March 24, 2016 | Alyson Stanfield

List-Building Tactics For Artists Who Want To Increase Their Followers

Your email list is a means for nurturing trust, for building relationships, and, if you teach, for demonstrating your knowledge.

Your list is, as I’ve often said, your most important asset. It’s unique to you, your art, and your goals. No one has the same list of names and email addresses.

Drawing of rabbit and bird by Terri Myers Wentzka
©Terri Myers Wentzka, Shrimp Lo Mein. Charcoal and graphite on paper, 15 x 22 inches. Used with permission.

For more than 10 years, I relied on good content to build my list. I thought, correctly, that if I just share good stuff, word will get around and more people would subscribe. They did!

But I missed out on helping even more artists because I wasn’t proactively adding names to my list as often as I could have been.

I am more convinced than ever that we need to use as many avenues as possible to build our lists. Not quantity for quantity’s sake, but seeking the highest quality of loyal subscribers.


Online Ask

From time to time, ask people who follow you to sign up. Don’t beg, just ask. You can use the ask in combination with any giveaways mentioned below.

In-Person Ask

If you’re out networking, as you should be, don’t be afraid to ask people that seem interested if they’d like to be on your list.


Speaking is related to the In-Person Ask and Sign-Up Forms, but it must be a category by itself because it’s a powerful way to build your list.

If you shine in front of a crowd, you probably have a lot of people in the room that would be thrilled to hear from you again. Catch ‘em while you can!

Sign-Up Forms

Of course you have an easy-to-find Web form on your site, preferably on every page (or, as you’ll see, as a pop-up). But you also need the ability to gather email addresses when you have an audience.

Pass around a form in the audience whenever you speak. Leave out a guest notebook or individual comment cards at your exhibition or event. Be sure there’s a checkbox to sign up for your list, and that it’s clear they know what they are signing up for.

Watercolor of owl eggs by Terri Myers Wentzka
©Terri Myers Wentzka, Owl Eggs, Day. Watercolor on arches, 10.5 x 7.75 inches. Used with permission.

Pop-Up Forms

You know what I’m talking about here: those annoying boxes that cover up your screen just as you’re getting interested in a site. You’re being asked to enter your name and email address in return for the promise of a freebie or newsletter.

Yes, we’re all irritated by them, but there’s a reason they are ubiquitous online. It’s because they work!

Stop holding out and add a pop-up form until the studies show different results. Your pop-up form might mention a freebie offer if you have one. Keep reading for more on that.


Stellar Content

People who learn from your wicked-smart insights are inspired by your message or images, or giggle at your humor are more likely to share your email.

I open every single email from artist Anne Bossert because she has a terrific sense of humor. Inevitably, it will be a smile break in a busy day.

Building a list by creating great content is how my list grew over the years. It’s still my favorite way to build a list because it attracts followers that are more likely to be loyal for the long term.

Don’t wait until you have more people on your list to start sharing your content. You won’t get more people until you take a big step and commit to the content.


A freebie is something you give away in exchange for someone’s email address. I know of numerous artists who offer high-resolution downloads as their freebies in order to appeal more to collectors than other artists, but I have no evidence that this increases sign-up numbers.

Brad Blackman offers a different twist in his free report, The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Art Shows, which is geared more to buyers.

I think freebies work better for teachers, so I’ve shared a whole section on them below.

Freebies For Teachers

It’s easier for teachers to identify possible freebies than for artists who don’t teach. When you want to attract students to your list, give away information that is carefully crafted to show off your knowledge on a particular subject.

Of course, the information isn’t actually free. It will cost an email address before people can download your freebie.

Consider any of the following giveaways if you teach.


Develop a test, based on the subject you’re teaching, which potential students can use to see how they stack up against other artists.

After the assessment is downloaded, people might be led to a video in which you can walk them through their results.


Checklists can be quickly digested and are forever useful.

Their brilliance is that they consist of only the basic elements. Potential students must enroll in your program to find out how to make the best use of items on the list.

By example, I offer a Cheat Sheet for Marketing Tasks (see the bottom of the post).

Painting of rabbit near boulders by Shirl Ireland
©Shirl Ireland, Close to Home. Oil on linen, 20 x 30 inches. Used with permission.

Special Reports & E-Books

Reports and e-books might take a checklist as the basis, and then go more into depth. While a report might be 5-10 pages in length, we would expect an e-book to be longer. And longer isn’t always better.

Consider pulling together a special report on a single aspect of your teaching – one that plays only a small role in your program.

Webinars, Teleseminars, Live Streaming

Teleseminars deliver content via audio over a phone line, whereas webinars usually include visual images (slides). Live streaming is you teaching in front of a webcam with an audience watching in real time.

Create a 1-hour content-rich virtual event and promote the heck out of it online. In the best of all worlds, this will not only build your list, but also lead to more enrollments for your program.

Warning: These aren’t for amateurs. You can do a lot of work that leads to nowhere if you haven’t studied the secret sauce for the process.


You’ve seen telesummits offered online and have probably participated in one. One or two people enlist 10 or 15 others to interview over the course of a week or two.

Presumably, everyone participating builds their lists. The catch is that they all have to send multiple emails to their lists. (This is why I rarely participate in these events. I am too protective of the people on my list.)

Telesummits are crazy popular these days – too popular, I’d say. Like webinars or teleseminars, they require loads of planning and reliable infrastructure to pull off properly.

Your Turn

How are you building your list?

51 comments add a comment
  • Good golly, thank you for the shout out, Alyson!

  • If you use AWeber, take advantage of their Atom App. When you’re at an event like an art show, you can ask people to subscribe to your list right there on your phone, and they won’t need to confirm their subscription.

  • Excellent article as always Alyson. It has taken me almost a year to gain just 60 sign ups and I know now I have to diversify and use every opportunity to add to this. From what you say I assume giving away some sort of ‘freebie’ is essential to boost numbers.

    I have your book by the way, reading through for a third time now.

  • Excellent ideas, Alyson! Yes, Mailchimp has a similar app called Chimpadedoo I think. I use it all the time and like how I can style the form to fit my art biz.

  • Robert Mirza

    Thanks, Alyson! First time I really have time to sit down and read and digest your article 100%, since I hurt my hip joint and I am forced to slow down. Your contribution to fine artists to know how to use the Internet to promote their art is just outstanding! I am a foreign language teacher and Graphic Designer turned into a Fine Artist and Art Teacher.
    Placing my art in generic sites, sharing my art with other artists doesn’t work unless I did the logical thing of designing an impressive business card, hoping that somehow, some day, I would sell. That hope materialized as all artist’s “come true dream.” Selling for the exact price you ask for, and even more! My secret was to write online what motivated me to create my art, even if I had to talk about some sensitive issues, like justice for the native indians and such, and dare to create a “protest painting” as opposed to something cute and only decorative. Once you find your mental match, if we talk about principles and philosophy, you found your best collector!

  • Sara

    I do the “in person ask” thing a lot. My mom, who acts as my manager, also urges people to sign up for my e-mail list sometimes.

  • Thanks so much as always, Alyson.

    I’m working on growing my email list for my book, The Power of Creativity, coming out in the summer. So many things to do to market it. I’m excited at the prospect of people getting something from the book – it feels like an offering to me, and I’m going to try to get it out there as best I can.

  • Such an important subject! As someone who you interviewed on the subject of email marketing and who has written a 160 page e-course about email marketing created for artists only, I have to jump in. (So what else is new? Right?)

    One other really important possible lure that really works is offering a coupon good for … you name it. It could be a coupon for half off shipping up to a certain size item or even free shipping on sales over a certain amount. For those who have items other than fine art they are selling, it could be a coupon offer of a discount on the item itself. (Being careful here: I never recommend discounts on fine art, but a set of porcelain mugs or a pair of earrings is expected to go on sale once in a while.)

    This is a win/win! If someone has been “browsing” your collection on line or in person at an event, they will love that offer and it could be the push they need to purchase. So this often creates a sale AND a new subscriber all in one fell swoop!

    And asking for someone to join is just like asking for any sale: just do it. ALWAYS give them the “benefits”. State something like, “I send out very occasional emails, but it’s how I let my collectors know about my career, my events, subscriber only promotions, and other studio news.”

    Lastly: don’t try to get too much DNA – first name (must have that!) and email address it plenty!

    PS: Constant Contact has an app for mobile sign-ups, too as well as many sign-up tools to use like creating QR codes, etc.
    PPS: I have taught on this exact subject and I have a white paper I can share called “25 ways to grow your email list”Happy to send that to anyone that might want it. No strings attached! They don’t even need to signup for my list – LOL!

  • I have a direct link to my newsletter on any online presence I have and it is allowed (will add pop-up soon)

    Lately I’ve been connecting with people on Periscope and I had mentioned on the chats that my profile has a link to my newsletter. I casually talk about it, no pressure and it is great to hear others mentioning they love reading it every month, then people get curious; that’s how I had gained new followers lately and seeing some sales out of it too!

    In person I also casually talk about it, even ask people for ideas about topics for the upcoming months. One new idea I had, adding a short promotion of a friend’s business, it helps to spread the word, they love the idea, and I’m helping my friends and get more content – I try to match the topic with the business too.

  • I would love that white paper McKenna. I read everyones comments as well as the article and I am changing my mindset. “What have I done today to increase my list”. Thanks all

  • I have more branches on my business tree than the art, so I currently have two freebies. A set of 7 printable postcards with my art + a template to make your own for the art site, and free mandala coloring pages for the main site.

  • Good timing! I was just completing my homework for our upcoming business review and had come to the realization that I need to convert my many social media followers into email subscribers! Thanks for the suggestions.

  • The most effective thing I’ve done so far to increase my list is guest-posting with a freebie sign-up link included. I plan to do a lot more of this as previously I was finding it very hard to get new traffic to my site.
    I’m still in two minds about a pop-up. I currently have it on just one of my pages as a test..

  • Linda Mae Olszanski

    Your wonderful suggestions under “Freebies for Teachers” has been an enormous help and has provided clarity for me to make decisions on moving forward. I’m in the initial development and planning stages of starting a new business. My intended product and service is education and teaching, in particular I’d like to help artists and creative individuals develop or improve their online instruction. There are some wonderful new technologies and tools to create effective and engaging online instruction from learning management systems and increasing engagement to transforming in-person instruction to online instruction – thus an additional and perhaps significant source of income for artist.

    I’m currently working “behind the scenes” creating the webpage, a blog, and online workshops. And I’ve been struggling with the issue of – how and what to blog about or offer subscribers without directly giving away my product or services. As an educator how would I create a sustainable business?

    So thanks for those great suggestions. I think those will work well for me.

    Lastly, I couldn’t sleep last night so I started reading Content Rules by Ann Handley, which I can highly recommend.

  • Very timely post! I have been reading a great deal about the importance of building one’s e-mail list. Social media contacts are great, but can disappear if the app disappears or changes the rules. My problem is getting my Facebook followers to click on the link to sign up. I guess they figure they see my updates on Facebook, why bother to be on an e-mail list too. Planning to try a contest next, offering a free print to one lucky winner from all those joining my e-mail within a prescribed time period. Thinking about a blog also . Can anyone suggest where to host a blog?

    • Host the blog on your website, Susan, using

      Maybe you should give your list something besides what they see on FB – or at least give them first crack at seeing it.

  • I started sending a newsletter a few years ago. slowly I start with one every 3 month and now, one each month. I write about what I do in my studio, I remind three posts from my blog, I sometimes talk about something from my archive that is still interesting and also about my shop.

    I usually had a goodies made with illustrations from old books. people really like it. I have many subscribers now and I add myself people I think will enjoy my newsletter. no one unsubscribe yet. I think it is a good sign.

    I use mailchimp, it’s really easy to use.

    • Guylaine: I certainly wouldn’t add people without their permission. At least in the US and Canada, this is illegal and you might risk making people mad. Just ask them.

  • I like how you challenge the norms. I too always see the pop up window to sign up to an email as very annoying. I suppose they may work I do see them a lot as you pointed out.

  • Amy Chan

    Dear Alyson,
    I feel ashamed because I’m not savvy with the computer and other things related to selling myself. I am so behind…….. I don’t even have a blog, website or a subscription button, but I do occassionally post on facebook to tell friends what I’m up to, and have sold some works that way. My brain is not capable of juggling too well, as I have a husband who’s suffering from bi-polar disorder. It had been a fight for him even to stay alive, so things haven’t been easy, especially after our move to Perth. My goal for this year is baby step towards an art career. This idea came about more because I haven’t found work after trying for months. I felt brave to take this first step.

    • Amy: I don’t mean to make you feel ashamed. One step at a time is all you need to do. Start with the website or blog and come back here often for details. Prioritize all of the things there are to do because you can’t possibly do them all at once.

  • Brad Blackman

    Wow. Thanks for sending people my way. I appreciate the bump! I actually took some of my best/favorite blog posts and combined them into an ebook and made that my freebie.

  • Pamela Neswald

    I have a question. What type of frequency do you recommend for “occasional” emails? I’m sending them out about quarterly but thinking about increasing that. I don’t want people dropping off my list.

    As far as what I do to get emails, I have some people who stayed with me from when I had a retail store and I invite people one-on-one, particularly if they’re buying or considering a purchase. Perhaps I should ask more on Facebook, where I’m active. I’m hesitant to be seen as pushy.

  • Thanks for all the list of ideas to increase my sign up followers. Increasing quality blog content, combining content into lists or small article give aways, these ideas are now at the top of my mind when researching and writing my next blog. I won’t feel so stressed putting the time in to help my costumers benifit.

  • Tussi

    I feel like Amy Chan, so far behind with technology and not set up but desperate to start now. After years of feeling held back I feel ready to get on with it, though still forming ideas but lack of technology is a massive draw back. Any tips? What to do? How to get started? Any appreciated. Thank you.

  • Anita Morris

    My list is non-existent. I struggle to post once a week on my blog. Although I’m pleased to say I have only missed one post this week. I’m trying to find a point of difference between my blog and newsletter. I can’t write about straight art topics twice a week. I’ve got a bar for sign ups and a pop-up.

  • Hi , 

    At the same time as reading this blog I was reading a blog about “Building a peer network to increase your social reach” and thought about how great it would be to have a network of other artists in the same position as me to bounce ideas off and share work around.

    I have been to uni for a couple of years in preparation for putting my art online – which really just scratched the surface of what we need to know to get art out there and seriously survive online. So if anyone is interested in maybe starting some sort of group where we can all join each others mailing lists and give feedback.Then I would be thrilled to hear from you

    Just in case you are interested my website address is 

    I have written a couple of blogs..the most relevant one being  
    Kind regards
    Mandy Evans

    ps.   Its probably a bit pre-emptive, but Im thinking on google+ because as a social network I cant work it out at all and need help there – and if you aren’t on it then apparently you should be because it affects your search results (sorry….I read a lot of blogs)

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