Friday, April 27, 2012

The Product is the Thing!

Whenever other artists find out I am selling my artwork online, they want to know the what, where, when, why and how of it all.  At gatherings, they start asking questions, as if there is a three-word magic incantation I can give them, that if repeated will work for them.

I've done several round table discussions and mini-workshops on the process, but it's so little time for such a big subject, and I have a lot to say on the subject.

Soon, I hope to write a book on this topic and make enough money to travel to exotic places, but for now the purpose of this blog is to organize my thoughts and to get feedback.  I'd love to hear if you think my points are helpful or my ideas could be more concise.

This is my one and only disclaimer:

My Nitty-Gritty Nuggets of advice come from my experience and my experience alone.  What else can I write about except what is true for me?

So what qualifies me to write this blog?

- For several years I tried every online marketplace I could find or afford...some that had promise, some well established sites, and some real bozos.
- I've sold everything from vintage items, to quilts, to supplies, to artwork.
- In 2011 I painted 165 small paintings and sold 145 of them, 99% of them sold online.
- I've had an shop for four years and have tried most of the bells and whistles.  Some are winners and some are losers.
- I've scored some great opportunities; interviews, gallery representation, featured artist spots and loyal collectors from selling online.
- I'm able to pay my studio rent each month from my sales, buy my art supplies, and feed my expensive Starbucks habit.  Is this a get-rich fast approach?  No, but I'm not aiming to get rich quickly. My goal is to enjoy my art and my life, and what I make is enough for now.  Maybe you and your product/art will be on the fast-track, who knows?

Let's get started!

You have a product, or so you think.  Your friends and family have all encouraged you to sell this creation, that you're a fabulous artist or knitter, or jeweler, or photographer or bug collector (yes I have seen actual dead bugs for sale in a shop.)  Not sooooooo fast.  You need real-world feedback.  Of course you've all watched the singing competition shows where, when asked the horrible singer says "All my friends tell me I'm great!" Don't get me wrong, support from your family and friends is very precious, but not necessarily an indicator of whether you are going to sell your product or not.

Here are a few starter questions to answer about your product:

- Would I buy it?  There is mind-boggling competition online to get people to part with their dollars.  Don't we all see things in the marketplace that we'd like to have but when it comes to parting with our hard-earned funds we think twice, maybe it's not "ALL that" after all.

- What would I pay for it?  Not to be confused with how much you think it's worth. Reasonably priced is always your best bet. And unless you have a rock star name, a reputation a mile long, and raving feedback from your customers, online buyers are generally not going to part with hundreds of dollars sight-unseen.  There is a price point (what people are willing to pay for your item.) 

- Is it unique?  How are you going to compete with the thousands of artists (excellent and talented...not to mention good, mediocre and downright bad) in the online marketplace?  What sets your product apart, what need does it fill, what emotion does it evoke, what problem does it solve?  What are you really selling???  Let me ask it again..What are you really selling??

My favorite example of "what are you really selling" is an artist named Brian Burt.  He is a well-known and talented artist/daily painter, who also has a blog called "Art 4 Diapers".  Brian sells his work a couple of places online, but what I love about his blog (so much so that I own three of his paintings..all around $15) is his simple request "Buy a painting, and help me provide diapers for my new baby."  Nothing esoteric, nothing gimmicky, just authentic..."I'm a dad providing for my child. Can you help by buying one of my cool paintings?"  And I'm a mother and a grandmother, how could I say no?

In my case, I paint fruits and vegetables primarily, and always tag them as kitchen art, food art, cuisine art (more on tagging down the road.)  No surprise that among my collectors are: a family-owned seed business and a private chef in Maui.  I sell my very small paintings 4 x 4", 5 x 5", and 6 x 6" for $33, $40 and $50/$60 (unframed). 

"Not Easy Being Green"
6 x 6 Pastel on Sanded Paper
Click Here to Purchase Item

What's Next?

Sit down with a pad of paper and a pencil and write about your product.
1. Imagine a friend gave it to you, would you be excited? or ho-hum? 
2. Imagine paying $100 for it, would you feel gypped? or like you bought the deal of the century?
3. Describe your product, technically specific and then as a thing of beauty.
4. Who do you think will buy your product? Be creative...the butcher? the baker? the candlestick-maker? Chefs? Gardeners? Nostalgia lovers? Athletes? and on and on. 
5. What feeling are you selling? (Joy, humor, nostalgia, intimacy, tension, peace)


  1. If anyone has a specific topic/question they would like me to write about just let me know.

  2. Cindy, this is excellent! I am looking forward to the next installment :-)

  3. Great job, Cindy!! That is wonderful on your sales last year! How kind to share your experience.

  4. Excellent idea for a blog Cindy - and I shall feature it in "who's made a mark this week" on Sunday

    My tip for building traffic is to focus on one topic per blog post - I think you maybe had two or three posts in this one! :)

  5. Thank you Katherine for the support, and I will take your advice to heart.

  6. I always like to read what you have to say Cindy! I need all the help I can get in the marketing, sales, business side of art! I would like to retire and supplement my retirement with art sales, but I'm too afraid to do that in this economy! ...or I would need to start a 'please help me buy groceries' blog!

  7. Thanks Beth! I'm sending you a FB message....

  8. This is great, Cindy!
    Love your work. Thank you for sharing your knowledge as well!

  9. Sure am glad Katherine found this, I was going to have to recommend it to her. Very nicely done Cindy.

  10. I'm so excited about your blog, Cindy! I've been waiting for you to spill all of your secrets and here they are. Thank you!

  11. Feedback from people who have tried and tested your product gives your artwork credibility. Selling your items online does not mean you will rely solely on the appearance of the website or the pictures of your sample products. Commendations from other buyers are more viral (and, therefore, more influential) than any other medium of marketing your items.

    Kevin Beamer