How to Sell Art Online: 6 Strategies for a Steady Income

/ 18 min read
Laura Wilson

The internet has opened up new avenues for artists to build a steady income through original artwork. In fact, online art sales have been rising since 2013, with some years seeing an industry high of nearly 8 billion.

But with the limitless possibilities provided by the internet, it can be hard to know where to get started as an artist. There's a lot of advice when it comes to selling online, but the art world comes with unique considerations, from printing and packaging to making sure it arrives in one piece.

Luckily, you don't need an MBA to get into ecommerce. In this guide we'll cover some foolproof strategies to help you start selling your artwork online, and set up a steady income.

Why sell online rather than in a physical setting?

For centuries, art has been sold in markets and bazaars; galleries and antique stores. No amount of DMs, Tweets or NFTs in the world can entirely replace the need for an in-person connect—we love to see products before we buy them, and that's especially true when it comes to art.

But there are drawbacks when it comes to selling in a physical setting. The barrier to entry is much higher and the reach of sales is limited to a certain area, not to mention the hoops you have to jump through to get your art stocked in a gallery.

In comparison, selling your work online gives you much greater freedom and control over the way your art is displayed and sold. Plus, you can sell your work all over the world without ever leaving your favorite arm chair.Some of the biggest areas of difference include:

  • Pricing: You get to set your own prices. Sure, there are commissions from some sites and logistical elements (e.g. online art marketplaces and print-on-demand services), but you define how much your art is worth.
  • Presentation: Galleries and other art businesses often restrict their collections to certain types of work, and display it in a way they see fit. Online, you can show off your art in whatever way you wish.
  • Customer relationships: When you run your own art business you can build a relationship with your customers, rather than selling art to faceless buyers. Add a contact form to your website, and build an email list to keep customers appraised of your work.

There are pros and cons to both. Physical galleries are a part of the local community, allow people to view your art in person, and often promote your work for you. Selling art online gives you more control over pricing and branding, and connects you to a greater audience.

It's important to note the two aren't mutually exclusive. You can sell online and in physical settings, which is what most successful contemporary artists do. There's nothing stopping you from setting up an online store, and also getting active in the community, or doing the rounds at art fairs.

đź’ˇ Tip: An omnichannel strategy often provides much better results than restricting yourself to a single medium.

How to sell art online: 6 strategies for success

Whether you're new to the whole or you're shifting from selling in person, starting to sell your art online can feel daunting. These 6 steps will help you get yourself on the market in no time.

1. Define yourself as an artist

An essential part of being an artist is discovering your inner voice and style, the two things that make you unique. This doesn't come from a single source. It comes from everything—your background, beliefs, inspirations, experiences, and much more.

The value of "knowing yourself" is now widely recognised. But for artists, it's even more crucial. Knowing yourself precedes you being able to tell people what you and your artwork represent. In other words: how will potential customers know who you are if you don't?

Whether you eat, pray and love your way there, or take a personality quiz, there are a few key questions you need to figure out before starting to sell online:

  • Who am I as an artist?
  • What am I hoping to convey with my work?
  • What separates my work from other artists?

These are just ideas to get you started. Think about what you're creating with your art, and how you want to represent that to the world. It doesn't have to be some high and mighty calling either—maybe you just like drawing skulls and you're good at it.

Take Sydney-based artist, Sindy Sinn for example. He's a talented illustrator with a distinct style influenced by heavy metal, and bold, creepy designs. He doesn't shy away from what makes him unique, and in doing so, has attracted work megastars like Metallica and Green Day, and other major clients around the world.

three Sindy Sinn T-shirt designs, bold punk-rock patterns(Image Source: Sindy Sinn)

Now, it doesn't take much to imagine that Sindy's style won't be everyone's cup of tea (it mightn't tickle your grandma's fancy, for example). But so what? You can't please everyone. Sindy is the prime example of an artist who understand his style and voice, and uses it to his advantage.

Worried about revealing too much of yourself? Remember: your art is going to affect people on an emotion level, even if you just sell prints with cute ducks on them. The more you reveal yourself, the more people will connect with you.

“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. Use that."
— Chloë Bass, Artist and Public Practitioner.

đź’ˇ Tip: If you've got a website up and running, or are working on it, make sure your 'About Me' section is featured prominently. It's a great avenue for people to connect with you and learn more about your story.

2. Outline your goals

Broadly speaking, your goal is to make sure your art sells. But there's a lot that goes in to creating your own online art business, and you're going to have to decide what exactly you want out of it.

Big questions first—will this be a side hustle or your new 9-5? Is art a hobby you can make a few bucks with, or do you plan on turning it into your dream career? Working this out informs how you'll approach your new business.

Once you know where you stand overall, you can zoom in and create specific goals around how you're going to achieve it. The S.M.A.R.T framework gives a good guide on creating goals that set you up for success. These goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant to your larger dreams, and time -bound.

Let’s take a look at how the framework might relate to you as an artist:

  • Specific: Your goal is to sell your art, but your specific goals might be around what type of art, how you're going to produce it, in what quantity etc.
  • Measure: Attributing clear, achievable goals that you can measure, like selling a certain amount of pieces in a month.
  • Achievable: Goals should be challenging but achievable (e.g. selling three pieces in my first fortnight, rather than 3,000). Otherwise you set yourself up to fail.
  • Relevant: Make sure individual goals relate to the bigger picture. Consider why you want to sell your art and the steps that'll get you there.
  • Time-bound: Establish a clear timeframe within which you want to hit your goals. Without this, you'll be stuck saying "one day I'll get around to it" and never start.

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3. Figure out the logistics

Selling art online isn't quite as simple as snapping a photo, and waiting for the cash to start rolling in. Art comes with lots of logistics to iron out, and it's a good idea to do so before you start making sales so you can actually guarantee your customers will get their art in one piece.

When working out the details of your online art business, consider your presentation, insurance, pricing, printing, and shipping processes in particular.

🎨 Presenting your artwork for sale

How will you show your artwork? If you're a photographer, videographer or digital artist, you'll have an advantage here, but if you work in a physical medium (canvas paintings or pottery for example) it's a bit more complicated.

If you're creating 2D art you might consider getting a scanner. You'll be able to find basic devices for a few hundred bucks, but the more high-quality ones can cost into the thousands—which isn't a smart investment if you're just starting out.

You might consider using professional scanning. These services specialise in high-quality reproductions of art, and will take all the tedium out of the process. This can also be expensive though, particularly if you're dealing with a large volume of pieces.

Alternatively—and if the type of art you create can't be scanned—photography will do the job. With any basic smartphone and a basic understanding of what goes into good product photos, you'll be able to showcase your art beautifully.

Here's a few quick tips for taking photos of your art:

  • Use a blank background—white sheets or cardboard is great
  • Make sure your room is well-lighted, ideally with nature sunlight
  • Keep lighting and camera angle consistent across each image
  • Take multiple pictures so you have plenty of options to choose from

đź”’Protecting your art and business with insurance

You're running an art business. That means you need insurance. This is something that emerging artists often don't think of, until their studio is flooded, or their art is broken in transit, or something else goes wrong.

Now we won't pretend to be insurance experts, and it's one of those topics that's both terrifying and extremely boring. It's also necessary, (particularly when your art is a huge success and you're shipping pieces around the world). Have a conversation with an insurance broker to assess your individual needs.

💡 Tip: Keep receipts for everything you buy (your accountant will thank you come tax time). Photos are an excellent way to prove ownership. Also, keep in mind that if you’re working from home, your business assets will not be covered under your home and contents policy.

đź’° Pricing your art

You've put in countless hours of hard work and produced something beautiful—you deserve to be paid for your art. But too often people don't really think about what a price represents. It's not just a tag you slap on an end product, it's a reflection of the time, effort and materials you've put in to it.

“Your time doesn’t mean how long your hands were on clay or your stylus was on a tablet. It means how long you were shopping for your materials, how long it took to brainstorm your project, how long you spent promoting it and how long it’ll take to sort out all these logistics."

So how do you settle on pricing? Well it depends on the type of art, and the cache you have—Banksy could chuck a can of paint at a wall and fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars. The most helpful strategy is to conduct basic market research and get an idea of what similar artists charge.

Coming up with pricing is not an easy decision to make. It can take some finessing to get right. Just remember, you want to keep your pricing competitive, while trying not to set the bar too low. Cheap art can turn away just as many sales as overcharging.

đź–¨ Printing digital art

Almost everyone decorates their home with art prints, which is good news if you're an artist. There's just one complication: printing. Now, if you really want to avoid it, you can offer customers the ability to download the digital file and print it at home.

But if you don't feel comfortable freely sharing your work like that, the responsibility falls on you. If you have a high-quality printer you can absolutely make your prints at home, but much like a scanner, that comes with considerable cost.  

The chances are you'll want to outsource this. Whether it's the local Officeworks or Staples, or any other print-on-demand business, you'll be able to get high-quality art prints at a price point that makes sense for you. There are also online printing companies that specialise in art, which can give you extra peace of mind.

đź’ˇ Tip: If you outsource your printing, consider having your artwork shipped to you before sending it out to customers. That way you can check the quality and ensure they come out exactly how you want them to. It's important to sustain quality to retain customers.

📦 Shipping your artwork to customers

Getting your art to customers in one piece is secondary in importance only to actually creating the art. If you're selling digital files you'll have one less thing to worry about, but if not, you've got a lot of ducks to get in a row—fast shipping can be the difference between making a sale or not.

There are four parts to the process: preparing your art, packaging it, handle shipping companies (or posting it yourself) and aftercare.

The first step is to prepare your art. Usually this means wrapping it in protective plastic, or tucking it safely in a cardboard box with lots of bubble wrap. Of course, this differs widely depending on what you're selling, but the principle remains the same: make sure it's safe.

For larger pieces you might need a dedicated shipping partner, but most art can be shipped through regular post. Lots of successful online artists package and ship their own art. If you choose this option, just be wary that you'll wear any damages or other concerns. Again, insurance is your friend.

Once you have your art prepped, packed, and shipped, it's time for aftercare. Check in with your customer and assuage any shipping concerns.

đź’ˇ Tip: Keep in mind that the price of shipping will vary depending on the size and weight of your art. Get a rough quote before you price your artwork, so you can choose whether to work that into the general price, charge extra for shipping, or just cover it yourself.

4. Choose where to sell your art online

There's no shortage of ecommerce platforms and solutions to sell your art, but they aren't all created quite equal. There are two main ways to sell art on the internet:

  • Online marketplaces (Etsy, ArtPal, IndieMade): these are easy to use and offer require minimal upkeep, though take a large percentage of your profits.
  • Your own ecommerce store (WordPress, Shopify, Paperform): which gives you the freedom to present your art and story in your own way, and keep more of your profits.

Which solution you choose depends largely on your own skillset, and what you want out of your business. For example, if you're a hobbyist who just wants a bit of cash on the side, you might decide a marketplace like Etsy is right for you. On the contrary, if you're serious about your art business, a website is almost always the answer.

đź–Ľ Online art marketplaces

There are boatloads of online marketplaces out there, and they fall into the following categories:

Dealer-exclusive marketplaces like Artnet and Artsy are sites that only allow galleries to sign up. If you belong to a gallery, it’s worth looking into them, as this is where the real curators go. Their buyers mean business.

Top-end marketplaces like Saatchi Art, Artfinder and Artplode allow you to put your original work in an online art gallery. They often charge high commissions (Saatchi Art takes 35% of your sale), but they come with an audience that is willing to pay much higher prices.

Wide-reach marketplaces like Etsy, Amazon Art, ArtPal and eBay generate huge traffic, but there’s also a lot of competition. People going to these sites are often after a bargain, so keep that in mind when pricing your art.

Print-on-demand marketplaces like Redbubble, Society6 and Fine Art America allow customers to purchase items with reproductions of your design on it. These can be anything from canvas prints to home decor to phone cases. The profit you make on these sites has to be small to compete with all the other items, but you can sell large volumes in a very passive way.

Stock-item marketplaces like Unsplash, Shutterstock and iStock sell stock images at a very low price and, like print-on-demand marketplaces, offer a way to make a lot of art sales without needing any input from you after you upload it.

🛍 Your own ecommerce store

If you want to work (and earn) as an artist on a full-time basis, you need your own website. Will it take a bit more effort? Sure. But as long as you're relying on third parties to sell your work, you'll be paying heavy commissions, and conforming to their pricing and presentation restrictions.

"If you’re serious about selling your art, you will need to create your own online store and establish a brand of your own from the ground up."

Dodging those extra fees is a good reason all on its own, but the biggest advantage of your own website is that it’s all about you. Gallery and marketplaces’ branding will always overshadow their artists’. Your own site doesn’t have this limitation.

But creating a website from scratch is a huge job. You can make it easier on yourself by using Paperform to create a simple yet powerful one-page website  that showcases your art and empowers you to sell online, your way.

Sleek photography website built on Paperform with easy to use payment fields(Image Source: Paperform's Ecommerce Photography Template)

With our free-text editor you don't need any coding skills or web design experience to create a stylish website with all the advanced features and integrations you could need. Just build your page (from one of our 650+ templates or from scratch) and customise everything from the font and colours to the images, layout, and buttons. We give you the tools, and let you take the reins.

đź’ˇ Tip: Prefer to use a WordPress site? Paperform has a WordPress plugin that allows you to embed beautiful payment and contact forms right into your existing website.

5. Develop your brand

You want people to instantly recognise you and your work. This should be the case no matter where they come across it, be it your Twitter account, your Instagram page, or a stall at the local markets.

Branding is how people recognise you. It's also a reflection of what you represent as an artist and a person. Think about how Dolce & Gabbana reflects elegance, or Tesla represents innovation and futurism. What is it that you and your art represent?

"It can also be helpful to think about your existing (or intended) audience. Who are they, what are their demographics and why does your work resonate with them?"

Be consistent in the way you represent yourself online—both in the way you act, and visually. Use the same fonts, colours and brand assets in any social posts and product listings to make yourself immediately recognisable.

While the development of your visual aesthetic can take time, most of personal branding is about being authentic and honest about what you do and what you believe in. The online art market is crowded; what makes you memorable is you.

Melbourne-based artist, Ginger Taylor, does a great job of branding herself:

Bright pink artists website with bold pink art pieces for sale(Image Source: Ginger Taylor)

Social media is an important part of building your brand and online presence, but it's crucial to pick the right channels and work to their strengths. For example, you might use Instagram for sharing pictures of your art and behind-the-scenes of your creative process, and Twitter for more general interactions with the art community.

While you can pick and choose which social media platforms to sign up to— it's just impossible to be active on all of them—Instagram is essential. The visual nature of the platform lends itself to showcasing art, and it's common for artists to use their Instagram pages as a kind of portfolio.

"As a photographer Instagram is the number one place I build my following," Tudor Stanescu, a Canadian-based photographer and videographer told Paperform. "Being active on a daily basis and engaging with the community in my niche has helped me grow."

"Using Instagram’s 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 and Videographer

Social media shouldn't just be a one-way mode of communication. To build a true following, you need to "engage" with your community—this means celebrating the work of other artists, chatting with customers, and building relationships.

You can also connect with art collectors through your socials. This is an opportunity for indirect marketing as well as getting to know your audience. People who interact with your posts can let you know what they want. They also get to see you as a person, and that’s more effective at bringing in sales than any marketing campaign.  

đź’ˇ Tip: Alongside the main social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram, you might think about getting active in art-focused communities. ArtStation and Deviantart are just two examples, or you can even find niche communities on a platform like Reddit.

6. Expand your marketing channels

Social media is a great place to get started with your marketing efforts. Because it's become such a normal part of life, it doesn't necessarily "feel" like marketing.

But there are a range of other marketing tools and strategies you can use to get the word out about your art. After all, if a canvas is painted and no one is around to see it, is it really painted at all?

Having a website and social media set up is a good start. Once that's done, here are a few other ways to bring in traffic and start making sales:

  • Learn the basics of SEO and PPC to help interested customers discover you.
  • Start a blog on your website (or use a platform like Substack) to grow your audience and build authority around your specific art form.
  • Host contests and giveaways on social channels to promote interaction and grow your following.
  • Run ad campaigns on Google and social media platforms that target your ideal audience.
  • Reach out to art blogs, media and podcasts to help grow your personal brand and artistic network.
  • Create a referral program that offers perks and discounts to your audience when they share your work with family and friends. People trust word-of-mouth.
  • Build an email list to convert website visitors into an active community that you can remarket to.  

You'll be able to find plenty of great resources on all these strategies and more online. Remember, because you're only one person, be sure to evaluate your marketing campaigns every few months to see what is (and isn't) working.

Over to you

Whether you’re looking to create a passive income on the side or turn your passion into a full-time profession, selling online is a fantastic way to achieve your goals.

While art isn’t always 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 an important part of your strategy. You can get started with Paperform's 14 day free trial to bring your brand to life with a unique portfolio and online store.


About the author
Laura Wilson
Writer
Laura is a former Content Writer at Paperform.

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