A comprehensive guide to selling your art online in 2019. Find out our top picks & the most popular websites to sell art online…
Online Art Galleries
The biggest challenge to selling your art online is getting it in front of those rare, unicorn-like beings who love it enough to buy it. If you’ve ever created a portfolio website but found visitors few and far between you’ll know how discouraging the whole venture can be. The dream of making a living from selling your art can slowly fade as your work gathers dust in a lonely corner of the internet.
Showing your work on online art galleries or marketplaces allows you to expand your reach in the search for potential buyers. But didn’t the internet promise an end to artists relying on galleries to sell their work? Can’t you just sell directly to collectors, ditch the middle man and keep 100% of the sale price?
The pragmatic answer comes from asking ourselves if we’re actually selling any art online yet. If we are then great, keep doing what we’re doing – but if we’re not then 100% of zero is, well, okay, we get the picture.
The best online galleries (there are only a handful of really good ones) will put your work in front of a large demographic actively looking to buy art. And people ARE buying art online. The Hiscox 2018 Report showed that online art market sales reached an estimated $4.22 billion in 2017 (up 12% from the year before). Reputable online galleries with curatorial experience, payment protection, promotion skills and guidance are where you want to be.
So which gallery would I sign up to? Without a doubt it would be Saatchi Art. Not only are they the biggest online gallery in the world they also do things really well – read about my experience of buying prints from Saatchi Art.
Buyers can narrow down their search using all kind of criteria from art materials used to subject and price. Saatchi Art curate work by themes, run contests and foster community by allowing you to follow others artists and (most importantly) art collector’s can follow you.
Not convinced? Amsterdam based artist Daniel Mullen sold over 30 paintings on Saatchi Art in less than two years. We talked about his experience here.
The downside to online art galleries? There’s a whole lot of not so good art out there along with a whole host of online galleries only too willing to show it regardless of quality. The only winners here are the online galleries who make their money through fees or by taking huge commissions for sales.
A US based company wanted me to promote their art service where they charge artists $600 a year for an online shop. Erm no. But if giving 35% commission to Saatchi Art still sounds too steep for you then read on for some alternatives.
If you’re not yet familiar with crowdfunding it’s basically a way for you to raise funds for a project by offering rewards for people who want to back your project financially.
You don’t need to be an established artist, filmmaker or arts collective to create a successful crowdfunding campaign. Duncan of Jordanstone graduate Ellis O’Connor raised over £1,000 on Kickstarter for her Northern Isles Expedition just weeks after finishing her degree show. Backers (like myself) received original drawings and prints created on the trip which in turn raised money for her project as well as connecting Ellis with potential future collectors.
Like everything else to do with selling art online you can’t just stop once you’ve finally got your project idea onto a crowdfunding website. That’s when the real legwork begins! It might not come naturally to you but you really need to get the word out about your campaign. Post it on your Facebook page to friends and family, approach people on Twitter who might be able to help spread the word, whatever you can do – do it! If you don’t reach your funding goal then you won’t receive anything so try to set it realistically then go all out to beat it.
The best advice I’ve heard about crowdfunding for artists is wrapped up in a video interview with Emily Best via Film Courage: Why most filmmakers fail at crowdfunding.
Online marketplaces are ideal for dipping your toes in the water of selling art online – especially less expensive artworks. Commission fees are minimal and you can still build a direct relationship with the people who buy your art. Prints, crafts and smaller original artworks can do well on marketplace sites so they can be a good stepping stone to selling your work at an online gallery once you’ve built up an audience.
Etsy is largely known as a marketplace for homemade crafts and vintage goods but it’s increasingly being used as a shop front for artists to sell their work. It costs just $0.20 to list an item and a staggeringly low commission fee of 5% if your item sells. There’s really nowhere else comparable where your art can get that kind of reach at such little cost.
There are sections ranging from Art Zines to Collage, Etching to Folk Art. There’s a real community feel to Etsy too and a generally positive vibe about the place with customers and collectors feeling a closer connection to the artists who sends them the work directly.
Lisa Congdon is an artist, illustrator and author who’s made over 13,000 sales via her Etsy shop. Lisa’s book Art Inc is an excellent guide to building your career as an artist but perhaps even better is her ‘Become A Working Artist’ class on Creative Live.
Filmed with students over a weekend it’s a nuts and blots practical walk through for setting yourself up as a practicing artist and includes a step by step walkthrough of building a shop on Etsy for selling art online. The course has a 100% rating from over 20,000 students and is highly recommended from personal experience too.
Do It Yourself
Regardless of whether you’re selling work via an online gallery or elsewhere it’s verging on essential to have your own website too. Social media aside, there’s no better place to connect directly with collectors and admirers of your work. These days it’s not even that difficult or expensive to set up a website to showcase your art and sell it directly from your site. You don’t even need to learn a line of code if you use a service like Squarespace or BigCartel.
What is Squarespace? An easy to use and elegant solution to building your own website. It’s kind of like a website in a box – if Apple made websites in boxes.
You pay a monthly fee (£10 a month if paid annually) which gives you a custom domain name, website template, hosting and (most importantly for selling your art) a fully integrated online shop. On top of that Squarespace comes with some really well designed portfolio templates to give your site a professional and responsive design that looks just as good on mobiles as desktops.
The admin interface is also intuitively easy easy to use so you can drag and drop elements into your page layout without having to go near any code. It’s our top pick if you’re looking for a simple solution and have no prior knowledge of building websites. Ellis O’Connor (one of our Artist’s To Watch) set up her strikingly effective website using Squarespace.
BigCartel is another option run by artists for artists. They’ve been building stores for creative folk for nearly a decade so they’ve figured a few things out about selling art online. Their starter plan won’t cost you a penny (for up to 5 artworks) and is ideal for dipping your toes in the water before committing to an annual plan (starting at $9.99 a month for up to 25 artworks).
A final option is Shopify, it’s more expensive at $29.99 a month but offers loads of options if you’re looking for something more powerful. Another featured artist Andy Wilx runs a nicely designed online shop on his website (grab a cushion while you can, bought one myself and everyone loves it).
While you don’t need any web design skills to build your own WordPress site for selling art it certainly helps if you do. First things first though you’ll need to buy your own domain name and hosting. I used TSOHost for both hosting and buying a domain name and have been really happy with their service (fast and friendly support, great value, good speeds). Hosting plans start at £2.92 a month (+VAT) with a free domain name. You can also get a further 10% off your hosting package using the discount code: momaten.
This video tutorial walks you through setting WordPress on your site once you’ve got your domain and web hosting.
Once you have WordPress up and running the next step is to find a theme (design template) you like. ThemeForest is one of the best quality and value places around for WordPress themes. This site uses the excellent Salient theme from Theme Forest as its base for a one off payment of $58 (which includes a handy support forum if you have any questions).
If you want to sell art online via your WordPress blog then you’re best bet is to choose a Woo-Commerce enabled theme. There’s plenty on Theme Forest or you can also get free themes on the Woo Themes website. Here’s a video guide to setting up Woocommerce on WordPress.
If you got through all that without your head spinning there’s no doubt you can build your own website!
Print on Demand
Print on demand websites are an increasingly popular outlet for artists and designers to sell their work online. What’s especially appealing about print on demand is that once you’ve uploaded a high quality image of your artwork the print on demand site takes care of everything else – so you can get on with making more art. That high quality image will then be printed on anything from art prints to phone cases, t-shirts to pillows. Not every artist’s work will sit happily on a phone skin or duvet cover – print on demand sites are more weighted towards graphic and illustrative styles but there’s plenty of painters and fine artists selling their work their too. Don’t forget it’s up to you to promote your work on print on demand sites but we’ll get to promoting your art in the Social Media section below.
Here’s some featured artists of MoMa currently selling their art on print on demand sites. Amy Hamilton is a graphic designer and illustrator based in Ontario who creates beautiful animal illustrations. Federico Babina is an Italian illustrator creating quirky re-interpretations of famous artists works re-imagined as functional buildings. LA based artist Deedee Cheriel sells her work via Design By Humans (among other places) and shows that you don’t need to compromise or commercialise your work to be hugely popular.
Society 6 is the leading print on demand website with a global audience and the highest number of visitors. What’s cool about Society 6 is that you can determine how much profit you make on any art prints you sell. Just set your retail price then add whatever profit you want. Profits on other items from bags to hoodies are usually only a few dollars so art prints is where you’ll get the best bang for your buck. See the Society 6 selling guide for all commission amounts.
Yep, there’s no avoiding it – if you want to sell art online it’s a whole lot easier if you employ the tools of social media to connect and engage with the people who’ll buy your work (or help you sell it). Social media can be a touchy subject among artists. Most of us are happier in the studio than the marketplace and social media can seem like an awful lot of people doing an awful lot of shouting. Is it possible to be heard? Is it worth putting the effort in to build relationships through social media? Of course the answer’s yes… if you go about it the right way.
The right way means finding the social media channels that works best for you. Would you like your work to speak for itself? Use Instagram. Are you like a magpie when it comes to collecting interesting images and source material? Use Pinterest. Want to get in touch with like minded artists and galleries? Use Twitter and Facebook. Each social network has its strengths and weaknesses and you’ll quickly discover which one fits your personality type and methods.
Lorraine Loots is a young artist based in Cape Town who started creating a miniature painting a day back 1 January 2013. 365 Postcards For Ants was born and she’s still painting one every day has sold every one of them (including hundreds of postcard sized prints). The project would never have had the success it has without Lorraine’s commitment to publishing her work and building a following on social media. Check out Lorraine’s accounts for Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr to see how she uses each platform differently and effectively to connect with others.
If you want to sell your work via social media you have to do WAY more than try to sell your work on social media. This 6 minute video with Richard Botto explains it way better than I can.
Before you can sell anything you need to build up trust and connection with your audience. To do that you need to engage like a proper human. If your social media posts portray you as a self promoting sales machine then most people will ignore or unfollow you. You wouldn’t just talk like a salesman to visitors of an exhibition of yours. You might well want everyone to buy something but you’ll have a much better chance of selling your art if everyone you meet feels like you treated them with respect, curiosity and kindness.
Social media is just a collective term for people. People who, like us, happen to be using their phone, tablet or computer to connect with the world. So don’t bombard your social media feeds with repetitive shots of your artwork and sale prices. Show people a sense of who you are behind the canvas. Share things that interest you, engage with people and organisations you’re curious about, give a sneak peak into your studio, working process or an interesting article you’ve read. Be yourself and enjoy who you meet and what you discover along the way. Some of them might just become part of your 1,000 true fans.
Art & Photo Book Publishing
The self publishing world is growing at a rapid rate and the quality of the final product gets better and better every year. Increasing amounts of artists, photographers, designers and illustrators are taking book publishing into their own hands.
While I’ve yet to make any photo books of my art I’ve made a couple of large photobooks for gifts and was really impressed at the professional quality, final costs and easy to use software from Blurb.
See my comprehensive Blurb review for a look at the nuts and bolts of using Blurb to create a photobook. After using Blurb for two different hardback books I’ve no hesitation in recommending them for art and photo book publishing. Blurb have been making photobooks since 2005 and have refined their software and process over the years to meet the needs of creative self-publishers.
Blurb teamed up with Amazon so you can sell your self published book directly on Amazon.com. Set your own price and profit – Amazon fees are 15% of your book’s retail price plus $1.35 per copy. It’s never been easier to put your creative book in front of a global audience. Read more about the Blurb Amazon integration in this interview with Donna Boyer.
Your completed photo book can then be entered into such awards as the Dummy Award Kassel where the winner will have their book professionally published by k-books. There’s also the Aperture Photo Book Awards and the First Book Award for photographers (where you need to be nominated).
It’s never been easier or more difficult to sell photos online. Both opposites are true. Easy because there are so many stock image sites to sell your photographs from. Difficult because there are so many stock image sites to sell your photographs from. The ubiquitousness of professional quality digital cameras has led to an avalanche of photographs available to buy, license or share online. Great for buyer’s choice, not so great for the artist/photographer trying to make a living in an over saturated marketplace. With sites like Dollar Photo Club selling royalty free images for a $1 how are photographers expected to make a living from their work?
The answer echoes every solution discussed so far for selling your art online. You’ve got to be smart on which sites you sign up for (sites that value the photographer with fair commission rates) and you need to work super hard to create great work – then get the word out about it via every other channel you’ve got (Facebook, Instagram, Personal website etc.)
500px.com is not just one of the most popular photography sites in the world it’s one of the most popular sites in the world with Alexa currently listing it as within the top 1,500 sites on the planet. So it already has a fundamental requirement for a site to sell your photos – a thriving community of people who love photography. The second reason I’ve chosen 500px is that that they’ve put their money where their mouth is and have shown how much they value photographers work by offering a very generous 70% commission rate of revenue on every sale.
They launched 500 Prime in early 2014 with a measly 30% commission for photographers but quickly realised the error of their ways (in just a couple of weeks) and flipped that around so the photographer earned 70% and they took the remaining 30%.
I like how 500px listened to their community, apologised then took action. They made a bold decision to do the right thing for their creative community and their community has responded in kind by embracing the new platform.
Advertise with Google Ads
If you’re not familiar with Google Ads (formerly Google Adwords) then they’re the ads that run along side your search results in Google, on Gmail and various other content sites. Probably not your first inclination when thinking of selling art online but Google Ads’ system can be a powerful selling and marketing tool. You don’t have to be an uber geek to learn how to use them either. In fact if you watch these Learn With Google videos they’ll show everything you need to know to set up and manage your own Google Ads account.
In a nutshell Google Ads lets you display an advert to sell your art so that it only appears in Google’s search results when someone types something relevant to your art. The great thing about Google Ads it doesn’t charge you anything to show your advert. You only pay if someone clicks on it. Someone interested enough to click on your ad means there’s a decent chance that they’ll be interested in your art when they arrive at your website or online shop. You don’t need to spend a fortune to get new visitors and potential sales with each click only costing you a few pence. You can use Google Ads to either market yourself as an artist, offer portrait services or directly sell original prints or artworks (you can show an image of your art beside your advert too.)
For example if you’re a London based artist you could create an advert that appears only when someone searches for ‘London based artist’. You can then target your ad further by describing your work, materials, style etc. If you’re available for commissions, if you do portraits, if you sell limited edition prints… all of these can draw people to your ad and your work.
Google Ads has brought so many visitors to my sites that would have been almost impossible to target in any other way. It works especially well if you have a very niche style or subject matter so you can show your ads directly to enthusiasts who’d love the kind of art you’re making.
Get £75 of Google Ads credit to get you started (may not be around for long).
Bit of a curveball in the context of selling art online but bear with me. The more you can get involved with your local arts community the more opportunities you’ll have to sell art online. More and more local galleries, print shops, art fairs and art collectives are doubling up their local presence with an online one.
I’m based in Edinburgh where there’s no shortage of galleries, workshops, classes and art fairs. Not too long ago I did a brilliant etching course at Edinburgh Printmakers who also have an online shop selling members work. Taking the course provided the opportunity to create new work to sell myself while membership offered the chance to sell work via their online shop too. Along the road is the Red Door Gallery with a pretty extensive online shop. A few streets further away and you’ll get to the Ritchie Collins Gallery with a small online shop selling the work of local artists.
While we have the Edinburgh Art Fair they aren’t yet selling exhibitors work online. So lets jump to London for a better example – if you live in the capital you’re spoilt for choice of art fairs and local galleries and collectives to exhibit your work with. The Other Art Fair is a good place to start with a rich and varied online shop. The Affordable Art Fair is a mainstay too for established and emerging artists. A special mention to the Pure Evil gallery and online store for doing things their own way.
So that’s the end of the world’s longest post on how to sell your art online! I hope you found it helpful and fingers crossed something will click and you’ll be one step closer to supporting your practice by selling your work. There’s no feeling quite like it.
If you enjoyed this article check out my post on Best Sites To Buy Art Supplies Online (it’s even longer with weeks of research on buying art materials in 10 different creative categories).
And if you’d rather buy art than sell art then here’s 10 Ways to Buy Original Art Online.