How to sell art online

When I first started selling my art online in 2009, I had no idea what I was doing.

When I began, I didn’t know about email newsletters, business strategy, and sales funnels. I definitely didn’t know how to create a recurring revenue stream. I wasn’t even sure where to start!

Despite all that, here’s what’s happened over the past 10+ years. I’ve sold over 3,000+ prints and originals based on my sketchbook drawings and grew my tiny art newsletter into a real business with just 15,000+ monthly readers.

I never wanted to have a business around my art that depended on how many hours I worked. I wanted to learn how to automate and make sales, not through luck, but through a repeatable system I know works.

And because of that system, I’ve been able to sell my art online, grow my business year after year, and get featured in places like Juxtapoz Magazine and Beautiful Decay Magazine.

By the way, I later wondered if it was just a fluke that I did this. Maybe I was special or weird. So I tested my material with other artists. People of different ages, skill levels, art styles, subject matter, mediums…all kinds of artists.

Look at these results they got based on the same path I outline in this article:

“I followed your advice on starting a mailing list and it is really paying off. Just had a mini-comic printed and already had 46 orders in the last three days, many through my mailing list, and a web-zine maintainer asked if he can interview me. So :-)
Ayal Pinkus 

“I had my third online, fine art launch for original paintings in December and it gets a little better every year. $4400 so far this year with a sale of $2300 leading the way. But I have other random sales from my website as well.”
Charlene Marsh 

“I have sold several works even before starting to launch. I have stories going in the UK national press about my work in the next few weeks. Seriously, it would never have happened without you. Thanks for making my life nicer!”
Boo Patterson 

So, how do you get your first art sale online?

Not by luck and hoping to sell $10 art prints and stickers 6 months from now…only to earn $18.25.

In this article, I’ll show you the general path you can take to make art sales.

  • Myths about selling art online (understanding psychological frameworks stopping most artists from starting)
  • What marketing tactics you don’t need to do (so you don’t burn out or waste hours online)
  • Understand how to get traffic to your art website (and the truth about social media and why you don’t need it)
  • How to grow your email list (yes, you need to start growing an email list)
  • Why launching will help you make art sales (it’s the same way Hollywood sells movies)

Let’s get started.

First, let’s go over some common myths that end up stopping a lot of artists from making their first art sales.

Common myths about selling art online

MYTH 01: Only cheap art sells online

The truth is, it’s easier to sell art that is affordable (around $50 – $100) than it is to sell more expensive originals and prints. This is also true for selling your art anywhere – face to face or in a gallery.

It’s possible to sell higher priced art online, but you have to build-up to it – it’s a process.

Luckily it’s a process that can be automated, but you have to understand two things:

  1. Art sales happen on your art newsletter
    Very rarely will someone come to your website for the first time and purchase your art. It’s only after they’ve signed up for your art newsletter and have gotten to know more about you and your work will they purchase your work. Even then, you have to use launching strategies to make art sales happen predictably.
  2. You’ll make most of your sales from past collectors
    When someone purchases an affordable print or original work from you, they’re more likely to purchase a more expensive original or other type of product from your later. These affordable first purchases are a great way to bring your collectors further into your creative world.

This is what’s called a collectors list.

Essentially, you’re ONLY inviting people who’ve taken an interest in your work — either by signing up for your newsletter or have purchased something from you before — to collect your work through launch strategies. (More on launch strategies later)

MYTH 02: You have to be “famous” in order to sell your art online

One of the biggest myths about making a living from your art is that you have to be “famous” or have THOUSANDS of followers on social media in order to sell your art online.

The truth is, you can make art sales from your art without the holy blessing of the “art world”, the “general public”, or being “famous”.

Personally, I don’t sell through galleries, dealers, go to art fairs, or even spend much time on social media.

You won’t see write ups on me in Vanity Fair about my new show at the LACMA.

You won’t hear about one of my drawings generating millions in bidding war at Sotheby’s.

I barely spend any time on social media.

Why?

Because I focus on establishing relationships with my future art collectors first. Sharing my creative process and behind-the-scenes of my sketchbook to those who sign up for my email art newsletter.

Then every so often, I’ll invite my art newsletter subscribers to collect my art. But only after they’ve become more familiar with who I am and what my art is about.

MYTH 03: I don’t have time

In all honesty, there’s no such thing as setting up any sort of business that requires zero investment of time.

However, I don’t spend more than 8-12 hours a month in front of my computer. This includes, updating my website, replying to emails, helping students, writing 4 articles a month for artists, managing my website, sharing my work in targeted groups and communities online..

The rest of my time is spent making art, working on illustration commissions, and living life.

Most of the marketing related work you do for your art can be front loaded and scheduled to go out later.

Knowing what to work on and what NOT to work on. Being specific so you aren’t wasting time second guessing yourself when you finally sit down to work on something.

For example, why would you spend 2 hours a week being active on social media when you know 99% of your art sales happen after writing 5 launch emails and sending them out to your art newsletter.

But knowing what does and doesn’t work can take weeks, months, and even years of experimenting with to finally understand.

What you don’t have to do to sell art online

Every day, we have a so many different options on how we can sell our art online:

  • Pay for expensive ads
  • Blog more
  • Redesign our websites
  • Try to get the approval of galleries and agents.
  • Attempt to get THOUSANDS of followers on social media.

…and on and on.

When faced with this infinite number of choices, what do we do? A little bit of everything!

“I know… I’ll start a Twitter account…then post on Facebook a couple times a day… and try to double down on my Instagram during the weekends…”

Pretty soon, we wake up jumping from tactic to tactic with no time for our art.

It’s no surprise most artists get annoyed and burnt out. As if being everywhere online, getting lost in crowds of thousands of other artists online will help.

Here’s one thing to remember: Your art business needs to have an accelerator you’re in control of.

Sure, you may get a random sale here and there, but it’s nothing you can rely on. A real art business is where you know how much you’re going to make.

Your business shouldn’t be based on luck.

If all of your social media accounts and ads were to get deleted tomorrow, you should still be able to make money in your art business.

It’s possible to run your art business in a way where your earnings are directly correlated with your actions. If you push harder on the accelerator, your art business should grow accordingly.

What NOT to do

I’ve found most artists get stuck focusing on marketing activities they don’t control.

This is a problem.

When you want to sell your art online, you must be ruthless with how you spend your time.

  • You might think you have to post on social media 10 times a day.
  • You might think that having THOUSANDS of followers on social media.

Ultimately, you’re better off spending your time on things that WILL grow your art business.

And in my experience, you need:

  1. A measurable – reliable – and repeatable – method for getting traffic to your art website
  2. A measurable – scalable – and effective – method for selling them things.

That’s it!

The keyword is measurable.

Before you commit to what I’m about to share with you over the next week, you must be willing to get rid of the things that don’t matter. So you only work on things that DO matter.

Let’s stop working on things we can’t control: Facebook has changed the algorithm for their News feed. Lowering how many people of your own audience will see each of your posts.

But you know what, it’s their platform. They make the rules.

The artists who’ve depended on Facebook are hurting right now. They’ve relied on something they don’t control.

The same applies to other sites like Etsy, Ebay, Society6, Instagram, and more. They make their own rules – rules you have to listen to.

You see, most artists using other platforms to market their art have the illusion of control.

“If I just post my art all over Facebook, it’ll pay off.”

What they didn’t realize was they were building their art business on the edge of a volcano. Overtime, it started sending a river of hot lava right over their art business.

They were building an audience they didn’t own.

For example, here’s what one of my Art Launch Blueprint students, Marbrisa, experienced:

Marbrisa is an artist who was used to getting 200+ new likes on Instagram when ever she posted a new image.

When Instagram changed their news feed algorithm, she had a huge problem.

In her words:

“I recently lost my biggest source of traffic to my art website, up to 30% of my traffic. It was a wakeup call that my art sales up to this point could disappear at any time.”

We’re lucky to have any exposure to the right audience. And sure, we can make strides to try and generate more exposure.

But at the end of the day, many artists are still relying on some third party they don’t control.

Which is a huge mistake.

When you want to grow your art business, you MUST focus your time on the things you control 100%.

The only things you control are:

  1. The content you create and share on a platform you own. (Ex: A WordPress or website under a domain your own.)
  2. Your email art newsletter.

And that’s exactly what Marbrisa decided to focus on.

She said:

“I had to diversify. Find more ways to attract collectors to my art website. Then optimize my website to get more sign-ups to my art newsletter!. I’m happy with my new approach to growing my audience. Since guest posting on other blogs and creating more compelling content on my blog. My art business has grown into a business I have more control over.”

For now, before we focus on what you should do, we need to avoid spending time on things we don’t control.

Ask yourself:

  • What marketing things do you spend your time on right now?
  • What’s not contributing to real measurable results?
  • What one platform do you spend your time on you don’t control?

You might realize you’re just running in circles. Or what you’re focusing on doesn’t result in new more sign-ups to your email art newsletter, visits to your art website, or new creative clients.

Here’s what you don’t need to worry about right now. In other words, here are the things slowing your art business down:

  • trying to get THOUSANDS of followers on social media
  • attending networking events
  • trying to get into galleries
  • hunting for an agent to represent you
  • listing your work on all the famous marketplaces online
  • business cards
  • a fancy logo
  • LLC, DBA, incorporating – if you are concerned about any of the legal elements of your business you should definitely consult with a lawyer.

If you find yourself spending too much time on any of these non-essentials, STOP.

How to get people to visit your art website

Most artists fall into the same vicious circle when they try to sell their art online:

  1. Try to get “famous” or THOUSANDS of followers on social media.
  2. Post their work online announcing, “I have a new *PRODUCT* in the shop, go check it out!”
  3. No one buys anything.
  4. You come to the conclusion it’s impossible to sell your art online.

Shifting away from social media

When you change your focus from trying to grow your social media following and focus on growing your email list you’ll start selling you’ll begin to notice a positive shift in your art business.

Here’s some quick numbers to illustrate this point:

SOCIAL MEDIA: Expect 3-5% of your followers to see your new content.

EMAIL LIST: Expect 40-50% of your followers to see your new content.

Does this mean social media is bad or a waste of time? Not at all.

Instagram and YouTube can be fun. They’re a great way to share what you’re working on every day or even just a few time a week. But they’re not the best way to generate traffic to your art website. And yes, you can sell your art online without a social media presence.

So where do you begin with selling your art online?

You need three key ingredients:

  1. Thing #1: Traffic (people visiting your art website)
  2. Thing #2: Conversions (visitors to your art website joining your newsletter)
  3. Thing #3: Launching (a natural, storytelling way to generate art sales)

Right now, let’s talk about Thing #1: Traffic.

“How do you get people to visit your art website?”

This is actually a pretty complicated question, so I want to dig deep into it.

A lot of people will tell you:

  • “You need to do SEO.”
  • “You need to do advertising.”
  • “You need to get on social media.”

It’s important to remember there are different stages in your art business.

In each one of those stages, you can focus on different strategies and tactics.

But you don’t need to overcomplicate things in the beginning.

At different stages, you can try different things, moving from beginner to more advanced later on. But you can’t do it all upfront.

For example, “pay per click,” (PPC) refers to paid advertising.

You’ve probably seen these types of ads on Google, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. PPC is great for more advanced businesses because when you get it working, it’s very scalable and provides a predictable ROI if you have a well performing sales funnel.

For every dollar you put in, you might make two dollars, three dollars or even four dollars. It can be a really powerful tool to help your art business grow.

But the downside is that you need to know your numbers. You need to know what your LTV, or lifetime value, is for every art collector. You need to know your conversion numbers.

For example, I know for every 100 affordable prints I sell (< $500 USD), 6 of those collectors are going to later buy a much more expensive offerings again and again. They’ll become a collector for life.

To really do PPC right, it also takes a lot of analytics. Most people hire other people to handle this for them.

That’s why I recommend you DON’T start with PPC ads. You should really wait to do this because there are better ways you can get free traffic in the early stages of growth.

Here’s another advanced online business topic: SEO or “Search engine optimization.”

SEO is when you type something into Google, results come up, you click, and you’re like, “Yes! This is exactly what I wanted.”

That’s an example of good SEO in action. This tool can be incredibly powerful for your online business.

Anytime that you generate leads or get traffic to your art website from SEO, you’re getting really high-quality people coming to your site with what’s called “search intent.” All that means is that the person was searching for what you have to offer.

The problem with SEO is that it takes a lot of work and time to start seeing results. It’s also not directly in your control where you rank.

Google might change their policies or how they rank certain key terms. It also takes time for your site and posts to rank really well.

The best recommendation I have for you on SEO is to write authentically about you and your work on your art website and blog.

And in fact, you can get a ton of traffic from Google, even if you don’t look at keywords, title tags, or any other advanced stuff that other people will tell you to do.

The BEST way to get traffic to your art website is to get featured, create guest posts, and/or get interviewed.

Getting in front of the already established audiences of others is the most effective way you can start getting traffic to your art site.

Getting featured in front of the right audience tomorrow could mean hundreds or thousands of new people on your email list this week.

It doesn’t cost you money like PPC. It doesn’t require you to know your sales funnel conversion numbers, like paid advertising does.

It’s actually really straightforward.

Getting in front of the already established audience of others just involves you going to sites that have more traffic than you do and saying:

  • “Hey, I have something that I think your readers would find interesting.”
  • “Can I do a guest post for you?”
  • “Would you like to set-up a quick interview?” or “I see you feature _____, will you feature my work?”

To this day, I still get traffic from small features and quick write-ups I had on sites from over 5 years ago.

So how does it work?

First of all, you don’t need to go directly to top notch blog and publications in the beginning. That’s really important to understand. Don’t go find the biggest publication or influencer related to the work you make on the planet and pitch them. It doesn’t make any sense, and you don’t have the credibility just yet.

Instead, you start off small, finding people who are one level above you, and you say, “Hey, I noticed that you have an audience that’s interested in this topic. I think that your readers will probably find my work interesting.”

Then based on the type of content they publish (interviews, guest posts, features, etc…) Ask to be a part of it.

Most blog owners, publications, and influencers would love to feature you and your work.

You’re making their job of creating content for their audiences easier by offering up you and your work.

As you get good at this, you’ll be able to leverage this domino effect of reaching out to larger and larger audiences.

For example you could say, “Hi Online Publication #2, Nice to meet you. I did an interview with Blogger #1. Their audience loved it! Do you think we could do an interview?”

Then, you could do this again and again, and again.

You’ll keep moving up the chain, and, soon enough, you’ll be on massive sites. Resulting in the traffic you need to significantly grow your email list.

Which is what we’ll talk about tomorrow, Thing #2: Conversions (how to get visitors to your art website to join your newsletter)

Remember, when you know how to grow an audience on a platform you own (your email list), you have the power to make income from your work.

How to grow your email list as an artist

The best way to start getting traffic to your art website is by getting featured, interviewed, and doing guest posts.

More advanced strategies like SEO, social media, and paid advertising are best saved for later on in your art business. (After you have a better understanding of your sales numbers, offers, and funnel performance.)

Let’s talk about the second of the three things you need for selling your art online:

  • Thing #2: Conversions (visitors to your art website signing up for your email list)

Then we’ll dive into the last thing: Thing #3: Launching (a natural, storytelling way to generate art sales)

Let’s get started…

If you have to understand anything about selling your art online, it’s this:

Even if someone comes to your art website and LOVES you work – the chances of them coming back on their own is SLIM.

This has nothing to do with you or your art, it’s just how people behave online.

The best way to get people to stay in the know about you and your work is with your email list. In order to grow your email list, you need to convert your email

The reason you want people to signup for your email list and not follow you on social media is because only 3-5% of your social media followers will ever see your new content. On your email list 40-50% of your followers will see your new content.

So how do you get visitors to your website to actually sign up for your email list?

With what’s called a lead magnet.

Your lead magnet is a compelling reason for website visitors to signup for your mailing list.

A lead magnet is something you offer for free to compel the visitors to your art website to sign up for your email art newsletter.

Understand that asking and getting a stranger’s email address is a transaction.

You have to offer something of interest in return for their email address. Preferably something related to you and your art.

If what you offer is something people want and it seems to be worth going through the hassle (typing the email address, worrying about spam, etc…), you’ll gain a new email address to your art newsletter.

The speed of growing your art newsletter subscribers depends on a combination of your traffic to your art website and your lead magnet.

Here’s my lead magnet:

Every Sunday I send my best sketchbook drawings to everyone on my newsletter first

Enter your email below to see my newest sketches and behind-the-scenes videos – straight to your inbox.

You'll also get immediate access to watch a 2-minute raven speed drawing.

Enter your email below...

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All I’m doing is offering access to a simple 2-minute video of me drawing a raven.

As soon as someone signs up, they’re directed to a simple thank you page on my website with the video.

You don’t need a video though, your first lead magnet could be as simple as a small PDF of your art.

This doesn’t have to be anything epic. Just a written intro, bio, and collection of images. (You can easily create this for free using Google Docs.)

Downloadable PDFs are great lead magnets because they’re as tangible as you can get in the digital world.

TIP #1: Make sure you create a visual representation of your lead magnet. Such as a simple book cover or a preview of the video like I have above. Remember, you’re putting in the hard work of getting traffic to your art website. It’s important to make sure your lead magnet is compelling enough get visitors to your art website to signup for your email list.

TIP #2: Make your lead magnet only interesting to your ideal collectors. You don’t want your lead magnet to be attractive to everyone (like a free iPad, etc…).

Lead quality is very important and you only want to focus on your target audience. Which is people interested in you and your work.

Making a lead magnet that’s ultra-specific and aligned with what you’re ultimately selling (your art) is the best way to grow a highly engaged audience. An audience who will be likely to collect your work when you decide to invite them to collect your art during your first art launch.

How to sell your art using launches

We just talked about the two things you need in order to sell your art online:

  • Thing #1: Traffic (people visiting your art website)
  • Thing #2: Conversions (visitors to your art website joining your newsletter)

Now, we’re going to talk about the third, (and probably the more overlooked part of selling art online):

  • Thing #3: Launching (a natural, storytelling way to generate art sales)

Launching is a natural, storytelling way to sell your art online

It doesn’t matter whether you make portraits, abstracts, comics, photographs, nudes, wildlife, landscape, or any other obscure kind of art – launching works.

Launching works because you’re finally able to attract the right audience, build a relationship with them, and make art sales in a chill, confident way.

When you eventually do your first art launch, you aren’t a stranger to your email list subscribers. You’re a familiar artist to them. They’ve been getting your weekly emails where you’ve been sharing what you’ve been working on.

Even artists with THOUSANDS of fans can’t sell their art without the right launch plan

Don’t fall into the trap of “announcing” your art. Which is what most artists do.

I learned about announcing the hard way…

A while back, when my email list was around 1,500+ subscribers I thought it would be easy to sell a handful of art prints I had collecting dust in my studio.

So one night before I went to bed, I sent out a quick email to my list announcing they were for sale. I went to bed expecting to wake up to a bunch of orders the next morning.

The results? I didn’t sell a single print.

Why? Because I sprang the print on my audience before I built up interest. I just announced it.

  • I didn’t get anyone excited, tell the backstory about the print, or create a fun sense of urgency to buy it.
  • I didn’t have a CONVERSATION with my email list about the print before I made it available for purchase.
  • I just announced it. Which wasn’t a great experience for my audience.

This same mistake is made all the time by artists who are puzzled why their THOUSANDS of fans don’t drive meaningful sales.

Taking your time to share your creative process and behind-the-scenes is ESSENTIAL to making art sales.

When you take the time to share what you’re working on at least once a week, your audience will never feel like they’re being “sold” to or spammed. They’re simply following along on your creative journey through thoughtful emails you send.

Ever notice how Hollywood sends out sneak peek trailers every month up to a year before a movie is released? Then the closer it is to launch weekend you start to hear more and more about the movie with actor interviews and behind-the-scenes?

They’ve turned the release of their movie into strategically planned launch.

Selling your art is no different.

What’s better about launching your art is that it’s way less complicated than a movie launch.

The simple act of sharing your creative process and behind-the-scenes with your email list once a week, you’re already building up to a launch.

Launching can seem complicated:

  • What do you write in these emails?
  • How do you time the sending of your emails?
  • How do you ask your audience to collect your work without sounding salesy?

This is where having a launching plan helps…

To make art sales you have to have a launch plan

A launch plan is a way to use strategically timed and written email to build-up to the moment you invite your email list to collect your work.

A launch plan helps you know:

  • how many emails to send
  • when to send them
  • what to write
  • how to ask for the sale without sounding salesy

There are three reasons launches create more sales than simply leaving your art products sit in your online store.

Urgency
Perhaps the strongest reason people buy anything online is the sense of something going away. When there is a limited amount of time to collect something, it’ll prevent people from putting things off. “I’ll just get it later, my credit card is upstairs…”.

Scarcity
Scarcity is a natural part of selling art online. When there is a limited amount of something to collect, it’ll help generate more sales. Selling limited edition prints, scarcity is limited by how many prints their are. Artist James Jean combines urgency and scarcity into his print launches by only opening a 24-hour window to collect a print. ONLY printing however many prints were purchased during this 24-hour window.

Perhaps the most powerful psychological reason people buy from artists online is the sense of reciprocity.

Reciprocity
It’s like those moments someone randomly gives you an unexpected gift. The immediate sense of wanting to give back is reciprocity. Reciprocity is a natural side effect of consistently sharing your creative behind-the-scenes of what you’re working on every week.

Launching your art is an event

It’s something others can share and talk about. It turns your creative process into something tangible. A story. Something people can be a part of.

It doesn’t matter whether you make portraits, abstracts, comics, photographs, nudes, wildlife, landscape, or any other obscure kind of art – launching works.

It works because you are finally able to attract the right audience, build a relationship with them, and make art sales in a non-spammy way.

The best part? You don’t need to put out new work every week to keep your visibility high – because you’ve already built up your own direct platform. An email list of fans.

I’ve had people who’ve been on my email list purchase something for the first time within days of joining, and others who waited years before they made their first purchase. The point is, you’ll have fans for life.

When you do these launches and give people a way to follow along – signing up for your email art newsletter. You’ll be able to continually share what you’re working on with them.

Once you’ve grown a small email art newsletter you can start with a 5-day launch (which I show you how to do inside my online Art Launch Blueprint workshop):

This is proven email framework for sharing a new art product with those already subscribed to your art newsletter. Once a month, every other month. It’s up to you when you use this launch. This launch leads up to art sales in a natural storytelling way.

I’ve tested different email lengths and time, but a 5 day launch has always out performed other lengths and email timing.

The longer you start using launches you can get more advanced with automations:

AUTOMATED LAUNCHES
A little more advanced, but this is where you send your old launches out to brand new email art newsletter subscribers in a pre-timed way.

Perfect if you’re selling an open edition of prints or an art book. Anything that doesn’t run out like an original work or limited edition prints.

For example, if a new subscriber joins your email art newsletter, over the course of 30 days they can receive a handful of automated emails from you. Emails that bring them into your creative world and invite them to collect your art in a natural way.

Often before I travel somewhere. I’ll sit down before my trip, pre-write and pre-schedule a handful of emails to send while I’m away. Making my art business work for me on auto-pilot when I’m not sitting at a computer.

I hope you can see how launching is the engine behind making art sales online.

I’ve always believed that individual artists marketing themselves have a powerful edge against galleries. Galleries can’t communicate with your audience in a personal way. Massive art storefront websites can’t replicate this either.

Only you can offer a personal connection with your audience. By sharing your sketches, inspirations, and behind-the-scenes.

Only you can invite your email art newsletter subscribers to collect your work and have it not seem pushy or spammy.

Email, when done right, is a game changer for artists.

Putting it all together in a natural, storytelling way

It’s this combination of urgency, scarcity, and reciprocity that art launches encapsulate to generate sales.

Inside my workshop, Art Launch Blueprint, I show you you go into detail about the different types of launches you can do.

Every Sunday I send out a studio newsletter where I share my newest drawings and videos

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