No niche is too small if it’s yours.
— Seth Godin
It’s Valuable to Know How to Sell Your Art in Niches.
There are numerous examples of artists who have developed a loyal following and highly profitable business model around a niche market. The range of interests seems endless. Some examples of niches include marine art, wildlife art, Americana, romantic cottages, naïve art, motorcycle art, dog art, wine art, and landscapes based on Aspen trees, to name just a few. The point is if you find a theme or topic that has enough appeal to potential buyers and you as an artist, you can turn that passion into gold.
This article is an excerpt from my Guerrilla Marketing for Artists: How 100 Collectors Can Bulletproof Your Career book.
Making the Best Doggone Art
Ron Burns established his niche when he began painting dogs more than 20 years ago. His first muse was his pet, Rufus, who was a shelter dog. That path led him to a career full of rewards and recognition. He began donating part of his sales to support the Humane Society. As a result, he became the first and only “Artist in Residence of The Humane Society of the United States.”
Living the High Life with Wine Art
Thomas Arvid is perhaps the most well-known painter of wine and wine-related subjects. He has made an impressive career by selling his realism art that relates to all things wine. When he burst onto the scene, his large still life compositions of wine and the rituals surrounding it became a sensation. The look started a trend as one of the niches many other artists have attempted to emulate as they sought entry into the world of art and wine connoisseurs. Leading wineries have commissioned Arvid’s work and, at its peak, was represented in more than 50 galleries worldwide.
Hitting the Road with Motorcycle Art
Scott Jacobs also specializes in realism. He climbed to success in his niche of painting motorcycles, mostly from photographs taken at the annual Sturgis rally in South Dakota. He would go to Sturgis to walk around and find potential subjects. His method was to take pictures of unique bikes and leave a note on a bike that read, “Please call me. I want your permission to paint your bike.” Who would have thought such a subject matter would become collectible? He became the first artist to be officially licensed through Harley-Davidson’s worldwide “Fine Art Program” in 1993.
The Chevrolet Motor Company (Corvette Division) has also licensed Jacobs’ work. Other licensors of his work include Mattel: Hot Wheels Race Team working with Kyle Petty; the Marilyn Monroe Estate, where he created images for their wine label, Marilyn Merlot; and Elvis Presley Enterprises, creating images for their wine label, Elvis Presley.
Scott Jacobs appeared on the ABC television show “Secret Millionaire.” The TV show located successful businesspeople willing to go undercover for a week and work among people living in poverty. Jacobs ended his show’s episode by giving away hundreds of thousands of dollars to needy people and organizations he encountered. He has become a multi-millionaire and internationally known artist through his art and niche. His success allows him to do extraordinary things with his money for his family and others.
Marketing Wildlife Art Without the Frills
Dave Chapple is an artist who carved out a successful career in the wildlife market niche. He sold directly to Ducks Unlimited for over a decade with a single artist representative, other conservation groups, and hunters. Together, they marketed his realistic paintings, etchings of ducks, and other wildlife scenes. Although he was selling enough art to earn around $100,000 annually and paying his rep about half that much during that time, few in the art world knew him outside of his tiny niche.
Chapple was not looking for the limelight. He loved making his type of art. He had found a niche that worked for him. Follow your passion for finding your profitable niche. Start by creating work that sells and that you love to create. It is entirely possible that only your niche will know you, and you will still enjoy an enriching career.
Life’s a Beach with Tropical Art
Paul Brent paints whimsical, tropical beach scenes and has built a strong following by marketing his self-published watercolors as posters. His publishing ventures in themed niches led him into the licensing business. Today he annually earns million on his licensed images. His art has a distinct style. His work perfectly fits those who want to depict a beach cottage or Caribbean-themed decor. To their delight, lovers of his work can get his images on everything from shower curtains, wallpaper, floor mats, greeting cards, and much more.
Licensing Art Is Profitable If You Choose to Embrace It
To some people, the idea of licensing one’s work is distasteful. It’s true. The decision of how you want to promote your art to the world and how you might make money from doing so is an intensely personal one. It is a big tent, which makes room for everybody. Whatever you choose for your career, I suggest not wasting your time debating or agonizing about what other artists are doing with theirs. Be true to yourself, and the rest will follow. Follow your instincts if interested in the art world’s many niches.
Are Trends Good Things or Bad Things?
It would be best to decide whether you would follow a trend or start a movement. Both approaches have upsides and downsides. Worrying about being first in, or coming in later, is far less consequential than concentrating on making commercially viable art and building a massive fan and collector base that will buy it. So I think you should do what is intriguing and inspiring to you.
If other artists influence your work, there is no harm in that. That’s because if artists did not move in unison with their contemporaries, influential art movements would never evolve. But, on the other hand, if you wholly and directly copy another artist, that is poor practice. Indeed, doing so is unethical and possibly illegal. But, on the other hand, if you take influence from someone who is also painting in a thematic style but using your creativity to create a distinctive art statement, there is only a benefit in that you are amplifying the movement.
This question is from Quora, “What did Picasso mean when he joked “good artists copy, great artists steal”? Did he say this, or did someone else say it?” This line is an excerpt from a great answer to it:
Whether this quote is from Picasso or merely attributed to him doesn’t make much difference. The underlying meaning of the message is the same either way.
Assuming a Different Name and Artistic Persona
Knowing trends and how to incorporate them will help you sell more art in specific niches. Seeking to set edgy trends is somewhat risky from a business perspective. If you already enjoy a following with a more traditional art style, you might want to pursue marketing venues outside the ordinary. Learn to be versatile. If you have a creative outlook, time, and capacity to follow your passion and are productive, consider selling some of your work under a different name. A “nom de brusse,” if you will.
I worked for a Scottsdale, Arizona, gallery housed in a design center where it primarily catered to designers and was open to the public. We worked with a couple who painted Tuscany-style work and sold it under their real names. Simultaneously, they were in another gallery across town that displayed abstract work they made under different names.
Everybody knew what was going on; there was no attempt by the artists to hide what they were doing. It was perfectly acceptable to all parties. It was just a way for artists to make more money and express themselves differently without confusing their collectors. The artists did not care about becoming famous under their assumed names; they painted to make a living and enjoy their work. It was terrific for them and both galleries. If you have the desire and means to produce art this way, go for it.
Success in the Niches within the Art Print Market Opens Doors
Marketing your work within niches in the art print market opens the doors to the licensing market, the home furnishings market, and the hospitality design market. These markets are your ticket to selling your art in hotels, resorts, office buildings, and healthcare facilities, including hospitals, medical centers, and doctors’ offices.
It is much easier to break into design markets when reproductions of your work are available, which is another reason that having artworks in the print market opens doors. The key to being successful in all markets is creating work that sells. For example, while last revised in 2010, my How to Profit from the Art Print Market, 2nd Edition book, offers valuable advice that remains pertinent today. Of course, the ArtMarketingNews.com blog is also an excellent resource for learning about the print market.
Making Connections in Niches
It’s a common condition that some, if not many, artists don’t like learning and using digital marketing strategies. And many use informal marketing approaches that help them sell art without online marketing tools such as email lists and social media marketing. Instead, they sell through their local and warm marketing connections.
Going to the basics and you will find everything you want to accomplish as an artist requires someone — a connection — to help. In your artist’s life, you must connect with administrators, docents, curators, gallerists, jurors, academics, patrons, benefactors, fans, and collectors. By being intentional, you can meet the people you want to know. And do it on your terms.
Behold Niches, Micro-Tribes, and POPs
In the AMTP (Art Marketing Toolkit Project) membership group, artists learn about traditional and digital art marketing tools and techniques. But we also train on how to make valuable connections by selling directly through their POPs (Pockets of People), aka micro-tribes. I believe selling directly to collectors is the best and most satisfying method to sell your art.
If you would like new, refreshing thoughts and advice on selling your art and living your best life as an artist, please join the worldwide community of like-minded artists seeking the same things and me. They use the AMTP training to help them find ways to sell their art in ways that work for them. I cordially invite you to become a member. It’s only $4.99 per month with no contract to join. It will be a pleasure to know you in the group.