Do I need an online selling platform?

12

Dear Artist,

This morning I received another invitation to list my work on a high end home furnishings, art and decor selling platform. The email boasts that the site receives 4.5 million U.S. visitors per month, has 30,000 registered designers and most importantly, that “art” is one of their top search words. Their terms: 70% of the sale price goes to the artist, the artist sets the pricing, and there’s no fee to list. The site is curated, so your work must go through their curatorial team before it’s approved to sell.

as it So Happens, 2015 Oil on board 36 x 48 inches by Angie Renfro

as it So Happens, 2015
Oil on panel
36 x 48 inches
by Angie Renfro

If you’re a part of the gallery system like me, this is probably not an appropriate route. If you’re not, and looking for ways to reach collectors, it might be of interest. Perhaps you’ve already received the invitation, too. Before we go further, what kind of artist needs such a sales partner? Here are a few ideas:

Are you working with a gallery, and are they currently listing your work on an online platform? If so, you might consider honouring them by leaving them to it. Most platforms are costly (and curated) and galleries stick their necks out to put you there, along with their branding and infrastructure, advertising and support material.

The Differences Remain, 2015 Oil on panel 32 x 48 inches by Angie Renfro

The Differences Remain, 2015
Oil on panel
32 x 48 inches
by Angie Renfro

Are you working outside the gallery system and looking for more online exposure, including access to the design trade?

Is your work contemporary? (This particular platform says it focuses on contemporary artwork.)

Do you have a reasonable amount of inventory available and are you currently working steadily to produce more?

Are you willing to photograph your work, hold it in your studio, and pack it and ship it when it sells?

Are you willing to offer your work at a discount to the design trade?

What are the drawbacks of listing on an online platform? Have a good look at the site in question. It’s time for the essentials, again:

The Rest We Left, 2014 Oil on panel 30 x 40 inches by Angie Renfro

The Rest We Left, 2014
Oil on panel
30 x 40 inches
by Angie Renfro

What are my goals for my art?
What kind of work am I trying to make?
Is my work original?
Am I prepared to produce for the marketplace?
Have I drafted a fair and universal price list?
Is the quality of my practice consistent and professional?
Do I have excellent images?
Can I pivot from here to a gallery should the opportunity arise?

Submitting your work to a curatorial team on a furnishings, art and decor platform, at worst, can be a test of your appeal to a mass contemporary design market. In other ways, it can be part of the same prep as for submitting to a commercial gallery: an original, developed and archival body of work, professional images, and well-prepared support materials. At worst, you may find out your work’s not popping in the mainstream; or your practice, not ready. At best, you could find your audience and be off to the races — without ever leaving the studio. “Beyond the age of information,” wrote Charles Eames, “is the age of choices.”

Carrots, 2017 Oil on panel 10 x 18 inches by Angie Renfro

Carrots, 2017
Oil on panel
10 x 18 inches
by Angie Renfro

Sincerely,

Sara

PS: “A good basic selling idea, involvement and relevancy, of course, are as important as ever, but in the advertising din of today, unless you make yourself noticed and believed, you ain’t got nothin’.” (Leo Burnett)

Esoterica: This letter is not an advertisement. I am not endorsing or partnered with any online sales platforms. Instead, I sincerely hope that sharing this information with you here, can be helpful to those of you who are interested. Here is the “seller’s guide” that was attached to the email invitation I received this morning — it will at least give you an idea of their process. My guess is that you can log in to the site and register as a seller and let the curatorial team decide if you’re a go. It could be worth a try. If you do, or if you’re already working with Chairish, I’d appreciate it if you’d share how you‘re making out, in the comments, below. “I love the healthy exchange of information.” (Brice Marden)

The Next Chapter, 2016 Oil on panel 18 x 36 inches by Angie Renfro

The Next Chapter, 2016
Oil on panel
18 x 36 inches
by Angie Renfro

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12 Comments

  1. I have been approached by a few art licensing companies, it seems just as daunting to me as trying to get into galleries. I produce a lot of pretty commercial-like work and I do think it would sell well in that type of market. I just worry about the rights slipping from me and I die alone and penniless like so many other artists!

  2. I have tried these types of platforms. What I have found is that customer must wade through a lot of online photos to see what they want. Often you are lost amongst thousands of other works. Chances of selling are nil. It looks good for the company to have a large stable of artists, but not many sell. If furniture is their thing most folks will be looking for furniture, not paintings. One of the companies I used was an interior design company. The “designers” tended to be partial and push just their favorite artists. If you can garner favor, then you may sell, if not, you are just waiting and nothing is happening.

    • Have you tried any of the art-only platforms?
      I wonder if they would be better than the interior designer platforms?
      I have a feeling your comments would apply to those as well??

  3. I looked into Chairish and was distressed by the reviews from both sellers and buyers. I would urge any artist considering the platform to include a thorough look at customer reviews as well as the return process for art. The artist seemed to be at considerable risk here.

  4. Thanks for your letter, Sara. I was also approached by a Chairish about 2.5 years ago for their print shop. At the time, they weren’t able to sell originals from outside the US (I’m in Canada).

    I painted a series of three 24×30 Greek busts with the intention of only selling prints, not the originals. I felt with prints it wasn’t stepping on the toes of my galleries and it was a subject I don’t have a gallery market for…it was more of a ‘one-off’ at the time for a specific project. Sales have been slow but I don’t work this side of my business much.

    I’ve since been invited to sell originals as they’ve now opened up to international sellers. I haven’t done this because of the reason you mentioned…I already have great galleries working hard to sell and promote my art and career and felt this would harm my gallery relationships.

    I see many artists selling direct via either their own websites or an online third party such as Chairish. Everyone’s an artist now with an Instagram account and Etsy or the like. Some of these self-selling artists are producing stunning work too, professional and engaging and they often have a lower price point than artist with galleries (this has been my overall impression, I may be wrong).

    It’s been tempting to think ‘hey I can do that too’ , especially with newer experimental works that aren’t in galleries that I could offer at lower prices to encourage sales…but I sincerely appreciate and respect the galleries I work with, and they have helped launch, sustain and grow my career.

    Short term success with online sales may be nice, but what’s the next step for self-sellers? Brick and mortar again? In 20 years will these artists be selling at 2021 prices still? Can an online interior design-driven platform sustain increased prices over the artist’s career?

    So many choices these days. I remind myself… just because I can, doesn’t mean I should.

  5. I sell prints via FineArtAmerica.com, which is very inexpensive to set up with your images. They don’t sell originals but they do list them for you so if a sale results the commission is $0!

    One online gallery I enjoy is Saatchi Art, full of painters from around the world, and a favorite painter on there, Koen Lybaert, has sold over 800 original canvases! His prices range from $500 to $19,500 … do the math!

    If your art is unique, online galleries can be a gold mine.

    • Hi David, I’ve looked into fine set America as well for prints. Have you found sales there have been good? Have customers been happy with the quality? Thanks

      • Hi Jennifer, Sales have only been good for artwork related to a specific university. So, you have to have something unique that people are already searching for. The rest of my beautiful images generate zero sales. Let’s face it, everybody has pictures of flowers, sunsets, the beach, etc etc etc. As for quality, I have never had a single complaint, so I guess FAA does a good job.

  6. Here in Australia we use Bluethumb.com.
    It has a large volume of sales. My friend John Rice sells most of his landscapes on that platform. I’ve only sold a few, but their organisation of courier pick ups and framing is very useful.

  7. I have one gallery that represents me in Victoria. I have considered trying to get my works into another gallery outside of town but I have a hard time keeping the gallery here supplied with currents work. If I was painting to the point they were piling up, and didn’t have a gallery that represented my work, I’d go for the online thing. Really have to be careful to research them first, tho, so many spammy and scammy things come into my email saying they can make me a super star. Oh sure.

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