How do you sell paintings online?

“Limping Vassil”, 2016, oil on canvas

While I’m on the subject of side projects, I thought I might share another project I’m currently investing my time in. It’s called Vernissage and it’s an online gallery, where Bulgarian artists can share their work and make money from selling it. It’s very straight-forward, really, and yet there are surprisingly few similar platforms. In Bulgaria, there’s only one or two websites that come close to providing this type of service, which is why I thought it might be a smart idea to create one. In reality, there might be a reason for that small number.

Why Vernissage?

In 19. century France there was this popular trend among artists to cover their paintings with varnish before the opening of their exhibition. Members of the elite would often visit painters, while they were preparing their paintings, in order to be the first to view their work. It became an unofficial event — an exclusive first preview of an exhibition, available only to a select few.

Today, artists no longer smear their paintings with varnish, but the tradition of early previews remains. Such an event allows industry specialists, private collectors and journalists to enjoy the exhibition before it’s open for the general public.

The Process

My father paints. It’s not his main occupation, but he’s been doing it on and off throughout his life. He’s even made a couple of exhibitions through the years, but hasn’t been creatively active in the last decade. Then a couple of months ago, I suppose inspiration kicked in and he picked up his old hobby again. This is when I decided to help out by popularizing his art pieces online.

Several findings encouraged me to go down this route. According to The European Fine Arts Foundation annual report the online art market has grown from $1.57 billion in 2013, to $2.62 billion in 2014. In 2016 this figure was $3.27 billion with the outlook of continuing to grow. Surely a good sign.

Furthermore, there’s been a 10% increase in Generation Y buyers from 2015 to 2016. It makes sense, really. Tech savvy millennials are growing up and becoming more financially independent, which should also affect the online purchase of luxury goods.

“Pumpkins”, 2016, oil on canvas

First, I set up an Etsy store, uploaded all my dad’s paintings, invested a little bit in the platform’s SEO and gave myself a pat on the back. Nobody purchased anything. I did some price corrections (down) twice, but still nobody was interested. At the same time, I created a profile on a German platform for painters and again, uploaded my dad’s paintings. Nothing came out of that either.

I figured maybe people are more keen on purchasing works of art locally, even online. I got in contact with an online gallery in Bulgaria, but after a few conversations, they lost interest in exhibiting my dad’s work on their platform. It struck me as weird that there’s no easily accessible space online where amateur artists can showcase their work and find buyers.

OK, next option. I created a Shopify account and set up an online store. I’ve been meaning to try it out for some time and this seemed like a good opportunity. It’s a bit pricey, I know, but it’s a really fast, off-the-shelf solution. Doing a whole store from scratch would’ve been more flexible, but it would’ve also taken me months to do.

Plus, if even one painting gets sold through the website the investment would be covered, right? And while I’m at it, I might as well look for other artists who want to offer their works online, but have different barriers in the way — high costs, no appropriate place for their style, maybe even low self esteem.

Current status

This is how Vernissage got started. The design is still pretty rough and there are many things I don’t like, but it’ll have to do for now (MVP style, yes?). I also need to add more payment options, which proved to be troublesome with Shopify and my geolocation.

I’m currently figuring out some legal aspects of running an online shop, as there are hefty fines for missing or misleading information on the website. After I’m sure everything is proper, I’ll start investing a little bit in social media to attract more visitors.

“Jealousy”, 2016, oil on canvas

I also have several artists in mind that I want to contact directly and offer them a place on the platform. So far, I’ve talked to one, other than my father, and the conversation didn’t go so well. Selling their work is definitely something secondary in most artists’ minds. There are also quite a few painters that currently sell their work on the streets of Sofia. Offering them a free place on the web might change their lives for the better.

The first dozen artists will get room on the website for free, in order to have more content. After that, I’ll introduce an appropriate pricing scheme, which will either be a percentage of sales or an annual subscription. The former is more popular on similar platforms, but it has a negative vibe among the users, so this issue has to be carefully thought through, so neither side feels unfairly treated.

Most of the time, it feels like I’m missing something huge and there’s a totally different way to go about in this industry. Maybe this is why there aren’t that many online art platforms.

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