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Selling artwork can be very challenging for artists. However, there are lots of places to sell art and lots of ways that artist’s can promote their work. Acquire Art can help with this, as a platform and a promotional tool. Some of the selling options listed below involve a third party to handle the transaction (which usually involves them taking a cut of the sale price) but the artist may also like to sell work directly themselves. Selling directly avoids commission costs and other gallery fees but the artist will need to consider how they will promote their own work and handle any transactions.
Here we discuss the benefits and disadvantages of several different places where to sell art.
Acquire art creates a platform for artists to display their work and helps create greater awareness of the artist and their work (see ‘How to promote your Acquire Art profile’ below). Acquire Art works well in conjunction with other selling methods, as we do not prevent artists from displaying their artwork on our website even if it is already displayed elsewhere, in a high street gallery or other venue. Acquire Art does not handle the transaction for the sale of any work arranged through the website. Acquire Art simply allows buyers to contact the artist about their work. The artist can then either handle the sale themselves or forward the customer to a third party to make the purchase through them instead.
Art lovers often like to meet the artist and visit the artist’s studio when buying a piece of art. It allows the buyer to feel more of a connection to the art they’re buying and also feel like they are getting the best price when dealing directly with the artist and without the involvement of a third party. Original art is best appreciated in person and avoids the likelihood of buyers requesting to return their purchase if it wasn’t what they expected. Not all artists are able to keep an open studio but allowing potential buyers to arrange appointments to view original art in person can be very beneficial to both parties.
High street galleries usually have to be quite selective about the artists they agree to promote. Some artists struggle to find a gallery to represent them at first. Fortunately, there are many high street galleries and it may just take the artist a little time finding where best to sell their art. Galleries are a great place to sell artwork and they also act as an endorsement, which may boost the artist’s credibility with potential buyers as well as creating greater awareness of the artist. Many art buyers are interested to know what galleries the artist’s work has been displayed in. A good, reputable gallery will do the legwork for the artist, by displaying and promoting the artist’s work, as well as handling the sale. They will of course take a cut of the sale price, which is commonly around 40 to 50%. The artist will often have to factor in the time and cost of getting the artwork to the gallery. Depending on their reputation and target audience, some galleries may enable the artist to price their work higher to help offset the commission charge and other costs. Many artists would argue it is easier to create art than it is to sell art, so they do not begrudge the seemingly high commission charges, provided the gallery works hard to earn it. Whilst the internet and technology make it easier today for the artist to find other means of selling and promoting their work and handling sales and marketing themselves, art galleries do offer consistent exposure, gallery display space in a physical location, marketing and prestige, which can help raise the artist’s profile and credibility.
Online galleries provide a broad marketplace for artists to display their work. A good online gallery will invest a lot of time and effort into promoting their website in what is now a hugely competitive market. Most online galleries, unlike Acquire Art, charge a commission fee and therefore handle the sale themselves to ensure they receive their cut. The artist is then usually requested to send the artwork direct to the buyer, or to send it to the website owner to forward on. Artists often find that posting artwork themselves can prove difficult, time consuming and expensive, which is why many artists prefer to deal with local galleries and local buyers. Because online art galleries generally tend to have a broad target audience (nationwide at least, and perhaps internationally too) it is inevitable that the artist will need to package and post their work when a sale is made. The artist needs to consider the cost of this, as well as potential losses due to damage in transit. Artists need to read the terms of the online gallery very carefully to understand their obligations. Most online art galleries offer a returns policy, meaning that the artwork might be returned if the customer is not happy with it. The artist will need to check with the gallery whether they or the gallery or the buyer are responsible for return postage costs. When selling original art, it is difficult to provide an accurate representation of it with an image displayed online – the buyer may not truly know how they feel about the work until they can view the physical copy, which does make requests for returns more likely in this instance. For artists that are happy to package and post their work, Online Art Galleries are certainly a popular outlet for selling art in an ever-increasing virtual world. At Acquire Art, we tailor our service more towards the display of and marketing artist’s work, and aim to attract local customers for our artists so that sales can be handled in person.
Art fairs can be a great way for artists to show off their work, with a one-off time commitment and no commission charge. There are often entry requirements, but generally art fairs are open to most artists. There is usually a fee but this is generally a fixed entry fee rather than a commission fee. The artist pays for their display space, or stand or stall, depending on the format of the fair. Usually the artist is required to manage their own stall and therefore the sale of their own artwork. Many artists will set up a mobile card payment terminal before going to an art fair. This enables the artist to take credit card payments to secure the sale straight away. These portable payment terminals can be organised via banks, PayPal, and other payment merchants too. The buyer can sometimes take away the artwork at the point of sale, but usually the artist will request that the buyer collects on the last day of the art fair. This is quite often a stipulation of the art fair itself, so that visitors are not disappointed with a poor display towards the end of the event. The artist may offer to provide a delivery service to some buyers that are unable to return to collect the item, but this is generally not an obligation. The artist needs to consider the setup costs involved in attending an art fair. Some art fairs provide the stands or display space, whereas others may require the artist to bring their own – this is more likely to be the case with smaller craft shows and country shows. Art fairs can prove very successful for many artists and some will sell the majority of their annual stock at these events.
Art exhibitions sometimes last for a day or several months. Exhibitions are sometimes held at art galleries, in high street cafes, village halls, and sometimes at the artist’s own home. Choosing where to sell art may partly depend on how much time the artist is willing to invest in promoting the exhibition of their work. Some exhibition spaces include management and promotion, so the artist only needs to provide their artwork. Some exhibition spaces charge a fixed fee and others charge commission. Artists that choose to rent their own space, such as a village hall, or exhibit from home, will need to promote the exhibition themselves. The artist will need to spread the word via friends and their contact list. They may also choose to print leaflets to drop through the letterboxes of homes in the area or display in shop windows and village noticeboards. Some local publications may agree to drop off leaflets on their rounds, although usually for a small fee. Social media is another great way to let people know about an event, as well as online forums for the local area. The artist may also choose to share these responsibilities by sharing the exhibition with other artists.
Depending on where the artist chooses to hold an exhibition, the artist may need to be in attendance for the entire duration of the exhibition. This will not be necessary if the exhibition is being overseen by an exhibition manager or shop owner. However, when payments are handled by a third party, a commission fee will usually be taken. If the artist is available to handle the payments themselves, then usually the payment will just be a fixed fee for the exhibition space.
For artists that wish to exhibit at home and deal directly with the customer, being part of an open house art trail is a great way to do so. In the UK there are now over 150 open house art trails. These are well publicised events which usually accept entries from all artists in the local area. For a limited time, artists in the area open up their studios (often their own homes) and welcome members of the public to view their work. Applications to take part in these events usually need to be sent several months in advance. A fee to take part is usually required, to help with the promotion of the event.
These are well known marketplaces with a large client base. EBay is a huge one-stop-shop, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that they do have a large art section and art lovers will find a great selection of original art here. Etsy is specifically a craft related marketplace and is now a familiar name. Commission charges are relatively small compared to high street galleries – a few percent, as opposed to 40 or 50%. The artist will need to organise the delivery of their work direct to the buyer (although eBay does allow artists to specify collections as well). The artist must list their artwork accurately, with clear descriptions and a clear image. With both online stores there will be listing fees, selling fees, as well as payment processing fees. Ebay and Etsy have a dispute handling process to help resolve issues regarding non-delivery; items not as described; damaged goods etc. Seller protection is also available for those using PayPal with eBay. Both eBay and Etsy are great for artists wishing to sell art online and handle payment transactions easily and safely, without a contract, set up costs, or a complicated application/approval process.
Many artists have their own website. These can be expensive to set up when employing the services of a web developer, but it is possible to use build-your-own-website services such as Wix and Weebly, which don’t require much IT proficiency and should work out to be more affordable. These are becoming very popular platforms for simple but very professional looking sites. Websites are great for creating professional credibility as well as displaying an artist’s entire portfolio in one easy to use and easily accessible place. A shopping cart function can easily be incorporated to allow buyers to purchase your art online. The artist will need to display clear terms and conditions, including information about payment, delivery, refund and returns, and also need to provide full contact details.
Many artists feel that owning an online shop can be quite an undertaking and certainly a lot of thought needs to be given to the time and cost commitments in setting it up, updating and maintaining it. The artist will need to pay yearly web hosting fees, which can be as little as £50 per year, but usually more than £100 per year for eCommerce websites. To take payments online the artist will need to use an online payment solution, such as PayPal, which will include commission fees for each transaction (a nominal fee of a few percent), or for more advanced options a monthly fee as well.
The biggest difficulty with owning a personal online shop is promoting it. Competition is rife, with thousands of artists with their own websites all struggling to be found in the search engines. In order to compete, a website needs to be informative, regularly updated with new content regularly added. Google likes to see active and informative websites that grow and change. There is no guarantee of making a website successful, especially in such a competitive market. Optimising websites to perform well and promoting them through link building, social media and online directories, is a big undertaking. It requires learning about SEO (search engine optimisation) or employing someone else to do this.
A personal online shop is certainly a beneficial tool for the artist, as at the very least it provides somewhere to display their portfolio. The artist can direct potential customers to it by handing out the website address to people they meet, advertising it on their socials, and asking others to do the same. But this may be the only way people find out about it. Many artists will be disappointed by the amount of traffic their website receives from search engines, such as Google and Bing. An artist can perhaps hope at least that their website will appear for searches that include the name of the website (usually the artist’s own name), depending how common the name is and what other wording was used in the search phrase. However, very few people will find an artist’s personal website from a general keyword search. For example, if someone uses Google to search for ‘art in oxfordshire’, or ‘buy original oil paintings in oxfordshire’, a small personal online shop is still unlikely to appear on the first page of results, unless the owner of the website has carefully optimised their website for these key phrases. With hundreds of artists per county, many of which also owning their own websites, an artist’s website may still not easily appear in search engines. Art galleries are likely to take up most of the top spaces due to the amount of content on their sites and how regularly they’re updated. Google places them higher as it considers them to be a better resource for their users. So while an artist’s own website can be great for displaying a portfolio online, it is difficult to receive any genuine organic search engine traffic.
Acquire Art can help with this, as membership to the site allows artists to link from their profile page to their own website. This filters through visitor traffic from Acquire Art to the artist’s own website. Link building is also important for search engine optimisation (SEO) as Google prefers websites that have quality inbound links over those that don’t have any, helping the artist’s own website to be found more easily in search engine results.
Wherever and however an artist chooses to sell their work, Acquire Art can help to promote it.
Our article on how to promote your Acquire Art profile explains how artists can attract more customers via Acquire Art, but also provides transferable advice for artists wanting to promote their own website as well.