With successive lockdowns resulting in the closure and cancellation of many of the galleries, markets, festivals and art fairs that artists rely on to make a living, 2020 and 2021 have seen many artists trying their hands at online sales for the first time. To help anyone taking a jump into the online marketplace, we spoke to Swansea- and Donegal-based artist, Emma Cownie, to get some expert advice.
Emma’s distinctive oil paintings have featured in exhibitions around the UK and are even available from lifestyle giants John Lewis, but she doesn’t rely on these outlets to get her work out there. Spending “at least 50%” of her day marketing, Emma mastered the art of online art sales long before lockdown, selling over 200 pieces, originals and prints (many of which went directly to collectors) in 2018 alone.
Primarily selling work through her own online gallery, Emma has also sold work via online sales platforms like Artfinder and Singulart.
TNG: How did you come to settle on your current sales methods?
Emma Cownie (EC): My original sales methods came from the idea of being a “creative entrepreneur” which meant involving collectors and followers in the creation of my work. I did this mainly via blogs which described the creative process, from initial thoughts, going to actual locations, images created, then the painting process, right through to descriptions of the art when placed online. This allowed followers of my work to have an emotional stake in my work, to be part of its creation.
I have retained collectors from this formative period. It has always been important to bring followers with me on a creative journey, so that they are part of the process, buying one’s work, encouraging me as an artist via comments, likes and support. They are part of the process… Art is not created in a vacuum, and shouldn’t be sold in one either. This is especially true when the places I paint, as landscape paintings, have personal attachment to followers and collectors also. In fact, they often purchase work of places close to their heart. I like to blog about work and my inspirations even today. Art can be remote sometimes so I feel it should instead gather people in.
TNG: How can an artist make the most of social media to boost their sales?
EC: Social media is essential to boosting sales, to the uploading of new work and to the celebration of new sales. It keeps collectors and followers up to date on your artistic journey and lets them share in your success and development. An artist’s promotion is often done by people on social media who like your work. It is important to engage with other artists too, supporting each other via shares, comments and likes.
Most sales are a product of a network of social interactions with supporters and it is important to keep busy online. The more one interacts, the more one’s work seems to become visible which in turn helps sales… I also use social media to engage with followers about my work and it’s creation, and this helps too.
TNG: What is the first thing you’d recommend to someone who is trying to get their online art sales off the ground?
EC: Be yourself. By that I mean, collectors are looking for original work, art they have not seen before. They are not looking for derivative work. Novelty and originality are strong selling points. So it is important to develop a style of painting that is distinctively your own.
TNG: You have written that positivity is a key factor in selling art online. Why do you think celebrating success is so important in online sales?
EC: When I post an image of a painting when it has sold, it invariably gets more likes and comments than when posted originally. Collectors and fans like to know an artist is succeeding. Collectors like reassurance about your qualities as an artist and that they are buying a quality piece that will keep its inherent value (obviously the value may also increase through time). They also like to see an artist developing and to be part of that journey in some way. Buying their work makes them intrinsic to that development.
Sales also confirm a collector’s taste in spotting talent, that it is just not them who sees an artist’s talent.
TNG: What should an artist include in their bio to make themselves appeal more to potential buyers?
EC: Collectors like to know if an artist has exhibited in “brick and mortar” galleries too and whether you have work in private collections around the world. I have found that a bio should contain pertinent personal information too. In my case, I started painting in a more concentrated manner following a car crash and painting helped me through the post-traumatic consequences of the crash. Painting helps me in my daily life. Some find this inspiring and it helps them understand where I am coming from.
I also mention my own inspirations and how they shape my work and my style of painting. This also gives them insight into where I am coming from in terms of art history.
TNG: How important are high-quality artwork images, and how would you recommend creating these?
EC: It is essential to upload high-quality artwork images. It is important that the images are as accurate as possible in representing the work. Collectors are relying on this when purchasing art online and remotely… I usually photograph on a greyish, overcast day too.
I get frustrated by artists who clearly have used a flash on their camera to photograph work as it can be seen in the bleaching out of the colours on one side of the painting… If you’re not using natural light, then artificially light a painting from both sides simultaneously. If an artist does not take their work seriously enough to photograph properly it sends out a negative message to collectors.
TNG: What’s more important when pricing works – a wide range of prices to appeal to all wallets or a consistent price that emphasises the value of the work?
EC: Both. My first slogan was ‘Quality Art At Affordable Prices’ which had a range of prices from £30 to £900. As my work has sold over the last 8 years, my prices have incrementally risen. My most expensive painting is £2500, as I still want more people to feel that they can buy art, that it is not an elitist activity, everyone can and should own art as it is so uplifting and adds such value to one’s life. It is a gift that keeps giving.
I would offer a range of prices based on size of canvas used but have enough small, reasonably priced paintings to get sales going and to boost confidence. It is a great feeling selling art. It motivates you to do the same again.
It is important that prices rise in line with sales, however, and work should be priced accordingly. Make incremental changes every time you sell and prices will keep going up but not in a way that discourages sales.
Art by Emma Cownie
The two artworks below, Suburban Cottage and With a Road Running Through It, were created using a minimal style that Emma has been developing over the last 4 years. We asked Emma to tell us a bit more about each piece.
Suburban Cottage – “This is an urban minimal oil painting of Sketty, a middle class suburb of Swansea in Wales. “Urban Minimal” was a deliberate attempt to simplify my paintings in a style similar to the American Minimalists. Much of my work has been influenced by American realists and minimalists. Urban minimalist paintings were painted in accordance with my ‘rules’ for composition and painting:
- No cars
- No People
- Bright light. There must be shadows – at diagonals if possible.
- Simplified forms – there must be little detail in the final painting. I found this the most challenging ‘rule’ to stick to.
“I wanted to explore the interplay of the geometry of shadows and man-made structures – the tension between the 3D buildings and the 2D shadows, the simplified blocks of colour.”
With a Road Running Through It – “I painted a series of paintings of cottages on the island of Goal, off the coast of Donegal, Ireland. I tried to paint in a style similar to that of ‘urban minimal’. These ‘rural minimal’ pieces pared paintings down to the basics. Minimal texture, simple but interesting compositions, strong light and shadows, all intended to create a sense of the still, the quiet, a moment in life that is both now and eternal.”
Article by Toby Buckley.
Stay tuned for the next instalment in this series, where we talk to ANV member Mark Petty about his own approach to selling art online.
Finally, if you’re an artist looking to promote your work and connect with like-minded people, Artist N Virtual makes it easy to create a professional profile for yourself. You can sign up for free here. As a member, you can share updates about your work, communicate with other artists, arts professionals and art lovers, and contribute to special groups and forums.