If you’re  a professional artist (meaning you make art with the intention of selling it) or if you want to be a professional artist, should you post images online?

Debate on this question is ongoing, with strong convictions on both sides. What is the right answer? Is there a right answer?

What is the Purpose of Posting Images

Artists who sell art for a living or who want to sell art for a living have to market. There’s no way around it. You can’t sell your artwork to people who don’t know you do artwork or who don’t even know you exist.

So you have to make them aware of your existence.

You also have to make them aware that you paint, draw, or sculpt and you have to somehow let them see your work.

In today’s marketplace, the best way to do that is via the internet.

I don’t think anyone would argue that point.

Why Would You Not Post Images?

The most common reason for not posting images online or for not wanting to is copyright infringement. That is, someone copying images from a website or social media site and using them for their own purposes without asking permission.

Let’s face it, this is a major problem in today’s world. Anything on the internet is accessible wherever people have computer access.

I don’t think anyone would argue that point, either.

A lot of artists are terrified of having their work copied for sale or for any other purpose. So they ask, Do I have to post images online?

The short answer is, No. No one is forcing you to post your work online. It’s a personal decision. If you don’t want a website, don’t have one. Just make that decision with your eyes wide open.

What Are The Non-Online Options?

We never used to have the internet. When I began selling artwork, the internet was barely a gleam in a developer’s eye. There was no concept it would become as widespread as it has or that it would become a viable and valuable marketing tool.

Yet I made a start painting portraits. How did I do it?

How did all the other successful, pre-internet artists do it?

Browse magazines. One of the first things I did was subscribe to a few favorite horse-related magazines. Arabian Horse Express was one. So was Arabian Horse World and The Blood-Horse. I read those magazines not just for the articles, but looking for pictures of horses. Whenever I saw one I liked, I wrote the owners, explained who and what I was, and asked their permission to paint a picture of their horse. Sometimes, they replied.

Sometimes they didn’t.

Sometimes I received photographs of the horses, which always made my day. Sometimes I even sold the painting that resulted.

These days, if you do this, make sure to find out who the photographer is and get their permission, too. Things are a lot different today than they were back then. It’s incredibly easy to end up in hot water if you use someone’s photography without their permission.

Flyers and handbills. Magazines were for finding potential clients outside my area. To reach potential clients in my area, I made flyers and handbills. I posted them in the local feed stores, at boarding and training farms, at horse shows, and at the county fair. If someone gave me permission to put out flyers and handbills, I put them out.

If I didn’t get permission to post flyers or handbills publicly, I carried them with me and gave them to anyone interested in my work.

Later, I got business cards and used them the same way.

These days, I use full color post cards of paintings. Half of them go to the client to do with what they wish. Happy clients are quite likely to pass them out to friends and horse people they meet.

The other half, I keep and include them in packages and give them out like business cards.

Speaking of business cards, they aren’t dead. Far from it. Keep a stock of professionally made business cards handy. Get color it you can.

A lot of printing companies are also now offering marketing booklets that can be used like mini portfolios. Check them out. They can be very beautiful and very effective.

Art and craft shows. I did local art shows and craft shows, often partnering with my sister, who did fabric art. The local shows usually didn’t cost much and usually drew a pretty good crowd, but I soon found that the visitors to craft shows weren’t looking for fine art. Oh, they appreciated it and encouraged me, but they were looking for low-cost items and I just didn’t have any.

Horse shows. Since my work was all equine at the time, I eventually left the art shows and craft shows and started doing horses shows. Local county shows whenever possible. Major trade shows whenever I could afford it. I was a regular at the Lansing Stallion Expo each March for over a dozen years. The three-day show was not only  a great place to display artwork; it was a great place to see horses and interact with horse people. Expensive, yes, but a weekend I looked forward to most of each winter.

Art exhibits. The art exhibit I attended most regularly was the Clare County Fair. I entered every class for which I had eligible artwork. My work became so well known that when I missed the show one year, a neighbor asked about it. I was amazed.

Most of the time, all I got out of the shows was exposure, a handful of ribbons, and a premium check. Once or twice, paintings were selected to go to the Michigan State Fair. I don’t remember ever making a sale from those exhibits, but when I was at the show arena and someone asked what type of art I did, I could take them to the Home Arts Building and show them.

Know What You’re Getting Into

The point is that you don’t have to market yourself online. That’s not the only game in town.

It’s only the biggest game in town.

And the least expensive.

You can still do direct mail promotions. You exhibit at art fairs, craft shows, trade shows (find a niche in which your work would fit), and other non-online exhibits.

But be prepared to spend money on postage, print advertising (whatever form you choose), travel expenses, and printing expenses, just to name a few.

Also be prepared for lots of weekends sitting at art shows or trade fairs and potentially slow growth.

It can be done. It just may take longer and be more expensive.

The Bottom Line

Despite the popular sentiment that “everyone’s online”, not everyone is. A lot of very good artists have chosen not to have an online presence themselves and have let their galleries manage that. Many have chosen not to have an online presence at all. It can be done.

So if you really don’t want to do the internet, don’t let yourself be pressured into it. There are a lot of benefits to not getting caught up in cyberspace.

Next week, I’ll share tips for protecting your images—and your income—if you do decide to post images online.

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