How to Sell Art in a Down Market - A Pandemic Response

Help for Artists

I was happy to see an article about selling more art during a recession from Artists Network. Still, I was disappointed by it since they didn't update it for today's pandemic. So, I've taken it upon myself to add to their article (sorry if I am breaking intellectual law in some way?), which was written during the 2008 recession:  12 Tips for Selling More Art in a Recession. There are some similar hardships as those that surfaced due to the housing bubble of 2008. However, a pandemic has its own unique challenges due to social distancing and business closures. Let me know if I've missed anything... this response is meant to be helpful to my fellow artists!

1. "Start a Support Group."

Definitely find your art tribe. They will lift you up when you're down, and you feel good giving back! My art group has been great emotional support, and we are always sharing ideas with each other on how to be more productive and sell more art! I think of this as paying it forward all the time!

2. "Don't Lower Your Prices."

Actually, do lower prices, but do it smartly and thoughtfully. This is your business, and you should run it however you see fit. Maybe you offer incentives to your loyal patrons since they are going through financial hardships as well. Perhaps you offer some freebies to keep your patrons happy and remind them that we are all in this together. They've had to make financial accommodations, so I feel we as artists should do whatever we can to share our art. Even Picasso sold at a discount at different points throughout history. Just like real estate, your art is only worth what a buyer is willing to pay for it. This is more true for emerging artists. Get over yourself (don't put your ego in the money), sell your art, make someone happy, and then place your focus on making more art!

3. "Be active in your community."

Yes! Always be more active in your community. Plein air is a beautiful idea as long as you follow CDC guidelines and protect yourself from the elements. Yes, send free videos to your community showing kids how to draw their favorite characters (as a parent I appreciate this). Send out a creative challenge like - pick up trash along your daily walk and upcycle it into art – share your pics on social media. Think creatively - if you don't do videos, print out a short workbook and send it around as a PDF. Just get creative in helping your community by giving more of your talent. Also, if you are good with technology, reach out to your teachers and offer your help in getting them set up on Zoom.

4. "Think small, sell big."

Yes! Make smaller art, but make sure it is still quality! Also - take advantage of today's virtual markets with on-demand printers like, Find products you connect with, and that may be of help. (I am now selling face masks at $15 because I care about what I show on my face while offering some level of protection.) 5. "Learn from local galleries." Leasing art is likely NOT happening when all businesses are closed. Skip this one for now, but research how you can do this during non-pandemic times. Cambridge Art Association (@cambridgeart) has a program for this that I know of (when they re-open post-pandemic). Also – think about how your patrons are using ZOOM nowadays. Wouldn't it be nice if they had your art hanging up behind them when they are in back-to-back meetings all day long? You can offer to lend them or lease them artwork! Another goodie from galleries: offer layaway plans. As artists, we should not provide financing (unless you have deep pockets), so look for financial companies that do. PayPal offers a credit program for buyers: Artists (Merchants) get paid without any risk, and PayPal does the dirty work of financing the purchase while following all laws and regulations. Win-win.

6. "Develop Internet Savvy."

If you haven't done this already, then when? If you need help doing this, reach out to your contacts – get their insight and solicit their help to get you online in whatever way you feel comfortable. Take baby steps. Setup free or inexpensive websites. Check out this blog for a good starter list of free web sites:
Also – choose your social media outlet of choice. Look at your business and find out where your potential buyers may hang out on social media. Offer them entertainment, education, inspiration, and a view into your art world. The top ones are Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. TicToc if you are young and/or adventurous!

7. "Build a Patron List."

Yes! This needs to be your email list of potential or past buyers. Don't share this list, and don't buy a list. This is built up over time with people you meet and inspire with your art. There are lots of ways to communicate with people online this way, but to truly connect, you can do this best via personal email. Share what you are doing, what you have been inspired by. Make it personal. You are an artist, after all, not a corporation. Share good news! Share your triumphs, whether large or small!

8. "Enter and Curate Shows."

There are a lot of shows still accepting calls for art. They want and need your application money right now. Think about whether you would want to be showing at an art fair this year (2020) when all roads seem to point towards social distancing being the new normal. At least until a vaccine is readily available (sometime in 2021). Don't be afraid to hit "pause" on in-person shows. It is more important to be alive and healthy. Sink your time into developing your art first, then developing your web site and establishing a social media presence.

9. "Do commission work."

Yes! Do commissions (only) if you like doing them!  Just make it easy for people to find you as a commission artist, and make the payment process simple. You may not be able to do portrait work in person, but many artists do portraiture off of photographs.

10. "Start an artist studio tour."

Yes! Just do this on video and post up to Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, your own website, etc. I've seen wonderful videos of artists showing their studios and their art to increase viewership (jealous of many studios). If you don't have a studio, hang your art in your home and do a gallery talk. Interview your favorite local artists online! Get creative!

11. "Try new creative ventures."

Hmmm. During lock-down, few places will be open and opportunities have all but dried up. People going into essential businesses that are open, like grocery stores, are probably more busy playing dodgeball with other people/bodies than looking around leisurely at art. But – while you are out, wear your art on your masks. Wear your art on t-shirts. It's okay to be a walking billboard for yourself. Why not? However, you should make a list of places you will contact when they open. Be helpful and offer commissions, especially to waitstaff, baristas, realtors, and anyone who helps sell your art. The more you give, the more you get back.

12. "Keep a positive attitude."

Yes! Sometimes, this is easier said than done. However, there is nothing better than hope to keep you going. I have started pretending that I am getting ready for a Shostakovich painting retrospective. This keeps me focused and productive. I am also pretending that more people other than my relatives and my artist support group will read this blog. It makes me feel like I have a purpose! Try hope on for size. You won't regret it.


Thanks for reading! Stay home and stay healthy! Don't forget to share. This blog is virus-free!


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