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Selling Large Paintings: Key Things to Think About

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You’re an artist who either wants to start selling their paintings or already has an established store. You’re getting ready to pick out a new canvas for your next painting and you wonder – what size canvas will be easiest to size? Is there a magic size that would make your painting fly out the door and bring in money? What if you love making big paintings? Will they sell?

When you start selling big paintings, you need to consider whether you’ll be selling in person or online, which will have a big impact on your customer base and your shipping methods and costs. 

We’re going to talk about real artists that are making real money from their paintings, which will give you a good way to see how price and size influence buying decisions. That said, SO many factors go into selling art than size. That’s obvious. What isn’t obvious is how much these factors influence the size of paintings customers will buy. Let’s talk about these factors and discuss the numbers along the way.

Side note: If you’re just getting started, or want to improve your skills, with selling your paintings, I HIGHLY suggest getting a subscription to Skillshare. They have a great class about selling your art to galleries and museums that can make a HUGE difference in making your next sale. Luckily, you don’t need to pay anything to take the class!

Are you selling your paintings online or in person?

Selling your paintings online is a completely different ball game than selling them in person. Whether you go with one or the other will have a HUGE impact on the customer base you’ll develop, the marketing you’ll need to do, and the methods you’ll need to learn for shipping your paintings. Here are some of the pros and cons of each:

ONLINE PROS

  • access to a larger audience of buyers
  • access to multiple advertising platforms like social media
  • ability to network with a larger community of artists
  • ability to network with a larger community of galleries and museums

ONLINE CONS

  • shipping costs, especially for large paintings
  • possibility for damage or loss during shipping
  • reluctance of customers buying sight unseen
  • expensive paintings less likely to entice customers that don’t know you

IN PERSON PROS

  • ability to develop strong relationships with local galleries and museums
  • ability to build a local presence at online farmers markets, festivals, shows, and fairs
  • no shipping costs
  • no stress selling to strangers

IN PERSON CONS

  • smaller reach and audience
  • limited to local networking
  • without a worldwide reach, need to appease what your local community wants

As you can see, there are legitimate pros and cons to both options, selling online and selling in person. My solution: DO BOTH!

There’s no reason why you can’t sell your art both online and in person.

That said, the SIZE of paintings you sell will differ between the two. Let’s dive into what you should keep in mind, looking at real artists making money from their work as examples.

What size paintings should you sell online?

Due to shipping costs and the possibility of damage, selling smaller pieces of artwork will always be easier when selling online. As an artist, think about packaging up your 2 foot x 2 foot painting and hauling it to the post office. 

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The burden of shipping large paintings will definitely be a factor for you as an artist.

But, forget about breaking your back. What will sell best?

The case FOR selling large paintings online

It might sound crazy, but I’m about to make a case for selling large paintings online. Hear me out. 

There’s this weird idea that smaller pieces of art should cost less; as though a 8×10 painting took less creativity and effort than a 24×24 painting. Maybe it took less paint, but it’s still a big labor of love. This means that customers who aren’t savvy about art might expect to pay less for a small painting than a big one. 

Annoying. 

It’s really important to value your paintings for what they’re worth, whether they be small canvases or large. An 8×10 canvas can most definitely have the same value as a 64×64, if not more. 

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Of course, it depends on who your customers are. If you’re selling to art enthusiasts, collectors, or gallery owners, they’ll understand the value of your work, regardless of its size. 

But, if you’re selling to the everyday person, it could be easier to sell large pieces. Sadly, bigger is seen a better, which will make it easier for you to price your large art for what it’s worth. 

In addition, think about shipping costs on expensive items. If I’m selling a painting for $2,000, an extra $90 for shipping is nothing. The higher the price of your work, the lower the cost of shipping will seem. Also, if you’re shipping to a collector or gallery, they’ll be accustomed to the shipping prices and won’t be surprised by them.

The case AGAINST selling large paintings online

If you read UPS’ guide to shipping art, they suggest building a custom wooden crate to ship your painting in. Not only does this increase your weight and shipping costs, you also have to build a freakin’ custom wooden crate every time you sell a painting (source).

I’m a painter, not a woodworker. 

When you sell a large painting, it’ll be a lot more challenging to safely package it than a small painting. That packaging will also be more expensive. Remember, freakin’ wooden crate?! If you add the packaging expenses to the shipping costs, you’re looking at a large bill just for getting your painting to your customer.

If you’re hoping to sell large paintings, it’s important to figure out the shipping ahead of time so that you can learn how to construct your packaging correctly and pad the shipping costs into your listing prices. 

Now let’s talk about your customers. 

Having an established audience will always benefit you, no matter the type or size of paintings you sell. We all like to buy from people we trust. But, this is especially true for large paintings.

When someone buys a large painting, not only are they shelling out a lot of money, they are making a huge aesthetic commitment. Depending on how large the painting is, it could end up being the focal point of their living space. That’s a big deal! 

For this reason, it can be hard to snag impulse buyers from your larger pieces of art. While considering the price tag, your potential buyers will also be thinking critically about whether your work will look good as a major part of the decoration in their house. 

High price+high impact=less impulse+more critical thinking

If you’re selling expensive, large paintings, you might need to spend more time building an audience so that you can grow a fanbase that loves and trusts your work.

The case FOR selling large paintings in person

Let’s say that you sell your large paintings at farmer’s markets, craft fairs, festivals, and coffee shops. You also build relationships with local art galleries, museums, and collectors. Overtime, you build a loyal fanbase in your local community that adores your work. 

From a logistical perspective, the biggest benefit of selling your art in person is that you don’t have to worry about packing and shipping your art. No DIY wooden crates for you! As long as you have a car that can accommodate the sizes of your canvases, you’re all set! 

Another perk is that people LOVE to buy local. Buying from your own community feels good. People can connect your face, your story, and your passion to your painting, which makes a HUGE difference when someone decides to shell out money for your painting. 

They get to know you and love you, which makes them love your artwork even more. 

Being able to talk with your customers face-to-face gives you a HUGE advantage over online listings. Talk about the latest community events, your pets, or even the weather. Take time to connect with your customers in a personal way and they’ll be a LOT more willing to buy into your work.

Having this local community to rely upon can be a great security blanket. You know the people; you know the galleries; you know the vibe. There’s no guessing about who will show up to gush over your work. 

Given that you’ll have an intimate knowledge of your community and your buyers, you’ll be able to customize your paintings to their needs in a really neat way. Who else could make a stunning painting of that beautiful bridge that only locals know about? 

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Here’s a great example. I grew up in a small town in California called Aptos. Without fail, visitors pronounce it wrong. Instead of saying “Ap-toss” they say “Ap-tose.” It makes a local roll their eyes every time. 

funny aptos pronunciation shirt

I designed a t-shirt celebrating this pronunciation problem, which has become a community-wide inside joke. One of our local Facebook groups discovered the shirt and it took off like wildfire. Who else would make a random t-shirt about a small town community’s random inside joke aside from a bonafide local? 

When you’re engrossed in your community, you have an amazing opportunity to celebrate your town, city, or state. Take advantage of it!

The case AGAINST selling large paintings in person

The biggest downside of selling your large paintings in person is your limited customer base. Think about big purchases. Someone might buy a hot tub, but they only need to buy it once. Large paintings are a bit different, but the same principle applies. One customer may only have room for 4 or 5 big pieces of art, max. Even if they love your work, it’s unlikely that they’ll buy all of them from you.

Paintings last a lifetime and, when you’re selling big pieces, customers aren’t as likely to come back for more as if you were selling small prints or mugs.

You may have an adoring fan base but, because of price or the fact that they’ve already purchased a painting from you, you might not get a flood of sales solely from your local community.

If you live in a big city like Los Angeles, you might not exhaust your local fan base as quickly as you would in a small town. But, regardless, your reach is smaller than when you’re selling to a worldwide audience online. 

Another downside of selling your paintings in person is that you might feel tied to the whims and desires of your community. A gallery only has a certain amount of space, especially for large paintings. You might find yourself painting to appease a gallery owner and losing your sense of who you really are as an artist. 

That’s a bummer. 

When you sell large paintings in person, you definitely will feel the benefit of having a supportive community around you that loves your work. But, you need to look critically at your community and make sure that it’s a good fit for your art. 

If you feel like you would have to change your style and vibe 100% in order to get a sale, focusing your time on local marketing and awareness may not be right for you. Stay authentic, even if it means selling online and dealing with those obnoxious shipping crates. 

What’s the real solution?

Selling your bigger paintings online and in person both have their pros and cons. Significant pros and cons. If you pick one path, you might be limiting your marketing potential and put yourself through a whole lot of hassle. There has to be a solution here. 

Of course, you’ve been waiting for me to return to this:

Sell your large paintings both online AND in person.

Duh. 

Given the way that customers shop these days, there’s nothing stopping you from having a successful online presence as well as a successful in person presence. 

Sell your paintings in person and develop a raving, local fan base that you can cater to with community-inspired art. Sell your paintings online and build a worldwide fan base that appreciates your authentic work.

This ideology works for art, in general. But, when it comes to large paintings, there are more factors that you have to keep in mind.

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Don’t start an online store and then act confused about how to ship one of your paintings once someone buys it. Be prepared well before you ever list one of your paintings online. Learn how to make a wooden crate; go down to the post office and learn their process; understand all of your costs. 

Don’t start selling your painting in person without zero clue about where your more affluent buyers live and work. Remember that your larger paintings will be pricey and you don’t want to waste your time at art events where the general population can’t afford your work. Understand your community and where you will be successful.

Selling your art will always be a scary leap. It’s a big deal! Selling LARGE artwork only raising the stakes. Before you get started, think through your goals; your needs; and your logistical constraints. If you’re thoughtful, it will be easier to see the hurdles in front of you before you fall over them.

It’s also ok to start small and celebrate every accomplishment. Did you find a local art festival that fits the vibe of your work? Did you reach out to a gallery owner in your area? Did you learn how to make a freakin’ wooden crate?

Getting started with selling your art can feel really overwhelming. You have huge dreams about your future career as an artist, yet it feels like you have so far to go. That’s ok! Take it one step at a time. I struggle with this a LOT. A book that has helped me tremendously in this area is called The One Thing, by Gary Keller. It will help you focus on the one priority sitting in front of you without getting lost in a rabbit hole of all of the steps that come afterwards. I HIGHLY recommend it.

Go forth and make great art! You’ve got this.

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