What Kind of Art Sells Best? All Popular Subjects Revealed

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

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 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 the subject matter alone. There is the size, color, and medium to think about.

Let’s jump right in.

Disclaimer: When you buy something via my affiliate links I earn from qualifying purchases and sometimes earn a commission, at no extra cost to you. I am an Amazon Associate among others. I only recommend trusted sites.

What Are The Best Selling Art Subjects?

When 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

So it’s tempting to use the bestselling and trending art sales on sites such as Etsy, Fine Art America, and Art.com (US) 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.

For nearly nine out of ten (88%) art buyers, quality is their main criteria, which shows that consumers are looking for works online that are just as good as those they would see at a gallery or auctioneer.

Hiscox online art report 2023

Here is the list of subjects available on art.com and their subcategories, formatted as a two-column table:

Main CategorySubcategories
ScenicCoastal, Beach Landscapes, Nature
PeopleMarilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, John F. Kennedy
ArchitectureBridges, Skyscrapers, Lighthouses
MapsWorld Maps, Antique Maps, City Maps
MusicThe Beatles, Jazz, Bob Dylan
Typography & SymbolsTypography Art, Letters, Numbers
BotanicalFlowers, Plants, Trees
AnimalsDogs & Puppies, Cats & Kittens, Horses
Art For KidsAnimal Art for Kids, Kid’s Entertainment, Kid’s Education
TransportationAutomobiles & Cars, Airplanes, Bicycles
FashionVogue, Women’s Fashion, Fashion Icons
MoviesRebel Without a Cause, 1955, Classic Movies, James Bond, Breakfast at Tiffany’s
AbstractAbstract Splatters & Spots, Abstract Landscapes, Abstract Shapes
PlacesNew York City, Chicago, Paris
World CultureAfrican Cultures, Asian Cultures, Hispanic Cultures
Book IllustrationAlice in Wonderland, Dr. Seuss, Nursery Rhymes
Religion & SpiritualityBuddhism, Christianity, Hinduism
SportsBasketball, Golfing, Baseball

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 art 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’re a contemporary artist trying to sell 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  in the UK and you’ll get the idea.

Getting a reliable list of subjects 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

N.B. Things go in and out of fashion so some trending subjects will be a fad. It’s more useful to know what art sells consistently.

Art Licensing: What Type of Art Sells Best?

I was recently writing an article about the benefits of licensing your art

Read this: How to License Your Art: Best Guide For Beginners

While I urge you to read the whole article these are the subjects a leading licensing company (Art Licensing International) publishes as a guide for artists.

These are the types of art that sell best:

  • Traditional Painting
  • Realism
  • Country/Primitive Art
  • Contemporary and Urban Art
  • Abstract
  • Typography
  • Poster Design
  • Illustrative Graphics
  • Photography (Both Black & White and Color)
  • Collage or Mixed Medium

They explain that oils and acrylics with ‘dense color’ will reproduce the best. Digital artwork is accepted in high resolution, and watercolors are gaining popularity. Interesting.

What Art Sells Most of The Time?

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, sadly without success. On the basis that it existed, I believe this outdated information is misleading. Why?

Because it reflects British tastes, and it’s also a 20-year-old snapshot in time before the online art market took off. What about digital art and God forbid AI-generated “Art”?

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

1. Traditional landscapes

In a British context, it means a nostalgic and romantic interpretation of an idealized rural landscape. Not wilderness. In a US context, it’s more likely to mean the great outdoors and grand vistas.

2. Local Views

An audience will want local landmark views, beauty spots, and historic buildings. Any typical representation of the local scene, invoking a sense of place. It’s a form of souvenir.

3. Semi-Abstract and Modern Landscapes

A fusion of realism and abstraction, where the natural scenery is recognizable but portrayed in a non-traditional way using exaggerated colors and forms with expressive brushstrokes. Almost always very large artwork.

4. Abstract Art

Bold and big interior decor. A visually captivating artwork that uses shapes, colors, forms, and gestural marks to achieve its desired effect. Usually serves as a feature piece.

5. Dogs

The favorite animal of the Western world. There are 65.1 million dog owners in the US alone. Favorite breeds will sell well. This list will vary as fashion changes.

6. Figure Studies (excluding nudes)

I’m assuming it means figurative art. Representational art that features people, animals, and objects in a recognizable way. Contemporary or folk scenes. Can be social commentary or purely aesthetic.

7. Seascapes, Harbors, and Beach Scenes

No town in the UK is more than 84 miles from the sea and it has more importance here than in the US. Even so, we all holiday near the sea and have a romantic attachment. Boat owners are an affluent target market.

8. Wildlife

My specialty. This market is dominated by iconic and glamorous animals, mostly mammals. Some animals are popular throughout the world but there will be some local cultural variations.

9. Impressionistic Landscapes

Atmospheric landscapes are characterized by loose brushwork and often painted outdoors. Less interested in detail and more in the fleeting effects of light, color, and mood.

10. Nudes

My eyebrow is raised, not because of the subject matter but because I don’t believe there is such great demand. This niche involves a celebration of the human form. It’s not sexual in any way. Traditionally it involves the classical aesthetic of the human body.

A very neat and convenient top 10.

No doubt, there’s a market for all of these subjects, and all of them will attract buyers, in the right context. For example, you’ll only sell local views locally. Try selling your local landmark elsewhere and see how many you sell!

What Type of Art Interests The Public?

Because most articles simply repeat the same list I dug a little deeper and found this interesting survey :

They go on to ask about styles and techniques and this is what they found:

This data is based on a 2022 survey of 30,000 adults of mixed ages and across cultures.

It’s an interesting guide and does support some of the general advice in this article. That said, please don’t interpret it as gospel. Cultural variations do matter and people’s stated preferences are not directly linked to their buying habits. They are two different things.

I know for a fact that it’s harder to sell a pencil drawing than a watercolor painting of comparable merit. The chart suggests otherwise and that is a bias. Appreciation is not the same as a buyers intent.

Selling Tips For Artists

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.

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 ( I recommend Printful.com ), and delivered anywhere in the developed world.

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

A related post: What Are Limited Edition Prints? 12 Things You’ve Got to Know

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 animals check these out:

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.

Get to Grips with your Art business with
Katy on Domestika

business strategy for creatives. How to sell your art online

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.

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 poor?

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.

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 collector’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 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.

I go into more detail here along with a bigger comprehensive size chart: What Size Art Sells Best? Frames and Apertures – FREE Chart

Larger Frame SizesAperture
12″ x 16″8″ x 12″
16″ x 20″ 8″ x 12″
16″ x 20″10″ x 12″
30cm x 40cm(A4) 297mm x 210mm
20″ x 24″ 16″ x 20″
24″ x 34″20″ x 30″
Smaller Frame SizesAperture
6″ x 8″6″ x 4″
7″ x 5″6″ x 4″
10″ x 8″6″ x 4″
10″ x 10″8″ x 8″
10″ x 12″6″ x 8″
10″ x 12″10″ x 8″
11″ x 14″ 10″ x 8″
12″ x 16″8″ x 12″

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 modern 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.

Does Digital Art Sell?

Digital art is rising sharply and it can’t be ignored. It’s disrupting the market, especially so for commercial art and illustration.

Now AI art is competing with digital art and directly competing with skills-based art creation.

Where is this going and how it will impact on the art world is still being debated. There are court cases challenging the AI platforms about copyright and ownership issues. The outcome is unpredictable. Only time will tell.

In the meantime, digital prints are very much in evidence in the mainstream art market. I have only to visit the most successful galleries in my hometown of Brighton (UK) and they have digital art on display.

It is quite apparent that in the digital age, the old hierarchies in art are crumbling and the public are less concerned about the artistic process than once they were.

Results matter more than techniques and traditional skills in the eyes of many buyers.

The Commercial Advantages of Digital Art

There is no doubt in my mind that aspiring digital artists have a distinct advantage in many ways.

  • Wider Audience Reach: Digital art can be easily shared and sold online, reaching a global audience without the limitations of physical location.
  • Lower Production Costs: The absence of physical materials and the ability to produce multiple copies at no extra cost can result in higher profit margins.
  • Quick Turnaround: The efficiency of digital tools allows for quicker production, enabling artists to meet commercial deadlines more easily.
  • Customization: Digital art can be easily customized to meet specific client needs or adapted for various formats and platforms.
  • Licensing Opportunities: Digital files can be licensed for multiple uses, such as in advertising, merchandise, or digital media, providing additional revenue streams.
  • Print-on-Demand: Artists can offer high-quality prints on various mediums (canvas, posters, etc.) without having to maintain inventory.
  • Digital Marketplaces: Platforms like Etsy, Redbubble, and Creative Market offer easy avenues for selling digital art.
  • Social Media Integration: Digital art is easily shareable on social media platforms, providing free marketing and greater visibility.
  • Virtual Galleries and Exhibitions: Artists can showcase their work in virtual settings, reducing the costs associated with physical exhibitions.
  • NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens): Digital art can be tokenized as NFTs, providing a way to prove ownership and authenticity, and potentially fetching high prices. (Don’t bank on it)
  • Instant Transactions: Digital art allows for quick and secure online transactions, making the buying process easier for customers.

These commercial advantages make digital art a lucrative option for artists, offering various avenues for income and a broader scope for creative marketing strategies.

Not only that, they can simulate traditional art forms and as such are indistinguishable in print form.

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

Are Colors In Art Important For Sales?

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.

Key Takeaways:

This is a round-up of the main points in this article.

Popular Art Subjects

  • Traditional landscapes, local scenes, and seascapes are popular.
  • Animals, especially pets, and figurative works also sell well.
  • Art with a distinct focal point and rich colors is preferred.

Market Trends

  • Online sales are rising, and marketing skills can often outweigh artistic quality.
  • The art world is shifting away from traditional galleries.

Research Tips

  • Use social media to research what galleries and interior designers are promoting.
  • Calendars can be a good indicator of what subjects have mass appeal.

Consistent Sellers

  • Traditional Landscapes, Local Scenes, Seascapes, Animals, and Figurative art are consistent sellers.

Art Mediums

  • Oil paintings are the most saleable, followed by acrylic, watercolor, and digital art.

Digital Art

  • Digital art is disrupting the market and offers various commercial advantages like wider reach, lower production costs, and quick turnaround.

Size Matters

  • Large paintings sell for more but less frequently. Smaller art sells more often but for less money.

Commercial Tips

  • Consider selling art in sets or as a series.
  • Being able to adapt your style and subject according to market demand can be beneficial.

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 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

If you like my drawing style and want to do the same thing, these are my drawing tools.

If you are keen to make money selling your art, I’ll show you how.

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

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What kind of art sells best image for Pinterest. Framed print on a bookshelf
The artist and Author Kevin Hayler

Hi, I’m Kevin Hayler
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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