What Kind of Art Sells Best? The Secrets Revealed

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The best way to research what kind of art sells best is to scour the big stores and see what they are offering. They know what the public buys not what they appreciate, that’s an important difference. This is what I discovered.

The best selling art has rich color, is representational and not abstract, has a generic theme, such as animals, people, and landscapes, has a background, and composed with a distinct focal point. 

Of course, there is a lot more to it. Chain stores do not stock local views or cater to specialized niches. Nor can they show you what size to paint or the best mediums to use. Let’s go into more detail.

What Are The Best Selling Art Subjects?

If you google the best selling art subjects you will be easily fooled into assuming that the lists are reliable. I would urge you to use caution.

For instance, a report compiled by Art Business Today published way back in 2003, has ‘abstract art’ at number 4, and ‘nudes’ at number 10. Yet, if you submitted those subjects to an art licensing company they would probably reject them as uncommercial.

The art world has changed dramatically. There has been a meteoric rise in online sales and away from traditional galleries.

Further Reading: Does Selling Art Online Work? (What No One Wants to Tell You)

So it’s tempting to use the bestselling and trending art sales on sites such as Etsy and Fine Art America as your guide, but again you’ll have a problem. 

The bestselling art will be from those artists who know how to market their work successfully. That’s why you will find so much mediocrity outselling better artwork.

My favorite ‘secret recipe’ is to search calendars for subjects. Think about it. Calendars are usually bought as gifts around Christmas and given to people who will delight in the subject. 

If the subject has mass appeal there will be a calendar for sale. Take a look at this site Calendars.com in the US and Calendarclub in the UK and you’ll get the idea.

Don’t forget that it will always be a variable list. Things go in and out of fashion so some subjects will be cashing in on a fad. 

Getting a reliable list is not hard.

  • Traditional Landscapes inc impressionist
  • Local Scenes and Beauty Spots
  • Seascapes, harbors, and beaches
  • Favorite Animals wild and domestic
  • Pets, especially dog breeds
  • Figurative (excluding nudes)
  • Naive/Primitive

That’s fine, but are you really interested in any of these subjects? You must always consider your staying power. There is no point in choosing an art subject that sells but bores you rigid.

If you have a hobby or pastime that has a large fan base why not niche down and make that your subject? You will have the passion to go the extra mile, be aware of the nuances of the market, and the contacts to start making sales.

Further Reading: 12 Wildlife Art Bestsellers (Use These Subjects to Make Money)

My passion is for wildlife. In my niche, elephants rule. I know that there is a huge market of mainly women who adore elephants. As I became more experienced I learned that even the pose will affect sales.

Elephants with their trunks raised are a sign of good luck, lone wolves sell better than a pack of wolves, birds of prey sell better with their wings spread out. It’s crazy I know, but it’s true.

I also learned that eye contact increases sales. Most of my work has the subject looking straight back. This is the distinct focal point I mentioned in the intro,

The bottom line is most hobbyists will thrill at any artistic depiction of their subject and don’t forget it’s not always the hobbyist that buys, it’s their friends and family who are looking for a gift.

Further Reading: 5 Selling Tips for Art Fairs (You Can’t Afford to Ignore Them)

If there are fans there will be a market.

What Size Of Art Sells Best?

Bigger art sells slowly but for more money, which means you only have to sell a few to do well. Smaller art sells more easily but for less money which means you have to make many more paintings.

Further Reading: Does the Size of your Art Really Matter? What Size of Art Sells Best?

It’s tricky finding the middle path.

It’s worth noting a few obvious constraints, such as:

  • Where will you sell your artwork, online, markets, galleries? 
  • How will you transport your work? What about postage?
  • Have you got enough storage space?
  • What are your capabilities? Are you able to adapt your style?
  • What is your customer base, are they wealthy or poorer?

People with cash tend to live in places with plenty of space. They have bigger walls to fill and may need to fill them with something bold and large. 

They have the money to pay extra and their friends are likely to be wealthier too. All good, but let’s be realistic, how many paintings will they ever buy? Most trade relies on repeat customers and that’s less likely with big art.

It makes more sense for most artists to sell bigger prints rather than bigger originals. 

If your art is small-ish it can be enlarged if you have a hi-res scan and the right software. The bigger the original file the better.

I use ON1 Resize to enlarge my work and correct the loss of quality. It’s the same software used to create billboards. In my research, I discovered that Photoshop was not good enough.

Graphic art can be enlarged very easily and make fantastic posters. They can also be rolled in a tube and sent in the mail without the fear of damage.

Canvas prints are another option. If you are selling them in a market, they are bulky but light. Posting them presents problems but many artists use print-on-demand sites that print and dispatch for you.

Further Reading: How to Make Prints of Your Art if You Don’t Know What You’re Doing

It makes more sense for most artists to sell small art, and sell more for less.

Look at it from the buyer’s point of view,

  • Do they want to pay a high price?
  • Have they got the room? 
  • Do they really want to carry it away?

Lower priced art, especially prints, are more likely to be bought on impulse. The customer sees your work and after a soft sell, decides to buy. If they can roll it or pop it in a bag the sale is easier to achieve.

Further Reading: How Do Artists Price Their Work? (and Increase Their Profits)

The commitment is low and therefore your customer can afford to take a small gamble with you and your art. If things go wrong, it’s not the end of the world.

And don’t forget living spaces for ordinary people is shrinking. As house prices spiral and more people are forced to rent or buy the smallest properties they have little room for art.

Many young people are now renting and unable to get on the property ladder and many prospective customers tell me that their tenancy agreement forbids them from drilling or putting nails in the wall. 

At least they can put small art on a shelf, big art is almost impossible.

On balance I suggest you concentrate on smaller art. I wouldn’t go larger than A3 if you’re selling them yourself in a market. 

Don’t forget that you can sell a set of 4 as a substitute for one large feature image.

If you decide to frame them, paint or print your art to fit standard sized commercially available frames. You will be able to buy frames in bulk, make a higher profit and save on storage space.

Further Reading: A Quick Guide to Framing on a Budget (Info Without the Fluff)

Or do as I do and forsake the frames and use the standard sizes as a selling point. Frames are a nightmare to transport without damages so I stopped selling them very early on.

What Art Medium Sells Best?

If you want to increase the saleability of your work it helps if you paint in oil.

  1. Oil. It makes no sense artistically. I’m sure oil painting is valued for historical reasons and by galleries who don’t require glass frames.
  2. Acrylic is the modem alternative to oil and benefits from the association. 
  3. Watercolor/Gouache has always suffered from the reputation that it can fade and needs to be framed properly under glass.
  4. Pastel is unpopular with galleries. It’s expensive to frame and needs a double mount (mat) and anti-static glass. 
  5. Digital. The new kid on the block and making a mark, especially with commercial poster art.
  6. Pen, Graphite, and Charcoal are very hard to sell. Galleries, publishers, and licensing houses all reject monochrome. 

It has nothing to do with artistic merit. It’s just the way the world is, fairness doesn’t come into it.

Oil and acrylic paintings are not only valued more by galleries they are also easier to print and valued highly by publishers and licensing houses. The colors are richer and make vibrant reproductions.

They also prefer flat artwork which can be scanned easily. Collage and impasto are more likely to be rejected.

I arrange my drawings to be scanned independently. Even so, things can and do go wrong. As soon as you walk away from your artwork it’s at risk of damage so be warned.

Are The Colors In Art Important?

Like it or not the public will buy art that compliments a color scheme. In truth, a picture is little more than decoration, or interior design if you want to get fancy. So, it doesn’t matter how striking the art is if the colors clash with the room.

People love color in their lives, and we use it to lift our spirits. That’s why, given the choice, most people want something both colorful and cheerful hanging on the living room wall. 

That said, don’t go overboard. Forget trends and this season’s color. As long as your palette is harmonious and not lurid or garish, you’ll be fine.

Just remember if your picture is purple, depressing, or violent you’ll have a hard time selling it.

I remember a gallery owner giving me a valuable tip when I first started to sell landscapes. It was important advice to me because, believe it or not, I’m colorblind and didn’t appreciate the impact red has on the eye.

She advised me to add some poppies to the foreground of some of my landscapes to make the paintings come alive, and it worked. They were more popular. 

I went on to learn to add some pink to evening skies. I couldn’t see it in real life so it wasn’t until it was pointed out to me that I realized how it affects the viewer.

Ironically I started out as a colorblind painter and now I specialize in graphite. Despite what I’ve said about monochrome I managed to carve out a niche by selling my work face to face in a market and being prepared to draw in front of the public.

Further Reading: Should You Teach Your Art Skills in Public? (Pros and Cons)

Conclusion

There are no winning formulas as such, but there are guidelines that help. 

If you can paint in a 3:4 ratio it will give you added flexibility when it comes to commercializing your image. You can crop the scanned image to fit 5:7 or 4:5 formats for instance. 

Consider painting in the background. This allows you to maximize the possibilities of licensing your work on products. If the background is not needed it can always be removed but not easily added.

Sell your art as a set. Make a series that match. People love to coordinate and theme. Make sets of 4 in the same style, size, and subject and you will sell more.


If you want some more tips to help you sell your work look at these posts:


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