How to Sell Art Online
The internet allows artists and art buyers from across the globe to connect more easily, but getting started can be overwhelming. Self-taught artist Natasha Wescoat saw the advantages of selling art online early in her career and has harnessed the power of the internet. Learn more about Wescoat’s art and how to sell art online in this interview by Poppy Evans. Find more inspiring interviews and art selling tips in the 2014 Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market.
Keep creating and good luck!
Natasha Wescoat: Self-Taught Artist Becomes Internet Marketing Maven by Poppy Evans
Many young artists dream of the day when they can live entirely off the money they make from their art sales. Some never realize this dream; others who do typically get there after years of hard work and lean times. Very few artists experience this type of success early in their careers.
Natasha Wescoat is one of the few who, at a young age, has been able to achieve her dream of becoming a professional artist. At 25, she has experienced the kind of success that most artists work a lifetime to achieve, supporting herself entirely with sales generated by her work. Wescoat’s success is largely due to the broad appeal of her acrylic paintings. The artist’s lively style, which has been compared to Miro and Klimt, seems to have struck a chord with a far-ranging clientele that includes individuals of all ages and from all walks of life. However, many artists who are producing great work fail to get the notice that Wescoat has received in such a short time. It often takes years of exposure through local galleries and exhibitions before most artists attain the high level of public recognition that Wescoat has since she started selling her work in 2004.
The difference between Wescoat and other fine artists, is that this tech-savvy artist has learned how to tap into the Web as a means of marketing her work. Through podcasting, videoblogging and online journaling, Wescoat is using the Internet to generate interest and excitement about her art. She uses auction sites such as eBay, and her own website (www.natashawescoat.com), as venues for posting and selling her work.
Wescoat grew up in a family where she was encouraged to draw and paint. She was inspired by her grandmother, whose whimsical bird and flower paintings hung in the bedroom of her home. At an early age Wescoat created her own comic characters, inspired by the comics she read in the Sunday papers. By the time she reached age seven, Wescoat had entered her first art competition and won first place. Other competitions followed in which Wescoat won additional awards. At the age of 10, she sent samples of her work to Disney Studios and Oprah Winfrey. “I received letters from Disney and Oprah encouraging me to work hard for my dreams,” Wescoat recalls.
By the time she enrolled at Delta College in her hometown of Saginaw, Michigan, in 2002, Wescoat had won many awards for her paintings in both local and national competitions. In spite of the recognition she had received as a fine artist, Wescoat began her education with the intention of earning a degree in graphic design. “I did some research and found that graphic design is a growing field where you can make pretty good money,” she says. At the time, earning a good living with her degree was important to Wescoat because she had a nine-month-old son to support.
Wescoat worked on her degree for the next two years, but when her second son was born in 2004, she found herself struggling to make ends meet. To raise some extra cash, she decided to sell some of her paintings on eBay, posting digital photos of her work in a section of the site that features emerging artists. “I wasn’t sure if I would be successful,” says Wescoat. “I had watched other artists and how they were selling their art. One of the things that seemed to be working for them was selling their work on auction sites like eBay.” To Wescoat’s surprise, the paintings sold for much more than she expected. “I was hoping to get $20 to $50 to cover supplies. At my first auction I sold a painting for $70. At the second auction, I sold a painting for $200. That was really a shock for me,” she says.
Wescoat’s success on eBay encouraged her to continue posting her work on online auctions. Two months after her eBay sales, she created her own website so that potential customers could learn more about her work. “I posted some of my old work as examples of what I do to give people an idea of my style,” she says. As a graphic design major and Web enthusiast, Wescoat’s knowledge of HTML coding and page design was put to good use in developing her site. She also did some research and found other auction possibilities beyond eBay. “I found many directories and artist communities where I could list my website,” she says.
It wasn’t long before Wescoat’s sales grew to the point where she was so busy filling orders she needed to take a break from school and devote herself full-time to maintaining the site and responding to customers. It soon became clear that Wescoat needed to return to painting in order to create more work to sell online.
As business grew and Web technology evolved, Wescoat posted additional work on her site and added other features to facilitate sales. In addition to offering original paintings from her website, Wescoat decided to include fine art prints of her original works. She makes the 8 x 10-inch reproductions herself by printing them from her digital printer on archival paper.
Since launching her site in 2004, Wescoat has developed it into a sophisticated marketing tool. The site is broken down into topic categories that make it easy to navigate. Customers are directed to separate sections for original paintings or fine art prints. Thumbnail-sized images of Wescoat’s work make it easy for visitors to view several images at once. From there, they can enlarge each image to view details. Online purchases are facilitated through the site’s shopping cart feature and a link to PayPal. The site also features a section where Wescoat lists her prices for commissioned paintings according to size.
Wescoat says that developing a state-of-the-art website is extremely important for artists wanting to sell their work online. In a traditional gallery or studio setting, artists or their representatives can talk to potential customers about their work. But in today’s online marketplace it’s important for artists to maintain a website to establish a personal connection with potential customers. “Selling online can be a challenge,” says Wescoat. “You want to make the customers comfortable about purchasing from you by allowing them to learn about your art and your process.” On her website, Wescoat includes details about the sizes of her paintings and prints as well as the media and materials she uses.
In addition to learning about Wescoat and making online purchases, visitors to the site can sign up for a free e-mail newsletter to find out about upcoming exhibitions and other events featuring Wescoat’s work. Links to the artist’s blog and other sites, including online retailers and auction sites, create a network of promotional and marketing opportunities for Wescoat and her art.
Wescoat stresses the importance of these links for artists considering the Web as an outlet for their work. “Make sure you find some online communities or networks where you can get your name out there or post your art,” she advises. In addition to eBay, another auction site that features Wescoat’s work is Overstock.com. Other online retailers carrying her work include Absolutehearts.com, Ebsqart.com, Sistino.com and Art.com. In some cases, Wescoat represents herself; other sites (such as Art.com, which features framed and unframed posters and fine art prints of Wescoat’s originals) require membership.
On the sites where Wescoat represents herself, she posts her work using a template she created in Dreamweaver. (Prior to using Dreamweaver, she used Microsoft’s FrontPage). “I make sure to include enough information—when and how each painting was made, the size and how much it would cost to ship—so that people who don’t know me will have some of the information they need at the auction site,” she says. In addition to offering her work, each of these retail and auction sites also includes the URL for Wescoat’s website. “It’s a great way to advertise my site,” she says. “I get a lot of traffic and gain a lot of new customers in these places.”
Wescoat’s business grew by leaps and bounds in fall 2006 when her paintings appeared on Extreme Makeover Home Edition. “They found me on eBay,” she says. “One of the producers of the show bought a piece from me.” From there, the producer commissioned Wescoat to create some original paintings for one of the houses they were remaking. “My business climbed steadily after that.”
Wescoat estimates that she makes about $3,000-4,000 per month from online auctions and an equivalent amount in royalties from Art.com. In addition to the income she makes from these online resources and purchases from her website, commissions for original work comprise a sizable chunk of her sales. “I just finished six pieces for an orthodontist’s office,” she says. “They designed the entire office around the paintings.” At this point, Wescoat says she has over 1,000 original paintings, commissioned and purchased from auctions, hanging in private and corporate collections worldwide, including France, Japan, Belgium, Australia, Portugal, Germany, Finland, Greece, Italy and Great Britain.
The demand for Wescoat’s art has recently extended beyond fine art prints and paintings. A line of T-shirts bearing her imagery is being offered as “Sunshine Gear” at Cafepress.com. “I’m hoping to continue to license my work on merchandise,” says Wescoat, who is currently working with Pure Country Weavers (www.purecountry.com) on a line of tapestries that feature her art. She says royalty arrangements for merchandise can be very lucrative, with the artist receiving 10-15% of every sale.
Wescoat has also written a book: Secrets of Powerselling Artists on Ebay, available at Lulu.com. “It’s a small e-guide for artists wanting to sell their work through online art auctions,” she says. Wescoat is taking advantage of every income-producing opportunity available while her work is in high demand. She is well aware of how easy it is for an artist to fall quickly from fame. She has returned to school with the goal of earning a master’s degree in Art History so that she can teach college classes. “The art business can be so fickle,” she says. “I want something I can fall back on.”