Rural Artist Market (Curious Monday)

Start local, and then expand.

This is a piece of advice I offer clients who are trying to build an audience for their art. It's much easier to sell your art in an area where you already have connections.

The problem is that this solution doesn't always work for artists who live in rural areas.

Jan Thomas California hills
©Jan Thomas, Shadow Cast. Pastel, 9 x 12 inches. Used with permission.

When you live in a rural area, is your best bet to expand your online following?

I'd love to hear from rural artists who have faced this dilemma.

Please leave a comment below and share your experiences.

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46 thoughts on “Rural Artist Market (Curious Monday)”

  1. I live in a small village in the Norwegian mountains. There are about 500 people here, spread over a larger area. There is no local market for my art, so I focus on the online world for my marketing.

    1. It could be better as far as sales go, but I’m working on that 🙂 I’ve made lots of good connections and I’m building relationships with my target people.

  2. Even though I live in a rural town on the far west coast of Canada, we are lucky to be enough of a tourist destination that I can sell prints and cards at markets during the busy season. I do focus on local, with the long term (more like this year) goal of expanding my reach. Social media is integral to that for sure, but its also cold calling shops and galleries. Also doing things like pro bono illustration/design work for the local chapter of Surfrider, and donating colouring pages to the local magazine (that has a wider distribution) is something I am trying as well… lots of work to get your name out there, but hopefully all will pay off in the longer term.

    1. Claire: I love your work!

      I would love to see you have a gateway for those freebies on your site. They’re worth it! Provide them in exchange for name and email and build that list.

      What do you think?

  3. I live in Rural Georgia. I, along with fellow artists in the area, have faced an uphill battle trying to market our work locally. We have a few galleries and gift shops in area towns but most of the shoppers, both local and visitors, usually purchase lower priced items. A few of us have used on-line marketing of our individual works to gain notoriety and a following with some success. In 2011 I began a co-op organization entitled “Abandoned Rural America” and to date have added 34 other artists, photographers, writers, and musicians, to call attention to the vanishing small farms and changing rural lifestyles through our art with exhibits and educational presentations. It is starting to see merit with several of our “ARA” works at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington DC, regular exhibits in Georgia and Alabama, and a scheduled Autumn 2017 exhibit at the Georgia Agriculture Museum and Historic Village in Tifton, GA.
    Although our shows have had limited sales, they are bringing awareness to our art in the rural community as well as more art aware city dwellers.
    I feel that, since reading Alyson Stanfield’s book “I’d Rather Be In The Studio” several years ago, and before beginning the ARA project, I was encouraged to find new marketing avenues for our rural art.

    1. Peter that is incredibly creative, I love your idea and your ability to combine art with a social concern that hopefully generates not only awareness but sales. You have planted a tiny seed in my brain….

    2. Peter: You’ve done such a great job with this. It’s been fun watching it grow. I really feel that it could be a bigger national movement. (I know Colorado artists working on the same theme.)

      You would also have history venues interested.

      On another note, I worked in the Russell building in the 80s. I don’t remember any art there! Would’ve been great.

  4. I live in the woods. The closest ‘small towns’ to me are each 45 minutes away, in opposite directions, each in one of the counties that our house straddles. Each town has an arts council (I am a member of both) but each has a very, very different approach to how they handle business… and their artists. One of arts councils, however, thanks to nearby money and a reputation as an historical town, has a huge gallery space with an accompanying theater space. That said, they are not exactly ‘artist friendly,’which is to say that when local artists who are not member have events in town they have been asked to leave town.
    The other, less monied, more rural council is massively artist-friendly, offering numerous opportunities for exhibition in local banks, etc. and has opened a co-op where less expensive crafts and art are sold. They also hold a number of events at which artists are invited to share their skills with the public.

    Because town A had to fill space last year, I was invited to hold a retrospective there (60 pieces). But here’s the thing… I’m an abstract artist. Nothing sells. Ever. Anywhere. I had two one-woman shows in bigger small towns nearby but they were social commentary, about CSA. The works had been designed to inform, not to sell. Both openings were exceedingly well attended and that was tremendously gratifying.

    So my joyful work, my passion, shows online and most of my work is sold via word of mouth from people who know me, who have seen my work online and from the online gallery. My biggest sale last year was to a visitor to my home who had come with a friend from Philadelphia, PA and left with 4 mixed-media works!

    The only artist I know out here that makes money is a stained glass artist who does a lot of commercial work that is not local. I don’t care anymore. I’m fortunate that I don’t have to. I’m a long-distance counselor of sorts and my wonderful clients make it possible for me to paint what I want.

    1. Victoria, I face the same. I live in rural Wisconsin just outside Milwaukee. There is one local art council in this area and I am a member – even volunteering to help with their website. But I, too, am an abstract only artist. My work is also very vibrantly colored. This area leans heavily toward more traditional art and the “shabby chic” or “rustic” (and we won’t even discuss Packers, deer hunting, beer or cheese ????). I share my art wherever possible and although received well, it does only sell to a very select few. I also did very well with a private viewing in my home where 3 pieces went to their appreciative forever homes. I’m online in every possible space I can be but sales rarely happen there. I’ve participated in exhibitions in neighboring towns where I thought there would be more if muppets market, but still I think they search for small, inexpensive trinket type items and not big wood fine art pieces. But I never stop creating or loving what I do. (The empty spaces in my house are quickly filling ????) I always look for great venues elsewhere. I’m reading “I’d Rather Be In The Studio” right now and getting great advice here on this blog that will propel me forward. At this time in my life, doing what I love is the most important thing. ❤

  5. For the past 20 years, I’ve lived just outside DC in an area (median income $100,000) where there is a thriving art community and eager patrons. I have been able to do shows successfully and haven’t needed an online presence. We are retiring to a farm in rural Pennsylvania (median income $48,000) in about 12 years. Clearly, online sales is the way to go. I just hate taking pics. Have to twist my own arm and get on with it.

  6. I live and have my collage studio on our 50 acre farm in southern Quebec near the New York border, about an hour’s drive from Montreal. This is an agricultural area, not really touristy, but I have strong local sales which are, in part, driven by my online presence. Social media, blogs, website, e newsletter, help to remind my local buyers that I exist. My website has brought me gallery contracts, but few direct sales from outside my area. The problem for me is that, although the sales are reasonably steady locally, the prices are usually at the lower end. Smaller pieces will sell. The bigger collages are too expensive. I think I need to be physically present in a larger, more affluent market. I have my sights set on showing in Toronto.

    1. Absolutely. I tend to represent the world I see – local landscape and also animals, especially farm animals. In an agricultural region, people will buy portraits of sheep! I am currently working on a major project on rare and endangered breeds of farm animals for which I received substantial government funding. There is a lot of local interest in this project and I look forward to a good turn out when the show opens next year.

  7. I live in a rural area 30 miles from several cities, both big and small. I have my work in a local gallery, which sells my smaller pieces fairly well. This past year have been successful in being accepted around the state in various exhibits Arts Councils sponsor, but not selling anything. My thought was the exposure would generate interest from local galleries, but so far this hasn’t happened. Teaching classes, Facebook and my website helps grow awareness and sales, but I would really like to be represented in several regional galleries, and so far this has eluded me.

  8. I live and work on a 100 acre farm in rural central Kentucky–the “Horse Capital of the World” and home of a lot of equine art! I too am an abstract artist, so I feel your pain Victoria Pendragon.

    Most of my abstract landscape and waterscape sales come from doing small art events in non-traditional venues like spas, soirées, and open houses in the larger nearby cities of Lexington, Louisville and Cincinnati. These cities are an hour drive from where I live. Online sales have been non-existant except for a few notecards and prints to friends. All original works have been sold through direct contact with patrons.

    I have both Facebook and Instagram business pages, an e-commerce website and a monthly e-newsletter that keeps my work going out on a regular basis to friends and patrons. I’m working to build my email list and drive folks to my e-commerce site. If I do not see better sales from my expensive e-commerce website this year, I will abandon it and have a website that is less expensive and time consuming to maintain. I’ll continue to do live events and add more of those to my schedule.

    Thank you Allison for asking this question. I look forward to reading the other comments!

  9. I will brave speaking up for those of us who live in more “suburban” areas, but with traffic challenges making the city over an hour one way…and holding a day job…well….

    I feel like I live in a small town. I truly do live in a small town that is close to a big one. The art community, if it exists, is mostly not online. The single “community” that does exist concentrates on performance arts. I’m fortunate that I stumbled upon the commissioner’s program to exhibit at the local almost-new theatre at the end of this year. 🙂 I am very excited about this!

    Most of my sales are online. Most are to people I know. Little by little, I feel online is the way to go for me. It’s hard to hold a day job AND do all the gallery research, etc. Online has been a lot more fun (no driving in horrifying traffic)…in addition to the live events (2 open studios in 2016 and at the end of the year at the theatre).

    It does matter where you live…but you have to share your work online if you can’t seem to find any local places to show your work. That, or make events for yourself.

    I would love to know…anyone here done a “virtual open art studio event?” If you have, what did you do? This is my current project, because at the moment, my actual studio is closed to the public for the next 2.5 months but I still want to host an event. Perhaps this idea would help those who really are physically far away from “big cities?”

    1. AM: Cynthia Morris did a Periscope video series in her studio. Kinda similar to a virtual open studio. Not sure about the results.

      Please keep me posted on what you come up with it. Very interested.

    2. Angeline; I love your idea of event making… and an online event… what are you thinking to show? and how? Love to hear more when it evolves…

  10. I live in a rural town in Central PA, within a couple hours of Philly, DC and Baltimore. We have a lot of artists in our area, but not many opportunities in the town for artists to sell. Most have been doing shows and art festivals in the larger cities or they sell online. Our downtown is working on revitalizing Main Street and actually partnered with a small group of artists to help us start an Artist Cooperative. We worked for about a year to create a model & business plan and then jumped on a prime store-front on the corner of the town’s busiest intersection as soon as it became available. We opened in October 2015 for a few pop up dates during holiday selling season, renovated the space in three weeks after Christmas and opened regularly the end of January 2016. We have received a great reception both from the artists and community! It’s a two-pronged organization with a retail store and classes, paint nights, etc… for the community, while at the same time working with artists to grow both their art/talents and their business acumen. This year we are focusing on creating a mentorship program where experienced artists will mentor and “apprentice” newer artists. We’re currently at 35 members and growing! {and growing out of our space!} It has been quite an endeavor…an adventure {all members volunteer to help run the organization}…but, we are very pleased. In fact… the community has embraced us so warmly that three more art-related businesses have opened nearby in the past few months! All of the entities are currently working together to create events such as a monthly Art Crawl and one day Artisan Festival.

    If any of you are nearby, please stop in to visit us! And, if you live in Central PA, contact us about membership!

    The FOUNDRY Artist Cooperative
    100 South Main Street, Chambersburg PA 17201

    1. They are! It is our goal to make the Foundry a place where everyone feels comfortable shopping and there are options within all budgets. So, we offer work at all price points, from cute/clever impulse buys to high end {expensive} art… and, people are buying it all. Our classes, paint parties and kids programming are well attended too. There is always room for growth, but we’re pleased with how we’re progressing and how the community is responding.

  11. I live in a small town around the town, there is sugar cane and swamp. Here I am considered an outsider, people are really friendly, but it is not deep. There is one art market per year, to help maintaining a historical cemetery, but the people who go go see the artist they know. For a small town there is a big artist community, who really don’t like to share. For the last ten years, I have tried different things, and it is not really working. New Orleans is close but if you don’t know the right people it is a closed community.

  12. I live in a very rural area, but within 25 miles of a college town. There is a strong arts presence there, if not a lot of buyers. I’m lucky in that I discovered the watercolor society there, which is very active in finding and creating venues that will show our art. In addition, I have joined state, regional and national societies and submit art regularly to those juried shows. I make an effort to attend meetings, etc with a smile on my face and an optimistic attitude. Eventually it will pay off. I need to explore whether my local county is expanding its arts reach. There are some well known artists out here, but most work with state organizations.

  13. If one is going to sell locally, in a rural or semi-rural environment, it is best to understand what the prospective buyers like or don’t like. For example, we have a local state park that acts as a “working class resort” during the summer. Buyers frequently want work that reflects that beautiful and inviting environment. That’s true of both locals and visitors. Also, we have very bad winters, so locals do not want images of snow or rain. They get enough precipitation and cold outside without having mages of it on their walls.

  14. I live in one of the smallest rural counties in Tennessee with a population of 8000. The town I live in is the county seat with a population of 800. Most of our population is under the poverty level. Needless to say I don’t sell much art at all in town. I joined an Art co-op in the next county and I have a website. I have a nice following on my blog. Between Facebook, my website and the co-op, I sell a few art works a year and about the same on each venue. At my studio, I sell mostly notecards and I take a few commissions .

    I rent a studio space and I clear my rent every year but that’s about it

    For all of you who sale on the website, do you post your prices on the site? Or just ask if anyone is interested ,to contact you.. what works best?

  15. I am really interested in this because I live in a big city and want to move to a rural more natural area. I am in several galleries but I make most of my income during open studios and by teaching workshops. I am wondering if there is a happy medium somewhere, maybe a more rural area within an hour or so of a city. I know that community and connections are important but there is also a lot of data about online art market really growing.

  16. Hi Alison, I thought for a moment that you were writing directly to me, when i saw the email title. You see, I’m a rural artist. It’s the tagline I use to describe me and my artwork. “I tell visual stories about rural Australia, specialising in images of shearing sheds”… “rural Australian artist, Christine Porter”…
    If anything I find it easier to be visible in rural Australia. I talk to my city friends and they are competing against not only other artists but other shops. Parking is harder in the cities. There are more people to meet.
    I’ve just come home from an incredibly successful exhibition in a town in the New England area of New South Wales. 120 people to the opening, some who’d travelled for 6 hours to be there. Good sales, that will increase as the show is up for another month. The gallery ( a community based gallery with an employed manager) and I put on a party, I handwrote beautifully printed invitations to all the people I knew. I wrote articles for several magazines including art magazines, lifestyle magazines and local newspapers. We had a great time. My research has shown that 1/3 of all exhibition sales will go to people I’ve personally invited. 1/3 will go to people they’ve sent, and 1/3 will be to people from the gallery list, or walk ins. The time and money to personally invite people to a party cannot be underestimated. It’s not possible to know everyone, but it’s easier in the country.

    Which doesn’t preclude the importance of a web-presence. In 2015 I made studio door sales every single month from people contacting me via the website. My new website is keeping me internet visible. I love what Facebook and instagram are doing for visibilty.

    Mainly I’m still basking in the success of the weekend, my first show in 5 years, 2 years in the planning, 20 years since I first thought of the idea. A lot of fun.

    1. Christine: This sounds lovely! Good work. And I love those figures you gave us. Not at all surprised that personal invitations pay off. I always recommend them.

      I suspect much of your success has to do with your subject matter. Would you say so?

    2. Thankyou Alyson ( sorry about the misspelling of your name in my post). I think that my success has to do with how enthusiastic I am about my work and the journey. People want to be there for it. Some of the sparkle rubs off.
      Yes, I am lucky that sales happen for me, but my work as a limited market – just like abstract or conceptual works does. It’s not that I paint “Australiana” for the market. I paint for ME. Then I take it to the marketplace. I can’t show my work in big contemporary spaces, or apply for grants to do with new work or attempt to win prizes in the cities. So I talk to my friends, they talk to theirs. I’m happy making the artwork, and enthusiastic. That’s what pays off for me.

  17. Lovely. Thanks for sharing your celebrations Christine, and I love that you made it all so personal. It sounds like the love event helps builds your email list. Do you do that others ways as well, and if so, what is most successful for you? Thanks,

  18. I live in a rural/suburban county in GA. I am part of an organization where we coordinate an open studio tour of artists in a tri-county area. It’s a way for our art community to connect to the people in our small towns as well as draw in others from major cities nearby. We hold this tour each year in November and the number of visitors is growing big! This year, we’re encouraging visitors to wear a mask and social distance within the studios, but we’re also going to hold an on-line virtual tour and shop in December. We encourage our artists to collect names and emails of our visitors each year and have compiled a very large email marketing list to stay in touch with tour goers. It’s free and open to the public – and lots of fun for artists, and visitors too!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Suzanne: I’m glad you can accommodate both the in-person and online followers. Sounds like you have it under control.

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Your Artist Mailing List: Rethinking + Assessing

Get a transcript of episode 182 of The Art Biz (Rethinking Mailing Lists for Artists) followed by a 3-page worksheet to evaluate the overall health and usage of the 3 types of artist lists.

Where can we send it? 

To ensure delivery, please triple check your email address.

You’ll also receive my regular news for your art business.

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