The internet has opened up so many different avenues to sell your art and is now an essential tool for getting discovered, getting inspired, and getting sales.
All these avenues can quickly become overwhelming. Are you tweeting enough? Should you invest in product photography? Where should you display your portfolio?
It can be difficult to remember how artists sold work before the interwebs.
There’s good news though. Traditional, hyper-local art marketing is still relevant. Not only relevant, but imperative if you not only want to sell your work, but create strong connections in your community.
Here are our favorite classic ways to show your art around town (plus real stories from a few artists who have used these methods successfully).
Your local art council is probably the first place you should look for contacts and opportunities. Most cities will have a local art council—a small group that will put on events, manage activities and even host competitions and grants.
The projects you’ll find through your art council are varied. Some councils undertake community projects, while others put out feelers for more large-scale commissions.
Yes, it’s a local scene and does depend on “who you know,” but you’re not competing with every artist out there, so there’s a better chance of being recognized and funded.
Visit the National Endowment for the Arts to find a chapter near you.
>>Story: Ryder Henry Doubles His Sales Via Local Artist Council
Pittsburgh-based artist, Ryder Henry, joined two local organizations, the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council and the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh (AAP). After joining AAP last year, Ryder has been able to double his sales locally.
Fun Fact: The other unique way Ryder markets his art locally is through his custom miniatures. He got the word out about this offering by making models of several notable Pittsburgh buildings and once people saw them they wanted models of their own homes. He created a number of pieces he donated but this has definitely translated into sales for him.
Art Fairs & Festivals
The original Etsy. According to an article in Entrepreneur, the number of artists selling their work at fairs is growing: “Crowds turn out by the thousands to buy paintings, sculptures, woodwork, metalwork, glasswork and jewelry and to meet the artists and craftsmen who make them.”
While the most renowned fairs might not be in your immediate area, keep a lookout for shows happening in your state. Attending local shows is also a great way to keep costs down, as you don’t have to pay travel expenses. Most shows will charge a few hundred dollars for a booth, but you can always team up with another local artist to split the cost.
Going to art fairs requires a certain amount of extroversion that might feel a little scary to some artists. Only go if you love the idea of being on your feet all day and talking to others about your work. Fairs aren’t just about the sales, but the culture of the fair.
>>Story: Kat Rosati Lands a Retail Deal Through Local Market
In January of this year, Kat Rosati started Hello Lovely Clothing Co, a handmade clothing and accessories business. At first, she started selling at local fairs and markets. She’d talk to other vendors and search Facebook to find even more fairs in her area. This eventually lead to her shirts being sold in a shop the next town over.
Rosati says she’s testing the market scene, but it’s the act of building community that’s led to the most interesting opportunities. “The nice thing about the handmade market is that the other makers all seem to be supportive of each other,” Rosati says. “Everyone understands that we all work hard. Everyone appreciates everyone else's hustle.”
Partnering with local businesses is often one of the techniques most artists never think of. But remember, businesses (especially those who are growing and moving into a new office space) need art on their walls and murals in their lobbies and photos of their team.
You might also consider partnering with local interior designers who design office spaces for these businesses. Read our piece on how to collaborate with local designers.
Don’t discount the idea of joining a local networking group, like BNI, that exchanges referrals. And because most artists don’t think to schmooze with the suits, you’ll likely be one of the few creative members. Make some business cards showcasing your work and thank us later :)
Charities & Nonprofits
Partnering with your local charity is a great way to get your work in front of more eyeballs. While not a great money-maker (they are charities, of course), you get your work out there and get some good karma.
You could submit a piece for a fundraiser auction or volunteer during an event. If it’s an art-focused charity you’ll meet a lot of local artists who, in turn, could be a great source of inspiration and referrals.
In a nutshell, the more involved you get, the more opportunities come your way.
>>Story: Amy Ragsdale Combines Community Project With Local Business Marketing
Jewelry designer Amy Ragsdale has created deep roots in her community.
In her hometown of Elkins Park, Ragsdale works with a nonprofit that’s fixing up an historic old train station. On more than one occasion she’s helped support the project by organizing a popup event. She invites artists to sell their work and restaurants to offer refreshments—all to support the project. The venue gets a percentage of the sale, the restaurant gets exposure and the artists get to sell their work and build a client base.
Ragsdale says she loves the old train station and wanted to do anything she could (“including pulling carpet stables out of the wooden floor with pliers”) to help. “I could see that the success of the Elkins Station would only help the future of my business,” she said.
Whether it’s in support of a nonprofit or not, Ragsdale says, “Almost all businesses are willing to listen to and collaborate with client building ideas.”
Ahh, the coffee shop. A classic location to display and sell your work.
The best way to get an “in” at a local coffee shop is simply to visit and take note of which shops hang art and what kind they tend to favor. Tailor your portfolio to each shop and call them (yes, on the phone) to ask who you should speak to about organizing a showing.
Most coffee shops will exhibit art for free and will rotate out the art each month. Some may have a “waiting list,” and the only way to find out is to ask.
And remember, coffee shops aren’t the only place to publicly display your work. Office lobbies, schools, libraries, banks and theatres often host mini exhibitions from local artists and are all brilliant ways to get your art in front of new people.
Boutiques & Galleries
Building relationships with a local art gallery is obviously one of the best ways to get your art seen by other art lovers. These galleries usually have “regulars,” and getting your foot in the door here is a great way to start building not only a following, but a network in your local art scene.
And because most local galleries are small, they’re usually more willing to offer individual artists a private exhibition and advice on the local art market.
>>Story: Tellus Design Partners with SoCal Artists
Jesse Fowler, President of Tellus Design + Build, is opening up it’s doors, free of charge, to local artists. Artists can enjoy a creative and collaborative work and display space in Tellus’ Costa Mesa and West Los Angeles offices.
“Artists can come use our office space as a work area, and subsequently display their pieces for purchase,” says Fowler. “It's a fantastic win/win, as we often find one-of-a-kind pieces to decorate our client projects with.”
Similar to local charities, the schools in your area will likely host their own fundraisers and art fairs, they also feature a lot of art! Many schools will receive separate government funding to create projects with their students.
The same goes for community churches, recreation centers and fire departments.
>>Story: Olga Alexander Exhibits at Local Schools
Olga Alexander is a mixed-media visual artist and jewelry designer behind the Nodes Collection. Due to the high cost of exhibiting nationally, Alexander has taken to showing her work at local galleries or schools. How did she land these shows? “I began contacting universities and nonprofits that had galleries and a budget to support a visiting artist,” she says. “Since they tend to have a built in audience, I felt that they would be receptive to my work.”
Yes, the street. While the laws on selling your work on the street can vary, it’s definitely a creative and hyper-local way to get your work seen. Keep reading to hear how one artist took this technique to the extreme (with much success!).
>>Story: Hunt Ethridge Sets Up Shop on the Streets of Newark
Hunt Ethridge is a small local artist, furniture maker and salvager who makes unique pieces or refurbishes old things to add a new flavor. He’s based in Jersey City where he usually just sells his stuff on Craigslist.
But he’s also literally taken it to the streets—Newark Street, to be exact. It’s a pedestrian street right in downtown. Ethridge loads up a chair, table, lamp, stool and a few other little pieces he’s made and set up a mini living room on the street. He brings a book and a sign and just “chills out and reads”.
When people approach, he tells them what he’s doing and will show them his work. “People think it's really interesting,” he says. “I've sold a few pieces like this and hope to continue doing it!”
Get to know Hunt and his work more by checking out his website.
Your turn: Have you had more luck selling and promoting yourself locally or online? Tell us in the comments!