Top 5 Mistakes Artists Make When Trying to Sell Their Artwork

After years of selling my artwork both online and off and talking to other artists, I've found that there are several common mistakes artists make when trying to sell their work. This list doesn't cover everything however, it does include the topics I am asked about the most. I've ranked them by order of importance.

1. Thinking that you don't need to have your artwork on the internet.
Most of the time artists will ask me, "Do I really need to have a web site? Collectors don't really buy art online do they?" My gut reaction is to grab them, shake them and shout, "Yes!" More than ever before collectors are buying art online.

Baby Boomers are very comfortable shopping on the internet. According to marketing research Baby Boomers respond to the use of email campaigns FaceBook and Twitter as sales tools. Gex. X-ers are on FaceBook, MySpace, Twitter and PinInterest looking for things that interest them and Gen. Y also uses social media as a shopping tool.

Imagine you have a painting or two in a group art exhibit and a collector sees your work. They love the style of your paintings in the show but they are looking for something larger. They write down your name to take home (or they take out their smartphone) and do a Google search on you and nothing comes up. You just missed a sales opportunity because you didn't have an online presence.

Aside from potential sales opportunities having an internet presence looks professional. Having a portfolio of work on your own web site is even better. It sends the message to potential collectors, gallery owners and other artists that you are more than just weekend artist playing around, you are seriously pursuing art as a career.

2. Believing that any one thing will generate sales.
I can't tell you how many times I've heard artists complain that they've had their work on a particular web site for X amount of time and they haven't had any sales. They then go on to use that as proof that collectors do not buy art online. Let's be perfectly clear, there isn't any one web site that will guarantee your success. You have to be responsible for your career, no one else. Y O U.

This is a good thing. There isn't anyone else in the world who is as invested in your success as you are. Not your spouse, your kids, friends and especially not a group of people who run an online sales site. That said, some sites truly do want you to succeed because the more sales you generate the more income they make as a result. The online sales venues that understand that will offer free marketing information to it's members, they will have responsive tech people who are happy to answer your questions and they will immediately blacklist a scammer who tries to take advantage of members.

Depending on a particular web site or group to market your artwork for you is a mistake. Art buyers are a very specific group. Once you figure out who your particular customer is you need to find ways of putting your work in front of them. If you depend on someone else to market your work they will most likely put it in front of an audience much wider than necessary. Internet sales sites like Ebay, Etsy, Zatista, etc. have a diverse group of sellers therefore, the audience they market to is broad. Pinpointing your customer within that group requires effort on your part. That may include things that aren't internet related such as attending art festivals, entering in juried art shows, joining local arts groups, mailing postcards to your collector mailing list and sending thank you notes to existing collectors.

3. Making either of the following excuses.
Have you neglected to get your work online because you aren't computer savvy? Sorry, I'm not going to sugar coat this because if I do then you won't take me seriously. No one cares. There, I said it, I'm sure I'll get a few angry comments over it but I would be doing you a disservice if I politely suggested that you might possibly want to consider, maybe figuring it out one day down the road.

While you are busy not figuring out how to get your work online there are 10 other artists who are. With YouTube, art marketing blogs, online community forums, Artists Helping Artists Blog Talk Radio and many other resources there really isn't any good reason for not figuring it out. Fine Art Studio Online offers affordable and easy to assemble web sites for artists and what sets them apart is their stellar tech support that is always there to help you if you run into a problem.

Don't have time to do your own art marketing? With two kids, one of which is still in diapers, I'm in that same boat. The way I handle it is to do at least one thing to market my artwork every day. Whether that's writing a blog post, reading an art-related article, uploading new work to my web site, posting to my FaceBook page or simply making a task list for the day/month/year. This keeps me from getting overwhelmed and gives me a feeling of accomplishment however small it may be. So even if you do one small thing a day, just imagine what you will get done within a year.

4. Making collectors jump through hoops to buy your art.
I buy art, I buy art both in person and online. I don't buy art from artists who don't list prices on their works online and off, who don't list shipping fees and who don't have any contact information available so that I can find out the above. I also don't buy art from artists who won't return phone my calls or emails.

I remember the first time I wanted to buy a painting. I saw the artist's work at a local outdoor show but didn't buy that day, I met the artist, I took his business card with his contact information. The next day I visited his web site to look at more of his work. He didn't have any option to buy directly off his web site so I sent him an email detailing where and when I met him and saw his work. I waited, no reply. I tried again and when I still heard nothing back I called, got his voicemail and left a message. He never called me back, never answered my email. Do I own one of his paintings? No and I never will.

If you don't make it easy to buy your art then you will miss a lot of sales opportunities.

5. Thinking that exposure equals sales.
We've all heard it and I'm guilty of saying it myself, "That show/opportunity is great exposure." My next questions is always, "Exposure to who exactly?" There are lots of art shows, festivals and other opportunities to display your work out there. Some require a fee and some don't. Before you throw your hat into the ring you should ask yourself who is attending the show or festival. If the answer is other artists, then the sales opportunities will be much more limited than if the show is attended by true art buyers. Yes, artists do buy art but typically not on the same scale as art collectors.

Now I'm not saying that exposure is a bad thing. Exposure can and will help you advance your career in other ways just don't make the mistake of thinking that exposure will result in increased art sales, that isn't always the case.

I hope this list is helpful. If you've been reading my blog for a while you might have noticed that I'm posting more information about the painting process and now this marketing article. I plan on writing about art related topics like this in addition to posting new work. I'd love to read your thoughts on this new direction.


Dana Cooper said…
Bravo Kim!
I love this new direction. You are talking to those who want to get serious about their art by clearly stating that no one is going to knock on their door, they have to do the knocking!
Janelle Goodwin said…
Thank you for this comprehensive, realistic post, Kim. I wholeheartedly agree that an online presence is essential for today's artists. Customers love buying work off the internet. And by putting our work out there we increase our audience tremendously!
Ann Rogers said…
Great post and to the point!
Eric Wolff said…
It's great to get your perspective on art marketing. Maybe there's a book in your future? Keep up the good work, wherever it leads you!
Unknown said…
You knocked it out of the park, Kim. A good reminder that it takes a commitment to sell our art. I'm gearing back up & this was timely. Thanks.
Unknown said…
Thanks Kim! Now sign that contract with North Light Books and get it published!
Erik van Elven said…
Thank you Kim for this interesting blogpost!
Unknown said…
Thanks for taking the time to share this!
(Found you via Terry Muira's blog)