My Blog Archive

Friday, February 20, 2009

An Artists Perspective on selling Art Online

I get a few questions every day asking about tips for selling art online. I'm flattered people think I've got it all figured out. I've put together this recap of my experiences and take on the online artist scene for fellow artists to navigate some of the choices they have.
Even though there are many sites listed here this isn't a complete list, and this is only from my experience as an illustrator and painter. Photographers or artists in different disciplines might have different experiences and suggestions. So please feel free to chime in with your experiences.
Enough with the disclaimers....
I started with ArtistRising a few years ago when I found out that you can get your work published on and their other related sites. I've sold a few pieces since then. Obviously if you think about the customers going to, the market is for posters - it doesn't really attract true art collectors. So it's not for every artist. I think photographers have a better shot here. ArtistRising is also going through a great deal of transition and turmoil. There's a lot of angry and jaded artists and photographers on their forums. So I'd wait until the dust settles here.
Imagekind is a great way to get nice giclee or canvas prints of your work made. And if you sell work through Imagekind you can get a piece of the action on the print and the framing. Sounds like a sweet deal. And I have had a few sales here but mostly from current fans of my work that I directed there. I think there's way too much content there to get much exposure now. In my experience, it feels like a community of artists looking at and commenting on each others work, but few customers.
I think the website needs to be redesigned to surface more new work, and do a better job of providing exposure. They also need to drop the traditional art posters or move it to another site it's just a mess of options that cannibalize traffic to their artists. If you're lucky enough to get featured on the home page you have a chance to be successful. The homepage featured work is selected by a curator which is nice, but I think this should also be a paid placement scenario where an artist could pay $1 or something and get one work featured for a day. It would help the artist, and create more revenue for Imagekind. Imagekind has several different subscription models - there may be more success at the Premium levels, but I'd be more likely to try this if Imagekind was showing any glimmer of creating business for me in the first place.
My big problem with Imagekind is that they seem to be operating like they still only have 100 artist contributors, they have grown to thousands and haven't evolved the web site or the business model enough. Right now I just use Imagekind for producing prints that I sell at shows in the real world. I really do like Imagekind, but I think they're grown too big to be a adaptive for the artist community.
There are definitely some artists finding success here - mostly painters from what I've seen so far. Esthetically and functionally the site feels dated, and doesn't represent work especially well. But I do like their homepage paid promotional model so anyone can feature their work for $1. And they seem to have figured out a way to draw customers, since artists are selling work. So it's worth checking out.
A great site for crafters or makers of handmade art. The site looks nice and everyone on the message boards is really friendly. You can create an attractive storefront or showcase of your work fairly easily.
I don't think their promotional model for new work is great - one day twice a month the key promotion slots go up for sale and they sell out in about 10 minutes. And I wish I had more control over my store design. But if you're looking for a quick way to make a storefront Etsy might be a good alternative. It will be up to you to promote yourself and drive customers there.
Personally, Etsy has been the most successful for me for sales, and connecting with fans and supporters of my work. You can visit me there at for an example storefront.
Zazzle is a place to sell your art or design work in a variety of formats including posters, t-shirts, mousepads, mug, stickers, etc. I know, this site isn't for every artist/designer but some are realizing some success there. Zazzle also suffers from the bloated content of Imagekind problem, but they aren't sitting around scratching their heads. I just spoke with Zazzle today and they have some big changes coming that will help segregate amateur from professional artist/designer content, improved storefronts and more. It sounds like they are trying to change the paradigm of the site from soccer-mom making t-shirts, to more professional designs and art being available, or at least giving both of those contributors a better experience. Stay tuned. And check my storefront at
ArtBreak is the newer kid on the block. The site allows artists to get exposure and sell their work. Right now I think the focus is to build their selection of artists and artwork.
They've already attracted some great artists like Mark Johnson, Andrea Heimer, Ray McDaniel, James Presley, Aaron Brick, and other very talented artists. I'm not sure what the future holds for this site. I'm really hoping ArtBreak can change the online paradigm here. It's small and nimble enough to learn from the mistakes of other web sites and create a truly innovative space for artists. I think ArtBreak needs to make a choice soon though.
I see an opportunity for this site to be the KING of artist communities with content about being a successful artist, artist interviews, tips from gallery curators and owners, a centralized place to find EVERY juried competition and show, hosting artist portfolio sites, and everything else the aspiring or artist looking to grow might be looking for. Alternately, they could also go down the online gallery/commerce road - but I think that growth needs to be sculpted like a bonsai instead of the random organic growth that happens with most web sites. I think in this scenario ArtBreak could be the place where artists could get their big break to get into national galleries, media + press, etc - although this would take alot of handshaking and cocktails in the real world to build those relationships and opportunities for artists. I think there is defintely a sweet spot for ArtBreak to live up to their name and become the American Idol of the online artist communities, so I for one am definitely tuned in and watching them. You can visit me on ArtBreak at .
Matchup offers everything from paintings to jewelry. After the home page the site looks terrible. There appears to be some sales, but not sure if they are actually selling, or artists are just pulling out. I don't know enough about them and I can't tell if there's activity behind the scenes. They mention cash awards and competitions. So I'm just waiting and watching.
Basically mySpace for artists. The site reminds me of Facebook a little. There's a nice gallery features and some type of selling for artists is coming, and they have some juried contests. Seems solid so far. Not sure what the non-artist audience is like though. Overall this seems more like an artist community versus commerce or buzz-building.
This company is focused on helping artists, designers, and photographers create better personal web sites. Depending on how much you're willing to spend, FolioLink can set you up with a really professional looking portfolio web site. You still have to do your own promotion to get the visitors, but your new portfolio site really can showcase your art well. I think FolioLink really does the best job of bridging that emotional connection to artwork online. I think they really understand that your art is hero of the show, so the web site interface is very minimal. And you can show large images of your work which almost give the impression of being there.
Personal Wishlist
Wrapping it up, here is my wishlist for online artist sites, or what I would be focusing on if I ran these companies:
1. Give art buyers fewer choices. Sounds weird right? But imagine a customer visiting your web site looking for a single piece of art and being given 30,000 to 100,000 items to choose from. It just isn't reasonable. People don't have that much time or patience. I think these many of these art sites have grown quickly because of the free nature of them, but the tools to browse the selections haven't adapted to the bigger business models. I'd like to see better search engine tools, personalized recommendations based on a taste/style profile a buyer could make, or just some better organization.
2. Select what art gets published on the site, or segregate published art better. Since most of the sites are open to submissions from anyone, the quality can be wildly erratic, and searching for good work can take a long time. I've personally clicked through page after page of someone's pet and the 57 variations of it with different Photoshop effects they just learned. The solution might be a parametric search for art where visitors can select based on price, style, artist experience, ratings, etc - and dynamically get personalized results. I'm sure art buyers would be thrilled to have a powerful and faster experience. I can't figure out why anyone isn't doing this yet.
3. Keep the artists interested and involved on the site. This might include a dashboard view of their inventory - the number of visits to their pieces, feedback from visitors, ratings, etc. Content including advice from top selling artists on the site. Solict their involvement in contributing articles, coaching other artists, etc. Or provide account staff to counsel artists on presenting and promoting their work on the site.
4. Provide valued added services. From curator advice on what work of yours they see as marketable, or how to fine tune your individuality and persona. Tools and ideas to create buzz and word of mouth. Personalized service.
5. Provide a chance to win. Nearly every artist dreams of making it big. So provide a centralized place to find all the opportunities available for artists such as juried competitions and shows, or create new opportunites for them.
In the end, whichever business can truly make artists successful (more awareness, income, etc) online will be the winner. Like any internet business, being successful isn't about merely replicating what real world businesses do, but innovating the business and experience online.

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