How to successfully sell art online 2020: A comprehensive guide for the aspiring artist.

Updated: Sep 6, 2020

I’ve compiled the information below from a wide number of sources to try and build a comprehensive bank of knowledge for young artists trying to build their career. Selling art is a major component of becoming an artist full-time.



I’m making this guide partly as a way to brush up on my own knowledge on the subject, but also because it would have been something I would have loved to have read when I first started working professionally as an artist.

I don’t believe you should be making art to make money, there are certainly easier ways to make some cash if that’s what you’re interested in but if it's your goal to sell your artwork this guide will be a perfect starting point.


I’ll begin by discussing the reasons why people buy art online and then I’ll go through as many practical tips as I can muster. I hope this helps you navigate your way through selling your artwork on the web!


  1. Why do people buy art online?

  2. Factors for making an art sale online

  3. How should I price my artwork?

  4. Use social media to your advantage

  5. Driving traffic to your website or store

  6. Converting traffic into sales

  7. Create Engagement on Instagram


1. Why do people buy art online?


There are three main reasons people buy art online; emotional impact i.e how it emotionally affects them first, if it fits the aesthetic of the room they plan to hang it in and its potential investment value.


Emotion - How does it make them feel? What does it remind them of?

Emotional context plays a huge part in the way the buyer engages with an artwork. For example, they may have already met the artist and developed a personal connection with them, or the artwork may have triggered an emotional response due to the buyer's past experience.


Aesthetics - Does it fit in with the style of their home or office space?

Aesthetics and matching with home style and decor and the emotional context at the point of purchase are actually the two biggest drivers of online purchases! This can be something to remember for later when you’re trying to determine the audience of your artwork.


Investment - Will this purchase gain value over time?

Believe it or not, investment is not a significant driver of online art sales. An investment purchase is more likely to happen in person than online, this can be due to a number of factors but is most likely the fact that the buyer will not have a chance to build an authentic relationship with the artist or the piece itself by browsing online. It takes this build of trust between the buyer and the artist to spend more substantial amounts of money on an investment piece. Because of this selling online is very different from selling in person or in a gallery.


2. Factors for making an art sale online


Provide ample information on the piece and its inspiration, the edition number if its a limited print run, and of course if the buyer actually likes the work.


Information on the artwork

It's so important that you include detailed descriptions and context to the artwork when selling online as you won’t have the opportunity to chat with the buyer and gain their ever-so-important initial interest.


It’s important to deliver information about the artwork correctly since the buyer won't have the opportunity to see the artwork personally, you’ll have to deliver the closest experience possible through image and description alone. To do this you’ll need to invest time into quality pictures of the artwork, from multiple angles and as part of the decoration of a room, helping the potential buyer to see what it would look like in their own home.


Text is also an important tool for delivering information about the artwork. Be sure to tell a short story about each artwork, when and where it was made, and also mention the ideas and inspirations behind it. You need to help create an emotional connection between the art collectors and the artwork, and having a background story can help accomplish that.


The main things that a buyer concerns themselves when considering buying a piece are;

  • Do I like it?

  • Will it fit in with where I want to hang it?

  • There is also a limit to what they are prepared to pay. If it's not within their budget they won’t be able to buy no matter how much they love the artwork, so this is an important consideration when pricing.

Something to note; people tend to pay less when buying online rather than buying in a gallery. You are however able to sell in much greater volumes due to the larger potential audience compared to a foot-fall gallery and fast-paced nature of internet marketing.


Limited editions

Are a common way to drive urgency, as well as increasing investment value so I'd recommend considering them even if the investment is not the purchased reason. Limited editions are much more valuable to the buyer as there are only a limited number of the released prints which holds more value. It’s basic supply and demand. Some artists have even been known to increase the price as prints are running low, not something I’d do personally but this is entirely up to you.


Typically there are two ways to sell limited edition prints:

  1. A time-specific event such as a weekend print release,

  2. A limited-edition number of say 30-50 prints. Of course, the number of prints can be as many as you wish, even anywhere into the thousands. However, limiting the number printed at a lower number will increase the inherent value of these prints so selling 50 as opposed to 2000 copies is usually preferential.

Limited editions are an ethical investment agreement between the artist and the buyer, once you release the prints you should not change the total amount of prints, and no reprints either! If you plan on another print run in the future, perhaps at a different size or on canvas for example, make it explicitly clear you plan to do so. If you break this bond of trust with the buyer you risk ruining your reputation by devaluing the sold artwork. Why would someone buy from you if they can’t trust you?


3. How should I price my artwork?


I list below some suggested prices for fine art prints. These prices are intended as a rough guide to help you decide how much you should charge. Please note these prices are compiled from my own personal experience selling prints and also searching online for how other artists at various points in their career have chosen to price their artwork.



The prices above are also for fine art prints which are usually archival meaning they will stand the test of time i.e they won’t discolour, warp or fade due to the printing ingredients. Archival prints are usually expensive to produce as a result and you should consider using a print-on-demand service initially as buying a set of archival prints such as ‘Giclee’ can set you back hundreds of pounds.


Fame

Whether you are just starting out on your journey as an artist, you’re already on the rise or are fully established. Your notoriety as an artist is often a main determining factor in deciding the price of your artwork, along with your skill level, size of the artwork and total time invested. This is mostly due to the increased demand for your work.


Audience size

This tends to be a correlating factor for the price of your artwork, as demand increases for your work due to the number of eyes interested, so can the price. Supply & Demand, it's simple economics.


Starting Out

This will usually be the first 1-3 years, depending on how quickly you develop as an artist. I’d recommend spending this time building up your skillset and developing your artwork before thinking about trying to sell your work, but when you feel as though you’re ready, go! It’s good to get your feet wet as soon as you’re ready and, just with learning anything else, finding out how best to sell your artwork is its own skill and will take time.


On the Rise

You should have begun finding your ‘style’ as an artist and have would have begun to generate a dedicated following for your work. If you've been featured on a few blogs and magazines or you've had at least one solo exhibition you are considered to be on the rise and can start to charge slightly more for your work.


Established

To be established means you should already have a decently sized following and have a number of collectors that have purchased your work. You would have already achieved the previous types of exposure listed above for a number of years and have maybe won an award or two, or perhaps some industry accolades or recognition. This level of notoriety can take many years of hard work to reach but is often the goal for many working artists, besides, if the climb isn’t enjoyable you should probably ask yourself why you’re practicing art anyway.


Investment

Once you’ve been established for a number of years, your large audience will be familiar with your body of work and you’ve built up enough attention to the point that collectors are lining up for your prints and originals. This is the ideal time to be offering limited edition prints as they are highly likely to sell out fast! This is often the end goal for many artists financially, but it often takes your entire career to make it to this level, and most may never reach it. The investment level is reserved for career artists, those who have put great amounts of time and effort into perfecting their artistic craft and have earned a large enough following to support themselves financially solely through the sales of their drawings & paintings.


Skill Level

Though skill level is often considered subjective from the viewer’s point of view, and there are many artists that aren’t trained to a high standard but are still incredibly successful artists, there are a number of fundamental skills that can improve the aesthetic qualities of your artwork. You should consider learning all you can about the following fundamentals: Colour, Composition, Value, Form, and Perspective. Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive and there will always be more to learn about (i.e anatomy if you work on portraits).

Work on building your knowledge of these 5 fundamentals and you’ll increase your skill level in no time. There are countless resources for these individual skills online so I won’t have space for explaining them here, but I’ll list a few recommendations down at the bottom of the page.


Time spent

The time spent, or the intricacy of the process of creation of the artwork will increase its perceived value. This should include the time, effort and thought poured into concepts, as well as the craft of the work itself.

Also, note that if you are a younger artist it may take you a long time to create something that an experienced artist can make in a fraction of the time, and you shouldn’t charge more just because of this, consider each factor carefully before deciding on a price.


Size of the artwork

Generally the bigger the artwork the more people will be prepared to pay for it. This is because it will usually cost you more to reproduce works in a larger print, and original pieces will probably take longer to create. That and materials can get really expensive at higher qualities! You should raise your prices accordingly taking this into account.


Scarcity

If your work is limited Edition, include how many prints are in the edition, and if it is only available for a short period of time, such as over 24-48 hours. As limited editions mean limited availability, scarcity tends to increase value, this is particularly true if the work is in high demand.


This is a common way to sell prints of a piece with high buyer interest. A prime example of this are artists such as James Jean http://www.jamesjean.com/, they’ll typically sell hundreds of limited edition fine art prints in a short time, usually over a couple of days.

The number of prints matters as mentioned before, a limited edition of 20 will always be way more valuable to the interested buyer than a limited edition of 500.


Investment

As mentioned previously investment isn't the sole reason people buy online, the majority of buyers choose to buy online for aesthetic reasons. How it will look in their home, if they connect with the artist’s vision or statement, if the art reminds them of a place they have visited, a specific emotion or significant moment or memory from their life.

But for the buyers that are looking to make an investment into your work after seeing online, they’ll need to know they are buying from a reputable artist that is either on the rise or has already been established for a number of years. They’ll also need to know that you’re dedicated to improving your craft and skillset, it’s much easier to invest in an upward trajectory.


The above reasons are not an excuse to hike up the prices of your prints, however. One of the main reasons people don't purchase more art online is affordability, so you still need to price your artwork reasonably. Use the information here and do your own research elsewhere if necessary to make an informed decision at what you should charge.



4. How to use social media to your advantage


Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest etc are an incredibly valuable tool for marketing your artwork. Instagram is a great place to start because it levels the playing field. It has the same format for all users and the same potential for views, engagement and public interest in your work. This means that you, given enough effort, can reach the coveted heights of Insta-fame that other famous artists have reached!


Be careful however when using these platforms that you don't spend too much time on marketing or branding as it will begin to feel like an advertisement void of personality. People don’t like a forced advertisement, and it can really hurt your image if not done right. This is certainly something that I have come across and something I've been guilty of in the past. Keep your self-promotion to a minimum and focus on telling stories with your artwork and you’ll perform much better.


Inversely, you don’t want to never promote either, people still need to know that you’re an artist that sells your work or you’ll never actually make any sales!


As an artist, you need to consider who you want to reach and what you are trying to accomplish with your artwork. This shouldn’t alter the direction you take your artwork in when creating but should determine how you present your work on social media. Keep your feed aesthetically similar, speak with your own voice and tell a story with your work.


It's also incredibly important to remember that being social is what actually matters. It’s easy to forget this sometimes, as it's easier to just post and leave so you can get back to working on other things. Take the time to be social. This means commenting on posts, leaving heartfelt and genuine messages to other artists, commenting back to anyone that comments on your posts but can also include the following;

  • Sending the occasional direct message or DM. Without spamming, if you have something nice to say. Think about how you would want to receive messages, so things such as leaving a nice compliment or asking a light-hearted question can be good places to get a conversation started

  • Share other user’s posts on your feed and in stories. This is especially important if you're in a position to do someone a favour, almost everyone will appreciate this gesture and shows you're not just there for your own self-promotion

  • Be a real person. This means opening up about your process sometimes, any challenges you are currently facing, behind the scenes pictures in your studio space, some personal pictures from your life used occasionally can encourage other people to engage with your posts on a more personal level and opens you up to followers

  • Be consistent. Post at least a few times a week, or every day if you can, but the more consistent you are about it the more likely you'll be able to attract people to your account and continue to engage with you once they have followed you. This doesn’t mean you should sacrifice quality however, if you don’t think it’s worth posting, don’t post it.


Take the above advice with a grain of salt. The artwork should be the central focus at all times regardless of whether or not you're getting followers on Instagram or making sales.


It's also worth considering that a lot of the most popular content on Instagram is often far from the best or most interesting. If Instagram was to disappear next week is what you're doing relevant or meaningful? If the answer is yes, how can it be better? If the answer is no then maybe it's time to reflect on what you're doing.


Challenges when selling your artwork online


There are two main things you should consider when selling artwork online or almost anything else for that matter.

  1. Driving traffic to your website or store

  2. Converting that traffic into sales

This is by far the simplest way to think about how you should market your artwork that you’re trying to sell. It’s really that simple. Of course, the individual parts of these steps will require more knowledge and expertise and fine-tuning as you go, but by keeping the basic steps simple you aren’t in danger of building a massive, complex system that’s impossible to keep track of.

Below are a few challenges and some ways you can work around them.


5. How to drive traffic to your website


On the internet, the currency is attention. The basic considerations of how to measure this attention, either on your site or traffic on other platforms, and the average time users spend there can be done using any analytics package.


I'll go through below a few methods of generating traffic to your website by paid means and for free with a little time invested instead.


Search engines


If you already have your own website this can be a great way of generating free traffic straight from Google or any other search engine.


Your posts will need to have excellent content and SEO (which stands for search engine optimisation) to start driving traffic to your site. This is where you make sure the content and marketing of your website focus on certain search terms or keywords. The more generic these keywords are, the more competitive they'll be. As a result, it’s harder to rank highly on the search results for generic terms on search engines than it is for more specific terms.