Silent Beauty, watercolor painting by Angela Fehr
Seems like every artist is looking online as a sales strategy for their art. As an artist and a graphic designer who has built web sites for artists, I have a front line perspective on the question, “Should an artist have a web site?” and I have a one-word answer.

Maybe.
If you have put time and skill into creating quality art, and if you respect your work enough to ask a price that reflects that time and skill, and if you understand the pros and cons of having an online presence and understand that your results will mirror how much you have invested in the site (and I’m not talking just financially, here), then you may want to consider building a web site and creating an online presence.
Some myths artists believe about marketing art on the internet (and I know because I believed these once too!):
  1. If I build it, they will come. False. Traffic is generated by great content, current content, and hours of hard work. The web is full of sites that were created and receive only a handful of visitors a year – who just as promptly leave to find more interesting, attractive, or current content.
  2. People are dying to buy art online. Only partly true. There seems to be lots of buyers for cheap original art – people who care more about the deal than the product – and there are buyers for collectible art – whatever is hot and spurs a buying frenzy. If you are not willing to cheapen your work by cutting the price (it’s shocking how many artists are willing to sell paintings for a third of their value – is this reflective of poor self-respect or simply misinformation?) and if you are not a well-known artist, you will have to work hard to bring buyers to your site. Additionally, however good your photography is, there is no comparison to viewing art in person, especially if your work is textured or larger than an average computer screen. I get butterflies in my stomach viewing real art in a bricks & mortar gallery, not on a screen in my living room.
  3. I can build and manage my own site. Are you sure? The first site I built was built using Microsoft Publisher. It was cumbersome and enormous, as each image, including the bullets, was saved as a separate file. Back in the days of dial-up, it took a lifetime to upload, and until I become a little more internet-savvy, I had no idea the site I had laboured over was so awful. In addition to knowing how to build a functional web site, it takes many hours of time to promote your site and to research the best methods of bringing traffic to your site. Even if you choose to go with a gallery site especially for artists, you will need to research the best site for your needs, for your budget and for your desired market, and promote your site independently rather than expecting the gallery site to focus on marketing you, among the hundreds or thousands of other artists they represent.
  4. Beware of scams. This is not a myth but I cannot tell you how many emails I have gotten saying something like “I love your art and want to buy three paintings.” Generally the email is not specific about which three they want, and they are located in a different country (frequently in Europe). If it sounds too good to be true, don’t even bother to reply. From my experience, genuine inquiries about art are not quite so quick to commit to buying. The potential buyer will have questions about shipping, framing, payment methods, additional expenses, etc.
If you have been considering getting an online presence for your art, whether through a gallery site, a self-representing web site, or a blog, be prepared to put in a lot of time and patience in seeing results. That said, I have had a web site for seven years, and I would never go back. My next post will tell you why.