Alright, so you’ve been working hard for months, perhaps for years, to build up your artistic skill. Maybe by now you have a little bit of a following, and you’re finally ready to open yourself up to art commissions and selling prints — so what’s the first step?
1. Gaining a Following & Advertising
If you don’t already have a following and are wondering how to jump on that boat, I have two words of advice for you: fan art.
Some people may see it as “selling out,” but in reality, fan art can potentially bring a person’s attention to you, your art, and your social pages in the first place. By tagging works of art with popular fandom names, trending TV shows, and so on, you’re more likely to find the exposure you’re looking for, as opposed to simply tagging your personal work with unspecific terms that most people might not follow or even be aware of.
Once you’ve managed to amass a fanbase large enough that you think selling art and offering paid commissions might be a viable option, you’re onto your next step: advertising.
This can be as simple as making a Tumblr post stating, “I’m selling art, here are some samples and here are some prices!” If you want to get more involved, though, you can go so far as to create your own website.
Some people might sell all art for a baseline price, while others might sell different types for varying prices. For example, when I’m open for commissions, I’ll usually give three options:
- Lineart only
- Flat colors
- Full color
… On either a
For me, this not only helps to manage my time better, but it also offers more opportunity for business; a lot of people might not be able to afford a full-color fee, but they can afford something a little cheaper.
2. Getting Paid
While preferences may vary a lot between artists and how they choose to be paid (online, at conventions, or otherwise), one thing to remember is that invoices are your best friend. Not only do they clear up any possible miscommunications in pricing that may have occurred between you and your customer, but they also create a physical/digital paper trail that you can use if you ever need to crack down on a non-paying customer, or simply to keep yourself honest. Not to mention, if you sell enough art to be financially viable, you may need the invoice receipts at the end of the year for tax season!
So, how do you avoid being ripped off?
Online: Send invoices before beginning any work on an ordered piece, and make sure the customer knows what they are paying for. Some artists request ½ the owed balance before starting, others are fine with waiting until everything is complete to receive full payment.
Once the art is complete, never send the final image before being paid! Instead, heavily watermark, alter, or otherwise change the finished piece in such a way that your customer will be forced to pay what’s due in order to receive the full image.
At Conventions/IRL: Rather than only taking cash at your booth, invest in card readers that plug into your phone. For example, when I attended Salt Lake Comic Con last year, I noticed that a large majority of artist vendors used Square, which allowed for secure credit card transactions that didn’t rely on writing down credit card numbers or anything like that. Not to mention, you’ll never have to worry about a check bouncing, or a potential customer not having any cash on hand.
3. Online Storefronts/Retail
Maybe custom commissions aren’t really your thing, but rather, you’re more interested in selling works you’ve already created. Whether they be original or fan art, the business of selling art online is now more booming than ever, and in more ways than ever.
There are several options for starting up your own storefront, whether you decide to go with a host that’s specifically designed for selling online, or you design and host a site of your own.
While creating a site of your own is a little more straightforward, when it comes to template storefront websites like RedBubble, Society6, and Storenvy, things can get a little more complicated.
Print on demand sites like RedBubble and Society6 function by allowing artists to upload works of art, then having customers purchase items featuring said art (including prints, t-shirts, phone cases, and laptop skins). Then, RedBubble or Society6 themselves produce and ship the items. Because of this, the artist only gets a percentage of the profit, seeing as they’re not risking any investments in buying product and shipping costs.
On the flip side of the coin, sites like Storenvy provide the customizable storefront, yet all products shown are designed, purchased, and resold by the artist themselves. So, while RedBubble produces your t-shirts when they’re ordered, if you instead go through Storenvy, you’d have a box of pre-made t-shirts in your closet waiting to be purchased and shipped. While this method certainly offers more opportunities to flex your entrepreneurial muscles, you’re also bettering your chances at higher profits.
While we’re on this topic, I want to make a quick note about fan art, and how legal it actually is:
In the US, fan art is technically copyright infringement, and therefore eligible to be taken to court by the copyright holder, especially if you’re making money off of the works. However, with that in mind, also consider the fact that fan art-related copyright infringement is rarely ever acted upon, for multiple reasons:
- It alienates the fans from the creators
- It’s essentially harmless
- Creators of fan art don’t benefit enough from it enough to really make a dent in anyone’s ego
Obviously I’m not a lawyer, and I’m not giving you explicit permission to go and make fan art because it’s unlikely you’ll ever be sued — I’m just trying to tell you what I’ve learned, myself, and hoping you’ll take it with a grain of salt. It’s also important to research the creator whose art you’re creating fan works of, as some are more restrictive than others.
Meanwhile, in the EU and the UK, fan art is currently under fire and not exactly seen with the same rose-colored glasses. In fact, what’s being referred to as a “Copyright Directive” is being proposed in parliament and specifically targets fair use and things like fan art, fan fiction, etc.
The proposal would have sites filtering all user-created content and stripping itself of anything that might be considered copyright infringement, therefore potentially harming artists that actually do benefit from creating fan works. However, a group called Save the Link is currently fighting to keep the proposal from becoming a law, and all in all doing the Lord’s work.
4. Art Prints
This type of physical artwork I’m giving a little special mention to, because it’s one of the most popular ways people buy art — as well as possibly one of the easiest to mess up.
When it comes to determining how to print your art, including choosing a printer, a size, a paper weight, and a paper finish, all of it depends on your target audience and the type of work you’re producing.
For example, if your work is compositionally dark and gritty, your print finish might look better as matte or lustre. Meanwhile, if your work consists of bright colors and magical girls, glossy or holographic might be the way to go. But it all depends on your personal preference, on the type of message or vibe you want your art to give off, and the type of color saturation you’re looking for. If all else fails, order prints of all three types and let your fans decide.
Paperweights are an entirely different story, and your choice here should depend on the circumstances. Selling heavier prints at cons are probably a good idea, seeing as they’re more likely to be carried around all day, bumped into other tables, and squished between bodies. But, if you’re selling art in the park on a nice breezy afternoon, a lighter paper weight might be alright as well, since all you have to worry about is keeping them off the grass.
For the most part, paper weight comes down to artist preference. Some prefer heavier stock, others prefer it to be lighter and flimsier; in a lot of ways, the finish and paper weight is just as much an artistic expression as the actual image printed on the front.
As one last parting word of advice, remember this: It’s true, selling art online can be scary.
There are so many things to keep track of, so many possibilities for things to go wrong, and of course the natural artistic fear of being rejected, but the pros definitely outweigh the cons. Not only are you gaining exposure, you’re giving yourself a chance to grow, to meet new people, to try new things, and to learn new things — and all of that is way more exciting than avoiding it ever would be.
All art © Kelsey Morgan, 2017. You can find more of her stuff on Instagram!