generate traffic for your website and boost sales through email.

“What I do more than anything is a monthly newsletter. I sell a painting off every newsletter...I have 2000 people on my mailing list....It is a more effective way to stay in contact with collectors, friends and supporters. I include new works, upcoming shows, and a personal letter about what I’ve been up to in my newsletter. I also include an article that’s educational - especially in the paper newsletter...I make sure it’s not all about me. I want to write something that my readers will be interested in.”
Debra Joy Groesser, Artist
Debra's website features a simple signup form to join her email list.

Here are some helpful guides for building and maintaining an email list:

Step 5: Maintain a community of advocates

Together, email marketing and social media will help you build a strong following and community around your artwork. But building this audience is just one piece of the puzzle.

“All you need is roughly 1,000 true fans for you to make a decent living. These true fans will be the ones who remain subscribed to your list and interact with your emails by opening each email and clicking the links enclosed within.”
~ Kevin Kelly, Artist

Maintaining a community of supporters comes down to two key things:

  • Always maintain a direct conversation stream with followers, whether that’s through your email newsletters or through Instagram stories. Engage with them through Q&As and whenever someone does purchase or support your work, make sure to send them a personalized thank you message so they feel more connected to you as an artist.
  • Be authentic, relatable and honest about why you do what you do, and what makes you stand out as an artist. On platforms as saturated as Instagram, what makes you memorable is your story - so use it to your advantage and be candid about your experiences.

You can also expand your customer base through referral marketing by offering perks and discounts to existing customers who refer you to their friends and family.

Here’s how you can quickly set up a referral marketing program.

Final words

Whether you’re looking to create a passive income on the side through your work, or looking to turn your passion into a full-time profession - as an artist in 2019, the world is truly your oyster. While this is not an easy profession to be in, it’s a rewarding one that allows you to exercise your creativity while also honing your skills as a business owner.

Using the right tools and platforms for your particular brand is the most crucial step of all, so get started with a free trial of Paperform to bring your brand to life with a unique portfolio and online store.

About the author
Vrinda Singh
Vrinda is the Growth Manager at Paperform. In her spare time, she loves learning all things marketing, design & automation-related, and NOT watching reality TV. No, not at all...

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