How to Build Your Email List from Scratch

by Carolyn Edlund

Email marketing is one of the most effective ways artists can use to grow their customer base. But how do you get started from zero?


A world of contacts


Many artists miss out on an incredibly valuable marketing method because they just don’t know how to get started. Before you can send out email campaigns that promote your art, you need subscribers on your list. In this article we’ll focus on that.

A subscriber list is something you must build yourself. Don’t purchase a list or simply send out messages to everyone in your Gmail contacts. Email marketing is a permission-based system. The people on your list must agree to be contacted, and they must have a way to unsubscribe if they no longer wish to hear from you.

For this reason, you should use an Email Service Provider (ESP) in compliance with CAN-SPAM laws. This will keep your messages legal and avoid problems. Some examples of ESPs are Constant Contact, AWeber and Mail Chimp, although many other services are available and some of them have a free level. If you have a built-in email marketing function in your artist website, it can also be used to reach out.

Starting from Nothing

How can you get email subscribers starting at the ground level? Begin with a request to family and friends who know you are an artist, especially those who appreciate what you do. This is a low-risk ask and it’s likely you will hear “yes” from many of these people. Don’t send a mass email to ask permission. Send out individual personalized emails from your own regular email account to each person you want to add. Let them know you are grateful for their support. Mention that you’d like to stay in touch with them occasionally through email to let them know what’s new and share your art. And ask, “May I add you to my email list at this time? You are welcome to unsubscribe whenever you like.”

A photographer I worked with used this approach to contact about 30 people he knew personally and professionally. He was amazed at the positive and glowing replies that he received. Not only did friends want to hear from him, several asked for invitations to upcoming shows and to learn about new work for sale! It’s very empowering to know that your art impacts other people who actually feel honored that you want to share with them.

Who else should be added as you begin list building? Your existing customers are ideal as subscribers, and they are actually the best prospects for future sales. Because they are already clients, you have implied permission to contact them, and can add them to your list without a separate request. Of course, with the unsubscribe feature that all ESPs provide, they can easily remove themselves if they choose.

Tools for Growing a List

Subscriber opt-in forms are the main way that you will gain subscribers online. Place this  form on your website, and link to it in email messages.

Email subscriber opt-in forms may pop up or be in static on your site in your header or footer. You can also place them strategically on any website page. These forms ask the site visitor to enter their email address, which is then delivered to a specified list on your ESP’s platform.

It’s not enough to simply say “sign up for my list” because many people don’t want to be overburdened with emails. If website visitors are interested in your work, it helps to have an interesting offer to entice them to opt in. You may suggest they become a VIP subscriber to get the latest previews of new work and special deals. Or, offer discount on purchases for visitors who subscribe. Here are some opt-in forms ideas to help you plan.

Get Proactive

In addition to using subscriber opt-in tools, take action online and offline to help yourself build your list faster. At shows, fairs, exhibitions, studio sales or other events, keep a guestbook handy to record names and emails of people to subscribe. Then, add them manually to your list.

In your everyday life, you will meet people who are intrigued to hear you are an artist and want to know more. Simply ask them for a business card or their email address, and ask to stay in touch. That gives you permission to add them as well.

Social media is a great place to gain subscribers. If you run a contest or giveaway, your terms may be that people get on your email list to enter. Place a button on your business Facebook page or a link in a post that leads to your opt-in form. Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social platforms allow profile links that can draw subscribers as well.

Any social media conversation or direct message could be an appropriate place to ask the other party to join your list to stay in touch and learn more about you as an artist.  Although not everyone will want to subscribe, be persistent and you will grow your list.

Send Campaigns

Even when your subscriber list is small, get into the habit of creating and send email campaigns on a regular basis. An email list will do you no good if you ignore it.

List building is important but contacting that list with compelling email messages to engage them is essential to get results. Plan your marketing calendar to reach out approximately once a month, with more frequent communication when running a special event or sale.


Want to stay current on cutting edge business articles from Artsy Shark, plus artist features, and an invitation to the next Call for Artists? Subscribe to our twice-monthly Updates, and get a free e-book on How to Sell Art in Today’s Online World right now!



  1. I always look forward to read your posts. Building an email list, I personally don’t do too much marketing by emails, maybe I will give it a try by following your suggestions.
    Twice to three times a year (now twice) send out postcards featuring some of my paintings, behind the postcard link to my website. Also every month I have a drawings for followers who signed up for my newsletter to receive a free print of my painting.

    • Teresa, I like your direct mail approach keeping interested prospects engaged – and you can blend that with email marketing as well, especially if they are local and you can send a reminder email to see you at a show, attend a studio sale, etc. The more ways you market, the more people you will reach. It takes a concerted effort to stay connected, but it sounds like you are motivated to do so. Well done!

Speak Your Mind