Selling Art Online: E-commerce Platforms for Creatives

The tools we use in our business become our business, especially when selling art online.

Each time we add a tool to our belt, it will become part of our regular activities. If it doesn’t, we likely have invested poorly. The decision on which e-commerce application you choose will impact the way that your creative business functions. Like many important decisions in life, it can be a hard one to make.

It is easy to get lost in the vast array of information and options that are at our fingertips. This is particularly true in the realm of digital tools. There are over 8.9M apps. Like anything in life, it is hard to find something if you don’t know what you are looking for. A great place to start in making your decision on an e-commerce tool is to evaluate your goals and the business model you are using to achieve them. Our tools are operational decisions. If we do not want to operate in a certain way, we should evaluate this before entering the online creative market.

What am I selling?

In art, an important distinction in our business model comes down to how we see our work. Broadly art sells as:

  • an object of admiration like fine art
  • an object of appreciation, more akin to (very) limited merchandise
  • an object of utility (like decor), produced/sold in mass
  • an idea for hire and licensed for someone else to sell.

Each of these types of products has unique business model attributes that can be harnessed to find success. Museum-worthy art is likely not going to be purchased on Amazon, just as a run of one thousand blankets with a printed image will not be sold at Christies. Knowing what product you are selling helps determine which tool(s) will help find the right platform to sell art online.

What resources do I have to sell art online?

A sustainable business requires the judicious application of resources. Business decisions—including which digital tools we use—benefit from taking stock of the money, time, and skills we have to put towards their use.

Money is the most tangible resource to access, but often we neglect to look at the real cash that will be impacted. In the case of digital tools, there may be a variety of fees to consider including subscription fees, processing fees, commission, and more. There are also financial considerations beyond the tool itself including. Should someone else be hired to set up and/or maintain the use of the tool? This includes overseeing ongoing transaction fees, the fulfillment process once the sale is made (packing and shipping), and processing returns (if available). Knowing the dollar impact of a specific tool is critical to growing the business by selling art online.

Do I have the time?

Tools are meant to make us more efficient, and they do, however, they still require us to utilize our time to use them. We have all likely had our frustrations with technology, particularly new technology. It takes time to adapt to a new tool. In e-commerce, along with general time to practice the tool, we need to consider the time cost of set-up, maintenance, fulfillment, customer communication, and marketing. Within the expansive market for e-commerce, tools can either add or reduce the time we have to spend on successful sales. Assessing the time requirements to utilize an e-commerce tool is valuable in making a sustainable business decision.

Do I have the skills to sell art online?

Skills—you either have them or you need to acquire them (education or hire). Humans weren’t born with an innate capacity to run an e-commerce business. There are skills that selling online requires:

  • Digital marketing and branding (Using SEO, promoting through online channels, and establishing a brand that conveys value, story or better, myth.)
  • Technical e-commerce management (Webmaster for a website or platform, manage connected integrations including payment processors/gateways.)
  • Content creation (Produce quality photos and descriptions of work, possibly blogs.)
  • Customer relationship management and building
  • Pricing strategy (Price artwork appropriately for online.)
  • Sales skills (Close sales, handle transactions, negotiate prices, manage payment processors.)
  • Financial management (Accurate financial records, cash flow, and tax obligations.)

Some are basic, others are not. There are ways to sell art online that are as simple as sending someone else images and details of your work and other ways as complex as coding the back end of a website. When you select a platform, app, or widget to cultivate online transactions, determine what skills you have (or are willing to invest in) to make it successful.


To ensure that you are making a sustainable business decision when you step into e-commerce, it is helpful to think about your intent, start at the beginning—what are you selling? Then evaluate the impact on your resources.

We have compiled research on several well-known e-commerce options for creative businesses to help you make your decision. Let’s start a conversation about this decision. You can also find a friendly community of artists working on their business at our virtual monthly co-working sessions.


Banner art credits: Studies of Market Figures is a graphite work by David Teniers the Younger. As the name implies, it is a pencil study of various people in a market scene. The figures are spread throughout the paper evenly as studies but still occupy the same plane and perspective giving it a dispersed, individuated isometric quality familiar to digital mockups of a collection of objects or figures.


Enhance Desire for Art: From Status Quo to New Life

A patron is a customer, and a good one at that. Museums are in that category too. If we allow ourselves to see that even as artists we are in business, we can utilize the tools of business to grow our creative practice. We need to communicate that we exist to enhance desire for art—our art. 

We may not like to see ourselves as marketers or even worse, sales people, but we are. Being good at business means more time in the studio. 

Thankfully we don’t have to come up with new concepts in sales and marketing in the same way that we do for our masterpieces. We can harness the hard work of folks who study messaging to build our strategy and develop our plan. Billy Broas has provided a simple framework to do just that. The five lights bulbs are a powerful blend of obvious, versatile and easy to implement for any business to build an effective messaging strategy.

A critical step in any relationship is to recognize where someone is at. If we don’t know where someone is presently at in their journey through life, it is hard to intersect and connect with them. Your voice is heard when it is directed to where someone is. In the case of a customer the two locations we are most interested in are the starting and ending position, pre- and post- acquisition of your art.

The two light bulbs that speak to these two places are the customer’s status quo and new life.

Market New Life

It might be easier to think about the new life first. The post-acquisition experience includes the value your work brings to the audience—and your work has a litany of value. A deep eye roll may be warranted but we need to get serious about considering the “value” of art, more particularly your art. Your art enriches others by offering new perspectives. It expands thinking. Your art enhances feelings others chase. Potentially, your art is pleasing to the eye. 

Not to mention, someone owning your art titillates your senses too. Joy is a mystery of present science in that it isn’t conserved. Giving joy to others also brings joy to the giver.

The new life your customer will have with your art might be: 

  • Nuanced, with added perspectives
  • Vibrant and playful
  • Confident and powerful
  • Elevated in status, envied by peers
  • Filled with beauty

Your audience will experience something with your work and you can communicate through your “marketing”—words and images. Good messaging should enhance desire for art by showing your audience the present for what it is and a path towards a new life that includes your work.

Upset Status Quos

If you have clarity on the new life that your audience will have with your work, you likely have some idea of what is missing in their present status quo. Their walls are boring. Their mental framework may have gaps in understanding. They may be missing the fullness of a life of emotion. They may not be seen by others. Your message can kindly (or not) remind folks of where they are presently.

The status quo of your customer without your art might be:

  • A home devoid of energy
  • Unable to say what’s on their mind
  • Eager to express frustration but unable
  • Sensing others don’t understand them
  • Feeling less then on top of the world

Your work is incredibly valuable if your customer is in a place like this. You can bring them out of it. Although this list feels sad and salesy, with some thoughtfulness about your value you can find messaging that empathetically speaks to your audiences’ lot in life, and shows them you want to help them move to a better place. 

It’s sometimes hard to express how, but your work adds value to the world. The better you can communicate how it upsets the status quo, and creates new life for your audience, the less salesy “marketing” will feel.

Better messaging is a critical part of converting inventory on the floor into artworks on someone’s wall. 

Keep Going

Do you want to move beyond the frustration of seeing your artwork not sell? Read on for more social media strategies to enhance desire for art—your art—and take you towards a more sustainable business and more time in the studio.

You can also join the Burkholder Agency for our next Marketing Monday session. We work with you to let people know your great art exists and increase the desire your audience has for it.

Banner art credits: Textile Merchant, c. 1840 is an oil on canvas work by an unknown American 19th Century artist. The piece is presumably a commissioned portrait of an unknown textile merchant from the Northeast. It is a good example of the style of American primitive painting, although “primitive” is an unnecessarily diminutive classification. The paintings appear flat because of the figuration and consistent (unrealistic?) lighting in addition to the fascination with background details, even if they distract from the subject.

Why doesn’t good art sell? (Sales messaging.)

Every year 1.3 trillion dollars of bad products and services are sold.* Is there that much value in innovation for one specialized task that only takes 3 seconds without it? Does that “inventor” really make a living that way? We have all bought some snake oil in our lives—but why doesn’t good art sell?

This likely fuels frustration for you as an artist. So why is bad art selling when mine is not? 

Why does bad art sell?

Less than stellar creativity likely sells for a few reasons. 

First and foremost, people know that it exists (even if it isn’t good). They see it. They hear about it. They experience it for themselves. A message about the work has gotten to the audience to let them know that something was made. The artwork is being marketed.

Secondly, they desire the object enough to part with their hard earned money to bring that poorly composed artifact into their home. A message has moved them to the point of a transaction—even if it’s not a wise decision from our perspective. The artwork is being sold.

Great art still needs good sales messaging.

Why doesn’t good art sell? It probably doesn’t have good sales messaging.

To sustain yourself as a creative person, your messaging is a very important part of your practice. First, we need to communicate that we exist (marketing) and we need to communicate the distinct value, and cause for desire, that our work produces (sales). There is a good chance people know that you and your work exist. If not, that is a good place to start. Let people know that you are making things. And yes, there are ways to expand who knows about you. But, how do we enhance the desire for our work?

Next, your practice should have a strategy for increasing the connection your audience feels to you and your art. This includes patrons, collectors, customers, fans, and even curators and museums. You have an opportunity to create more resonance with the way you present yourself (e.g. on social media).

Start with a framework to simplify sales.

There are many tools to help you develop a plan and draft tactics for your marketing and sales. Billy Broas has been studying messaging for years and offers a simple framework he calls the 5 light bulbs. Each bulb helps illuminate distinct values to customers. He is bold enough to say that nearly every effective piece of commercial communication includes at least one of the bulbs.

The five light bulbs of Billy Broas’ effective sales messaging are:

  1. Customers Status Quo
  2. Things they have tried (to move to a new life)
  3. Your approach (to move them to new life)
  4. Your offer (How they can get your approach)
  5. Customer’s new life

Briefly, the light bulbs expose a journey that a customer is on. At the start they are in a less than satisfactory position and at the end they are in a better place with your product or service. Each bulb can be translated into simple statements and images or can be an involved conversation and meeting. The bulbs can help you show your audience where they are at, what they desire and how they can get there.

Keep going.

Do you want to move beyond the frustration of seeing your artwork not sell? Read on for more steps about marketing art that can take you towards a more sustainable business and more time in the studio.

You can also join the Burkholder Agency for our next Marketing Monday session. We work with you to let people know your great art exists and enhance your audience’s desire for your art.

* A completely fabricated statistic. Few would fund a study that likely undermines the economy and embarrasses many. AND it makes for good messaging. 🙂


Banner art credits: The Peddler, 1632 is an etching by Dutch artist Johannes van Vliet (born c. 1610). Originally created for reproduction, the digitalization and reinterpolation of 16th-century etchings aligns with an original facet of their purpose. These works were intended to be viewed primarily as reproductions, rather than as the ‘negatives’ of the plates themselves. The final images were subject to the various materials, collaborations, and limitations inherent in the reproduction process. Returning to these etchings with the digital tools of reproduction could be one simple way to reawaken them with integrity.

How to Make Money Online as an Artist

A common question artists ask me is how to sell their work online. For some artists, such as those who work in digital mediums, the answer is usually straightforward how to make money online. But for others whose work is more visceral, the answer isn’t always as clear. There are a number of ways artists can use the web to make money online, but there are tradeoffs for the convenience of selling work while you sleep. 

Let’s take a closer look at three common online sales channels open to artists and see how they might help you make money online as an artist.


Your Website

Every artist should have a website to share their portfolio and artist statement. But some artists may want to take their site a step further by turning it into a place to actually sell artwork online. Setting this up can be done fairly easily, even if you don’t know how to code. Sites like Shopify and Wix make setting up a personal website marketplace fairly easy, or if you use WordPress, there’s the Woocommerce plugin, which is free but can be a bit more challenging to figure out.


  • You 100% own the site and can control the content and presentation
  • You can set the price of your artwork
  • General low financial overhead


  • You have to pay for the domain name and website hosting 
  • Potential additional costs for shop/market platform or plugin (e.g. Shopify costs a minimum of $29/month)
  • Setting up and maintaining an ecommerce site takes time and energy
  • You have to manage your own purchase fulfillment: packaging, cost of shipping, and logistics of shipping


Online Fine Art Gallery

There are many art galleries who have digitized over the years, as well as several galleries that are only present online. Ugallery is one of my favorites. Similar to a real-world art gallery, an online gallery curates and sells artist works, often across a variety of media. Some galleries will specialize in a specific medium, a specific geography, etc. Some might be local to you, while others might be more global. 


  • You do not have to run your own digital market place or shop
  • Gallery will market your work for you
  • Professional representation and presentation of your artwork
  • Can potentially be passive income 


  • Limited control of the online experience for your audience
  • Galleries take commissions or charge fees for services
  • You may still have to handle shipping to customer or gallery
  • You may not be excited about the marketing or lack of marketing by the galley
  • Can’t control your own prices


Online Marketplaces

Online marketplaces might be the best of both worlds in terms of selling work online. Marketplaces offer the opportunity to control how your work is presented without the financial or time commitment needed to manage your own website. In some ways, they’re similar to online galleries, but they tend to have larger audiences. Etsy is likely the most well-known online marketplace for creative businesses, but there are others. 


  • Control over pricing and presentation
  • Established marketplace brand name
  • Community of other sellers


  • Fees for each sale
  • Algorithm often drives visibility and you do not control the algorithm
  • You have to do your own marketing
  • You have to do your purchase fulfillment

Of course, these aren’t your only options for selling artwork online. There are also social media ecommerce channels like Facebook, as well as online merchandising sites. We’ll cover those in a separate post.


Feeling a little lost? I’m happy to help you figure out which of these channels is right for you. Contact me to set up a chat or check out one of our upcoming Coworking with Creatives sessions. 

Pricing Artwork doesn’t have to be magic: How do I Price My Artwork?

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“How much should I sell my art for?” 

Too often, I find that artists asking that question don’t have a good sense of what their work is worth and are vastly undervaluing their art. 

Case in point: I have a client who was recently offered a commission for $2,000. It sounded great on the surface, but when we dug into the details, we realized the project would run six weeks and prevent the client from doing any other work. Projecting out based on that one project, this artist would make less than $18,000/year. Basically minimum wage. 

Your work is worth more than that, isn’t it? I certainly hope you believe it is. 

So how should you price your art? 


Subjective vs. Objective Pricing

Artists frequently price their work subjectively, meaning they give it a price based on what they think its value is. But price and value are two different things. 

Value is what an artwork is worth to somebody. It’s subjective because many factors go into the value of an artwork, such as the owner’s sentiment towards it, rarity, age, etc. When we say something has a “market value,” that’s basically what a piece could get in a market. But that doesn’t always mean it’s what someone is willing to pay. 

Price, on the other hand, is objective. Or at least it’s based on some objective measures. Price is a function of supply and demand (I know…economics terms always make me groan, too). As an artist, you control the supply of your artwork and you can influence the demand (see blog post: art marketing plan). 


How to Price Your Art

Luckily, there’s a relatively simple way to price your art (the objective part), though it does require a little bit of math.

(Good accounting can help you with this part)

First, you need to consider what the cost of your supplies are. That includes all the items you need to make your art (tools, materials, etc.) but it also includes things like your rent for your studio, electricity and heating costs, etc. Basically, anything that you need to create your work should be included. This is where tracking your finances comes in handy. 

Secondly, you need to figure out your hourly rate. Even though we don’t like to think of ourselves as hourly workers, this is an essential step to coming up with a fair market price for your work. To calculate this, consider what you would like to make annually before taxes. For the sake of simplicity, let’s just say $52,000/year. 

To calculate your hourly rate, you need to divide the annual salary by the number of hours you work each week. First, divide your annual salary by 52 (there are 52 weeks in the year), and then divide that number by the number of hours you work. For argument’s sake, let’s say 40, since that’s the standard for full-time work. Here’s what that looks like:

$52,000/52 weeks = $1,000 per week

$1000 per week/40 hours = $25/hour

That’s your hourly rate. Now, consider how long it takes you to complete a single piece of art. Let’s say something took you five hours to finish. 

5 x $25/hour = $125

But that doesn’t account for things like supplies. Let’s say it costs you $50 in supplies to make a particular piece. Thus, your total cost would be $175 (your labor and supplies). It’s important to note that this should be considered the base price. Don’t forget you have to add in other factors like a portion of your studio rent, insurance, marketing costs and other overhead items. The price needs to be closer to $300 (labor + supplies + overhead)

Ultimately, how you price your work should be a combination of objective (the real costs like labor, supplies and overhead)  and subjective (the desirability, rarity and non-measurable things) approaches. It should meet your bare minimum of what you need to make to sustain yourself as an artist, of course, AND you can also take into consideration how others feel about your art.  The good news is, that could be a whole lot more than you think!

If pricing still feels a bit overwhelming, don’t worry. It takes time to figure out your numbers. It can also be helpful to have someone to talk to about it. Feel free to reach out for a chat if you want more space to think out loud with someone. 

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