Is Your Art Good Enough to Sell? You Need to Know This…

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Kevin Hayler: Professional Wildlife artist, author, and traveler.

If you’re a beginner, you’ve likely asked yourself  “Is my art good enough to sell?” It’s a common concern among new artists, we all started with the same question and insecurities, but how do you tell?

Your artwork is good enough to sell when you have discovered the right audience, have learned to sell yourself, and accepted that you’ll never please everyone. Find your niche, set realistic goals, promote yourself, and don’t compare yourself to others. 

Yet in truth, there isn’t a single definitive answer to this question. What one person considers great art, another sees as an eye-sore. Such is life. However, we can make a calculated guess and attempt to make art that resonates with our chosen audience.

Let’s start

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Know Your Audience

Ask yourself who are you making art for, do you know? This is an important question because it will determine how your journey progresses. If you’re painting for yourself, you will have a hard time finding an audience, why? because it’s self-indulgent.

While art is a form of self-expression, you are also an unknown, and quite frankly no one cares about you or your art. Not yet.

It’s good to know early on because far too many artists assume that the quality of their work will shine through. It won’t, life isn’t like that. If you are hoping to sell your art, you’ll be setting yourself up for a fall. Successful artists paint for others. They have an audience to serve.

Knowing your audience is the key that opens the door. As soon as you’ve identified your niche, you can target your efforts on potential buyers and try to get in front of them.

I can use my own experiences as a full-time artist for over 20 years and tell you what I found. I discovered that my audience was primarily people who were interested, at least in part, in what I was interested in. I’ve always been interested in wildlife and that’s where I concentrated my efforts. 

I became a wildlife artist because:

  • I could sustain my interest
  • Most people have a favorite animal (or their mum does)
  • The public needs to know what type of artist you are, (it’s true)
  • It’s fun looking for subjects
  • Kids love it too.

So many reasons to make wildlife art, but before you start to think it was a done deal, and I couldn’t lose, you’re mistaken, wildlife as a niche, has limitations. I love wildlife but most people love certain animals, the iconic ones. Plus I chose to make pencil drawings, which limited my market severely. 

It meant that I had to overcome some obstacles. Being colorblind led me to resist changing my medium, but I could adapt by drawing popular animals. I listened to what people said and began to meet their needs.

I discovered that people collect certain charismatic animals whenever, and wherever, they find them, whether it’s printed on a t-shirt, a bangle, a keyring, or, most importantly for me, as wall art. 

I realized that my perfect customer was a female with a soft spot for certain animals and preferably a collector. Men buy too, but not as much. 

What are you to conclude? People have many more reasons to buy your art than the quality alone. Your art will still have to resonate, but when you realize that the subject matter is equally as important, the pressure to be “great” is eased.

There will always be people who like your type of work. It doesn’t have to be traditional, it can be fun and quirky and stylized, as long as you find the right crowd.

Nothing Sells Itself – Including Art

I made good money selling my own art because I was selling more than a picture, I was selling the backstory. I soon figured out that promoting my story and the romance of my lifestyle led to more interest in me and subsequently in my art prints. 

While it’s true that truly exceptional art can sometimes sell itself, this is the exception and not the rule. Be honest with yourself, you and I are not in that league, certainly not when we first started out.

Selling art is hard work for everyone. Even the most talented artists have to think in a business-like way.

Because that’s what this is, an art business, no one is going to give you money for nothing. You have to put in the time and effort to reap the rewards.

It’s important to recognize this truth and prepare yourself from the outset.  Don’t be too hard on yourself, set modest goals, and progress a little bit at a time. As each milestone is reached, move on to the next one. 

This young lass Kelsey Rodriguez, is doing something right, she has over 200,000 followers on YouTube.

Remember, your most valuable asset is YOU and you must be genuinely friendly. Now here’s the thing, your potential clients may love your company, but there is no guarantee they’ll always buy something, on the other hand, if they dislike you, they sure as hell won’t buy anything.

What does that say? It says selling is about relationships and building rapport.

The more people like you, the more likely they are to buy from you. It’s very simple.

Someone who buys your art is making an emotional transaction with you. It’s a bond that connects you both. Not only do they take pleasure in their new work of art, but they also take pleasure in rewarding you, and that makes you happy. Win-win.

These posts will help with selling in real life:

This scenario played out every day when I sold my art prints from my market stall. I’ll be the first to concede that it’s not as easy online. Selling online is a poor substitute for meeting a person face-to-face. It has to be done but in other ways. 

Youtube is one answer. If your personality comes across on video, people will warm to you and want to be part of your world. Patreon is another option, where you can build a loyal fan base, or you can promote your own Facebook group and connect that way. 

In my experience, the best advice I can give is to over-deliver. If you can go the extra mile, you’ll win. Thank you notes, quick replies, quick postage, they all count.

Think of the amazement and delight if you ring a customer instead of just sending another email. You are guaranteed a happy customer and they will spread the word, and what’s more, they’ll return.

Gain Confidence and Self-Worth

It’s just a fact of life that some people are naturally more confident than others. When it comes to sales, however, overconfidence will backfire. There is a fine line between confidence and conceit. No one likes a big head, and no one likes a pushy salesman either. 

However, you do need some confidence in yourself and believe in your art. I know that is easier said than done. I’m not a confident person myself, and if that surprises anyone it’s because I have built confidence within the confines of my little world. I’m not confident socially.

Confidence is acquired, and as you begin to sell your art, your confidence grows. If there is one thing likely to endear you to others, it’s not being a super extrovert, it’s enthusiasm. Passion in all its forms is contagious. 

Think about it. Have you ever become interested in something just because the person you are talking to is so animated about the subject? If you can get excited about your subject, you will bring people with you.

Your art is an extension of you and when people are delighted by you they will be delighted with your art.

These posts are related to self-confidence:

Overcoming Self-Doubt

Self-doubt and questioning yourself is a feeling common to most artists. It’s easy to compare yourself to others, especially those great artists we follow and seemingly more successful or talented than us.

However, it’s important to recognize and acknowledge that we are all on our own paths and making comparisons with others is self-defeating.

A great way to lose your self-belief is to obsess over social media and Instagram in particular. 

You must remember that all those amazing Instagram artists are the best of the best from around the world. It’s a false comparison and doesn’t represent the norm in any way.

They showcase curated versions of their life. You have no idea how they feel or how much they make or what they set out to do in the first place. You certainly don’t see their failures.

When inspiration turns into inadequacy, hit the unfollow tab and get them out of your feed. You’ll feel better, it’s a mental health issue. 

How to overcome Imposter syndrome and self doubt on Udemy
TIP: Newbies get a big discount

Making art is a lonely pursuit. Fine when we have a busy life elsewhere, having time to yourself can be the break you need. What about when it’s the other way around?

This is related: Is Being an Artist Lonely? Read The Truth

When you are a professional artist you must motivate yourself to be alone most of the time. It’s not easy to sustain a healthy balance when you spend so much time alone. 

An artist must organize their breaks to get away from art, stay fit, and meet people. Building a routine will help enormously. Forget the freedom to make art when you’re in the mood. That’s fantasy. Professionals make art every day.

Read this if you are returning to art: How to Get Back into Drawing Again After a Long Break

Set a time and place and do the hours. I like to work in the mornings. I find it the most productive time of the day. 

Find some like-minded people who share your anxieties and can laugh about the same things. The best thing about networking with other artists is not finding work opportunities, it’s about sharing and normalizing your feelings.

Do Your Market Research

I found my niche almost accidentally. I chose my subject and made prints of 12 of my drawings without doing any market research. I took a chance. I’m not going to advise you to do what I did and order 12,000 prints without a plan. That was madness.

There were few options open to artists when I started. The internet was still new, and digital prints were primitive. They didn’t compare with offset lithography. Things have changed, and now you can experiment with very short runs to see if your art will sell. Good news, things are easier.

This guide tells you everything about printing art: How to Make Prints of Your Art: A Complete Printing Guide

You can look up Etsy trends and scour Redbubble and Society6 and it will give you some fashionable ideas, but unless your type of art is suited to their type of buyers it might lead you astray.

Print-on-demand marketplaces are dominated by graphic art and design. If that’s what you do you are off to the races. Otherwise, you can look elsewhere for ideas.

I follow Ryan Hogue on Youtube. He is a great communicator and knows his subject very well. It’s a great place to learn

Etsy print on demand masterclass by Ryan Hogue on Udemy

I researched the most popular subjects in another post, and this is the list I came up with based on old British data:

  1. Traditional landscapes – romantic rural landscapes
  2. Local views – historical and natural landmarks
  3. Modern or semi-abstract landscapes
  4. Abstracts  
  5. Dogs
  6. Figure studies (excluding nudes)
  7. Seascapes, harbors, and beach scenes 
  8. Wildlife – Only iconic animals
  9. Impressionistic landscapes

You can read the whole article here: What Kind of Art Sells Best?

One thing I advise you not to do and that is ask your friends and family. A family member will want to help and reassure you, and they mean well, but it’s not market research. You cannot rely on their opinions. You’ll never get honest feedback. 

The only people who really know what sells are people who sell art. Think about art licensing agents.  There is nothing stopping you from submitting your art to licensing agencies to test the water. They will only accept work they think they can sell. 

If you need some help with licensing and what it’s all about, this is a popular course by Alison Cole on Domestika

If you are into a particular subject, dig deep and find out what enthusiasts enjoy most. If you don’t you’ll make mistakes, like I did, I’ll give you an example.

I knew that many people are passionate about horses and ponies, especially young girls. It’s a huge market. I decided to cash in without knowing anything and drew a Shetland pony. It’s the one in the header above.

If I’d done my homework I would’ve discovered that they are considered bad-tempered and not liked much by enthusiasts. It took years to sell those prints.

Marketing Your Art

Let’s suppose you have determined that your art is good enough to sell, then what? How do you progress from there? 

The first thing you have to do is build a coherent body of work and have a portfolio of artwork to show the world. You cant display and sell one piece of artwork at a time. You have to display a selection. 

When I started out, I chose 12 of my best drawings, got them printed, and joined a weekend craft market. There was no such thing as social media. You have the choice to market yourself online and get yourself seen with very little risk. 

Read this if you want to draw or paint animals: 12 Wildlife Art Bestsellers (Use These Subjects to Make Money)

That sounds great, but hold on. There is another way to look at things. What would you rather be, a bigger fish in a small pond, or a smaller fish in a big pond? When you market yourself online you are competing with millions, how are you going to stand out in the crowd? 

When you sell locally you’re the star of the show. In many ways, it’s easier. Think about that.

I know one thing, and that is if you want to succeed, the only way forward is to scale your business. That means selling reproductions in one form or another, and that includes digital files, or selling the rights to a 3rd party and letting them do it all.

I talk about printing in this post: How to Make Prints of Your Art: A Complete Printing Guide

Marketing takes up a great deal of your time, it’s a continuous process. Making art for a living involves much more than just making art, the business side is just as important and it takes time to see results. There’s nothing passive about self-promotion.

A strong online presence can significantly boost your reach, so consider creating a professional website to showcase your portfolio and get to grips with social media.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Create Your Own Website: It’s very important to have your own website. If you haven’t got one, get one set up. It’s easy enough to do it yourself if you follow a tutorial. It’ll cost about $100 per year. Think of it as a hub with radials reaching out to your other platforms. All traffic is directed to and from your business hub. 
  2. YouTube or TikTok: Create a YouTube channel or a TikTok account where you share your art skills and make short tutorials or behind-the-scenes videos that can attract a lot of attention. These platforms favor visually interesting content, and art definitely fits that bill. Make sure to link everything back to your website.
  3. Instagram: The favorite among artists, it has to be used skillfully to work. Instagram is a baby that needs feeding constantly. There is no break. You have one chance to shine and then your post is lost forever. Post behind the scenes and works in progress. Post videos and mention your website as much as possible. 
  4. Pinterest: Love it or loathe it, Pinterest is a powerhouse for those artists who manage to crack the code. Pinterest is not so much social media as a search engine. Pins are visual bookmarks that remain active for years and link directly back to your website. It works better if you create a daily posting routine.
  5. Blogging and an Email List: The purpose of creating content is to attract readers, build a mailing list, and find buyers. This involves targeting keywords with low competition and writing articles, using those keywords, to rank on the first page of Google. Choose your audience wisely. Do you want to attract art buyers or fellow artists? They are different markets. Don’t get confused. Artists don’t buy art.

Here’s the rundown on Social Media: Social Media For Artists: The Best 13 Platforms for Creatives

That’s a snapshot of potential ways to market your art but there are many other avenues. You can post your art on other platforms. 

Try these 3 sites to sell your original artwork:

Or sell your images and designs on an online marketplace such as the following:

These platforms have a large audience base and make it easy to get started. On the flip side, it’s very difficult to earn enough money to make it worthwhile, not without being very proactive. 

Read these posts for a better idea: 

Is Your Art Good Enough? Final Thoughts

Let’s be realistic. No one really knows if their work is good enough. It’s a long shot. Talent doesn’t mean automatic success, far from it. We see the art world awash with successful artists who can’t draw a straight line, how come? It’s because they’re great self-publicists.

Most of us with a passion and a spark of creative talent can find our tribe eventually. It takes the right approach, hard work, and persistence. You have to make original work in your own unique style and market yourself to a targeted audience.

Selling art made simple digital guide for starting a small art business

If You Want to Sell Your Art

Check this out!

Psst…it’s only $12.99!

If you enjoyed this article, check out these related posts:

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If you need more help with drawing, then I urge you to check out
Dorian Iten on Proko. His course is reasonably priced and inspiring

Is your art good enough to sell A pinterest pin
The artist and Author Kevin Hayler

Hi, my name’s Kevin and I’m a real person!
I’ve been selling my wildlife art and traveling the world for over 20 years, and if that sounds too good to be true, I’ve done it all without social media, art school, or galleries!
I can show you how to do it. You’ll find a wealth of info on my site, about selling art, drawing tips, lifestyle, reviews, travel, my portfolio, and more. Enjoy

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