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10 Ways to Unsuccessfully Market Yourself as an Artist

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how to market your art

Marketing yourself as an artist can often feel like a full-time job. But it doesn’t have to be this way!

If you’ve ever wished for an honest checklist of marketing tactics to avoid, consider it an early Christmas gift. Stop making these common self-promotion mistakes and you will quickly feel the luck turning in your favor.

1. Avoiding self-promotion

It’s typical of artists to shy away from self-promotion. All kinds of reasons bubble up to the surface once you press an artist about the promotional opportunities available online: it’s too complex, they don’t know how to do it, they don’t have the time to do it, they’re worried about someone stealing their work and ideas… The list is endless, take your pick. In truth, many artists are simply put off by the idea of actively promoting themselves and their artwork. So they choose to ignore it.

It must be said that the style and strategy of self-promotion is completely up to the artists themselves. Although the ultimate goal of self-promotion is to increase sales, the promotional strategy should never be that blunt. Self-promotion can be the one thing that makes or breaks your career as an artist, so don’t ignore all the great opportunities lying at your fingertips. If you don’t snatch them, someone else will!

banksy quotation
Even someone as successful as Banksy acknowledges that marketing your art isn’t an easy proposition. | Banksy

2. Promoting your work, but not the philosophy behind it

Why do so many people avoid art galleries? Because art can be (and often is) intimidating. If there’s no behind-the-scenes story to shed light on your creative process and philosophy, people might be wary of engaging with it for the fear of being exposed as “unsophisticated” and “uneducated.” The old myth that only art critics and art dealers can have an opinion about art is still very much alive and thriving.

“People don’t buy ‘what’ you do, they buy ‘why’ you do it.”

Letting people in on the purpose of your work, talking about why you’re doing it, and revealing the reasons driving your creative decisions will make your artwork seem more accessible, and therefore, more appealing. Simon Sinek, a visionary thinker who teaches people how to lead with why, is known for saying, “People don’t buy ‘what’ you do, they buy ‘why’ you do it.” Let your philosophy shine through your marketing messages and don’t be afraid to show your mistakes and missteps; it only makes your art more human.

3. Having a lousy web presence

A vibrant online portfolio or showcase is a crucial part of your brand image, but sadly, it isn’t nearly enough to grab people’s attention these days and stand out from the crowd. A strong web presence means making the most out of all the digital channels that are relevant to your field of expertise. This can include maintaining a thriving Vimeo or YouTube channel, running a diverse blog, actively posting on social media platforms like Pinterest, Facebook, Tumblr, or Instagram, or building an email list of raving fans. Or, ideally, all of the above. Having a strong web presence means you’re just a quick Google search away from your existing and potential fans.

You must understand that people don’t buy or look at art products every day. It’s more of a special occasion kind of thing.

You must understand that people don’t buy or look at art products every day. It’s more of a special occasion kind of thing. Whether it’s a Christmas gift or a little pick-me-up treat, it has to be easily accessible online and capture buyers in the right intent.

4. Signing your artwork with your first name only

Think of every piece you create as a potential marketing tool. If you sign your work with your first name only, it makes it almost impossible for those who like your art to find you. Unless you’re signing under a pseudonym or have a very unusual name, it’s always best to include your full name. A new admirer can simply pop your full name into a Google search and locate your online portfolio almost instantly. However, if you only sign with a common first name like “John” or “Sarah,” it will take a very passionate fan to sift through a pile of search results until they find your website.

Another mistake that artists often make is placing their signature in an area that can be easily cropped. Yes, it’s outrageous to think that someone would do that, but cropping is more common than you’d like to think. Sometimes it happens because an image needs to be resized, sometimes it’s done maliciously. Whatever the reason, you need to be thinking about this when choosing a spot for your signature. Be smart and protect your artwork from copyright thieves.

how to price your art
Consider setting actual prices. If people don’t know how much your art costs, they probably won’t ask.

5. Using poor quality visuals

Many artists make the same boring mistake of using poor quality images to showcase and promote their work. Imagine walking into a physical store and finding used products on a shelf, with a handwritten note explaining that these are only representations of the real products… That wouldn’t get you in the right mood for buying, would it? It cannot be stressed enough that compelling visuals fire up buyer’s imagination and improve conversion rates. Great images elevate and strengthen your visual brand and can help you sell more, so think about what your customers might want to see and learn about the product before they make a purchase and brush up on your product photography skills.

6. Using a cookie-cutter branding strategy

The first thing you want to do when crafting a powerful branding strategy is to make sure your brand voice and visual story are cohesive and unique. Ensure that all your social media channels, your personal website and blog use the same colors, fonts, imagery and messaging, but please, don’t be another artist with a Comic Sans banner on their site. Stay true to your philosophy and creative process and try to funnel that information into your branding. Let your art guide you and you won’t fail.

7. Targeting everyone

You could say that the whole world is your target market. Who doesn’t like art, right? But you couldn’t be more wrong. Art comes in a rainbow of different colors, shapes, textures, sizes, and functionalities. And so do people (well, not exactly, but you get the point). To craft a winning marketing campaign and see your artwork flying off the shelves — even if they’re digital — you must start by defining your target audience. It might be intimidating at first (yes, you’re not a marketer), but the best approach is to look at your past clients — who are they? How did they find you? Why did they buy from you? Once you have all the answers, you can use that information to map out the tools and channels that will enable you to reach a similar audience. If your fans hang out in a particular online forum, an online art shop, or anywhere else — you need to be there and be visible.

If you haven’t had any sales yet, don’t despair. Research artists who are in a similar field and study their strategy. Is there anything that you can borrow and build on? Remember, to succeed you must find people who not only love your art but are happy to pay for it, too.

Presentation matters. Doll these pine cones up in an attractive basket with a bow made from strips of bark and people will pay double.

8. Relying solely on social media

There’s no denying that social media is a powerful tool that allows artists to build and nurture their fanbase. However, relying exclusively on social media channels to gain exposure and attract new buyers is risky, if not irresponsible. Overdoing the self-promotion on social media can damage your brand and shrink your following. Remember, engaging and connecting with your fans should be the number one goal of social media strategy. There’s nothing wrong with sharing a link to your new blog post or updated portfolio, but bombarding fans with one promotional update after another will most likely be seen as spamming.

9. Building your network in the art world only

Let’s be honest. Other artists are unlikely to become your loyal customers. It’s great to have connections in the art world when it comes to forming creative partnerships, being part of important events, or simply surrounding yourself with like-minded people. However, having a bunch of connections outside the art world enables you to call in favors and seek advice when it’s most needed. Rather than spending hours trying to get your head around the basics of SEO, you could seek help from someone in your network that has the right skillset. The more diverse is your network, the further its tentacles can reach.

10. Not paying attention to SEO

SEO is a hot topic right now. Why? Because for thousands of online buyers, if you don’t exist online, you don’t exist at all. And when done right, SEO is basically free advertising. Claiming the top spots in search page results and showing up in the right searches is key to driving enough traffic to your website or creative portfolio. If people are not finding your work online, how will they buy it? SEO is something that takes a lot of work and doesn’t happen overnight, so it’s crucial to have a well planned out content strategy to beat your competition. If you feel like it’s definitely not something you can do yourself, don’t hesitate to hire a freelancer to get it sorted for you.