We’ve all heard some form of the old adage, “you shouldn’t make art just for the money.” But isn’t that the dream underlying most artistic endeavors? That someone would shell out their hard-earned cash for a piece of your artwork? If you are looking for ways to make money with art, you’re on the right path, but you might be wondering what art medium sells the most?
There is no single style or medium of art that sells consistently and predictably. However, there are popular mediums that typically shine above the rest and tend to sell well in nearly any market:
- Paintings (Oil paint, Watercolor paint & Acrylic paint)
Unfortunately, there is no “silver bullet” art form that sells well every time. It simply can’t be because the art market would be flooded with look-alikes and copies almost instantly when word gets out. Instead, art sells based on novelty, rarity, and uniqueness. So, for a deep dive on what sells in each category, read on.
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Table of Contents
Deciding Which Medium to Choose
The good news here is that nearly any art form can be viable as a means for making money. As long as it is good enough and marketed well, you can sell almost anything you constitute as art. If your true passion is painting portraits of dogs and cats, then do we have good news for you: that can sell.
Having passion behind your art can go a long way towards its economic viability, but it doesn’t necessarily net you a win automatically. As long as the art is made well and is likewise marketed well, it can sell well.
Paintings and Subject Matter That Sell
It isn’t that paintings sell better than any other form of art, but they are likely the most frequently created, and therefore sold, medium. That being said, we know that paintings can and do sell. But, what kinds of images sell the best?
Traditional Landscape Painting
When you walk into any art gallery, you are likely to find yourself looking at a landscape almost instantly. Landscapes are not famous by mistake. No matter your preferences or passions, there is a landscape for you. For the people that purchase them, landscapes work well as decor in nearly any setting.
From the living room to the dentist’s office, a landscape rarely looks out of place. They are typically a very neutral art form. Non-controversial, inoffensive, and generally easy to enjoy. No matter a person’s background or creed, everyone loves a nice-looking view.
What could be better than bringing a good view indoors where you can enjoy it daily?
If you are looking to focus solely on a type of painting that sells, you couldn’t go wrong with the landscape. If you are already a passionate landscape painter, consider yourself lucky as you get to practice as much as you can. There might not be much need for you to work outside of your niche if you find yourself a natural landscape painter.
What Kind Of Landscapes Sell Best
There are many forms of landscapes, as there are endless views out there in the world. If you had to guess what type of image to capture, it could take quite some time. Lucky for you, we’ve found out what people seem to like best:
- Local Landscapes: With painting, much like any entrepreneurial endeavor, starting small and focusing local can have a significant impact on sales. Images of your local vistas, landmarks, and neighborhoods can be very popular when you show them locally.
- Seascapes & Beach Scenes: Paintings of water in lakes, rivers, and the sea are especially popular. This can be doubly true for locations with a large tourist population that comes for the beachfront living. So, if you live next to a semi-famous body of water, you know what to do.
- Famous Landmarks and Skylines: The Space Needle, Empire State Building, Big Ben. What do they all have in common? People travel to see them. People like paintings of things that they would like to travel to. Even if you don’t have a famous nearby landmark, you should have something you could paint that the locals hold dear in their hearts.
Remember, this is just a simple guide. These happen to be some of the most popular and common types of landscapes that sell. But, you know what else sells? Novelty. If you’ve got some crazy ideas for landscapes, don’t be afraid to let them shine.
If you are drawn to some view and you feel passionate about capturing it on the canvas, in etching or on film, that is a good sign that someone else will feel the same. You’re looking for your art to resonate, so that it sells. If it resonates with you, that may be a good sign.
Many people buy art for one simple reason: it really ties the room together. That is to say, they purchase art that matches their home’s decor and the furniture therein. For abstract artists, this can help move some paintings. With a decent grasp of color theory, composition, and some techniques, you too can sell abstract art.
What kind of abstract paintings sell well, you ask? Well, abstract landscapes tend to do very well. Local landmarks and vistas approached abstractly may have a better chance of selling than more traditional or nuanced abstract expressions. But don’t let that stop you from following your passion.
If you are great at painting original abstract pieces and not so great at creating landscapes in your style, focus on what moves you. While abstract landscapes do well, well-executed abstracts sell better than half-hearted landscapes.
People are more in love with their furry friends than ever. There are quite a few artists that have carved out a living for themselves painting commissioned portraits of canines and felines. If you have a passion for painting animals, you may be on to something.
Just as people have in times past commissioned great paintings of themselves and their families and hung them in their great rooms, people now commission portraits of their beloved pets that adorn their homes.
What animals sell the best? Dogs. Paintings and drawings of dogs are trendy, and if you don’t believe us, hop on social media and do a quick look. Dogs are “in” in a big way. Next up and possibly just as popular are cats, followed by horses.
Wherever you live, you can be sure that someone lives nearby that loves their dog, cat, or horse. If you can tap into that market, whether it be local or even online, you are sure to find customers.
Unlike landscapes and abstract paintings, commissions of pets have become increasingly popular with the advent of social media and art culture online. Also, if you happen to specialize in non-domesticated animals, those sell as well.
Wildlife paintings are popular too. There is also a lot of room for that local flavor when it comes to wildlife. Different regions have diverse flora and fauna that you will likely see if you visit galleries in any town or city. So, if you happen to live near Yellowstone Park, you might as well start painting some buffalo.
Human Figures and Boudoir
The most intimate subjects for nearly any type of art, the human form, both undressed and clothed, are a popular sell as well. Art depicting people in various states of undress have been some of the most popular and memorable pieces throughout history. If you are forced to name a famous painting from the top of your head, the chances are good that a subject is a person.
This form of art isn’t the most widely sold subject matter for paintings, and that may be for several reasons. Firstly, an image of a person is an intimate thing. Emotion is communicated easily through the human form, and it is much easier to feel close to a person than, say, a famous bridge or hillside.
Secondly, they can be more challenging to create. A painting or drawing of a person that is done poorly or is heavily stylized can be unsettling to some and beautiful to others. Some find the obtuse and the strange to be their favorite type of paintings, but the more niche you are within a given subject, the harder it can sometimes be to sell.
When done well, the human portrait is timeless and classic. If you are passionate about the human form in its beauty and its ugliness, you would do well to practice and hone your abilities. While they might not be easy to sell initially, you may just create some valuable art with practice and refinement.
Prints and Etchings
Prints and etchings of your paintings can make selling a bit easier. You can only sell a painting once. There are many ways to make copies of a piece of art via printing. Some forms of printing create wholly individual works of art that can be replicated many times.
With modern copy printing, you are merely producing a high-definition copy of a painting that can be printed, resized, and sold for a fraction of the original price. This can be highly effective for relatively new painters as they can sell their work for much cheaper. It can also be an option for those who have a hard time parting with pieces they particularly love.
Printmaking and Etching are a different medium altogether. Four classic forms of printmaking can be used to make stunning, replicable prints that can still sell for a hefty price.
- Relief Printing: Uses a carved medium, like wooden blocks, to transfer the paint, or other media, onto paper, canvas, or other material. It works much like a rubber stamp, where the higher points of the piece are coated in a dye, whereas the carved out recess remains dry. This is one of the oldest forms of printmaking.
- Intaglio Printing: Intaglio is the opposite of relief printmaking. Instead of transferring the colorant from the carved material’s highest point, the ink is deposited into the carved recesses, and the rest is removed. This method developed as mordant, or metal-eating acid, became the medium of choice. Once mastered, these etchings are easier to produce than relief prints.
- Giclée Printing: A professional archival printing process to turn existing art from a digital file to a paper or canvas print. This is the most popularly used way to make a print from an original painting.
- Lithography: Lithographs is a type of fine art print that uses oil and water to transfer ink from a large piece of stone onto paper. While the process sounds strange and possibly complicated, it is a relatively simple technique that has a low cost of materials.
- Serigraphy or Stenciling: We all have a basic understanding of how a stencil works. With Serigraphy, a thin sheet of material directs the application of a dye via cutouts. This more modern method can produce work quickly with very little prep.
While we have the four principal methods of printmaking, there are numerous other offshoots to try. Printmaking can be a great way to sell small and large scale pieces of art that can have many printings in a series. Why sell one painting when you can sell sixty and only have to draw the thing once?
You can also print onto more than just canvas or paper. Screen Printing is a popular way of transferring designs onto shirts, bags and nearly anything else you can think of. The sky’s the limit with printing and etching.
Drawing Methods That Sell
It is possible to create and sell great art without even picking up a paint brush. There is a market for every type of art. Whether you draw with colored pencil, charcoal, grease pen, chalk, or even crayon, there is someone out there that might just want to buy your art.
Though drawing can differ from painting in many ways, the market for drawings works mainly the same. The different styles and subjects all tend to sell the same way. Landscapes, abstracts, animals, and figure drawings all sell in a similar hierarchy to paintings.
Drawing Can Require More Work
One caveat with drawings is that they can be harder to sell than paintings, especially if they are monochrome. In an illustration, it is much easier to spot inexperience and mistakes. So, an artist that makes their living on their drawings must have a practiced hand and a lot of experience under their belt.
It can also take a long time for an artist to find the drawing medium that speaks to them. With painting, we have oils, acrylics, and watercolor as the primary mediums. Drawing has a long list and many subcategories within. Are you going to draw with Crayola or Prisma Colors (Amazon)? Are you going to use compressed charcoal or a grease pen? Are you going to use chalk or oil pastels?
There are many different options, brands, and styles that all warrant some experimentation. It is essential to move slowly, practice hard, and experiment with materials before you worry too much about making money on pieces.
Luckily the subjects that sell are the same as listed above. So you only need to worry about execution and practice and not on the subject matter.
Photography That Sells
Photography is a different beast, but it isn’t that different from the others we’ve mentioned when it comes to what sells. It all comes down to the hierarchy of high-selling subjects. Landscapes, abstracts, animals, and people, clothed or otherwise. That is if you are strictly thinking of art mediums in the classical sense.
There are many ways to make money with photographs that are both inside and outside the art gallery scene. Photographing models, commercial photography, and work on television and movies are all ripe with opportunities to make some coin.
These options and many more require an artistic eye and the same concepts, like color theory and composition, though they may work in more structured ways.
So if you are looking to avoid the 9 – 5, you may want to stick with the earlier listed basics at the beginning of this article.
Photography and digital art can be similar to printmaking and etching in that you do something once, and you can sell it over and over. So, while it is a more modern form of art and something that you might not have thought of as a classic artistic medium, it can make money just as well as anything else.
So, whether you are painting in oil or acrylic, carving prints into blocks of hardwood, drawing with chalk, or walking around town with a camera, you can make money selling your passion.
With practice in your chosen medium and studying your niche, it is quite possible. Landscapes always sell well, particularly when they have a local bent. Especially when you are starting out, regardless of your tools, whether it be abstractism, people, places, or things.
There are art buyers for every type and style of work. Just make sure that you include your passion up front, though when in doubt, using a landscape as your subject matter is always a good choice.