Avoid becoming a "starving artist" and sell your art online
It’s no secret that it can be difficult to make money as an artist.
But perhaps it's time to put the notion of the starving artist to bed.
Thanks to eCommerce, it is now easier than ever to start a business inspired by your love or passion for art. Of course, running an online business isn’t all fun and games. There are several major things to keep in mind, including:
Keep reading for tips on getting started on the right foot.
Read Also: 19 profitable eCommerce business ideas
How to source your art
Whether you’re an artist or an avid art collector, there are various ways to start building out your catalog. You can mix and match these approaches, or stick to one that you know best. Here are several avenues to consider:
Create your own art - This is the most straightforward approach. You can sell original pieces that you create, such as paintings, pottery, or digital illustrations. You can even print your work on products like t-shirts, cell phone cases, and mugs via print on demand technology.
License or resell work by other artists - Partner with a local or independent artist, or buy art that you can resell and license for reproduction. Artists may be open to a consignment arrangement, whereby you receive a percentage of each sale in exchange for handling marketing and transactions.
Search the secondary art market - Buy artwork through galleries, dealer networks, auction houses, or art fairs. This option may be more expensive (and require a very different strategy) than licensing or buying directly from an artist, but it could help you get your hands on a large collection of in-demand pieces.
How to curate your product catalog: 6 types of art to include
Your product catalog can include a variety of unique creations and product types. Here's a quick list of product options to consider.
Originals - These include one-of-a-kind pieces that are unique to your store or are themselves the original piece behind mass-produced reprints.
Custom art - Similar to originals, custom art is created for a specific customer. It is commissioned according to the buyer’s specifications and is not mass-produced.
Print-on-demand (POD) merchandise - These include items (like t-shirts or mugs) that feature your designs and are only printed once an order comes in.
Licensing - You can license your artwork for reproduction by another merchant or publisher, earning royalties on each sale.
Digital downloads - These include digital files of your work that customers can download, use digitally, and/or print at home.
Non-fungible token (NFT) - Your artwork can be sold as an NFT, which is stored on a blockchain and cannot be replicated. (Learn how to make an NFT.)
A glimpse into one artist’s eCommerce success
Founded by Melissa A. Mitchell, Abielle Creations (ABL) pays homage to Michell’s signature style as an artist. Its wide range of products—including home decor, apparel, and accessories—beautifully showcase Mitchell’s vibrant and bold palette.
Michell has created more than 500 original art pieces and 40 murals, many of which have served as inspiration for her eCommerce brand. Her products have not only captured the attention of everyday art lovers, but have also been featured in publications like Forbes, Vogue, and ESSENCE Magazine—plus landed her global deals with Foot Locker, SPANX, and other highly sought-after brands.
Where to sell your art online
Long gone are the days when earning money on your artwork meant going through a gallery, agent, or local boutique. Nowadays, there are plenty of online options that give you more control over the buying experience.
While you may already have a physical gallery or studio that’s open for business, an online presence can broaden your reach and serve to generate sales even when you’re asleep. Through digital tactics—like email, social media, and Google Ads—you can drive traffic to both your online and physical locations, gleaning the benefits of a true omnichannel retail strategy.
A branded online store
It’s always a good idea to set up your own online store, where you have total control over your store design, branding, prices, customer relationships, and more.
While an online store can require more work to get started, platforms like Wix eCommerce simplify the process by offering hundreds of designer-made templates to choose from. You can easily customize the look and feel of your site according to your artistic style, perfecting the user experience according to your standards.
Pro tip: When selecting an eCommerce website builder, think of the big picture. Search for one that includes back-office tools that will come in handy as you launch and grow your business. For example, Wix eCommerce offers built-in tools for inventory management, multichannel and international expansion, flexible checkout, and more. In addition to this, Wix eCommerce includes direct integrations with top print-on-demand companies, which can open up a valuable revenue stream for your business.
A third-party marketplace
Online marketplaces like Etsy and Artsy offer the advantage of a large, loyal customer base. Many channels provide access to various seller resources, such as a fulfillment service like Amazon FBA, to help you grow within their channels.
However, each channel comes with its own learning curve. You’ll have to familiarize yourself with each channel’s taxonomy, ranking algorithms, competitive landscape, listing requirements, and more. For this reason, it’s important to:
Be selective of the marketplaces you sell on, investing in ones that align with your brand goals and attract your target buyers
Treat marketplaces as a supplement to your online store, not a replacement
Remain mindful of the fact that marketplaces maintain the power to change their policies at any time
You must remain compliant to the marketplace’s policies lest you should lose your selling privileges. And, you’ll need to ensure you have the right software and processes in place to keep all of your multichannel data in check.
Fortunately, platforms like Wix eCommerce have direct integrations into popular marketplaces. This enables you to automatically sync inventory, product details, and other information across channels.
These days, social channels themselves are powerful sales channels. In fact, platforms like TikTok now offer commerce features and enable users to checkout directly from their platforms. You can create a collection of “shoppable posts” and reach customers on channels that they visit every day.
Among the various other ways to use social media, you can:
Create Instagram or Facebook storefronts dedicated to your brand
Add product tags to your Instagram posts or Pinterest Pins
Leverage ads or organic posts (e.g., “behind the scenes” TikTok videos) to drive traffic to your online store
Highlight brand collaborations or press mentions to grow your credibility as a business
Host seasonal giveaways or discounts
All in all, build your authority and following as an artist
A freelancer platform
If you’re a freelancer or an emerging graphic designer, you can list your art services on job boards and freelancing platforms like Fiverr, Upwork, and 99designs. Each of these will allow you to build up a professional portfolio over time and create custom work for various clients and projects.
Eventually, you may even look to offer your services in addition to finished products from your own site. Artist Akvilė Les, for example, uses her Wix store to attract B2B clients for both her consulting services and ready-made artwork.
How to price your artwork for sale
Correctly pricing the artwork you sell is important for the success of your business and for your own peace of mind. The trickiest part is landing on a price that attracts sales but doesn’t undervalue your work. This step will likely take some experimentation, research, and analysis.
You’ll want to keep the below factors in mind when naming your price:
The time it took you to make the piece
The cost of materials
The cost of selling (e.g., commission rates) on a channel
Your experience level
The market value for similar artwork or products
What you need to cover your business costs (e.g., overhead, marketing, advertising, shipping)
Once you have a handle on your costs and the going rate for similar pieces, you can start to set prices. Of course, pricing—especially for artwork—is not all about hard numbers. You may be able to command higher prices (and thereby higher margins) if you’re a more experienced or well-known artist.
In another instance, a limited-edition, made-to-order, or co-branded piece could warrant higher pricing as well. In any case, you’ll want to be consistent with how your items are priced across multiple channels.
Remember to keep tabs on the constantly changing appetite of the industry, and while art isn’t generally a “discounted” product, you can still test promotions to entice buyers or clear out older inventory.
How to ship physical art
The most important thing to keep in mind when shipping artwork is that you need to protect your piece from getting damaged. This means using sturdy packaging materials like bubble wrap, cellophane, packing peanuts, or foam board. You should also consider investing in shipping insurance to protect yourself in case the artwork is damaged in transit.
There are three primary shipping approaches you can use for physical art (be it a framed work, merchandise, or other object) including:
DIY - Pack and ship the artwork yourself. When you’re just starting out, this could be the most affordable option. However, as you scale, you’ll likely need to outsource work to prevent this step from cannibalizing your time.
Third-party logistics partner (3PL) - If you're selling high-value artwork, you may want to consider using a professional shipping service like Arrow Express or ShipBob. Outsource fulfillment to a service that has experience handling high-value items like artwork, and has the materials to package it right.
Print-on-demand or dropshipping service - This is a good option if you don't have the time or resources to ship—let alone create—artwork on your own. Dropshipping and POD providers handle all tasks related to printing, packaging, and shipping your products.
Keep in mind that the unboxing experience can impact a buyer’s impression of your brand. While you don’t need to necessarily go all-out in the packaging, always include clear instructions on how to safely unpack and care for your artwork. This will not only demonstrate your attention to detail, but also help ensure that your piece remains in pristine condition for a long time.
Quick tips for marketing your work
Once you’ve got your online store set up, your next priority is to generate traffic to your site. We've written extensively about how to keep sales rolling in using a variety of eCommerce marketing strategies, but here's a quick list of essentials:
Search engine optimization (SEO) - Make sure your website is properly optimized with relevant keywords and tags so that it shows up in search engines when customers shop for artwork online.
Email marketing - Use email to stay in touch with customers, promote new arrivals or exhibitions, and inspire purchases on your site.
Social media - Use social media to showcase your artwork, build up your personal brand, and cultivate a community.
Paid advertising - Use paid ads on Google, Facebook, and other platforms to engage new customers and retarget site visitors.
Content marketing - Create blog posts, video tutorials, and/or photography to engage potential customers in a variety of ways.
Bring your eCommerce vision to life
Monetizing your artwork can take on many shapes and forms. While building an eCommerce business will take hard work, you can unleash your creativity as both an artist and entrepreneur, finding ways to get your artwork in front of customers all across the world.
Create an online art store and do more of what you love with Wix eCommerce. Sign up for free today.
Editor, Wix eCommerce
Allison is the editor for the Wix eCommerce blog, with several years of experience reporting on eCommerce news, strategies, and founder stories.