7 Reasons Your Art Doesn't Sell (and what to do) - Adventures with Art (2023)

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It can be disappointing to set up your art store, get excited about the sales pouring in, and just refresh and refresh your page to no avail. Maybe a few sales trickle in eventually, but it’s nothing like you wanted or expected. What’s going on? Are there reasons why your art doesn’t sell? If you’re struggling to get sales for your art, here are some things to keep in mind.

1. Your Customer Base is All Off
2. Your Art Listings and Displays Need Help
3. You Haven’t Teamed Up with Other Artists
4. You’re Selling on the Wrong Platform or in the Wrong Place
5. You Need to Learn Marketing
6. Your Pricing is Wrong
7. Your Heart Isn’t In It

If you aren’t getting sales of your art yet; don’t worry. There are things you can do to change your marketing strategy, revamp some product listings, and catch the eyes of your customers. To be clear, it will take some work and experimentation. Successful businesses aren’t born in a day; no matter what all of those shady internet courses tell you. But, with some time and effort, you can join the big leagues of those other successful businesses.

1. Your Customer Base is All Off

If you can figure out who your customers are and where they hang out, you’ll be well on your way to success.

It’s not just about setting up a booth at the farmer’s market and assuming that there must be some customers around. I mean, people buy things at the farmer’s market, right?

No, it’s about understanding that your customer is a man between the ages of 25 and 45, enjoys playing video games and reading manga on the weekends, and has a budget less than $100. THAT is knowing your customer.

It’s not to say that you won’t ever have a customer who is a 65 year old female who enjoys hiking, but you can’t target both of these populations perfectly and effectively at the same time.

If you do, you risk diluting your artistic voice by trying to please too many people at once.

Once you’re rich and famous, it’s a different story. For now, it’s important to develop a very clear avatar that represents the customer that would buy your work.

Depending on the platform you sell on, this could apply to your entire store, or to individual listings.

For example, I have an Etsy store where I sell mugs, t-shirts, hats, etc. of my work. I know that customers generally find one of my listings after typing in a certain keyword, but rarely scope out my whole store. If they do, I make sure to have my listings are separated into specific sections to make their search easier.

In this case, I make sure that every single listing is geared towards my customer avatar, but not my store overall. This has taken a lot of time and I’m not always great at it. There are times that I get lazy and just throw up a design that hasn’t been properly researched.

Once you’re rich and famous, it’s a different story. For now, it’s important to develop a very clear avatar that represents the customer that would buy your work.

Depending on the platform you sell on, this could apply to your entire store, or to individual listings.

For example, I have an Etsy store where I sell mugs, t-shirts, hats, etc. of my work. I know that customers generally find one of my listings after typing in a certain keyword, but rarely scope out my whole store. If they do, I make sure to have my listings are separated into specific sections to make their search easier.

In this case, I make sure that every single listing is geared towards my customer avatar, but not my store overall. This has taken a lot of time and I’m not always great at it. There are times that I get lazy and just throw up a design that hasn’t been properly researched.

And that’s a part of the problem. Discovering who our customers are is hard work. Discovering where they hang out and how to serve them is even harder.

If you’re worried about pigeon holing yourself by niching down and defining a very specific customer base; don’t be. Whenever I have doubts myself, I like to remind myself of Kevin Kelly’s 1,000 true fans idea (source).

Kelly’s idea is that, if you can get 1,000 people to buy $100 of your work every year, you’ll have a $100,000 business. If you’re just starting out, that might seem like a lot. In reality though, that’s an extremely small fraction of the amount of people within a small town, let alone an entire customer base.

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Check out a book on using the 1,000 true fans idea here on Amazon!

There’s no doubt that there are more than 1,000 men between the ages of 25 and 45 who enjoy playing video games and reading manga on the weekends.

1,000 isn’t a fixed number, but is an easy benchmark to show you what numbers you need in order to make a living from your art. You could decide that you want 2,000 customers spending $50 a year, or 500 spending $200. Those numbers are up to you.

Kelly’s idea is that, if you can get 1,000 people to buy $100 of your work every year, you’ll have a $100,000 business. If you’re just starting out, that might seem like a lot. In reality though, that’s an extremely small fraction of the amount of people within a small town, let alone an entire customer base.

There’s no doubt that there are more than 1,000 men between the ages of 25 and 45 who enjoy playing video games and reading manga on the weekends.

1,000 isn’t a fixed number, but is an easy benchmark to show you what numbers you need in order to make a living from your art. You could decide that you want 2,000 customers spending $50 a year, or 500 spending $200. Those numbers are up to you.

The point is that you don’t need to become as famous as Andy Warhol in order to make a career out of your art. Heck, there are a TON of artists whose names will never be widely known, yet are making very comfortable livings from their work.

Figure out who your 1,000 true fans are, where they hang out, and what they need from your art. If you can do the work to define and refine your audience, you’ll make a big difference in your abilities to land consistent sales.

2. Your Art Listings and Displays Need Help

Your art might be the most beautiful and inventive thing that anyone has ever seen, but if it is displayed in a haphazard way, no one will stop to buy it.

This applies both online and in person.

First, let’s talk about creating awesome product listings online.

How to Create Great Online Product Listings

When creating great online product listings, it’s important to invest in great images, spend time doing keyword research, and write descriptions that pop. There are a lot of products listed online and it’s important to stand out so that your customers stop scrolling and click on your listing.

The first step in creating great product listings is taking amazing photos. I mean, really. It’s a shame to have a beautiful piece of art and then advertise it with a photo that doesn’t do it justice. You NEED your product listing photos to look as good as the art itself.

If you’re not convinced that photos matter, scroll through Amazon or Etsy and be aware of which listings make you pause. Yes, some of the awful images may have tripped you up, but not because you wanted to buy them, but because of the amazement of their awfulness.

It doesn’t take long to realize that good photos of your art really matter.

Luckily, getting good photos isn’t very hard.

If you’re selling prints, mugs, t-shirts, or anything else that is fairly generic (as in, the mug is generic, not the design you put on it), invest in some great mockup photos. These make a HUGE difference.

My absolute favorite place to get mockups is Place It. You can put your design on almost any product you can imagine: prints, mugs, apparel, phone cases, computer cases; I can’t name them all. Along with their insane amount of options, Place It is also VERY high quality.

Their photos are professionally done and will make your products look the best they can be. I’m a long time user of Place It and couldn’t have gotten my Etsy store off the ground without it. To see what they can do, check them out by clicking HERE or on the banner.

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Here’s one of my own designs on a Place It mockup!

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If you’re selling paintings, jewelry, or unique objects that don’t lend themselves to mockups, invest in some equipment that will let you take good pictures of them. Luckily, iPhones are great these days, so no need for a fancy camera. If you don’t have an iPhone, a simple point and shoot camera will do. Your camera matters less than how you set up the scene.

The 3 keys to great product photos:
1. A clean background
2. Good lighting
3. Simple editing abilities

If those seem daunting, I completely understand. But, we’re going to make it as simple as possible. Watch the video and you’ll see how you can achieve great product photos with a plain piece of white paper, an iPhone, and a free photo editor. See, nothing fancy required.

Once you’ve taken your photos, it’s important to set your listing up for success.

Do keyword research with Google, eRank, or Maramalead. Understand what your customers are searching for so that your listings pop up on the first page of listings.

You also want to learn how to write great descriptions. My secret here is to learn from other successful sellers. Read through the descriptions of some of your favorite sellers. What components do they include? How do they hook customers in? Be aware of how their descriptions are tailored to the specific audience they’re targeting.

If you can be more intentional about your product photos, keywords, and descriptions, your listings will be in a much better place to attract customers.

How to Create Great In-Person Displays

If you sell your art in-person, make sure that you spend the time and money to set up a proper display that gives your customers hassle-free access to your art. Make sure that your space is clear of clutter and is purely focused on highlighting your art.

When you sell in-person, think of everything as an advertisement. Keep your old lunch takeout from clear view, get a display that highlights your art without customers needing to fuss with it, and be conscious about creating a delightful and pleasing atmosphere.

This stuff really matters.

Even something as simple as this art rack can do wonders.

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Check out this display rack here on Amazon!

To remind myself of this, I always think back to my experiences with thrift stores. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to save money and walked into a thrift store only to get overwhelmed by sifting through all of the options and ending up at the mall where the pants are organized and labelled in a quick and easy way.

Make it easy for your customers to interact with your art. If you don’t; they’ll move on. If you sell prints or photography, try hanging them in lines so that customers don’t have to shuffle through stacks. If you sell jewelry, get a big table that can fit all of the work you most want to display.

Put yourself in your customers shoes and create a display that you’d want to interact with yourself. Making a great art display could be the difference between customers flocking to your station at the art fair and having them pass you by in favor of another artist.

3. You Haven’t Teamed Up with Other Artists

There is power in numbers and your efforts will reach farther if they’re combined with someone else’s.

These days, connecting with other artists is easier than ever. Pop over to Facebook and join some groups where artists hang out. Find the contact information for artists that share your same style and just send them a message introducing yourself. Make business cards that you can bring with you to craft fairs so that you can easily connect with other artists.

Network, network, network

Once you’ve built a strong friend group of like-minded artists, the possibilities are endless. I mean, you’re artists for goodness sake! Let your creativity run wild.

Highlight each other’s work on Instagram. Write blog posts for each other that give you cross-exposure. Collaborate on a piece of art together that you can sell to both of your audiences.

Joining an army of artists will be a lot more effective than staying on your own island. Reach out and start making some artsy and creative friends.

4. You’re Selling on the Wrong Platform or in the Wrong Place

Products can be sold anywhere and everywhere, but if you figure out where they fit best, you’ll see the most success.

For example, I’ve seen art sell well on Amazon, Etsy, eBay, Redbubble, Zazzle, personal websites, craft fairs, farmer’s markets, street corners, and even grocery stores. There are endless places to sell your art.

But, think about where people go to find the type of art that you sell. For me, I look for handmade art on Etsy and mass-produced art that I need quickly on Amazon. eBay also has a lot of potential, but it doesn’t have the same “handmade vibe” that Etsy has.

Zazzle has always made a name for itself in the art world and Redbubble is really gaining in popularity as well. There are a TON of other sites I could list here including TeePublic, Society6, DeviantArt, and many more. The list goes on and on these days.

And, for in-person sales, the opportunities are even more infinite. School carnivals, local auctions, coffee shops, restaurants, any fair or festival you can imagine, on and on.

And herein lies the problem.

There are SO many places to sell your art that it could be easy to get comfortable with 1 platform or 1 venue and then never branch out to something that could be better.

If your art sales are floundering a bit, ask yourself if there’s a better place you could be selling. What platform or venue could be a better fit than where you are selling now?

Time allowing, it’s also a good idea to sell in multiple places. Here are two reasons why:

1. It will diversify your income. If you only sell on one platform or in one place, you’re taking a lot of risk with your income. What if Etsy changes their rules and you suddenly can’t sell anymore? What if the annual craft fair decides to close? You need to spread your income across a number of platforms so that your whole business doesn’t shut down if one of your platforms or venues disappears.

2. You will learn a lot about your customers and where your art belongs. If you only focus on one platform or venue, you could be ignoring a gold mine somewhere else. Maybe you always sold at the farmer’s market but saw a 200% increase in sales when you sold at the state fair. Well, you just made your efforts way more efficient, increased your profits, and learned important information about who your customers are and where they hang out.

Don’t limit yourself to selling your art in one place. Expand your efforts and you’ll likely expand your income.

Sometimes, this could mean diversifying your product selection as well! I’m a big fan of Printful because they offer a stress-free and hands-off way to sell my art on mugs, apparel, hats, stickers, phone cases, and more.

They do a great job, whether you want to fully revolve your business around their products or simply get a few, fun samples for yourself. It’s completely free to sign up and see how your art looks on any number of products. Check out Printful by clicking here and sign up for a free account today.

5. You Need to Learn Marketing

Just because you’re a great artist doesn’t mean you’re a great marketer. To be clear, you don’t need to be amazing at marketing in order to have a successful art business, but it’s a HUGE help to know the basics.

Even a few short hours of marketing basics can give you the jumpstart you need to make the few tweaks you need to your business to get a few sales rolling in.

If you can mentally bear more than a few hours of learning marketing though, you’ll be better off. Don’t worry; it doesn’t have to be dreadful and awful.

As artists, many of us want to stay in the creative world and want nothing to do with business. But, in fact, business and marketing are REALLY creative endeavors. That’s why they can be so challenging and why artists are actually well suited for them.

Take some time to learn marketing and try to get yourself amped up and excited about it.

Even if you aren’t too jazzed about marketing, I’m sure you love the idea of extra sales and money. Focus on the outcome of the marketing, not the marketing itself, whenever you need a boost of inspiration.

If you want a great foundation in marketing that will not only give you a lot of knowledge, but also keep you entertained, anything by Seth Godin is fantastic. To begin with, I’d suggest his book This Is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See. Seth Godin REALLY knows what he’s talking about when it comes to marketing and this book is a good start.

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Check out Seth Godin’s book on Amazon here!

If you want a deeper dive into marketing, I HIGHLY suggest getting a subscription to Skillshare. They have a ton of business classes and a lot of them are geared directly towards artists. Instead of getting lost in a sea of marketing information, learn the information that artists specifically need to grow a successful business.

I LOVE Skillshare and have used their classes to grow my own business as well as learn new art skills. If you click here or on the banner, you can get a trial of Skillshare absolutely free. That’s more than enough time to refine your marketing skills.

Marketing can be a big issue for artists running their own businesses. Either we have bad marketing systems in place, or we never attempted to market at all. I get it, we’d all rather be creating art. But if we can get over the hurdle of creating a solid marketing plan, our businesses would fare a lot better.

6. Your Pricing is Wrong

Pricing your art can be tricky to figure out. You want to set your prices high enough that you make a profit, but you don’t want to put yourself in a situation where customers can’t afford your work.

One of the trickiest things about pricing is that your customers won’t tell you what the issue is.

Price? Style? Subject matter? What exactly led them to turn elsewhere?

Due to this issue, it’s a good idea if you can come up with some sort of creative way to survey your customers. Maybe you have an email list that would be easy to pick the brains of.

But, if you aren’t sure why your art isn’t selling, pricing could definitely be part of it.

How Do You Price Your Art?

When pricing your art, start off by calculating your costs for materials, marketing, and fees. Next, consider how long it took to create your art. It’s a good idea to set yourself an hourly rate so that the price of your time is easier to calculate.

It can be hard putting a price on art in the first place. It’s a commodity that has a long and interesting history (source). It’s no wonder it’s hard to put a monetary value on. But, you have to deal with money if you want to run a business, so let’s dig into some details about how to price your work.

Overpricing your art can definitely cause issues, so make sure that you aren’t asking for unreasonable amounts. It can be helpful to look at competitors that sell art that’s similar to yours to get an idea of what price art like yours normally goes for. Make sure you look at high quality sellers though. Don’t compare your handmade art with mass produced art.

Underpricing can be an issue too though. Remember that price can indicate value. Not always, but often. You don’t want to sell yourself short, or have customers come to believe it’s low quality.

Here are some tips for hitting the sweet spot for pricing.

1. Calculate your costs.

It seems surprising, but it’s actually easy to forget about some of your expenses and undervalue how much you’ve spent creating a piece of art.

Let’s say you display your art at a craft fair. Here are some costs you could accumulate:

  • Materials for you pieces of artwork
  • Fair fees
  • Display materials
  • Brochures
  • Business cards
  • Bags and wrapping
  • Gas to and from the event
  • Meals while you’re at the event

And there are likely some that I’m missing. If you sell online, you may have fewer costs for physical items, but don’t forget about high seller fees, marketing fees, and the cost of any additional tech equipment you had to buy to run your business. You could also end up with crazy high shipping fees, which can eat your profits really quickly.

When you start to look at EVERYTHING that goes into a piece of artwork, it can be surprising. Sit down and map out every single cost. Keep track of your costs every single month so that you always know where your money is going and what your profit margins are.

2. Determine your hourly rate

It’s really easy to undervalue your time. This can happen completely by accident. Let’s say you calculate your costs and then price your work a bit higher so that you make a profit. Do you know how that profit would be divided up into the actual number of hours you worked on that piece of art.

If you did the math, you might find that you’re paying yourself less than a few dollars an hour. Hopefully not, but it is a common problem that a lot of artists aren’t aware of.

Of course, this changes if your art over and over again via prints, digital downloads, mugs, apparel, etc. This is why I’m a huge fan of reselling your art many times, instead of selling originals.

If you DON’T sell originals, you can price your art lower. If you have a print on demand store through Printful, for example. In this case, your art could sell many many times, which will eventually add up to a good, if not excellent, hourly rate.

If you DO sell originals though, you want to make sure that you’ve determined a healthy profit margin that will account for the amount of time you spent creating your artwork.

Pricing your work will never be easy. It takes a lot of hit and miss, experimentation, and honest number crunching. If you’re just starting out; don’t stress. Pricing WILL get easier overtime and you’ll get more comfortable assigning prices to your work.

7. Your Heart Isn’t In It

As you’ve seen from everything we’ve talked about, selling your art and running a business is no small thing. It takes a lot of time, effort, emotional energy, and sometimes, money.

There’s a way to balance the business side of things and the creative side of things, but what you’ve just done is turn your hobby into business. Whether you’re making money yet or not, it comes with a mindset shift.

It’s really easy for the efforts of a business to squash the creativity of the art. When months go by without sales, it’s easy to lose confidence in your abilities and spend too much time ruminating on your self-doubt. Maybe you get a few bad reviews and you spiral even further.

Be honest with yourself if you really want to be selling your art or not. Some hobbies are meant to stay as hobbies. There’s a nice, relaxing, unencumbered pleasure that comes from creating art for the sake of creating art.

Selling can squash that.

It doesn’t have to, but it’s something to look out for.

If you feel like you just can’t muster the spirit to work on your art business, be honest with yourself if you really want to have a business surrounding your art in the first place.

If you do, figure out why you are lacking motivation and how you can infuse a bit more energy and passion into the business side of things.

If you don’t, that’s ok. Let art be something you love.

Or, you can be like me. I DO sell my art, but I don’t obsess over the business. I know a ton about SEO and all that jazz, so I simply set up a listing and let Google and Etsy work their magic. I don’t stress over reviews and I don’t push my marketing efforts too much.

I’m of the belief that every artist has art worth selling, no matter the skill level, style, or theme. But, this doesn’t mean that everyone should sell their art. If it’s not healthy for you and something you’re relying upon heavily for your income, think seriously about whether you want to turn this hobby of yours into a business.

7 Reasons Your Art Doesn't Sell (and what to do) - Adventures with Art (15)

Diana

Diana has been an artist for over 25 years and has training in drawing, painting, digital drawing and graphic design. Diana’s latest obsession is digitally drawing with Procreate and creating t-shirt designs with Canva. Diana has experience selling her art across a number of platforms and loves helping other artists learn how to make money from their art as well.

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