What Kind of Art Sells Best? The Popular Subjects Revealed

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

The most popular art subjects have generic themes and include traditional landscape painting, local scenery, and local landmarks. Seascapes do well, as do animals and figurative work. Art buyers like paintings with a background and composed with a distinct focal point. Bestselling wall art tends to have rich color and is representational.

Of course, there is a lot more to it than subject matter alone. There is the size, color, and medium to think about. Let’s jump right in.

(I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. However, I only promote products I like and recommend)

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, most articles quote the same old survey and place ‘abstract artwork’ at number 4, and ‘nudes’ at number 10. Yet, if you submitted those types of paintings to an art licensing company they would probably reject them as uncommercial.

And let’s not forget, there has been a meteoric rise in online sales in recent years, away from traditional galleries and outlets. The art world has changed dramatically.

Check these out: 25 Platforms for Artists to Sell Their Art Online
and Make Money

And this is a bestselling course on Domestika:

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’ll find mediocrity outselling better artwork. Current trends. can catch you out.

You can also check out some social media sites, most notably Instagram. The trick is not to search and follow your favorite artists, it’s to target galleries promoting their artists. You’ll get an idea about their client base and what their potential buyers are looking for.

Not only that, a good art gallery will attract interior designers. Follow them too and look at their feed to see what they’re promoting.

It may not be a mainstream audience, but if you are a contemporary artist trying to find a market for your abstract paintings, this is a great way to research the market.

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

If the subject has a 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.

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

Getting a reliable list is not too hard:

  • Traditional Landscapes, including impressionist
  • Local Scenes and Beauty Spots
  • Seascapes
  • Favorite Animals wild and domestic
  • Pets, especially dog breeds
  • Figurative
  • Naive/Primitive

If you look at the lists of best-selling art currently online, they base their authority on an Art Business Today Survey from 2003 conducted here in the UK. I have tried to find the original survey without success. On the basis that it existed, I believe this outdated information is misleading.

Not only does it only reflect British tastes, but it’s also a 20-year-old snapshot in time before the online art market took off.

This is the list you’ll see on most sites along with my interpretation:

  1. Traditional landscapes – meaning British rural landscapes
  2. Local views – historical and natural landmarks
  3. Modern or semi-abstract landscapes – galleries only in 2003
  4. Abstracts – galleries only in 2003
  5. Dogs – The British love dogs
  6. Figure studies (excluding nudes)
  7. Seascapes, harbors, and beach scenes – Surprise surprise, Britain is an island
  8. Wildlife – Only applies to certain iconic animals
  9. Impressionistic landscapes
  10. Nudes – Very few people want a bare arse in the living room.

A very neat and convenient top 10. There is, no doubt, a market for all of these subjects, and all of them will find buyers, in the right context. For example, you’ll only sell local views locally. Try selling them elsewhere!

Some subjects will sell in a gallery and be hard to sell online, and vice-versa. Plus now, new markets have developed with the explosion of Print-on-Demand services, and more recently digital downloads.

Previously unaffordable, or unattainable, art is open to all, and there is an abundance of abstract art prints being sold as interior decor that was mostly absent a few decades ago. Now graphic art is everywhere. New printing technology has

Online sales suit open edition prints with low price points. They have distinct advantages in the modern world. They are available at the click of a button, printed to a high standard on the better POD sites (Printful), and delivered anywhere in the developed world.

The artist doesn’t have to do anything except marketing.

These articles will open your eyes:

Limited-edition prints, by contrast, must be signed and numbered by the artist to have any worth, and that requires the artist to send out prints themselves. I can tell you from experience, that is a lot of work.

If that doesn’t persuade you to think twice, limited editions have a limited value built in. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. No more money. If you find your limited edition selling well, you’ve shot yourself in the foot as far as sales are concerned.

Digital downloads present an even greater opportunity for passive income. The buyer only purchases the file for printing themselves at home, or at a local print shop.

The public gets the art at a cheaper price in an instant, and in the size that suits them. Prints can even be customized to some extent. You, in turn, get paid straight away.

But what if you aren’t really interested in any of these subjects?

You must always consider your staying power. There’s no point in choosing an art subject just because it sells, not if it bores you rigid.

This will help: How To Sell Landscape Paintings 13 Ways to Make More Money

If you have a hobby or pastime with a large fan base why not niche down and make that type of art your subject? You’ll have the passion for going the extra mile and knowing your ideal audience will help you focus.

My passion is for wildlife. In my niche, elephants rule. I know that there is a huge market of people, mainly women, who adore elephants and collect anything jumbo-related. This is how I make my living as a professional artist.

If you love nature check this out: 12 Wildlife Art Bestsellers (Use These Subjects to Make Money)

For example, elephants with their trunks raised are a sign of good luck, a lone wolf will sell better than a pack of wolves, and birds of prey sell better with their wings spread out. It’s crazy, but it’s all true.

I also learned that eye contact increases sales. It creates an emotional connection and most of my work has the main subject looking straight back at the viewer. This is the distinct focal point I mentioned in the intro.

It’s the bottom line. Most hobbyists will thrill at any artistic depiction of their favorite subject and here’s the important thing, it’s not always the hobbyist that buys, it’s their friends and family who are looking for a gift. Remember that.

If there are fans there will be a market.

What Size Of Art Sells Best?

Large paintings sell slowly, but command more money. That means you only have to sell a few original works to do well. Smaller paintings are easier to sell, but for less money, which means you have to make many more paintings.

I go into more detail here: What Size Art Sells Best? Frames and Apertures – FREE Chart

It’s tricky finding the middle path.

It’s worth noting a few obvious constraints, that will determine your direction, such as:

  • Where will you sell your artwork, online, in markets, or in galleries? 
  • How will you transport your work?
  • What about postage?
  • Have you got enough storage space?
  • 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 wish 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 to the 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 larger prints, rather than larger 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.

Read about printing before you dive in: How to Make Prints of Your Art – Printing Art Explained in Detail

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

Look at it from the art collectors 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 artwork and after a soft sell, decides to buy. If they can roll it up or pop it in a bag, the sale is yours.

You will need help getting this right: This is How to Price Art Prints: Practical Advice for Beginners

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 are shrinking. As house prices spiral and more people are forced to rent or buy the smallest properties they have less room for original artworks.

Indeed many renters tell me that their tenancy agreement forbids them from drilling or putting nails in the wall. Another reason not to spend their money on expensive artwork.

At least they can put small art on a shelf and it’s more likely to be within their price range.

On balance, I suggest you concentrate on smaller art. I wouldn’t go larger than A3 if you’re selling them yourself in art shows.  And don’t forget that you can sell sets of 4 as a substitute for one large feature image.

If you decide to frame your art, make them so they’ll fit standard-sized commercially available frames. You will be able to buy frames in bulk and make a higher profit margin, but let me warn you, frames are a nightmare to transport without damaging them.

This post will save you money: A Quick Guide to Framing on a Budget

Or do as I do and forsake the frames altogether. If you sell standard size prints the customer will know they can pick up a cheap frame. That’s a good selling point.

Frame SizesAperture
12″ x 16″ 8″ x 12″
12″ x 16″ 8.5″ x 11″
12″ x 16″ 9″ x 12″
16″ x 20″ 8″ x 12″
16″ x 20″ 10″ x 12″
16″ x 20″ 11″ x 14″
16″ x 20″ 12″ x 16″
30cm x 40cm8″ x 12″
30cm x 40cm(A4) 297mm x 210mm
40cm x 40cm8″ x 8″
40cm x 40cm 10″ x 10″
40cm x 40cm 30cm x 30cm
40cm x 50cm11″ x 14″
40cm x 50cm30cm x 40cm
20″ x 24 16″ x 20″
24″ x 34″20″ x 30″
Larger Frame Sizes
Frame SizesAperture
6″ x 8″6″ x 4″
7″ x 5″3″ x 5″
7″ x 5″ 6″ x 4″
10″ x 8″3″ x 5″
10″ x 8″6″ x 4″
10″ x 8″7″ x 5″
10″ x 10″8″ x 8″
10″ x 12″6″ x 4″
10″ x 12″ 6″ x 8″
10″ x 12″ 7″ x 5″
10″ x 12″ 10″ x 8″
11″ x 14″ 10″ x 8″
12″ x 16″8″ x 12″
24cm x 30cm6″ x 8″
30cm x 30cm8″ x 8″
Smaller Frame Sizes

What Art Mediums Sell Best?

If you want to increase the saleability of your original artwork the best-selling medium oil. Sadly, the type of painting matters.

These are the mediums that sell best in descending order:

  1. Oil. It makes no sense artistically. Oil painting is valued for historical reasons and by galleries that don’t want to bother with 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 tend to 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 that 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.

Read this: How to Repair Drawing Paper: 9 Ways to Rescue Your Artwork

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 decorative art, 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 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 many years ago. It was important advice 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 my landscapes to make them come alive, and it worked. They were more popular.

Ironically, I started out as a colorblind painter, but 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 setting, and being prepared to draw in front of the public.

It does help to learn a few tricks, but where do you go? Have you heard of Skillshare? (affiliate). Check out some of these classes. There are all sorts.

What Kind of Art Sells Best? Final Thoughts

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 with a common theme. Make sets of 4 in the same style, size, and subject and you will sell more.


Panda bears drawing by wildlife artist Kevin Hayler
‘Bamboo Breakfast by Kevin Hayler

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