It seems like the dream to a lot of people.
You just paint what you want and sell it directly on your site. No galleries taking 50% of your work. No-one telling you what to paint.
Nice and simple.
But there are a few things you might not realise when you start out – or even before you’ve started setting it up – that you need to think about.
For this post I’ve picked out what I think are the most useful things to consider before you start, as well as a few things to be prepared for that can only come from having a bit of experience with it.
First things first
Who will buy your work?
What has surprised me is that most, if not all, of the people who buy my work are other artists. Some are professional artists, some semi-professional and some doing it for the love of it.
Perhaps not so surprising, because my audience – the people I reach through this website – generally follow me for the advice and teaching material I put out, for what I share.
And this is a very important point.
The online audience is a very, very different audience than the kind of people who buy work from a gallery. They’re not terribly interested in your artist’s statement, or your resume.
They’re people like you, and they’re interested in what you have in common: Your struggles, your process, what makes your work come out how it does.
How will you reach them?
If you want to sell your work online, you need an audience – a group of people who have given you permission to contact them.
Do you have an audience right now? If not, you’ll have to build one.
Facebook and Instagram followers might be nice, but thats not really an audience. Very few of them will be likely to turn into buyers, and I wouldn’t call that a meaningful relationship.
Mostly, people who will buy your work will be on your email list. If you don’t have an email list, this is the thing you’d need to get started on asap.
Because if someone is on your email list, they’ve given you permission to contact them, and that’s a big thing. It implies trust. And responsibility, on your part, only to contact them with things that will be interesting or useful to them.
Is your work good enough?
How can you answer this question? I know from experience that some of you who’s work is good enough already will think it isn’t, and some who’s work I would think isn’t ready will think it is.
We’re terrible judges of our own work.
The only way to find out is to put it up for sale. But of course it may not sell for other reasons, like that you don’t have an engaged audience (ref above point).
The upshot is that I don’t think this is really worth thinking about for too long. I didn’t think my work was good enough to sell online, but apparently it is!
What kind of work sells best? Will mine?
Artists have always worked to the market to an extent. Don’t be too proud.
Yes, it’s wonderful to be able to follow your vision but let’s be realistic. If you want to sell your work there will always be a balance to find between what you’d most like to do and what other people are most interested in.
If that sounds like selling out to you, I’d suggest that your mindset is a little too romantic for this to work for you.
Equally, if you just produce work you think will sell, I think you’ll find it soul destroying pretty quickly. I know I would.
Where your balance lies will be up to you to find. But this is a very democratic way to make a living from painting, and it’s likely that you will need to consider what other people like.
For me, I still have no idea how well a painting will do. I’ve had ones that I thought were pretty good not sell at all, and others that I felt less confident about go for some of the highest prices.
I will say this though: as well as beauty, I think people generally are more interested in pieces that evidence a certain degree of skill.
If you look at the painters who do very well with this – Julian Merrow-Smith, Duane Keyser, Carol Marine – they are all very skilled painters.
I don’t know of anyone making a living at this who can’t paint well. That’s one of the things I like about it. It requires skill. This isn’t post-modernism 🙂
Remember that your buyers will probably be other artists, and that means they’re informed. Very often they’ll know the difference between a piece that’s been done well and one that hasn’t.
Will it be worth it?
If your process for making a painting is long and slow, your hourly rate may end up being lower than the minimum wage.
For me, I’ve had paintings I spent three days on sell for $100. $33 a day is not a living wage!
But I’ve also had paintings do much better than that, and I’ve found that over time, the prices they go for have gradually improved. Overall, it evens out to be worth it for me.
You’ll need to keep one eye on that.
How will you sell it?
This is the big one. There are basically three ways:
1. Sell it on another site.
like Daily Paintworks, for example. They supply the audience. But you have to compete against a lot of noise. I wonder what % of works up there actually sell? And for how much?
I have no experience of this, I’ve always valued my independence too much and wanted to do it for myself. But if you don’t have your own audience yet, it might be worth giving it a go to see what happens.
Pros: Ready-made audience
Cons: Noise. Lots of other artists are trying to sell their work there too. You may end up paying for it without actually selling anything and making a loss.
2. Sell it on Ebay
This is probably the quickest way to get up and running. You might be limited to your own country if you don’t already have rep, though. That’s why I didn’t go that route initially. But Duane Keyser still sells his work this way.
Pros: It’s really easy to get going, you just need an ebay account.
Cons: You still need your own audience, they won’t just sell because they’re on ebay. Duane Keyser, for example, has a big audience of his own that he contacts by email – his email list. I would look at this purely as supplying the auction functionality. You still need to do the selling part yourself.
3. Have an auction on your own site.
The best example I’ve seen of this is my friend Julian Merrow-Smith’s site. His auction was custom built for him and looks beautiful, as well as working really well.
If you can’t afford to hire a software developer to do it for you, then the other option is to use a plug in on a wordpress site. This is the way I do it.
Pros: You have complete control over it
Cons: You have to do the tech set up yourself. It works, but it doesn’t look as pretty as a custom-made solution.
Find out exactly how I do it
Next week I’ll be giving a free webinar where I’ll be showing in depth how I run my auctions on my site:
- How I set up my site
- How I set up each auction
- how I let people know that there’s a painting for sale
- How I built my audience to where it is now, a little over 9000 subscribers to my blog
Other stuff will come up I’m sure. There’ll be a Q&A at the end and I’ll do my best to answer any questions you might have about it.
Oh, and I’ll be showing all the paintings I’ve sold so far and the amounts they went for. This really will be a complete behind-the-scenes peek at how I sell my paintings on my website.
When: The webinar will be on Wednesday 23rd January at 6PM UK time (10 AM Pacific time, 1PM Eastern time).
Just enter your email address here to register.
I hope that was useful. Selling your work online is a wonderful way to earn some income from your art.
There’s a lot to selling your work online that I think people don’t really consider when they see well known online artists do it. I didn’t!
So in the webinar I’ll try to share as much as I can in order to prepare you a little better for your first jump in. Don’t be shy with questions.
Best wishes and thanks for reading,