16 Non-Gallery Sales Avenues from 1 Artist

Note: This article was amended in December 2016 when the “Artist X” decided that it would be better for her new goals to remain anonymous.

Artist X has sold 45 original works of art over the past five or six years – on her own – without participating in art festivals.

X's prices range from $350 to $10000, with an average of about $1800 (it's a guess, she says). Art sales are her sole source of income.

Here's how X has broken down her sales (all notes are hers):

Friends and friends of friends……………….6
Contacts who found me via my website, 2 private and 3 dealers…………..10
An annual one-night group show at a country club (2 one year and 0 the next but a contact I made there bought 2 almost a year later)……………4
Bartered for dental work………….4
Bartered for stay in customer's cabin in Colorado………1
Teaching a workshop (only one, I rarely teach but plan on doing more)…..2
Local (free) media coverage……………………………….2
Small holiday bazaar (I was really surprised by this one!)………………2
eBay (but not enough profit)………………………..2
A costly ad in national art magazine but still cost less than the 50% a gallery would take……………….1
Doing a demo for local art leagues…………..1
A website just for bird art (small commission paid for sale)…………………………1
Small art show at a local state park (first 3 shows no originals sold, 4th year a $4,000 painting)…….1
Showing at a local theater………….1
Plein-air paint outs and plein-air festivals………..5
Facebook, reconnected with old friends…………2
Total originals sold by myself………………45

I've been with quite a few galleries since starting roughly 6 years ago and pulled out of most due to not enough sales or bad business ethics (like not paying for sales without me threatening legal action – contracts really do help!). I am now down to one gallery that is doing well but I really need another good one or two.
Total sales of originals through galleries: 25

The lesson is simple: keep shooting buckshot and keep pushing myself to network, meet, contact and show. It can get discouraging at times, but every now and then I look over my shoulder and see that somehow I have been making it on my art alone for a few years!

I hope you'll learn from X's generous sharing of her sales numbers.

Most artists who want to earn a living from their art can't rely on a single sales stream. You've got to look at multiple streams of income. And, oh yeah, keep track of how the money is coming in! I think you'll be surprised, as X was.

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44 thoughts on “16 Non-Gallery Sales Avenues from 1 Artist”

  1. Thanks for showing this! I shared it on Facebook and hope to hear from my artist friends about stuff they are doing. I believe in doing all the other types of ideas to bring in more sales… and it is fun as I mentioned on FB, too. Good post and much appreciated! You’re the best!

    1. Okay, since I was dealing with tax stuff for 2011 here is my list:
      Facebook – reconnect with sister’s friend – 1
      Plein Air Paint Outs and Festivals – 4
      Solo Show – Friends / Patrons – 24
      Small Art Show at Assoc for my trip to Sedona – 1
      Studio Tour – 3
      Teaching Workshop – 3
      Barter to previous student for easel – 1
      Newsletter – 3
      Galleries – 11
      Total for the year was 39 personal sales and 11 gallery sales – 50 paintings sold

    2. Well done! I think your planning and executing of your show would make for great information. If you ever write about it please let me know! :0) thanks Marsha!

  2. Thanks for this article. Her experience with sales is very much like my experience as well, though there are a couple of things on her list that I have not done yet (magazine ad for example) that I will have to think about….

    1. I just went back over my records for 2011 only and counted 40 original art sales and this was how the sales broke down:
      This does NOT include print sales or royalties from various licensing deals.
      Etsy: 2 (however I got several bigger sales that came about from people finding me on etsy and then coming to my website, but they are not counted under as a sale on Etsy)
      Galleries: 6
      My Website: 5 (people either found my work through Google images / keyword search or else they were directed to my website from another source such as Etsy or Redbubble.com etc.
      Facebook Fan Page: 5 (I post up work in progress photos of just about every piece I make as I am making it. People are very interested in this and I have even sold art before it’s been even finished in this way).
      Various Outdoor Art Fairs / Festivals: 8 (again, you need to do research to make sure you pick the right festival. they are a lot of hard work. And sometimes you do well and sometimes you don’t.)
      Non Art Gallery Shows: 8 (includes cafes, plus venues that have annual art shows/fundraisers, or other buildings being used for other purposes that have rotating art shows but are not an art gallery)
      * I would say you need to be picky with non traditional art venues though as many can be a waste of time).
      Commissions: 6 (the commissions came about by either people saw my work elsehwere in person and wanted something specific, or they saw my work online or were referred to me by their friends who liked my work)

    2. Also I should mention, of the 8 sales at the galleries, four of them were people that I got in touch with the gallery that had found my work online on my website and the specific piece they were interested in buying happened to be at a gallery at the time. So they never actually even saw the work in person at the gallery before buying it and then the gallery shipped it to wherever they lived.

    3. Hi Carol, no problem. I mostly sell giclee prints on Etsy but the two originals I sold on there were small ink pieces at about $135 dollars. However, I have gotten some larger sales from people seeing my work on there: one woman from Canada bought an $800 painting of mine through a gallery in the US for example, after seeing the print on Etsy, then going to my website and seeing the original was available. I have also gotten commissions for originals this same way, as well as a licensing deal with a UK based company that saw my work on Etsy. So, even though I don’t think Etsy is great for trying to sell a very expensive original, I have found it useful in just spreading word about my work since that site gets a lot of traffic. (Also, as a heads up, I started doing better on Etsy once I listed at least 50 items in the store, and worked on my keywords and titles on the listings). Hope this helps!

  3. Great post Alyson, and congrats to Carol McArdie. Laying out the facts in such a simple way is surprisingly uplifting. No smash hit, in some ways mundane, but one collector at a time. It gives me a sense of how special one collector can be.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Michael: Yes! 1 at a time. It shows what a slog it really is. Very few artists sell in bulk.
      I love this: “It gives me a sense of how special one collector can be.” Indeed! Every collector should be highly prized.

    2. I agree, you said it perfectly Michael! I am always reminding myself that I don’t need big numbers of people looking at my art, coming to shows etc. I just need one or two people who connect with my art and are ready to purchase and they are special indeed. Art buyers enable me to keep creating.

  4. The general point that there are any number of ways to sell art is well made.
    I’d be fascinated to see Carol’s view as to the NET profitability of each distribution channel in terms of percentages or just comments eg whether some are better or worse for different types/prices of paintings; whether some incur expenses which may not be obvious but can be significant (eg travel expenses) and which are directly related to the method of sale.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Katherine: I’ll see if I can eke out another post from her. 😉
      I think she’s already thinking along those lines when she posts “not enough profit” next to eBay.

    2. That’s what prompted my comment. That and having investigated a few different options myself.
      There are some which look really good VFM until you start to tot up all the expenses associated with that option

    3. Katherine, you have excellent and challenging questions (for my artist brain) but I will definitely have to do some further analyzing of sales. As a side note I will say that profitability is not my only goal. It will be interesting to figure out some of the facts.

  5. This sounds like a carbon copy of my last couple of years! I would add in though, Art consultants. They have been off and on, but when on, it’s been really good. It’s amazing how just even one sale at one place can add up and bring in one more sale…….etc. 🙂
    I also appreciate that Carol showed no sales for a couple of shows/years, didn’t give up, then sold! Thanks for the encouragement!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Nancy: And sometimes sales came outside the venue and later. Probably the result of staying in touch.

    2. I agree! Some of my sales were just because of this. One lady who had been on my mailing list for years, finally took one of my workshops, them bought my demo painting!

  6. Christine Marek-Matejka

    Nice to hear some honest feedback from artists in the business of selling art! It’s a tough industry! You have to be smart and entrepreneurial and you have to love what you do even when the going gets tough!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Christine: Tough is right. Loving what you do isn’t enough. You have to have a stomach and will of steel.

  7. Andrea D. La Vigne

    I thought this was a very interesting post. One thing that caught my eye was the bartering. I know from experience that, in Texas, where I live, if I barter a painting for some service, it is considered a “sale,” and therefore I have to pay sales tax on the amount bartered (i.e., the value of the service I received). I wonder, is this common, or do I just live in the “wrong” state? I bartered once, and felt a little raw having to pay out cash that I hadn’t really taken in!

    1. I have heard of this issue before. My ex-husband once painted a house and received a car in return. He asked for, and received in cash, the cost of having the title transferred, titles, tags and taxes in addition to the vehicle. He turned around and sold the vehicle again at a profit. But he was always one for that sort of deal making.

  8. I am looking forward to responding to your interesting comments very soon when I get my computer back in a day or two! I only have my phone at the moment. Sorry for bad timing on my part for my computer break down! Have a creative and prosperous day, Carol McArdle

  9. Hey ! Hey!
    Another working class artist making their own way in the art life.
    I am certain there are more artists out in the art world who, are doing their
    own thing. I hope they post their methods and systems
    Thanks Alyson.
    Bob Ragland-NSA

  10. Very interesting comments.
    I life in San Francisco and had a studio across the City. I moved my studio back home recently and am now painting at home since all of our four children have moved out. One of the bedrooms is very small and has windows on three sides. It is great, just the right size for the work I am currently doing.

  11. I live in Costa Rica so selling via the internet and shipping paintings to the US only adds to the overall cost. Any ideas on how to sell work (other than in galleries) while living in a foreign country? Thanks!

  12. bartering in the united states is subject to tax at the amount of the value traded. most bartering is “under the table” and goes unreported.

  13. Pingback: 5-Step Income-Generating Plan for 2013 — Art Biz Blog

  14. Gina Barry Harris

    Thanks for this. I just sold a piece to a friend of friend on Facebook. She saw my work and went to my site and saw something that she had to have. you never know where it will happen so putting it out there wherever you can is more than half the battle!

  15. Artists will discover that being away from the herd , so to speak makes a big difference.
    Art sales can come form many non traditional venues.
    I put some of my shoe box paintings, in a coffee shop across the street from my house,
    long story short, sold 12 works. One never knows. I am an outlaw artist. I do the nontraditional venues, have done so for many years. Paid my house off ,by being non traditional. See me speak of shoebox art on you tube.

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