I’ve been selling my drawings for over 20 years so I’m well placed to tell you how to sell your drawings, but would I recommend it? Drawings are very much a niche market and to succeed you will have to accept there are limitations. These are the pros and cons in a nutshell.
|1. It’s simple and easy to get started||1. Time-consuming|
|2. Far cheaper to print||2. Commands lower prices|
|3. B/W compliments any color scheme||3. Fewer people buy black and white|
Does it make sense to sell your drawings? You need to make an informed choice. Let’s dig deeper.
The Advantages of Selling Your Drawings
1. It’s Easier to Start by Selling Your Drawings
When I set about building up a portfolio of drawings to print and sell, I was working in a youth hostel. I drew in my free time, between shifts. I simply sat at a table with a pad and a pencil case and drew. What could be easier than that?
I did the same when I was traveling. All I needed was a pen and paper and I could make money.
I didn’t have to set up my paints, carry an easel, or let things dry. I could stop and start at will. It was a portable job and simplicity itself.
And materials cost next to nothing. If costs concern you then drawing is the most affordable artform out there.
2. Drawing Everyday Developes Your Skills
If there is one universal truth it’s this,
The more you practice, the better you get
And if you sit down and draw everyday, your drawings improve. It may not be apparent at first but if you keep your early work and compare them a year or so down the line you’ll see a marked difference.
Further Reading: Can Anyone Learn to Draw? 5 Great Tips to Get You Started
I learned so many useful techniques by trial and error and good old serendipity. In fact, it built the foundation for what I’m capable of drawing today. Remember that this was pre-internet so there were very few shortcuts and library books were next to useless.
If your drawing is only the first stage of a painting, a good sketch is essential. Drawing skills and painting are two sides of the same coin. You can’t divide them if realism is your aim.
Drawing, in my opinion, is very much a skill to be mastered. It is the craft that underpins everything else you do. I hear people declare that they can paint but they can’t draw and I’m left baffled.
3. Drawings are Contemporary and Timeless
If drawings have any advantages over paintings, it’s the timeless minimalism of the art form. It’s modern with a small ‘m’. They don’t age as quickly. Fashions change but drawing remains a constant.
You can re-purpose a drawing, all you need is a new frame. The same pencil sketch can hang in a country cottage or a chic designer pad. That’s not so easy to achieve with a painting.
And let’s not forget, with our design-conscious lives and shifting tastes, monochrome compliments any color scheme. Like it or not, many people buy art as interior decor and not for any higher purpose. If it clashes, it’s out.
Black and white ‘fits-in’. It’s a great selling point and one I am quick to point out to anyone considering buying my prints.
4. Drawings are Cheaper to Print
It’s the bottom line, the only practical way to make money long term is to make prints.
It’s cheaper to print in black and white and that means you can keep your costs down and profit margins high. I chose to print my drawings because that’s all I could afford. Originally it was going to be a stepping stone before printing my paintings later on. As it turned out, I made good money and stuck with it.
There are a number of options open to the artists when it comes to printing.
All 3 methods have their pros and cons and I go into detail if you follow the link.
Further Reading: How to Make Prints of Your Art if You Don’t Know What You’re Doing
- Offset-litho’ is used for mass production. The prints are cheap but you have to order 100’s to get a good price. The quality is variable and things can easily go wrong
- Giclee is digital printing using lightfast pigment inks. This method is suited to very small print runs. The unit cost is very high but the quality is more assured.
- Print-on-demand is useful if you are happy to accept a very small commission in return for doing next to nothing. Order a product to check the quality. It’s the only control you have.
Remember that you must still provide a professional scan for quality results. You can’t cut corners.
The Disadvantages of Selling Your Drawings
1. Drawings are Time Consuming
I love art that is fast, loose, and free. It’s not, however, what I do, and for a good reason.
Drawings are hard to sell and I’ve discovered that detail is the hook that gets my work noticed. Few professionals specializing in graphite do anything else, realism is king.
And detail takes time. It’s the reason why prints are essential. You are unlikely ever to draw enough originals to make a living.
Quick and sketchy line drawings may be artistically pleasing but sadly I’ve had a harder time passing on my fast sketches to the public.
The lesson is simple. Pleasing the public is all about compromise.
2. Drawings are Valued Less
It’s a sad fact that people do not appreciate the skill and work involved in an accomplished drawing.
There is a hierarchy of worth in the art world with oil paintings firmly at the top, followed by acrylics, watercolor, pastels, and trailing behind them all, pencil. The poor cousin.
There’s no justice and I’m not sure why the various mediums command different prices. Whatever the reason, pencil drawings are at the bottom and that’s a problem. Drawings take time, and when time is money, you are getting a poor return.
That means for anyone starting out, unknown and without a list of collectors, you should make originals in order to get them printed. The sale of your original drawing is in that respect is a side-show. I treat them as an occasional bonus and not my core business.
Prints make money
The flip-side of not needing to sell the original means you can sit on the price and not let it go too cheaply. I’ve been strapped for cash before and undersold myself and it makes you feel sick.
3. Fewer People Buy Black and White Art
It doesn’t matter how often you hear otherwise, black and white is hard to sell.
Talking to customers, as long as I have, I hear the same lines time and again,
“I love black and white, there’s so much more atmosphere”
That’s great, but how much do they own? It’s all very well appreciating an image in a book or magazine, but how many monochrome pictures are hanging on their wall?
Try taking pencil drawings into a gallery and you’ll soon discover that most owners will turn you away. They know the score. If they hang a picture in their valuable retail space, they have to sell it. Admiration has got little to do with it.
Drawing is a niche. Not impossible to succeed, but easier if you, as the artist, sell them yourself.
4. Drawings Must be Exceptional
If you’re to sell your drawings, with any chance of success, you’ll have to go the extra mile. It’s got to be impressive.
Your first job is to get noticed and in a colorful world that’s no mean feat.
You can do that in a number of ways.
Make ’em big. The bigger the image the more impact you’ll have. Subtlety will get you nowhere. If you cant make larger work, try advertising your smaller drawings by getting them digital enlarged. It works. I do that myself.
Be bold. High contrast artwork will have more punch. Think about the composition carefully. It’s your job to get passers-by to take a double look. Strong shapes, big eyes, humor. Think Banksy and you’ll get the idea.
Detail. It’s both my pleasure and my curse. My specialty is obsessive attention to detail. It’s my trump card. You don’t have to be hyper-realistic if that’s not your thing. You can stylize and be equally intricate. It’s all about discovering unexpected things within the picture, people love it.
There’s nothing more pleasurable than entertaining kids by pointing out hidden features.
- “Did you notice the tiny bird in the tree?”
- “Look, I’ve even drawn the snot in its nose”
- “Can you see in the fur? Look closely, I’ve drawn some fleas”
People are in awe of very fine work, but boy do you have to put in the effort. It’s far easier to please with a dash of color.
Where to Sell Your Drawings
It’s all very well telling you the pros and cons of selling black and white art, but where can you sell your drawings? You have two practical choices, online and in-person.
Selling your Drawings Online
You have a number of options.
Online marketplaces give you an instant store in return for a percentage of the transaction. The most popular and well-known site for art and crafts is probably Etsy.
The overheads are modest and the process of setting up a shop is easy and it is possible to make money if you optimize your site properly with the right tags and keywords and market youself like crazy.
Don’t kid yourself that it’s passive income because volume sales require dedication. I use Etsy as a sideline. For me, it is passive because I do nothing but wait for the trickle of customers to find me organically. I haven’t got the time to spare to concentrate on this platform.
The problem with Etsy and other third-party platforms is the very real danger that your thriving little business can be ruined overnight with one change of an algorithm. I’ll give you an example.
I did well on eBay. Without knowing what I was doing, I made £10,000 selling prints in my first year trading. Brilliant, and that was a side-hustle.
The take went down gradually and stabilized at a predictable £5000 per year of relatively passive income. I tweaked my settings as the rules changed until BANG, the algorithm changed, big time.
The new hoops I had to pass through were so onerous that in effect eBay was saying ‘Get lost, your little business doesn’t pay us enough money.’ My rankings tanked and so did my sales. And all those thousands of customers who’d bought off me before were gone.
You don’t own the business unless you own the contact list.
Can you succeed with 3rd party party platforms? Yep. Is it secure? Absolutely not.
You are a minnow in a sea of competition. How do you stand out? And if you do, how long will it last? Putting all your eggs in one basket is high risk. And spreading yourself over several sites will entail enormous amounts of work.
Make no mistake, these platforms are in it for themselves and their shareholders. They own and dictate the business. You have no control.
Print-on-Demand Marketplaces offer a similar service. They use your images on their products and print, dispatch, and process the orders. You earn a commission or apply a mark-up. They are NOT YOUR CUSTOMERS. Your artwork is merely licensed to the company.
You must market yourself to get the trade. It then begs the question, why not do the marketing for your own website?
Think of it this way. The moment a customer lands on your product, what happens? they see your competition being promoted! As soon as your prospect gets distracted and clicks a link, you’ve probably lost them for good.
It’s far better to set up your own website and control all aspects of your business.
It takes time and effort to get your site found and I’m not suggesting that it’s easy. It’s a long learning curve but at least you can keep your clients on-site and the mailing list is your own.
Print-on-Demand Fulfillment companies do all the printing and shipping for you but YOU process the order, they’re YOUR customers and YOU get their contact details.
This is a good compromise for anyone wishing to dropship from their own website
The No1 fulfillment company at present is Printful.com. They have a good reputation for quality, good turn-around times, and they integrate with all major e-commerce platforms.
Reputation is one thing, but don’t take any chances. Check them out first. Printful offers a 20% discount for samples so take advantage of it.
The alternative to living online is to sell direct.
Selling Your Drawings From a Market Pitch
Why would you choose to sell face-to-face to a passing crowd when you could have potentially tens of thousands of customers online? Try it before you knock it. This is the best way to learn how to sell your drawings. I’ve learned everything useful from selling face-to-face.
Yes, in theory, it’s better to have more people finding you online but they still have to trust you, decide if your artwork is good enough for them and follow through. That’s not easy if your customer is home-grown let alone from overseas. Plus the postal service sucks.
It makes more sense for me, to dedicate a chunk of my year to selling my prints, in-person, from a market stall (booth).
Further Reading: Selling in Art Fairs (5 Tips You Can’t Afford to Ignore)
I get to meet my customers, find out what works, what doesn’t, and get their email (usually). All my market research is based on direct experience, not google search.
Selling a non-essential item such as art is about personal relationships. It’s about connecting on an emotional level and that’s better done in real life. Selling your art requires you to sell yourself.
With practice, your confidence grows and you learn to recognize the subtle nuances involved with selling and how to build up a rapport with people from all backgrounds.
My work pattern is perfect. I sell to tourists in the summer and the profit I make allows me to spend my winters abroad. I use the tax system to help pay for it and that’s because my field trips are tax deductible.
When do I have time to make my art? At my market stand.
Not only can I switch on and off with a drawing, but it’s also a sales prop too. If I look ‘busy’ my display is approachable. I get to work and sell, instead of work or sell.
It gets me out of the house and gives me some discipline. There is a lot to be said for structure.
I have a summer pitch, courtesy of my local council. Good pitches are not easy to find but if that was unavailable I would arrange a short term agreement on private land or pre-book local markets and fairs.
You’ll find out more about the public by market trading than you ever will sitting on your own with a computer.
Taking Commissions and Sell Your Drawings
There is no better way of getting commissions than by advertising yourself from a market stall. The public can see your work, meet you, and discuss their ideas person-to-person.
I am approached on a daily basis with requests which, it must be said, mostly concern loved pets. Or to be more precise, EX-pets. They’ve usually just died. You could call your business ‘Posthumous Pets’, you can have that one.
Further Reading: How to Draw Pet Portraits for Money and Start a Business
Yet again the public will not pay as much for black and white and you’ll have to offer separate prices for color. I go into the subject of commissions in more detail if you follow the link below.
Further Reading: Art Commissions – How to Get Them Quickly? (It’s Easy But Scary)
Scanning Your Drawing Before Selling
I’ve read many blogs suggesting that you can cut costs by scanning or photographing your work at home. I don’t do that.
A top quality scan is vital if you are going to reproduce your work to the highest possible standard. Hi-res scans will capture every detail on the page and professionals will tidy up your scan, correct the tonal values, remove blemishes, and layout your image ready for commercial printing.
Leave it to the experts, it doesn’t cost that much money. By the time you have bought a high-end home scanner, had your computer monitor calibrated properly, cleaned the highlights, erased the blemishes, added the borderline, and guillotine marks, you may as well have paid £40 ($50) and got the job done properly.
And I haven’t even mentioned setting up your camera in a makeshift studio. Ugh.
Take my advice and don’t D.I.Y.
A Word About Art Materials
I’ll finish off this article with a brief mention about art materials. I know a poor craftsman blames his tools but why would you choose the cheapest crap on the market when the best is is so affordable?
You really must not skimp on art materials. It’s a false economy.
- Buy quality drawing paper by a recognized brand.
- Buy quality drawing pencils also from a known brand
- Buy an easel that is sturdy and rigid.
When you choose a pencil brand, stick to it. Get to know the grades so you know instinctively which pencil to use. DON’T MIX AND MATCH brands unless you really know what you are doing. The grading system is not universal. each brand differs. An HB in one brand is not the same in another.
Further Reading: Tools of the Trade
Buy acid-free paper. Experiment. Use the tester pads in art stores or buy the smallest pads available to play around with textures. There is a vast difference between paper manufacturers, tints, thickness (weight) , and texture. The only way to discover what’s best for you is to try them out.
What do you think? Now you know how to sell your drawings, is it right for you? You’ve read the pros and cons, is it worth pursuing?
I’ve made it work and I’m not alone. Plenty of people find their niche. Perhaps the most notable thing we have in common is our drawings are combined with a particular interest.
By concentrating on a niche subject while using a niche medium we have carved out our own specialties. My love is wildlife, other artists/illustrators might draw, dogs, cats, or horses.
Any subject that involves a hobby has a core of enthusiasts. Whatever it is, we know our subject and know why our fans relate to it. This gives us an advantage. If you know your hobby, you can cater to that passion.
If you found this article useful you might like these too:
- Sell More Art – 9 Selling Skills For Artists (Are you Missing Sales?)
- How to Prepare for an Outdoor Art Fair (Your No1 Problem Revealed)
- Does Selling Art Online Work? Reality Check – What no one tells you
- Where to Find Wildlife Subjects to Draw, Paint, and Photograph
- How to Start Drawing Wildlife and Make Your Life Happier
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