Taking a Social Approach to Marketing Art Materials

It’s just human nature—whenever you run into someone from your own tribe, you immediately start swapping stories and talking shop. Artists are no exception, and we particularly love to discuss the tools of our trade—art materials. Especially for beginners, it can be extremely helpful to talk to more experienced artists who can explain how one brand of paint differs from another and why that $250 watercolor brush from the art store really is better than the $2.50 brush from the craft store.

Joe Miller gets it. An artist himself, he’s spent nearly 30 years talking to artists about art materials. It’s a huge part of his job as owner of Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff in Boone, North Carolina, one of the largest mail-order art materials retailers around. Even back in the days when his business was conducted through a paper catalog, Joe was social. He understood that artists enjoy telling stories and sharing experiences—the funnier, the better!—so he included them in his catalog. And now that social commerce is in full swing, Cheap Joe’s is taking full advantage of it.

In addition to the company website, which includes discussion forums for almost every art topic imaginable, Cheap Joe’s has an extensive Facebook page, which is connected to its YouTube channel (filled with art instruction videos), which is connected to its Pinterest page, and so on. Supporting these platforms are special incentives delivered on Twitter. In other words, the company’s online presence is smartly integrated (Wehmann, 2011). Throughout it all, visitors get to enjoy lots of great announcements of people winning awards and fun events and links to other valuable resources for artists. And the product messaging is so subtle. For example, rather than post something about some type of paint, Cheap Joe’s posts a picture of paint being made, like this one from the company Facebook page. For an artist, that’s really cool to see, don’t you think?  The overall theme to everything Cheap Joe’s does is the pure fun and joy of creativity—that’s what the company is really selling.

Like all online retailers using social media, Cheap Joe’s has opened the door to criticism and negative feedback. And there is some to be found. But the company has responded appropriately, according to what many experts recommend, by clarifying misconceptions, providing additional information, and yes, apologizing when things haven’t gone as planned (ASPCA).

Cheap Joe’s must be devoting a lot of resources to social commerce and SM marketing, given the volume and tight integration of everything that the company’s marketing team is putting out there, yet the company has consistently invested heavily in marketing. As someone who has routinely given away thousands in free product every year, Joe Miller has always believed that marketing pays off in both tangible and intangible ways that can’t always be measured (Owyang, 2010). Today, the Cheap Joe’s Facebook page has more than 13,000 likes and more than 5,000 subscribers to its YouTube channel. In the art world, that’s big!

I’m obviously a big fan of Cheap Joe’s and Joe himself. How about you? Are you a fan? Why don’t you come and join me in the conversation about art materials at Cheap Joe’s?


ASPCA (n.d.). Using social media: Top 10 tips for responding to negative comments, ASPCA.org, retrieved from http://www.aspcapro.org/top-10-tips-for-responding-to-negative-comments.php.

Owyang, Jeremiah (September 19, 2010). Matrix: Risks and rewards of social business, Jeremiah Owyang, retrieved from http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2010/09/19/matrix-risks-and-rewards-of-social-business/.

Wehmann, Jim (August 25, 2011). 5 ways to maximize your social commerce ROI, .net, retrieved from http://www.netmagazine.com/opinions/five-ways-maximise-your-social-commerce-roi.


ArtVenue: A Mobile App That’s Launching Art Careers

It’s the classic conundrum for many a new college grad: No one will hire you because you don’t have experience, but you can’t get experience because no one will hire you. In the world of art, emerging artists often suffer the same fate. Reputable galleries don’t want to show emerging artists because they don’t have a proven track record of sales, but the artists can’t get those sales because they don’t have any places to show their work.

At least, that’s how it used to be. Fortunately, clever artists have found inventive ways to get their works of art before the public’s eyes in other venues, such as restaurants, coffee houses, libraries, and gift shops. Basically, anyplace with some blank walls will do, as long as the artist can hang up some pieces and stash a few business cards around to allow for contact.

Finding such venues can require a lot of legwork, but a new social media app out of the Boston area called ArtVenue is making the process a whole lot easier. Here’s how it works: Artists upload their profiles along with a small portfolio of work to ArtVenue. They then send requests to any venues in the system, asking the venue manager to take a look at their portfolios and consider setting up an exhibit. Meanwhile, any venue willing to liven up its walls with the works of emerging artists can peruse any of the portfolios and connect with those artists whose works fit the style and theme of the venue.

On average, each exhibit lasts about one month, and ArtVenue actually provides QR codes on placards hung next to each piece that will take people directly to the artist’s selling page within ArtVenue.com, the companion website. ArtVenue’s owners stress that the app is as much about making sales as it is about making connections (Thibault, 2012). There are currently about 25 artists and 30 venues in ArtVenue’s Boston-area network (ArtVenue, 2012), and the ArtVenue team is continually recruiting more (Morris, 2012).

The ArtVenue app and website are free for both artists and businesses to use. However, each venue takes a 20 percent commission off each piece sold, and ArtVenue takes an additional 10 percent. Still, most artists are thankful for the remaining 70 percent of every sale, and especially for the exposure.

ArtVenue’s website proves to be a valuable resource for emerging artists in other ways, as well. The site contains plenty of useful tips on marketing and selling artwork, developing portfolios, writing artist statements, and much more. There’s also a blog that features art-related news and events.

ArtVenue was established in Cambridge, Massachusetts, just last summer by co-founders Dan Vidal (who came from BzzAgent) and Casey Rankin and Jesse Rankin (the co-founders of the daily deal aggregator called DealGatore) (Morris, 2012). Celebrating its first anniversary, ArtVenue has already garnered a lot of attention. In fact, it has received funding from a local startup incubator, and it was one of only eight startups invited by the Startup America Partnership to participate in a trading day on the New York Stock Exchange in February (Thibault, 2012). If they can continue to make the numbers work, I predict we’ll see ArtVenue expanding rapidly into new markets throughout the U.S. and beyond.


ArtVenue (2012). ArtVenue, retrieved from http://www.artvenue.com/.

Morris, Cheryl (April 13, 2012). Meet ArtVenue: Empowering local artists with technology, BostInno, retrieved from http://bostinno.com/2011/04/13/meet-artvenue-empowering-local-artists-with-technology/.

Thibault, Ally (February 1, 2012). ArtVenue enriches community, helps artists, The Suffolk Journal, retrieved from http://suffolkjournal.net/2012/02/artvenue/.

How Social Media Has Transformed the Art Industry

Those of us in the fine art industry know that artists and art galleries have had a long-standing love/hate relationship. Artists love the fact that galleries market and sell works of art, but they hate the fact that the better galleries keep 50% (or only 40%, if you’re lucky) of every sale. Then along came the Internet, and things got so much worse. Artists started setting up personal websites to sell their own works directly to the public, and social media allowed them to market themselves like the best professionals. Their efforts made deep cuts into galleries’ profits. For a few years there, the relationship between artists and galleries was seriously contentious. But once it became obvious that web-based art marketing was here to stay, both groups seemed to settle in to a new way of co-existing peacefully and profitably.

Now that the dust has settled, it’s clear that there are still many art collectors who will only purchase works of art from art galleries or auction houses. The collectors look to gallerists and curators to provide a level of expertise and unbiased information that they just can’t get anywhere else. And now that gallerists and curators understand the important educational role they play, they’re using the web to fulfill this role more effectively than ever before. All of today’s galleries and auction houses have their own websites, but most also have Facebook business pages along with blogs and Twitter accounts to push out useful, informative snippets of information (Huff, Blue chip galleries). In fact, social media is an ideal forum through which all kinds of art dealers can sell their high-ticket “products” by informing, rather than persuading, which is exactly what today’s collectors want (Huff, Art galleries). Social media platforms are also a great way for these businesses to remind their customers of openings, auctions, and other upcoming events.

However, many eager collectors are also willing to buy direct from artists, especially if they are familiar with an artist’s work. And many artists now prefer to sell their own work via the web, although some would still rather leave the marketing and sales functions up to a gallery. Those artists who do market their creations can charge the same amounts for works that are sold in galleries, but they get to keep the full amount (minus taxes and shipping, of course). Many artists feel that the increase in revenue more than makes up for the extra time they invest in marketing their own work. And many of these artists have learned to be pretty savvy marketers. Going beyond merely optimizing their websites and waiting for visitors to show up, they are proactively using social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and more to attract collectors’ attention.

Social media has turned the artists’ world upside-down in other ways, too. The life of an artist has always been a solitary one, with hours spent working alone in the studio. Professionals artists are a fairly rare breed, too, so unless an artist lives in New York or some other major “art town,” there were generally few opportunities to meet other members of the artist tribe. Facebook and other forums have changed all that.

There are now thousands of artists who’ve joined Facebook, and they’ve set up literally hundreds of different groups where they can interact. Artists typically set up groups based on something they have in common, so there are groups that run the gamut from Serious Collectors of Realism Art to En Plein Air Paintings and Painters to The Beauty of California by Facebook Painters. And it’s more than just online socializing—members are using these groups to connect in real life. For example, one group called KAWA (Kick Ass Women Artists), led by founding member Anne Nelson Sweat, will be holding its first group meeting and paint-out in Jackson, Wyoming, in mid-September, and nearly 170 women artists plan to attend. Artisans who create fine craft are enjoying a similar experience within Etsy, a site that doubles as their e-commerce site.

A smaller, yet still significant, number of artists can also be found participating in art-related forums all over the web (Huff, Thriving artist). For example, the two biggest “how-to” painting magazines in the U.S., The Artist’s Magazine and American Artist, each facilitate huge online forums where artists can ask questions and discuss issues.  Not only do forums like ArtistsNetwork and ArtistDaily provide a place for artists to connect, they offer a place where beginners can learn from more seasoned professionals by asking questions and watching demonstrations. Similarly, YouTube is loaded with how-to videos for beginners. And all of them, along with social media sites like Deviant Art, allow artists to post their latest creations and get feedback from fellow artists.

Arts industry workers and art enthusiasts, in general, are using social media tools to connect, too. In fact, hundreds of art lovers have been using Meetup.com to find fellow art lovers and set up trips to museum shows, gallery exhibits, film festivals, and more. These people have formed groups in cultural cities around the globe, and many groups from Philadelphia to Toronto to New York have memberships over a thousand. London’s Culture Seekers group actually has about 5,000 members (Preston, 2011).

Almost inevitably, artists are now using social media as a tool for creating art itself. Just one example is the Creators Project, a collaborative art installation that pops up at events all around the world. It’s an idea dreamed up by Intel, Vice, and hundreds of artists. Participants contribute pictures and videos of the events through a variety of apps and other social media tools, then tweet, post, or otherwise communicate the project to art enthusiasts everywhere (Drell, 2012). Collectively, the images become a work of art.

From artists to art dealers to collectors, art aficianados of every kind are discovering an increasingly large and fascinating world of art online, especially through the use of social media tools. How about you? What are some of your favorite sites and tools?


Drell, Lauren (January 20, 2012). Artists and digital: why social media is the new art gallery, Mashable Social Media, retrieved from http://mashable.com/2012/01/20/artists-social-digital-media/.

Huff, Cory (n.d.). Art galleries and the internet, AbundantArtist.com, retrieved from http://www.theabundantartist.com/galleries-and-social-media-part-1/.

Huff, Cory (n.d.). The thriving artist survey results, AbundantArtist.com, retrieved from http://www.theabundantartist.com/the-thriving-artist-survey-results/.

Huff, Cory (n.d.). What blue-chip galleries can teach us about social media networking, AbundantArtist.com, retrieved from http://www.theabundantartist.com/what-blue-chip-galleries-can-teach-us-about-social-media-networking/.

Preston, Jennifer (October 21, 2011). Rendezvous with art and ardent, New York Times, retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/arts/artsspecial/social-networking-among-young-arts-professionals.html?pagewanted=all.

5 Tips for Using Social Media to Market Your Art

We all enjoy using Facebook to stay connected to our friends and family, and Pinterest is a lot of fun for collecting and sharing ideas, but have you thought about how you can utilize these social media tools as part of your overall marketing efforts for your art career? A recent study shows that 81% of business owners using social media have seen an increase in business (Camusio). By understanding who else is using these tools—and why—you can develop a streamlined, efficient social media strategy that will up your art sales.

1. Let people get to know you. As you probably know by now, collectors usually make buying decisions based on more than just the work of art—they want to know and like the artist, too. Having your own website that includes your bio is a great start, but you can use social media tools to give potential buyers more and frequent glimpses into your personality and lifestyle. For instance, nature painter Jane Freeman’s daily meditative Facebook posts on her environment reveal her love of nature and her poetic outlook, which supports her artwork. Similarly, your professional pages on Facebook and LinkedIn with frequent posts about your artistic activities will let people get to know you. And don’t forget Pinterest, another way to show your followers more of your style. With 845 million people using Facebook (Cheredar, 2012), 161 million members using LinkedIn (LinkedIn, 2012), and nearly 19 million people using Pinterest (Swartz, 2012), plenty of would-be art collectors will have a better chance of getting to know you through social media.

2. Celebrate your successes. Another great thing about social media venues like Facebook and LinkedIn—even Twitter if you’re trying to reach a younger crowd (Pew, 2012)—is its immediacy, making it the perfect means of building your credibility by announcing big accomplishments like awards, commissions, and media coverage right when they happen. You might be uncomfortable with the idea of “bragging,” so find creative ways to work around that. When Silvano Raiti wanted to announce his most recent award for “In the Studio” (right, oil, 24 x 24 inches) for instance, he used a Facebook post to thank the judge for the honor. It was subtle, but you can believe potential buyers were excited to know that this beauty for sale is also a gold medalist, which makes the work more valuable.

3. Market your artwork. Of course, new works should be added to your website as you complete them, but don’t miss any opportunity to “push” your latest works out to potential buyers with Facebook or LinkedIn posts or by adding them to your Pinterest board. And if you create fine craft, be quick to post them to your Etsy shop. You never know who may be looking at your pages for fine art since the vast majority of social media users are silent observers, or spectators, as they’ve been dubbed by Groundswell authors Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff (Li, p. 45). Ken Ichihashi (whose vase is shown below right, porcelain, 18 x 12 x 12 inches), Frank Serrano, Donna Talerico, Marc Hanson, Gladys Roldan-de-Moras, Kevin Courter, and countless others report that these spectators often turn into buyers. Even better, the more you can demonstrate a consistent record of sales on your own, the more likely you’ll be to land gallery representation.

4. Market your other services. Hardly any professional artist has the luxury of making a living solely from the sale of their creations. Almost everyone supplements their income by providing other services to fellow artists, such as teaching, workshop teaching, critiquing, and coaching. Although you’ll be marketing these other services to a different audience than your artwork, you can still use social media tools to do the job—at no cost to you. Facebook, LinkedIn, Etsy, Pinterest, and more are filled with artists communicating with one another, individually and in group forums. Once you get involved in these venues, you can start promoting your services, just like artist Chuck Marshall. Chuck is an active Facebook user with more than 4,200 friends, and he says his workshop teaching business has quadrupled since he joined Facebook four years ago.

5. Find inspiration in others. Swapping stories, sharing trade secrets, enjoying others’ works, and rediscovering your motivation when it flags are all benefits you’ll enjoy from engaging in social media tools like Facebook, Pinterest, or Etsy. But these go beyond mere personal enrichment. With inspiration and knowledge, you can continuously create the best works you can, which will inevitably lead to more sales at higher prices. So social media is not just for fun—it’s smart business, too.

Of course, these are just some of the many social media tools and uses that are out there. What have you been using, and why? I’d love to hear your success stories!


Camusio, Zeke (n.d.). Social media networks as a marketing tool (a new study), Startup Nation, retrieved from http://www.startupnation.com/business-articles/9457/1/social-media-network-marketing.htm.

Cheredar, Tom (February 1, 2012). Facebook user data: 845M users monthly, 27.B million daily likes & comments, VentureBeat.com News page, retrieved from http://venturebeat.com/2012/02/01/facebook-ipo-usage-data/.

Li, Charlene, and Bernoff, Josh.  Groundswell: Winning in a world transformed by social media, Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business Review Press, 2011, p. 45.

LinkedIn (May 3, 2012). LinkedIn press release: LinkedIn announces first quarter financial results, LinkedIn.com, retrieved from http://press.linkedin.com/node/1192.

Pew Internet & American Life Project (June 1, 2012). New data about Twitter usage, Social Harbor, retrieved from http://socialharbor.com/blog/new-data-about-twitter-usage/.

Swartz, Jon (April 26, 2012). Pinterest growth curve levels off, USA Today archives, retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/story/2012-04-25/pinterest-growth/54560126/1.