Are You Selling Art in the Wrong Places?

by Carolyn Edlund

Take a close look at your sources of your income and focus on what makes the most sense to grow your business.


Selling Handmade Jewelry


What type of work produces the most income?

Take a close look at your income, and the category or format that sells best. For a fine artist, that may be an original, reproduction, limited edition, or art in certain sizes or on certain substrates. For craft mediums, you might review necklaces, bracelets and earrings, or platters, vases and bowls, or coats, scarves and hats, or whatever variety of categories you offer. If you don’t have a spreadsheet detailing your sales so that you can see where your money is coming from, start one.

Then, dig a bit deeper. If you sell reproductions or make production work at wholesale or retail, look at the individual titles or items that sell best. Naturally, this helps you control your inventory and make more of what sells. It may also inspire you to build a series or collection around your bestsellers, expanding on what appeals most to your customers. Ask yourself “Now that the customer has purchased one piece from me, what should they buy next?”

If a category clearly isn’t working for you, why is that? What feedback have you heard from customers when they look at your work? You might decide to discontinue that size, format or style, or you might do some redesign and come up with a fresh offering in that category for next year.


Art festival crowd


Where do your sales come from?

Evaluate your income from the past 12 months. Are you earning money from fairs and festivals? Open studio events? Personal referrals? Online venues? Commissions? Licensing contracts? Wholesale customers? Other sources? Then take a look at the time and costs involved with each.

It can take a while to grow a venue, so take that into consideration if you are excited about new markets you have entered. You may need to be seen a few times before getting traction.

However, it should be clear what is working, and what is not. Are you doing the same thing over and over again, when you aren’t really making many sales? It may be that you are applying to the wrong shows, or displaying your work in the wrong part of the country. Consider other options that may improve your results.

Identify your most promising streams of income, and how you can focus on them going forward.


Gallery visitors at DM Weil Studio Gallery in NY


Who is your customer?

Do you know who is buying from you, and can you create a profile of that person? This is key to planning an effective way to reach them which is also efficient for your business.

Artist Carroll Swayze meticulously evaluated her expenses and her sales, and was shocked to find out that her perfect customer was someone very different than she thought. (Read her article here.) She made adjustments, saved herself a ton of money and travel, and earns more than ever. She works smarter, not harder.

Once you have evaluated what, where and who is responsible for your art income, you are prepared to use this important information to plan ahead. Even making small changes can have a big effect on the income you earn.

What are your own statistics telling you?



Photos: Top, taken at American Made Show, Bottom, taken at DM Weil Gallery, New Paltz, NY

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  1. Makes perfect sense and certainly something I need to re-evaluate! Thanks for the reminder, Carolyn.

    • Thanks Lana. These are, of course, common sense measures, and in a perfect world everyone would evaluate their results and make adjustments. But, I’ve spoken to a lot of people who seem to make the same mistakes over and over – sometimes because they don’t feel they have alternatives, or they aren’t aware of their options.

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