What I learned about selling art, by becoming a collector

But first let me tell you what I learned

I’ve always been in the artist’s role myself, and the work I’ve acquired in my life has mostly been through trades and gifts from friends. But deciding to become a collector gave me some incredibly invaluable insight into what to do, and more importantly, what not to do.

Here are 5 things I learned about selling art online, from becoming a collector:

1. Get your website done
When people are open to buying, in fact when they are asking, “hey what do you got for me?” you want to be ready. With so many free and low cost, easy to use, well designed, no-programming-necessary portfolio options out there (like squarespace.com, wix.com, and behance.net), I was surprised by how many people didn’t have a dedicated site for their work. The reasons this is so important is 3-fold.

First, not having a well-considered place for your work to live online makes you look like a novice. This can easily distract collectors from the quality of your work. It gives an impression that you’re not committed — because in this day and age it only take a few hours to hammer out something that looks really professional.

Second, there’s a lot of competition out there, and if it’s hard to look at your work, there are plenty of other people who have easy to view sites that are only a click away. I looked at everyone’s work who posted, and I shifted through their Facebook images, to see what I could find — but most people are not going to do that. In this digital age, you really only have a few seconds to pull someone in and get them interested. If they have to hunt and peck to see your work in the middle of a bunch of shots of your cousin’s wedding — you’re likely to lose them.

Third is that you need a place where all the important information can be easily found. Seeing an interesting image on a Facebook feed might get you intrigued, but before you buy, you’ll want to know what the dimensions of the work are, if it’s framed, or ready to hang. A collector is going to want to know if they can unbox the work and put it on the wall, or if they have to figure out how to get it framed once it arrives. Furthermore, as a collector I wanted to see the work in the context of all the other work that artist was doing. Was this just a one-off elephant painting, or does this piece fit into a larger project? And finally, in addition to information about the actual work, information about you is also important. You don’t need to supply an autobiography, but a short bio CV and any interesting collections that your work is included in, can be important tools in pushing people over the edge to purchase.

2. Good photography is key!
We all know that a piece of art looks different in-person than it does in a photo, and someone who is considering investing their hard-earned money on work they’ve only seen online is going to be relying heavily on the photographs you provide to make their decision. But knowing the role of photography doesn’t make getting good shots of your work any easier. Even, natural light is best. You don’t want shadows, or blow-out shiny spots — nothing to distract from what the work is. And here’s what I didn’t realize until I had some dollars at stake, I wanted not only to see what the face of the work was, I wanted to see the sides and back too. Seeing the whole piece, which means the framing, the depth, the back, and the hanging method were really important to me. Even if you do works on paper, your piece is an object, and a collector is going to want to see all the sides. You don’t necessarily need shots of every angle on your site. But while you’re photographing the front, snap a few pics of the sides and back as well, so when a potential collector asks — you’ll have them ready.

Here’s a photo I got of Lisandro Peña’s Cheetah, giving me a really good idea of the level of detail in the work compared to the size.


The mistake you want to avoid is thinking that once you’ve finished the piece — that your work is done. If you don’t capture high quality photo documentation of your art, it isn’t going to be able to represent you properly online, which is where most people are going to find you. If you do get great shots, then those images can keep working for you even after the piece has left your studio.

3. Size isn’t everything
We don’t all live in mansions, and have unlimited wall space — at least I don’t. But I still want to create a diverse, high-quality collection. What that means for me, is that I am mostly looking for small works. So it was interesting to see that a lot of artists in the group don’t make small works. I like ambition as much as the next person, but if you are trying to cultivate a collector base, it’s important to know that having smaller works available lowers the barrier for entry, not only in price — but also in available space. As I’ve been showing my work over the last 8 years, I’ve seen time and time again, that my smaller drawings find homes much more quickly than the larger ones, and I have received more steady income and interest for small pieces, because they’re more accessible to a larger audience.

4. Don’t seem desperate!
Remember, I’m your ally, and me telling you this is like a good friend pointing out that you have spinach in your teeth (I would want to know!). As makers, the work we produce is, in so many ways, about us. But there are certain things you need to keep out of the communications with potential collectors. I was completely surprised (and not in a good way) by how many people I interacted with who communicated that they hoped I would make my purchase from them soon — because they really needed the money. No matter what the reason is, no one wants to hear that they need to hurry up and hand over the cash. Believe me I understand, and I’ve been there! Our work is meant to bring in income, and we all need to support ourselves. But just don’t bring that element into the conversation. I didn’t judge anyone for one of these comments, but I guarantee others will. When you hear the money you’re considering investing has already been spent in the mind of the person your talking to — it casts a long, dark shadow over the interaction.

5. The interaction isn’t over until the work is delivered
This was really interesting to me. It’s something I knew, but had never experienced from the collector’s side of the equation. The final part of the sale happens when your work arrives with the collector, and the way you ship your work gives you an opportunity to leave a lasting impression. I’ve always invested a lot in packing my work well when I ship it off. But what I didn’t realize is that for the collector — even though you know what you’re getting — it feels like opening the most exciting present. I can’t even express how much fun it was, and how excited I was to open each of the works I purchased. However, one of the parcels I received was so expertly handled, I had to share it. This is what I experienced when Victoria Veedell‘s perfect little painting August Park arrived: