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Starting A Painting Business With No Experience
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Many artists graduate from formal art schools proficient in color theory, brush techniques and composition – but don’t know the first thing about the business.
How can artists sell art and paintings online? How will they market themselves? Making a living as a career artist means understanding how to build an audience, how to price art products, and the unique demands of art delivery. It means thinking like an entrepreneur.
Before e-commerce platforms, artists relied on third-party galleries, agents and retailers to distribute work. Creator tools and sales channels are currently non-existent. Today, independent artists can own their distribution channels, create and sell their art online – and on their own terms.
For galleries and curators, the change in how we buy and sell over the last two decades has allowed companies to represent more artists and expand to sell art prints at affordable prices online to reach large audiences around world.
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If you are a creator or a curator looking to make money online selling art like painting, this step-by-step guide is for you. No matter what type of art you’re into—original acrylic paintings, digital art prints, sculpture—this resource has actionable advice for any artist.
In the following sections, we will discuss the basics of selling art online for both beginners and experienced artists. Explore topics for each level, including working with printers and dealing with plagiarism.
We consult with successful artists, curators and galleries for their advice on everything you need to know to sell your art online. In this guide to selling your own artwork, their anecdotes become practical and actionable advice for any creative entrepreneur. Let’s meet our experts.
Cat Seto is an artist and writer and founder of Ferme à Papier, a San Francisco-based boutique that represents unique items from independent designers. His stationery has appeared in many publications and he has collaborated with brands such as Anthropologie and Gap.
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Best known by her stage name Hatecopy, Maria Qamar left her career in advertising to focus on art when her pop art paintings started catching fire on Instagram. Now he works full time on his art and sells his own paintings in many formats, from art prints to books to printed goods.
Ken Harman is the man behind the art empire that includes Spoke Art, Hashimoto Contemporary and the publisher Paragon Books. Together, these companies represent many global artists through physical galleries, online stores and pop-up exhibitions.
There are two ways to sell art online: create or curate. Kat built her career both by creating and selling her own work and representing the work of others in her shop. Which one is right for you?
As an artist, you are the creator who creates original art and/or copies of originals and sells them directly to your customers or indirectly through a gallery, retail partner or agent.
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It’s never been easier for direct selling artists, with creative tools seemingly evolving every day. Depending on your style and medium, choose a sales channel where your target audience hangs out. This may be the easiest way to sell art online for many.
Maria runs her own online store where she sells art prints and merchandise, eliminating the middleman and keeping her costs down. But he also relies on relationships with experienced galleries for the exhibition and sale of original works of art.
If you know how to sell your art, remember that galleries can expose your work to new audiences. They may also have access to resources and professionals to help promote, display, manage and ship artwork.
If you’re not an artist personally, but have a keen eye and passion for the art world, you can still get into the art selling game as a curator. Some artists may have no interest in marketing or figuring out the best way to sell art online and instead rely on galleries, curators and retail partners to handle this aspect of the business. As an artist affiliate, you make a percentage of the sale price in exchange for your knowledge and business services.
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There are several ways to work with artists to sell their art online – whether it’s selling originals or licensing prints of works to be printed for sale or for use in publications. “Most galleries offer an industry standard 50% freight split for original art,” says Ken. “The artist supplies the artwork, we do our best to sell it.”
The best way to sell your art online will depend on the nature of your art and your chosen medium. You can choose to sell your art, copies of the work or both.
Good artists who use classical media and sell at high prices may choose to sell only originals, for example, while digital art, which can be reproduced without quality loss, is good for prints and merchandise. But most of the art made in 2D media has many possibilities to generate unlimited sales of a work.
Some media, such as sculpture, are more difficult to reproduce or use for commercial purposes. But for those who can’t scan and print, there are ways to generate more income from a plan. For example, clay workers can use the same mold to create identical pieces, and 3D designs can be made over and over again with a 3D printer.
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Reproducing art on t-shirts or mugs or as art prints means that a work can bear fruit forever – or for a limited period. There are two ways to approach selling your art as prints: open edition or limited edition.
Open edition means printing and selling an unlimited number of products (copies or reprints of the original work).
Limited edition means printing only a certain number of prints before they disappear. They are often numbered and signed by the artist to add value and authenticity.
This Mike Davis print has a limited edition of 50 copies available on the Spoke website, each signed and numbered by the artist.
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Spoke has always chosen a limited edition strategy. “We work hard to find very special items to sell. Special items should be kept special,” said Ken.
To help minimize sales, Spoke will limit the quantity to a few prints per print. customer. “Making sure the right fans are the ones getting the stuff we sell is always a priority,” said Ken.
Choosing the right printing materials, technology or partner for your art is an important step in the process.
Understanding how to sell your prints of your artwork comes down to being very friendly with a printer, whether it’s your inkjet at home or a business that does the job for you. There are many options, from DIY to completely handmade, to help you sell art prints and other merchandise to your audience.
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It is possible to start selling your own artwork by making quality prints yourself using high quality paper, ink and a home office printer. As a new artist, this approach can keep costs down, but may not be sustainable as you scale over time.
“In the beginning, I printed, packaged and hand-delivered every poster that was ordered,” said Maria. “At one point the volume became so overwhelming that I couldn’t take the time to draw. I spend all my days freeing up and traveling.”
This method is usually limited to selling art prints on paper, but some specialist home printers may allow you to print on canvas paper or fabric designed for this purpose.
A local or online print shop can reproduce your work in bulk and may even offer significant discounts if you print multiple identical pieces. This may be the best way to sell art online if you have a small catalog and a large volume of selling pieces.
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With this method, you are still responsible for packaging and shipping the copies you sell online. These companies usually produce high quality prints because of the more advanced printers.
It is important that we are the last set of eyes that inspect, pack and ship the product to our customers. Cat Seto, Ferme à Papier
Kat often prints large batches for compilation releases. While he uses print-on-demand services, the prints first arrive at his studio instead of being shipped directly to the customer. “It is important that we are the last set of eyes that inspect, pack and ship the product to our customers,” he said.
Working with a reliable printer and requesting samples will ensure that your work is reproduced in a way that respects the original.
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Print on demand is the most convenient and versatile option and the easiest way to sell art online – especially if you plan to sell your work printed on merchandise like t-shirts or caps.
Print-on-demand services are often bundled with your online store. When an order is placed, the integration requests that piece be printed and sent directly to the customer.
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