biz ladiesLife & Business

biz ladies 09: promoting & selling fine art online

by Grace Bonney

today’s biz ladies post comes from nikko moy, owner of ashes & milk, a beautiful online gallery and blog. nikko recently spoke at a forum about making a living beyond traditional brick and mortar galleries and today she’s sharing her advice for promoting and selling fine art online. she’s got some great ideas beyond traditional galleries so be sure to check out her full article after the jump. thanks so much to nikko for sharing this great advice with us!

CLICK HERE for nikko’s full article after the jump!

Last week I took part in my first Artist at Work Forum hosted by the Chicago Artist Resource. The workshop consisted of three Chicago artists and myself where we spoke about sustaining a living beyond the traditional brick and mortar gallery system. During the second part of the event there was a really fun audience discussion including myself and the following artists: Lynn Basa, Lee Tracy, and Chad Kouri.

I promised to post a follow up to my presentation and am delighted to be able to share this information as part the Biz Ladies series. Also, I thought it was rather uncanny that last week’s post was about preparing presentations & proposals. Anyhow, let’s get onto the information!

Ways To Promote + Sell Your Artwork Online

Here is some general information about how to promote and sell your artwork online, along with the pros and cons of each method. While I broke the methods down into 6 categories, they are not limited to these and you’ll notice that there’s quite a bit of intermixing of business models. I think that’s the beauty of being online. There’s room to experiment without too much risk.

Artist Website

The most common way of promoting your work online is through an Artist Website – a portfolio site where you (the artist) can showcase and can sell pieces online.


  • Self representation = 100% sales go directly to artist
  • Complete control over the sales and pricing of artwork as well as the image styling, quality and context
  • Marketing – you directly connect with potential clients


  • You alone as the artist will be generating traffic to your site
  • Responsible for all aspects of website content such as photography and descriptions of artwork
  • Handling of shipping + customer service

Examples of Artist’s Websites

A Few Great Places to start making a Portfolio Website

Online Art Gallery

The second way to sell your work online is to have representation through an Online Art Gallery which is a site that functions very much like a brick and mortar gallery, but solely online. Artists have full representation and their work is curated to fit a targeted niche. For a patron or buyer, it is an easy way to purchase artwork without having to deal with sales agents. For artists, it is a way to display your work and reach out to a broader spectrum of buyers than a traditional brick + mortar gallery.


  • Full representation of work – portfolio is showcased to target a niche
  • Sales, marketing, documentation of artwork, customer service and shipping of artwork is taken care of by the gallery
  • Reaches out to a broader spectrum of buyers than a traditional brick + mortar gallery through integrated: blogs, news, reviews, events + gallery listings, forums


  • Higher % of sales goes to gallery
  • Less control over images of artwork – style, quality and context
  • Marketing – less connected potential patrons or buyers

Examples of Online Galleries

Brick and Mortar Galleries

I wanted to include Brick & Mortar Galleries even though they will not be the best way to sell your art online. The downside to traditional brick and mortar galleries is that they use their websites to promote their exhibitions online rather than selling artwork. That said, the benefits of gallery representation makes them still worth pursuing.


  • Sales, marketing, documentation of artwork, customer service and shipping of artwork is taken care of by the gallery
  • Body of work is showcased within a physical space


  • Difficult to get artist representation + tend to be exclusive
  • Not designed to sell artwork online = range of buyers is limited to art enthusiasts
  • Higher % of sales goes to gallery

Examples of Brick and Mortar Galleries

Online Boutiques

Online Boutiques are a great example of mixed-use spaces and intermixed business models. They can be online only or also have a brick and mortar storefront. Along with selling other products they will host art exhibitions + sell that work directly online.


  • The upside to online boutiques is that they can reach out to off and online buyers
  • Marketing, pricing and displaying of artwork, customer service and shipping of artwork assistance
  • Reaches out to a broader spectrum of buyers than a traditional brick + mortar gallery through integrated: blogs, news, reviews, events + gallery listings, forums


  • Higher % of sales goes to gallery
  • Less control over images of artwork – style, quality and context
  • Marketing – less connection with patrons or buyers

Examples of Online Boutiques

Amazon Model E-commerce Sites

A website where any individual artist and gallery can list artwork for sale. Etsy is an amazing example of a site that uses the Amazon model. They have a well-built site that is user friendly with integrated social networking and marketing techniques.


  • An easy platform to showcase and offer your work for sale.
  • Maintain control over: sales and pricing, images of artwork (style, quality and context) and descriptions of artwork


  • Commission or fees are taken on the sale of artworks
  • Transactions are handled by a 3rd party for a nominal fee
  • May loose control over:
  • Images of artwork – style, quality and context
  • Marketing – how you connect with potential clients
  • The main problem with such online sites is that people can get lost among the overwhelming number of art listed on these sites

NOTE: I observed that a majority of the successful artists on Etsy market themselves through external websites and blogs where they have built a community and created a niche for themselves.

Examples of Amazon Model E-Commerce Sites

Art + Design Blogs

Due to their long reach and focus on products that can be bought, art and design blogs are an amazing way to network and market your artwork. Since there are thousands of art and design blogs, you’ll need to focus on the ones that feature similar products or artwork as your own. Look for blogs that update regularly, have unique content and an active following.

This is a great blog post written by design bloggers about how to get published on their blogs.


  • Efficient method to network + display your work to new audiences
  • Connects sellers to buyers
  • Makes the way things are sold and bought more personal


  • Content can move too quickly and be reliant on other blogs
  • Articles about your work can be inconsistent
  • Lost in the shuffle

Examples of Art + Design Blogs

Art Social Networking Sites

The last way to promote your work is through Art Social Networking Sites, which are similar to Facebook.com or Myspace.com. These sites allow you to upload your portfolio and become friends with other artists who have similar aesethics as yourself. Don’t expect to sell much on these sites as they are primarily populated by artists. Instead use them to grow your network and find new places to sell or showcase your work.


  • Easy way to showcase portfolio
  • Generates a sense of community as well as provides a platform for communication primarily between artists


  • Selling your work directly from these sites can be few + far between as they are focused on networking artists with other artists + not so much on reaching out to patrons
  • You alone will be generating traffic to your portfolio

Examples of Art Social Networking Sites


Explore all ways of promoting and selling your work online to see what fits you and your work. It doesn’t hurt to get involved in as many as these sites as possible and reach out to as many people as you can.

One final note: By putting your work online, you will receive criticism. While most people are going to be supportive and give you positive feedback, we all know about the nonconstructive comments anonymous people can make on the internet. Don’t let things like that bring you down. Remember that when people do respond to your work you have succeeded to move them into a place where they cannot help but to express something positive or negative about it. I think that’s an affirmation that you are doing something right. Also remember that nothing comes without placing yourself in the public sphere and opening yourself to feedback.

Suggested For You


  • This is a fabulous article! My partner and I have been developing a online-based website creator just for artists at getpatron.com. I hope that more artists will see all the opportunities out there to make a living with their work. Great job!

  • This is an excellent list of resources! I can’t stress enough how important it is for artists to have a website of their own, even if they’re not selling on it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen an artist in a brick and mortar gallery that I’ve wanted to feature on Perfect Laughter, but Google turned up nothing. Even a simple page that directs to a Flickr account would help art and design bloggers spread the word about your work.

  • Interesting article, Nikko. I’m wondering one important aspect of art sales–relationships. A brick & mortar gallery earns its 50% markup (typically art sold in gallery goes for twice what it does from artist’s studio) via its relationship with key collectors and museum curators (the latter is important for helping to drive the price of an artist’s work). How do you build these kinds of relationships online?

  • One aspect that wasn’t touched upon that I think might be useful to artists trying to build an audience is to produce a newsletter, Mailchimp is a free marketing tool which lets you create beautiful emails and also tells you exactly who opened your email. Weebly is a free website creation tool which allows you to create a professional image for no bucks and also get an idea of what it takes to maintain a website. I hope that’s helpful.

  • Heyya Nikko,

    I work at BrooklynArtProject.com. I just wanted to clarify that at BrooklynArtProject.com we actually do actively generate traffic to our artists.

    Particularly our featured artists at the moment, but we’re systematizing a broader way to promote the whole of the community.

    Just wanted to put that out there. Thanks for the great post!

  • I don’t know…
    I must say that I know of many online galleries promoting artists work, but it’s very often that they represent artists of very uneven qualities. You might miss out on exhibitions in a good gallery if they find out you’ve been selling your art in the wrong context.

  • This is a great resource for the artist/business owner. I’ll be sharing on Facebook!

    Consider also 10,000 Markets. It is a website that works similar to etsy. High-quality pics of your work must be submitted and approved before you can get in. Another potential avenue, esp. if you work isn’t doing well on etsy.

  • Thanks so much for this article. I’m making a point to go back and read all of the Biz Ladies articles – what a fantastic resource! Thanks for doing this!

  • Hi
    I feel like I could of written this article myself…not that it was bad, I feel it was great. I have about 3 sites with my art on them so I truly agree with what the writter was saying. I like the previous posting said, “I’m making a point to go back and read all the Biz Ladies articles..” I plan on the same thing.But Like I said I am an artist and the ones of you that are, don’t give up, with this economy I have tried giving up many times but I stop myself and say, “this is your life and you know you can paint and so keep showing others the same thing”…so I do. My next plan of attack is trying to get my name out there for Home Staging because I know I can make money doing that! You can make money with art but…and heres the but…no one is buying art when they need to buy food or pay a bill…that is something I have to stop and remember…Art is a pleasure and it’s not a must have..unless you have money and have nothing to do with it.

    Donna Mc

  • Thank you for the article, I have been having a hard go on Etsy with my sculptural paitings and feel as if I have just had a critique worth exploring. Hugely helpful!! I’m off to blog about it!!

  • As an artist, I think something else that is important in promoting your artwork is entering it into juried expositions. Many times these shows will put up images and names on their websites of the the artists who got into the show. This is really good to put back on your own personal blog, website and of course resume!

  • Great post. I used to be checking continuously this blog and I am inspired!
    Very helpful information specially the last part :) I care for such information much.
    I used to be looking for this particular information
    for a very long time. Thanks and best of luck.

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