Absolute beginners guide to selling your art online

There’s nothing better than selling your art online either for some extra money and or doing it full-time.

But what if you’re just getting started at selling your art online and don’t have a website?

Not a problem.

Thanks to the internet, you can have start selling your art online using sites like eBay, Etsy, Society6.

This guide is meant to get your art business up and running using existing resources on the internet.

While I recommend you eventually build your own website for your art. This way you can grow your audience on a platform you own (your email list) and make are sales in your own store on your website.

But if you’re just getting started, sometimes it can help to dip your toes into the online art arena to get a better pulse of your personal preferences when it comes to marketing your art.

When I started out selling my art online around 2005. Literally, I went down a list of things most artists did when they set out to sell their art online. Some of it worked and a lot of it didn’t. However, in these early stages of selling your art online, experimenting to see what marketing activities are actually enjoyable to you is priceless.

The money I initially made in these experimental beginnings of online art marketing went right to paying down some of my debt. In some instances, I was able to make an extra $500 in a month, which is a nice chunk of change when you’re just starting college (like I was at the time).

Below is the general method for how we conducted what we called our “purge and profit.”

The Inventory

Set aside a day to make an inventory. What art of yours are you actually trying to sell? At the time I had stacks of sketchbooks, piles of life drawings, a random assortment of oil paintings from classes, and a few fashion polaroids. A thorough digging through and critical look at what you’ve made over the past year or so will take a good part of the day. Set aside a weekend where you can devote yourself completely to going through your art.

Create an inventory attack plan. Organize your work into categories. This is different from artist to artist. In my case I organized my work into subject matter. Not medium. So I had a pile of figure studies, wildlife art, and polaroid fashion photos.

Create a “trash/gift” collection, “sell” collection, and “archive” collection. Have separate piles or areas for these three categories and sort as you go. Some items, like half finished drawings and works you just don’t care for, are better to archive, trash or gift. If it’s a piece is in physically bad shape, you might as well trash it. If you’re unsure, you can try giving it away or archive it, then get rid of it later. The works you decide are worthy of selling are ready for the next step…

Trash or gift it. You have to sometimes let go of the half finished studies on yellowing newsprint and sketchbooks you just didn’t give your 100%. Again this is personal to each individual artist. But purging the trash pile will help clear your mind. For the works that aren’t in physically bad shape, share them with your family and friends to see if they want any of them. I have friends who have some of my old life drawings from the early 2000s. Every once in a while I’ll get a call and

Ask the “will I work on this later question.” When you look at the works you aren’t finished with in archive pile you made, ask yourself if you’re going to work on these more. If so put them near your studio space so you’ll actually remember to work on these. For the other works that are finished in the archive pile, put them in a nice portfolio case, put them in an art drawer, or hang them on your wall. These are works you’re either personally attached to and want to keep for yourself. If you want to go the extra mile, take photographs and scans of these so you’ll have them forever.

Ask the “am I confident with these question” If you’re not sure whether you should get rid of something, ask yourself, “Have I used this item in the last year?” If you haven’t, in the trash or donate bag it goes.

Sort your sell collection. What you have left is your “sell” collection. Certain items do better on certain platforms. Books, DVDs, and video games are best sold on Amazon; high-end clothing, collectibles, and smaller electronics do better on eBay; items that are too big to ship (like a weight set or a car) or generic items (like baby clothes or tools) are best for Craigslist. Sort your “sell” collection into groups based on where you’ll sell them: Amazon, eBay, or Craigslist.

The Profit

Now it’s time to sell your art. Here’s what helped me get maximum profits from online art sales in the beginning.

Open sellers accounts on Etsy, eBay, and Society6. Opening an account to sell on these platforms is easy. Just click the links below and follow the instructions.

  • Etsy. Etsy charges you a listing fee and also takes a small percentage of each sell you make. Please visit their site if you would like to learn more the signup process.
  • eBay. You can have your payment sent directly to your checking account or through your PayPal account. Because eBay owns PayPal they prefer that people use PayPal. eBay does charge you a small fee to list your item on the site and a fee based on the final value that your item sold for. For more information about eBay’s selling fees see here.
  • Society6. Society is a print on demand provider.Ebay and Etsy are perfect for selling your original works. However, there is a large group of people who much rather prefer your work as a print. Print on demand websites like Society6 are a great way to offer this. Selling your work on Society6 is pretty straight forward. Artist Marc Johns earns $1000+ per month from Society6 and has a great article on why he prefers Society6 for selling his art. He also has a course on how to sell your art on Society6.
  • Saatchi Art. Saatchi Art is an online art marketplace where artists can sell prints and originals. It’s free to sell and Saatchi takes care of the shipping. However the artist the artist pays for the packaging. Saatchi also takes a 35% commission for every piece sold. What’s nice about Saatchi is that artists who work in all mediums can sell on their website. You can also offer commissions on their website as well. Saatchi is a great way to offer high quality prints with frames if you would rather offer this to your audience than the objects you would find on Society6.

Research what similar items have sold for. For original art on Ebay typically the best selling price points are below $1000. Etsy is great for any original works below $250. Look at what other artists who make similar work are selling for. Early on I always had success pricing mine around the median — right between the highest and lowest. If you really want to move the product, settle on pricing towards the low end.

For eBay, they have software that will actually find comparable items and give you ideas for pricing. In my experience, that number is usually lower than you should sell for. If you set too high a price, you probably won’t get any bids. You can use eBay’s advanced search to see how items similar to yours have sold and the price they are auctioning for now.

Remember, this article is about the absolute beginnings of selling your art online. Later on when you have a website of your own, it’ll be easier to set higher prices for your work. But now, in the beginning, we’re just experimenting and using existing platforms to break the ice with your first online art sales.

Be thorough in your description. The more detail you put into the description of your art the more likely it will sell. Take time to write 2-3 paragraphs about the story, making of, and process behind creating the art you’re selling. Also, if the art you’re selling has any physical dings or tears, openly describe them. This will show the buyer you’re an honest seller, and in the online art selling game your reputation is your most important commodity.

Edit and proofread your description. Make sure to run a spell check and grammar check on your listing. It makes you look more legit and boosts your ever valuable reputation.

Include plenty of quality pictures of the item. Rather than just including one image of the front of your art, feature several images from different angles. Make sure you show any flaws or dings the item might have. Again, if the flaw is minor, it shouldn’t hurt you.

Also, make sure your pictures look good. They don’t have to be professional, but they shouldn’t look like you took them on an old cell phone from 1999. I could devote an entire post on how to take better pictures (maybe I will in the future), but in the meantime here are some quick and dirty tips for taking pictures that don’t suck:

  • Use a plain, uncluttered background. You want all the attention on your item, not on your cluttered table in the background. A simple wall makes for a great backdrop.
  • Don’t use the flash. Natural lighting is better. Flashes can give your images an overly bright look and cause all sorts of shadows. Always go for natural light. I typically take photos in the mid-morning outside if I’m not using professional photography lights outside.
  • Fill the frame with the item. You want the item to take up about 80-90% of the frame. This gives buyers the best look possible.
  • Take close-ups. People like to see the details. The textures, brush strokes, and sketchy lines will help sell your work.

Be prompt in answering questions. If you get a question from a bidder or potential buyer, answer it quickly. It shows you’re serious about selling your item and only increases your reputation. Plus, it’s just plain good customer service. You wouldn’t believe how many artists lose sells in the online art selling game just because they ignore these messages.

Create a stellar title for your listings. The first thing people will see when searching for an eBay or Etsy item is the title. When deciding how to title your item, think like a buyer. What would you type in the search box if you were looking for this item? Use that as the starting point. List things like medium, color, subject matter, and size. Don’t use all caps or excessive punctuation or gimmicks. That just annoys people and makes you seem suspicious or wierd.

On eBay, set your starting bid low. Low starting bids attract more buyers.

Many power sellers on eBay recommend not using a reserve price (the lowest price you’re willing to accept for your item) because it just adds a fee to your listing ($3) that you have to pay even if you don’t sell the item. Many also recommend just starting your bid at $.99, the thinking being that even if you sell it for much less than you wanted, it’s better than just having that item sit on your shelf making you no money at all.

It’s a tough call, but I always prefered on starting low so I could just get the experience of the sell.

Run a 10-day listing on eBay. If you start the bid on Thursday and run a 10-day auction, your bid will end on the Sunday of the following week. That means your item will be up for two weekends. More people surf and make purchases on eBay on the weekends. You’ll have way more exposure and it will definitely help increase the bids.

Be upfront with shipping and handling. Make it clear who’s paying for shipping and handling. You’ll encourage bids if you’re clear about how much shipping will be.

Some people use the strategy of providing free shipping. Especially for higher-priced art items, you’re probably making a profit anyway, and the free shipping will likely attract more buyers.

Don’t use eBay add-onsI haven’t found them to be very helpful. If you follow the tips in this article, you shouldn’t have to use them.

Ship fast and package well. As soon as the item sells or your auction is over, head down to the post office and send the package off. If it’s a fragile or delicate item, wrap it really well. This isn’t a time to cut corners; if the item breaks, you may be responsible. Buyers will rate you, and how you handle shipping will be taken into consideration. Ship fast to earn positive feedback and boost your reputation!

What if the item doesn’t sell? If your item doesn’t sell, consider relisting it at a lower price. If it still doesn’t sell at the lower price, cut your losses and just donate the item to Goodwill. Make sure you get a receipt — you want to get that tax deduction after all!

Getting started. There are some many fascinating possibilities and tools for artists to make a living on the internet.

Remember, simply putting your artwork up on one of these sites doesn’t guarantee art sales. Sometimes it can feel like your work get lost among the thousands of other artists online. Which is why I eventually built my own art website, grew my own mailing list, make my own fine art prints, as my primary way of making content about my art and selling my art.

But if you’re an absolute beginner at selling your art online, everything I outlined in this article is a great way for you to get started. You’ll eventually find yourself developing a better understanding of your market. Knowing what people like about your art and eventually developing the start of your art business.

I hope this article helps you.

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