How is your art painting

How To Sell Art Online: The Ultimate Guide

When Dayna Winter graduated from art school 15 years ago, she mastered color theory and watercolor techniques, but knew absolutely nothing about business. As a project, she then learned how to create a very simple portfolio website. No e-commerce - just samples of their work and a contact page.

In the current article, Dayna takes us on a new journey. Her conversations with other artists and her own experiences have turned into a comprehensive guide that serves as inspiration and gives many valuable tips for selling art online. Here we go!

In my very first week as a real adult and working artist, I learned a pretty hard lesson:

To be successful in art, you have to be successful in business too.

Dayna winter

And my pitiable little Flash website just wasn't enough for that. E-commerce wasn't that accessible 15 years ago, and social media was still a fairly unknown term. For unknown artists like me, it was mainly about commissions for companies and advertising productions.

However, the ability to simply sell your own art online has completely changed the game. Nowadays the starving artist is a dying species - and that's a good thing! E-commerce and selling on social media have become increasingly powerful tools for independent artists. In this way, they can finance their craft independently and, above all, gain the independence to sell their works of art directly to their audience.

For galleries, the changes over the past two decades have made it possible to represent more artists and invest in affordable prints to reach a global audience.


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How to sell art online

Since my own career as an illustrator only lasted a few months, I contacted two Shopify dealers - an artist and a gallery owner - who make a living selling art.

Maria Qamarthat is also under the name Hatecopy known, gave up her career in advertising when her pop art images became increasingly popular on Instagram in order to fully focus on painting.

Reading tip: You can find out how to sell with shoppable posts on Instagram here.

Photo: Maria Qamar, Instagram

Ken Harman is the gallery owner for the small art empire Spoke Art is responsible - consisting of three galleries on the east and west coast of the USA, three e-commerce shops, a printing company and a production facility.

Photo: Ken Harman, Artistaday

Based on the personal experiences of Maria and Ken, we will go through the pros and cons of being an artist and share their tips to help you sell art online.

Second job vs. full time

Many new artists are expanding their presence on social media by consistently sharing their work and getting involved in artist communities online.

Maria pursued her dream of being a full-time artist after losing her job in advertising. However, success did not come overnight. In the beginning, she had to increase her income, while she built her fan base on Instagram in every free minute.

I've been doing commissioned work here and there. Because when you're just starting out, you usually don't earn a single cent.

Maria Qamar

However, her full-time job taught her her entrepreneurial skills. And they were ultimately decisive in getting your shop off the ground and marketing yourself as an artist.

💡 TIP: Use the resources and training opportunities of your employer and build your art business on the side. What knowledge or experience can you gain from your normal job?

But there are also arguments in favor of jumping into the deep end. When Ken was unable to secure a location for a temporary pop-up gallery, he quickly signed a two-year lease for his first real gallery. The risky move gave him the necessary drive and helped him to quit his job as a waiter within a few months.

“In 2010 I curated an exhibition with an Australian artist. He emailed a selection of his works to me. Then I rented the premises. He bought his plane tickets, got his hotel, and about two weeks before his show opened, the pop-up venue went broke and was no longer available. That was before such pop-up events became something of a cultural institution. I had to act, but couldn't find a gallery that would make its premises available to me for a short time. At some point I came across an empty sales room that was a perfect match for my planned exhibition. However, the landlord insisted on a two-year lease. I really had no other options and then just put everything on one card. ”- Ken Harman

Photo: Rob Williamson for Spoke

Selling your own works vs. selling works by other artists

If you are not an artist yourself, you can still start selling art as a curator. Artists who are not interested in the business aspect of their craft rely on agents, galleries, and other dealers to do this for them.

There are several ways to work with artists - from selling originals or prints to licensing works to be printed on merchandise. Generally, in these scenarios, the artist would receive a set commission for works sold.

“Most galleries offer a standard industry split of fifty percent of the revenue. The artist provides the artwork, we will do our best to sell it. The income is then divided accordingly. For prints, we even have our own printing facility in Berkeley, California. We do all of our prints ourselves. Here, too, we typically offer a 50 percent split after deducting production costs. ”- Ken Harman

Maria runs her own shop selling prints and merchandise, eliminating the middleman and keeping her costs down. Even so, she also relies on relationships with seasoned galleries to display and sell her original art.

Galleries can introduce your work to a new audience and have access to resources and experts to assist with promoting, handling, and shipping artwork.


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What to sell: original vs. reproduction

Some media, such as sculpture, are more difficult to reproduce or use for merchandising (excluding 3D prints or products from toy manufacturers). However, with most 2D media there are several options to get unlimited sales of a single work.

For example, think of the following:

  • Original art
  • Limited or open edition prints - giclee (framed or unframed) or on canvas
  • Digital Downloads - Desktop Backgrounds, Stock Photos, Inspirational Quote Prints, etc.
  • Commission work - in traditional or digital media
  • Merchandise - hats, mugs, t-shirts, enamel pins
  • Repeat prints on fabric or wallpaper
  • Licensing of work to other e-commerce retailers
  • Cooperation with dealers and creative people

In addition to selling prints and other items on her website, Maria has worked with Shopify retailer Nuvango to reproduce some of her works and prints on clothing items.


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Photo: Nuvango

Your online shop

First, take a few minutes to create your shop. Don't worry, we're waiting so long. Before you commit to a plan, we'll let you test everything in detail for 14 days.

When setting up your online art business, choose a theme that lets your art breathe through large images and lots of white / negative space. Add apps that will help you run your shop more effortlessly so you can focus on the creative aspects of the business.

Mr. Alexander - travel poster in limited silk-screen edition

Theme recommendations for art stores:

Apps to support your online art business:

If you sell your artwork through prints and merchandise, you can use applications like Gooten or Printful so that you no longer have to worry about shipping and fulfillment.

Reading tip: Print-on-Demand: Sell your own designed T-shirts, books and more without great risk.

Printful product catalog

I use an app for printing and shipping. Now I can fully focus on my art instead of printing, packaging and shipping every single day.

Maria Qamar

Test apps like Photo Galleryto present previous or out-of-print works. This can serve as a portfolio for galleries or other dealers who want to work with you and need a full catalog.

💡 TIP:Use variants in Shopifyto provide customers with not only size options, but also finish and frame choices. Variants can also be edited to reflect unique / tiered prices.

Spoke Art

Photographing and scanning art

Clearly and accurately photographing and displaying your products is important in all e-commerce, regardless of the industry. Without the ability to feel a product, one needs to get the best idea of ​​what they are buying through clear and detailed images.

When you sell your work online, it's ultimately all about the image. If your images are of low quality, or if they don't adequately represent your work, then you will have a harder time selling them

Ken Harman

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Photographing works of art is a little more difficult than photographing other products. Even a simple light setup can still cause glare or color irregularities. For larger works or works of art with three-dimensional elements, you should consider hiring a professional photographer.

However, for working in 2D, Ken recommends scanning as an affordable and effective alternative to photography:

“We have a photo setup in our production workshop. The artists do provide the scans of their work, however, because scans are something they need one way or another for their own archives. The cheapest option is to get a desktop scanner and scan your work in parts and then put it together in Photoshop. If you have a work that has a high-gloss coating or something similar, that is of course a bit more complicated. For most works on canvas or paper, however, it's pretty easy. "

Helice Wen for Spoke Art

Open vs. limited editions

The reproduction of works on T-shirts or mugs means that a single work can bear (financial) fruit indefinitely. However, some galleries, such as Spoke, have chosen a limited edition model for many of the works they represent.

The effect is similar to that of a time-limited offer - creating a sense of scarcity and urgency is a great marketing strategy. For Ken, however, the decision to limit his editions goes deeper:

“We work really hard to find things that are very special. And those things that are special should also be treated that way. Maybe we could make more money with open editions. "

I think that offering our works as limited editions really adds to the value of the art.

Ken Harman

However, the limited edition offer also has its disadvantages.

“A lot of the things we sell are also traded on the secondary market. You can go to a website like Ebay and find works there that in some cases sell for exponentially more than their original price - simply because the demand is so high. That's a bit of a shame because we can't offer everyone the works of art they want. ”- Ken

To minimize such resale, Spoke will limit the number of specific prints per customer. A black list of well-known resellers has also been created.

"For us it is always a priority that it is really the real fans who can get the works we sell." - Ken

The People's Print Shop

Reading tip: Two successful German YouTube stars from CONSIDER COLOGNE score points with their own online shop.

Printer and the printing process

With the right paper, the right color and the right printer, it is possible to create quality prints on your own. You could also offer your customers framed options and do the framing yourself. As a new artist, this method can keep costs down, but it's not really sustainable or scalable.

“In the beginning, I printed, packaged and delivered every single poster I ordered by hand. I've done this for around 1,000 orders. Every morning I got up, went to the print shop, packed up all of the prints, and then made my way to the post office. At some point, however, the volume was so large that I no longer had time to draw myself or simply to be an artist. I spent most of my time processing and delivering orders. ”- Maria

If you do your own shipping or want to sell your prints offline, a local or online printer can reproduce your work in bulk at wholesale prices.

💡TIP: For an approach where almost all aspects are taken care of for you, you can look for a print-on-demand and dropshipping provider. Maria has also opted for this path and is now using Printful for her online shop.

Gallery events, popup exhibitions, and offline events

Since Maria often works with traditional media, much of the effect of texture and scale is lost in the digital representation of her art.

“It's real physical work. So when we do exhibitions, you can go to a gallery and see that I am a real person who has technical skills and can create paintings and large-scale installations. ”- Maria

By presenting their work offline, artists can also get in touch with fans and gain new audiences. So use local experiences to bring people back to your online shop.

For example, think of the following:

  • Go one Partnership with a gallery to exhibit your work
  • Check out local Art markets and events and set up a stand there (one-time or ongoing)
  • Take on commissioned work via gift and lifestyle shops or set up a small pop-up shop in an existing shop
  • Open your studio to the public launch your website or set up weekly opening times
  • Set up a pop-up shop (together with other artists to reduce costs)

Photo: Spoke Art

💡 Tip: Sync your online and offline sales by using Shopify POS for on-site sales.

Before Ken opened his gallery, he tried pop-up galleries to build his reputation as a gallery owner and validate his business idea. However, he has never given up the physical aspect of the business.

“You rarely find a successful art gallery that works entirely online. That really doesn't happen very often. I think the main reason is that people want to see the works in person. ”- Ken

Reading tip: Launch in 10 steps: The ultimate guide to starting an online shop.

Working with galleries

"If you're interested in having your art represented by a gallery in addition to selling prints on your own website, you should do your homework and be professional," says Ken.

  • YES: Take a look at the social media presences of galleries:"If you have more followers than this gallery, or if this gallery generally doesn't have a lot of followers, that should be a warning sign."
  • NO: Don't contact galleries via social media:“It's really amazing how many people try to reach us on Facebook Messenger or tag us in a post on Instagram and ask to review their work. Although social media is an important focus for us, it is not a very professional way of contacting an artist. "
  • YES: Do your research and only reach out to the galleries that display work in your own style.

You can't sell street art to someone who collects impressionism

Ken Harman
  • NO: No watering can principle:“What is really frustrating is that sometimes we are tagged in a post on Instagram and the artist hopes to get our attention. At the same time, however, he then tags twenty other galleries in the same post.
  • YES: Send a personalized message in a professional email:“Try to find out the name of the director of the gallery or the curator for that gallery. Personalizing an email is a great first step on the road to success. "

Photo: Joe Russo for Spoke

Packaging and shipping of art

If you want to send original works of art or prints and canvases via a printing and shipping service provider, but rather yourself, you should be particularly careful with the packaging.

Prints and posters are best sent in cardboard mailing tubes, smaller prints in rigid cardboard mailing bags. Use glassine (a water and grease resistant paper) or clear cellophane sleeves to protect the prints inside the packaging.

Framed works and canvases require additional precautions. Packaging supplies stores offer packaging and shipping materials such as cardboard corners and special size boxes that are specifically designed for art.

💡 Tip:

“There are tons of little tips and tricks that can help keep shipping costs down for art collectors. For example, the cost of shipping a large painting drawn onto a canvas can be quite substantial - especially when it comes to oversized dimensions. Sometimes we take out the canvas, roll it up in a tube and ship it that way, which dramatically cuts shipping costs. The customers can then have the screen stretched again locally. ”- Ken

Shipping insurance

Insurance is important when shipping original works, as a lost or damaged package cannot simply be replaced.

Many shipping service providers such as DHL offer fairly basic insurance for most packages. In any event, traders should be concerned with the specific additional costs and limitations of each provider’s insurance offerings. With higher quality works of art, Ken takes additional measures to ensure their safety.