Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What do you want to know about selling art online?

This week I was asked whether I had any advice to offer about selling art online - in particular through the various e-commerce gallery sites. It prompted me to try and pull together what I know by way of advice - but it also got me thinking..........

I've now identified a way of responding to the query I received - plus a way in which you could also help out around providing advice.

Coots Study #1
coloured pencils on black Arches cover

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Here's the query
I have come to the font of all blog knowledge to ask for some advice on how to make the next move for my artwork. I begin to feel much more confident and would really like to get my work out there. Really bad year to choose to do it with the recession but you have to start somewhere, right? I'd really like to get more traffic to my blog and website but have no idea how to do it. Any advice you could give me would be really appreciated.

I'm currently very motivated from the business standpoint.

Do you have any recommendations regarding Etsy, ImageKind or any of those sites?
Now what's really good about this query is that first the artist recognizes a need to find out more before she starts trying to market herself online ( "conscious incompetence" - see yesterday's post!). Plus, second, she also recognises that the recession is going to make a difference. She's absolutely right - it will make a major difference!

But that then throws up the issue of whether past advice continues to be relevant given the way that the art economy is changing!

She's asking about two things:
  • how to get more traffic to her blog and website
  • views on various websites which help artists to sell their art online.
It struck me that these issues are the key topics which surface for most artists as they begin to start thinking about selling their art online. I know that when I first started thinking about it, that it took me quite a while to find sites which were helpful.

A new Resources for Artists site

I've got information about ecommerce sites in Art Business - Resources for Artists. However that's a very big information site and I've started to break out specific topics from that one into separate microsites.

What I've decided to do is create a new Resources for Artists site focused purely on ecommerce for artists and selling art online. [Update: In the end I created a number of sites - and you can find them all in Resources for Artists - Selling Art Online Headquarters]

In fact I got it up and running this morning and will be spending today populating it with links to all the sites I know about.

Here's how you can help

My aim is to try and make the new site as relevant as I can to people who want to know about selling art online. So, in terms of checking out the scope of the new site, it struck me that the readers of this blog could provide some useful pointers!

First please let me know what you want to know about. For example, do you want to know more about the law and regulations relating to selling online?

Use the comments to this post to leave a note of your query/queries which you'd like to get an answer to - or, alternatively, those mattters that you try and keep up to date on.

Second, I've got a lot of links to include - but more are always welcome. Please leave a comment with the name and URL if you've got any favourite websites, blogs, blog posts, articles, tools or books which you have found helpful in relation to selling your art online - whether it's ACEOs, daily paintings, small works, original artwork of any size, prints or crafts. That way what has helped you can be shared with other people in the community of artists interested in selling art online.

Tomorrow I'll be publishing the new site and will highlight some of the issues which emerged for me as I was creating it - in terms of:
  • where the gaps in information are
  • where there are now queries over the continuing relevance of past advice.
Note about the Image:
After my mistake around moor hens and coots, I decided I needed to start drawing Coots so I wouldn't forget and make the same mistake. I'm having a fun time with the RSPB database for identifying birds - here's more about the coot. Usually they appear to be all black - except when they're fluffing up their feathers to keep warm because they're standing on ice! They also have the most curious feet and a penchant for standing on one leg.


  1. The rececession might reduce available budget. It would be unwise to lower prices in order to adjust to the lower budgets, quite opposite. As artists will close a smaller number of deals they have to increase their margins i.e. increase their prices per piece!
    In other words migrate to those collectors with the higher budget !

    I have tried a number of online venues including ebay,etsy and imagekind without reasonable results. I have seen other artists remove from these venues for the same reason. Selling from your website/blog is the key...and it works!

  2. Well, I guess as I asked the question :-) I should comment. Katherine, Thank you for setting up the new e-commerce site - I will be hanging around there like a leech!

    Martin - I would like to start selling from my blog but have various technical issues to overcome before I can do that (mainly my crazy nomadic lifestyle!). But great to hear that that is one thing that works.

  3. Beautiful coots, Katherine. I love coloured pencil or pastel on a black ground. Very envious of all the wonderful water bird reference photos you are taking.

    I've been spending a lot of time thinking about how to try selling some origninal art on line. I've looked at ebay, etsy and imagekind and frankly have found the first two a bit scary and complicated. Since I'm not thinking of prints at present, Imagekind hasn't been considered.

    The conclusion I've come to is the same as EH, selling from a blog looks like the safest, simplest way to dip a toe in the frozen pond. I was impressed with the way Rose Welty set up her dedicated sales blog. She's my model so far. As usual, I'm still thinking and not actually acting, so will be very interested to see what else your savvy readers suggest.

  4. Martin - you highlight the dilemma faced by all retailers at the moment.

    However migrating to collectors with a higher budget is easier said than done. First you've got to be producing artwork which collectors will want to buy at the sort of price which makes up for fewer sales.

    On the whole I'm inclined to think that selling from the blog is the best option - if you can get the right sort of traffic passing through your blog!

    Which is where we started!

  5. Thanks Anita - I've been meaning to get round to doing this for some time, so you query was well timed!

    Plus, I now know what I'm blogging about for the next three days and I'm only starting to scratch the surface. (And I've decided to start a second new site - but you'll have to wait until Friday to find out what is!)

    I think we can safely say that an enduring theme for blog posts this year will be how best to tackle
    - the changes in buying behaviour in the art economy and
    - finding out how to be more successful at selling online will be .

    I'm even setting up a new label for it 'sell art online'.

  6. Robyn - you might well be interested in my blog post on Saturday which is going to focus on the law relating to selling art online.

    Covering all the angles is important and compliance with various laws and regulations is one aspect which sometimes seems to get a bit 'lost'.

    I've got blue skies and sunshine outside my window so I'm now off for my constitutional and to see if I can see a few more birds. I'll be a paid up member of the RSPB before you know it!

    By the way - paintings and prints of birds sell very well and have lots of collectors!

  7. Having run a business which has a website with items for is all about getting people to find you on the immense world wide web. Whether it be blog, website or any other format.

    It is the reason many people choose
    sites known for selling such as Ebay and Etsy because the people are already aware of these sites and will search them regularly. We sold far more on Ebay than on our Website which seemed to be used more for information on our business and directions on finding us.

    However, Ebay, like all selling sites, is being hit by the economy the same as any retail store front.
    We have not been able to get the sales there like we did even 6 months ago.

    So how do you get them to your site
    is the biggest question of all.

  8. I am sure you know about the Empty Easel site (, and probably you've linked to it somewhere in your resources pages but I just can't search for it right now. Dan over at EE seems to have done a lot of analysis on all of the various selling venues online.

    Not sure I'm left with any foregone conclusion though about the *absolute best* way to sell online, so I'll look forward to the thoughts and ideas from you and from others on this topic.

  9. I like RedBubble. Imagekind is okay and Artist Rising is difficult to use. I don't know if they qualify but Facebook and Twitter have possibilities.
    My two favorites are Empty Easel and your site. I enjoy your artwork and marvel at your Blogging tenacity( Blogenacity? You heard it here first folks!)
    I like the Coots by the way, my son calls me an old coot.

  10. Oooh. I like your chuffy coots! Thanks to your posting about birds I remembered my dream from last night about some pretty wild birds that now I can wait to paint! My new gouache will be perfect for capturing these quite imaginary birds.

    About sales, I look forward to seeing what you come up with. I've found that one key to sales from blog and website has been having good keywords and descriptions so that when someone searches the web for an image of something they're interested in they find you. Lately it seems like most of my sales have been to people who want to license an image to use for their small business. A recent example is a watercol sketch of a local scene that an online bookstore based in this area is going to use on their Alibris website and business cards. Instead of charging though, I swapped for a very expensive art book they had in their store.

    I also make a point of letting people know when I sketch or paint something related to their business. My recent post about Osmosis spa led to them using the sketch in their client newsletter, a link to my post on their website and a free return trip to the spa for me. However, I didn't ask for any of that, just sent them a nice note thanking them for the wonderful experience and letting them know I'd blogged about my trip to the spa and invited them to take a look.

    One problem I see with selling only from a blog is that unless it's also set up to have gallery pages, only the most current work is readily available to see. I'm wondering how people using blogs to sell are dealing with work disappearing after a certain time. I also find it a little disconcerting when work is still listed but with a big "SOLD" indication on it. It's a little disconcerting to be able to meausre how "successful" someone is just by looking at their "sales floor". I'd suggest moving those pieces to an archived gallery and only showing currently available work. I know the "sold" sign comes from the tradition of gallery shows using red dots but a gallery show is a one time event.

  11. Artists are not in retail business and artwork never has been and never will be a commodity.

    Katherine introduced me to Squidoo. I fooled around there for a year,but now it takes a direction and starts to payoff.

    I rather invest my time to sell originals instead of reproductions with much low margin. I thought it would be easier to sell reproductions,but it is not !!

  12. I love the colors. I could just see this hanging in my den.

  13. Martin - I know your views on the nature of art - but please remember that not everybody shares them.

    Everybody is entitled to their view and a view is always an opinion not a fact. I know you're operating in your second language but the way you're expressing things is coming across as rather dogmatic which I'm afraid always tends to stifle discussion.

    For the record this is the Chambers definition of a "commodity"

    noun (commodities)
    1 something that is bought and sold, especially a manufactured product or raw material.
    2 something, eg a quality, from the point of view of its value or importance in society • Courtesy is a scarce commodity.
    ETYMOLOGY: 15c: from French commodité, from Latin commoditas convenience.

    What follows are my views.

    I agree "commodity" is usually a term which relates to raw materials but it's not confined to that. If it's bought and sold it's a commodity. That's what we're talking about.

    I'd argue the high end contemporary art market is a perfect example of art being treated as a commodity. People thought that the art market was exempt from economic ups and downs and recessions - which is why the investors (bankers and hedge fund managers!!!) piled in. They're now finding out that the art market is not exempt from the impact of a recession - as we're now seeing in terms of the reduction in the quantity and value of items being traded by the auction houses and the numbers of staff being made redundant by Christies and Sothebys.

    One could equally use a generic term to describe art such as "retail product". In the sense that it's the product of our labours and we are retailing it. It's strictly speaking correct - it just doesn't sound very nice.

    The fact that these terms also have other connotations which are not normally associated with art is neither here nor there in my view. If people are serious about selling their art then it's as well to remember they are in the retail business and need retail knowledge and retail skills!

    I agree art has other qualities which are also worth highlighting.

    Identifying the key characteristics of the type of art that is being sold helps to identify the market segment that those marketing the art need to target - with marketing strategy and tactics differentiated accordingly.

    However - when push comes to shove - as long as it's being marketed and it's tangible then strictly speaking it's a commodity.

  14. Thank you, Katherine--this promises to be a useful and informative new site, as all yours are. I'd like to link to it in my LiveJournal series on marketing, if you don't mind--I'm here: One of the series is on marketing your art online...well, actually more, since I approach it from several angles. I've had fairly good luck with eBay, as well, but I've rather wandered off. You need to keep AT it, and add new work! ;-)

    I'm trying out the gallery blog idea myself, at and finding it an interesting challenge! I've only had it up for two months (and only been on Blogger/blogspot since then so I have indeed asked a lot of questions!). December was quite successful, because of Christmas and novelty, I imagine, but I need to learn how to maintain buyers' interest and build traffic.

    Looking forward to your new site!

  15. Katherine - I find it interesting that more people than ever are looking at this route possibly because of the recession. Myself included.

    My investigations and my control freaky nature has steered me to the use of my blog and website as primary outlets. I am considering Etsy, and it seems to me at least, that ACEO's and very small works are most successful there. So I guess that suggests the use of different outlets for different parts of one's catalogue.

    All that said, the question that has been repeated throughout the comments is no matter which method you choose - is how to drive people who may actually have a real interest in your work to your site/s - and do it on a budget.

    Thanks for offering the place to debate and exchange the best resources on the net for artists.

  16. Oh, by the way, Katherine--one thing I do with my online sales is to make it clear that these are unmatted and unframed, for the most part. Because of that and because I'm not paying a gallery commission (my gallery's very understand and supportive, by the way!), I can offer work much below my prices in the brick-and-mortar site.

    I think that's important...

    And whoops, I forget to hit send...

  17. "In the sense that it's the product of our labours and we are retailing it. It's strictly speaking correct - it just doesn't sound very nice."

    Why? isn't this betraying an anti-business mindset, as if being a trader is somehow 'lower' morally? It is interesting to know [Jane Jacobs pointed this out in her Systems of Survival]that there are only two ways fundamentally to survive - and only humans have that... one is the manner we share with all the other animals - to take [assuming, of course, one can get away with it]... the other is the uniquely human way - to trade, to voluntarily exchange value for value... if art is, then, of value, then it should be traded for its value - the money one gets as the exchange of the trade... and retail is how one trades one-of-a-kind products, like artworks, as well as multiples, like prints [which could also be wholesaled]... in any case, trade is the proper, and most human way of dealing with one's works - if it is of value, then there is a price for it; if there is no price, then it is considered of no value [however much blustering is said of 'debasement' in selling]...

  18. Interesting point made by visioneerwindows. In the best of all possible worlds, we could make art and manna would rain from heaven for our reward; I think I might like that! ;-) But the fact is that we have to buy our food and pay our bills like anyone else. If what we do is make art, what is one to do but hope to find someone to pay us for it?

    It seems to me that it's an honorable thing to pay one's own way and meet our responsibilities...I don't really understand a notion that seems to think Art with a capital A is above that.

    That said, not all my work is for sale. Some is done in my journal precisely so it can't become "a commodity." But...I find that it still does, in a way. I can scan those images and use them to illustrate my books. I could make prints of some of them; I've been asked to.

    What an interesting discussion, thank you, Katherine! Can't wait to see what the new pages contain...

  19. Ummm - I think you may have either skim read my ENTIRE comment (eg did you not read the paragraph which follows the bit you quoted?) or misunderstood it.

    That's because in essence, I was making exactly the point you're making.

    That art is something that is traded as a commodity - in terms of definition and in terms of fact.

    What I was also saying was that we might not care for it to be referenced in such a crude way as a "commodity" or a "retail product" as that then put it absolutely on a par with a sack of potatoes.

    I don't have any problem at all in understanding the truth behind what is going on - ie it is a commodity and it is being traded - and also thinking that it might be nicer to find a way of describing it which appears to be inclusive of its other qualities.

    It occurs to me that you must also be a very casual visitor to this blog otherwise you wouldn't have accused me of "betraying an anti-business mindset" - which is (1) very far from the truth and (2) quite an inflammatory way of making a point!

    On that basis, can I refer you (and anybody else who is new to this blog) to the "For Your Information" section in the sidebar - which contains my Comments Policy. Please read it - in full - before making any further comments.

  20. I should make it clear that my previous comment relates to the comment made by visioneerwindows - not the one made by Kate.

    Kate - thank you!

    You have just captured precisely the perspective that I think most artists have.

    I have the highest regard for artists who are able to pay their way - and all their bills by selling their art. Just as I do for those who chose to make art for themselves and don't wish to enter the retail arena.

    The reality is most artists never make enough money from art sales to support themselves and many people get very great pleasure from the simple process of making it.

  21. Awesome, Katherine -- and I love the coots!

  22. Hi Katherine,

    I just stumbled upon your blog,and several hours later.........

    Great information! I can hardly wait to find out more from you new site.

    I'll be back. THANKS!

  23. I knew that, Katherine, no problem! I did think it was an interesting discussion...alas, I wrote a longer response but Blogger had a hiccup and it went away. It's hours later now and I can't remember what I said, except that if I were hoping to make a living JUST selling my art, I'd have starved, because I wasn't focusing. I did a lot of different things--teaching, writing, illustrating, publishing, etc.--but now I'm trying to simplify a bit.

    I'm too old to try to keep all these plates in the air any more!

  24. This is a comment on Cathy Johnson's lower tiered pricing for the online gallery (versus pricing for Bricks and Mortar).

    I have to say Cathy that if your online gallery work is comparable to what you have in your B&M gallery, you have a very understanding gallery indeed. That's not a criticism, BTW...more power to you!

    But my experience thus far brings doubt to the idea that it would be kosher with most galleries, unless the work is significantly of a different line (e.g. very small work, different medium, less "finished" pieces or studies, or older work subject to an occaisional "inventory reduction sale", etc.) Cathy, perhaps you're doing something along those lines and I'm misunderstanding.

    But it's a slippery slope a lot of times for artists who have already established gallery relationships and I'd say that my understanding of your situation is more of the exception than the norm.

    Of course many of the Daily Painters have been successful in two markets, but for the most part it seems like they can separate the "dailies" from their gallery work by keeping them within a certain size limit and listing them in auction format. (I could be wrong about this, but that's my impression).

    So, (now turning to Katherine) one thing that would be useful to me (since you've asked what it is we'd like to know about the topic) is an investigation on managing the two markets successfully.

  25. I must confess I lean towards Jennifer's perspective on this matter.

    In fact I've already included something on this point in the new site which I'm going crosseyed over at the moment.

    Jennifer - that's a good point and is going on my 'to do' list. I've already decided that this new site is going to be a 'work in progress' as it's already spawned two new sites just to make the information a tad more containable!!!

  26. I know that's often the case, Katherine, and that's exactly why I mentioned that my gallery IS very understanding--I know that's not that common in many gallery/artist relationships. I've been told some galleries don't even want an artist to have an online presence, period.

    My situation is unusual in that I live in a very small town in Middle America. The art market here is not non-existent, but to sell more than 3-5 paintings a year would be unusual for any of us. We very literally can't survive.

    It helps that my brick-and-mortar "gallery" is actually a boutique, with other things for sale--I'm the only fine artist there. It's run by friends. It struggles, and the owners know that that's the case for all of us here. They don't begrudge my trying to support myself.

    I do indeed separate what I sell there from what I sell online, in several ways. One, as I said, is that I make it clear the online work is unmatted and unframed--a large expense in a real shop.

    Things that go to the shop need to fit their vision--they really don't want portraits, nudes, figures, abstracts, etc., which I occasionally enjoy. I paint 'em anyway, because I want to.

    As Jennifer said, too, most work I sell online is also smaller than my gallery works--easy to wrap, easy to ship, and reasonable to sell for less.

    I like a place to offer very small things, actually, and some of the sketches. The online gallery works better for that, it's true.

    I DO appreciate the compliment, Jennifer, and took it in that vein! I hope as my online presence becomes known, I'll be able to raise prices on some things. (I do want to be able to offer affordable original work, though--that's important to me!)

    Of course there's also the fact that I've been painting for 30+ years, and have quite a bit of work on hand...I didn't try to sell anything for about 15 years, but continued to paint because I need to. I really need to clear out the studio a bit.

    I'm definitely open for suggestions with your new site! I like trying out new things...and I'm fascinated by the whole online gallery phenomenon. It's rather exciting!

  27. Hi,
    Enjoyed reading your blog.I have a website but was never so naive to believe that I was going to sit in my studio and just sell.I use my site as a reference point. In the last year as the economy went south-I worked extra hard- I sell where ever I can. I ended the year making about $300.00 more than last year. I would like to hear more about Ectsy from someone who has used it and more about blogging. I do not have a blog and do not know the rules or where to start. Could you cover this in your new site? I would love to receive your info from your new site. Thanks, Erlene

  28. Erlene - take a look in the right hand column. There's a long list of sites in my Resources for Artists series - and one of these is Blogging for Artists - Resources for Artists

    Etsy is coming up this week - and you should keep an eye on the comments on posts to hear what people have to say about it.

  29. This might be a stupid weighted question but if after implementing a lot of what other on-line selling artists do... how long before one actually can expect to see a return and start selling regularly on-line?
    I know that this depends on price points, subject of the art etc...where exactly you find your selling nitch whether it is eBay or Etsy ...or straight off your website or blog... is there any ball park figure- maybe some people who are selling regularly could give an estimate as to at what point they started to see a light at the end of the tunnel?


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