Creating a Mobile Independent Artist Business - Part 9: What to Create and Finding Your Market

Fringe Benefit. Art by TET
Last post I discussed legal issues and looking after you and your future. In this post I'll look at deciding what kind of art to create and give you ideas on how to find a market for it. In both areas there is no hard and fast rules for success.

Much of the time it's just a case of testing the waters to see if what you create sells and then, if something seems to be taking off, capitalizing on it with follow up art that is similar. The good news is, successful sales are not a random occurrence. There are things you can do to help you find a market for what you create.


What to Create


In regards to what kind of art you should create, I'm not talking about the medium (e.g. painting, watercolor, sculpture etc.), you should work in the medium that you enjoy and can produce to a professional quality. Rather I'm talking about what themes/subject matter should your art be focused on (e.g. landscapes, Pop Culture, Animals, Cars etc.)

For most artists the struggle is this; Do you create art based entirely on your own interests or do you create art based on what kind of art is popular or people want right now?

A big part of the reason this becomes a difficult decision is that artists, just starting out with selling work that revolves around their own interests, often attribute poor sales to a lack of public interest in the subject matter of their art. They then conclude the next logical step is to create art around subject matter and themes that the mainstream public is interested in buying. Obvious right? But...

How do you find out what the mainstream public is interested in buying?

For a few suggestions to help you with that question see 'Creating Art Based on What is Popular', below. First, is creating what some one else likes a good idea or direction for your art?

I'm of the firm belief that if create the art about subjects and themes that you love, in the medium you love, the art creation side of your business will never feel like work. You'll be fully engaged in your art and committed to making it the best it can be.

If you're inspired by a very specific subject matter, that you find endlessly interesting, it'll make finding your market even easier but if you like a range of subjects and themes, it may mean looking for multiple markets for each theme but that shouldn't be a reason not to create art about things you like.

On the flip side, creating art for an existing market that isn't necessarily of interest to you can still be enjoyable, initially. However, can you maintain it without creating the art becoming 'work'? If it does become work can you keep coming up with new ideas for that theme or subject and still maintain the quality?

Neither direction is the wrong path and it's likely you'll end up creating art that is purely what you're interested in initially and, if that theme or subject proves popular with buyers, you'll create a series of similar works to keep that sales stream going.

In this area I can give a personal example.

Cat Artworks by TET.
I am not particularly a cat lover. I've had cats as pets but I'm definitely not a fanatic. At one point I started writing simple children's poems about sleeping cats, which I based a series of nine paintings upon. The paintings had a cartoon style with a fairly uniquely drawn cat.

Upon exhibiting these paintings online, through a dedicated website, and later selling them on eBay, I began to get commissions for me to paint people's actual pet cats in my cartoon style. For a while this turned into a regular source of income.

Noticing that my cat paintings sold really well I continued to paint more and more of them, depicting different breeds of cats, performing humorous antics, in my cartoon style, selling them on eBay. They nearly always sold. At the height of their popularity I was painting four cat artworks a month, producing more than 50 cat paintings.

At the same time I still painted other subjects and themes but these works weren't guaranteed sellers on eBay like my cat paintings were.

Eventually I had to just stop painting cats. It got tiring trying to come up with new ways to paint a cat. People imagined I was some kind of cat person who lived with lots of cats. I really wanted to focus on other themes but the cat paintings were guaranteed to sell, and were one of my best sources of income. In the end painting cats because they were popular prevented me from moving on with my art. I couldn't sustain painting something popular that I'd really lost interest in.

Chances are, you'll follow a similar path, creating art in a theme that you know sells. My advice is to know when to stop. Don't keep with it just for the money. Move on. You'll find other themes that sell just as well again. Make sure you're progressing creatively and not getting stuck in a rut for too long because the money is good.

Finding Your Market


Unlike selling in the physical world, where you are limited by your location and the number of people who live in close enough proximity to your studio or store, online you can sell to almost anyone world wide. Any person with access to the internet is a potential customer.

If you're selling physical artworks you may have some limitations in being able to physically post your items but other than that your market could be scattered all over the globe.

Before you get started you need to decide on a single, online location to direct people to who may be interested in buying your art. This could be your website, Facebook page, online gallery etc. The important point is that you direct everyone to the one place where they can view and purchase your art. It'll make life easier for you and will make you easy to find for returning customers.

Search Engines


Initially, the most important habit you can get into is making sure any description of your art online (whether you're selling or just showing it off) is keyword rich. This means titling your artwork with words that describe what it is and including artwork descriptions that also literally describe what is present within your art. (No more titling your art as 'Untitled' - which you shouldn't be doing anyway as it makes you work forgettable and difficult for people to reference through word of mouth).

Whilst search engine technology is advancing to recognizing the content of images without need of descriptive text, why leave it to technology. A big part of your online market will come from people discovering you as part of searching for things online using a text based search engine. Keywords help search engine's find exactly what their users are looking for based on the words they enter in their search inquiry.

These days it is unnecessary to submit your website to search engines (though some still allow you to do this). It usually takes a few days to a week for major search engines to find you. If you want to see if they have just enter your URL into their search bar. Try it with your social media links and usernames too.

Social Media

I've already discussed Social Marketing Media which is a very organic way to find your market. Whenever you post an image of your art to social media always use keyword rich titles, descriptions and, if supported, hashtags. Social sites usually include their own site searches so you want to make sure you and your art is easy to find.

Search engines also catalog public posts from social media sites. Another good reason to use keywords and hashtags.


Google Adwords, Facebook Ads and similar programs


Run multiple ads with Google Adwords. Examples
of my own real Google Ads in the GoogleAds Dashboard.
If you want to be a bit more pro active and can afford to invest a few dollars, sign up for Google Adwords or purchase Facebook ads (or even pay to boost posts if you have a Facebook page).

Other sites have similar programs (Linked In's ad program is worth looking at if your art is targeted in any way at business professionals).

You'll need to investigate each program on it's merits but the reason to use them is that they allow you to advertise to people who are likely to be interested in your art based on your keywords and other information you provide. It's less random than placing a straight forward classified ad and can target people in places you otherwise might not have access to e.g. Google Ads in particular can show up inside Gmail and display ads relevant to the email user based on data gmail has collected about them.


Advertising on Related Websites


This approach can be a little more expensive than Google Ads but may be worth a try on sites that support large communities. You may even already be familiar with these sites simply because you discovered them through the kind of art you like to create (perhaps you were looking for inspiration or just finding people with the same interests as you).

Check to see if they have any kind of advertising program where you can purchase ad space on the site, or, if they have any kind of active forum where you can post an ad for your art (be sure to check the forum's rules about advertising).

Sometimes just participating regularly in a community forum that relates to the kind of art you do can be enough. People get to know who you are, start checking out what you do which can eventually lead to sales without you posting any kind of ad at all.

Creating Art Based on What is Popular


All of the previous section still applies to creating art based on what is currently popular with the mainstream public. Popular doesn't mean guaranteed sale. You still have to find the people who your art is popular with. Creating popular art is simply a way to expand the number of potential buyers as you're possibly moving from a small niche subject to something with much wider appeal.

This technique is likely to work best if you're already attempting to sell in a specific market place but your work isn't attracting the interest you'd hoped for. Instead of moving to a new market you could try creating art that sells well in that market place. It will require research. Different market places will have different options for discovering what is currently selling.

For example, say you're creating art to sell on print on demand products through Redbubble. Perhaps your current themes aren't selling well (or at all). You decide to look at their Trending Gifts page and see that there are currently three trending themes; Bikes, Coffee and Gardening. As a result you decide to try creating art based on one of these themes in order to appeal to more buyers.

Whether you have success doing this will depend on many factors beyond just creating art that is popular. You may not be getting your work in front of the right buyers (particularly if you haven't made your titles and descriptions keyword rich), trends may have moved on, your art style maybe niche. Just don't immediately assume you've failed as an artist because even creating art in popular themes isn't working.

One thing to watch out for when deciding on adopting popular themes to create art around. Beware of infringing on other people's copyrights. Particularly in the area of Popular Entertainment. Whilst it is perfectly okay to create fan art based on popular TV shows, movies and characters it is not advisable to try and sell that art for profit. Licensing is big business. If you don't have the proper license to sell art based on anything from Popular Entertainment you could well be on the end of a Cease and Desist notice and an expensive lawsuit.

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The above suggestions are not exhaustive in terms of ways to find your market online. Another example is to develop your own online survey (with sites such as Survey Monkey) to research a specific market you hope to sell your art in to see if it contains enough potential buyers to earn a sustainable income (which is the more traditional approach to market research).

You might also submit your details to specific Online Artist Directories and display images of your work in online galleries other than your own website.

Personally, I like the approach of keeping your titles and descriptions keyword rich for search engines. It's something that you can continue to do as you create new art, doesn't take too much time away from creating your next masterpiece and will help people world wide discover you and your work.

In the next post we'll be getting specific with a list of places and sites that you can start selling your art from online.



This post is part of a series called Creating a Mobile Independent Artist Business. Read earlier parts at the links below:

Part 1: Introduction and Equipment
Part 2: Business Software
Part 3: Creative Software
Part 4: Social and Marketing Software Plus Your Website
Part 5: Documenting and Sharing Your Work in Progress
Part 6: Photographing and Preparing Your Art for Printing
Part 7: Maximizing Your Art By Creating Variations
Part 8: Legal Obligations and Employee Care Plan


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