But a lot of the time, artists get bogged down by the amount of work it takes to maintain a website, promote their work on social media, and constantly offer new pieces to stay relevant in the noise of the online world.
One of the platforms that’s trying to help change that is Art-Shelf, an online retail start-up that offers artists a place to sell their art, without having to spend the rest of the day marketing and advertising.
I recently spoke with founder Josh King about how the business started and what it’s like to market art online today.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m from Boston and currently live and have lived and worked here since graduating from Bowdoin College in 2010. I’m also a Boston sports fan, but my greatest sporting allegiance is with Arsenal of the Premiere League (GO GOONERS!!!!) I don’t discriminate when it comes to music- I love listening to Biggie and Tupac, but have just as much fun (even if I don’t show it), when my girlfriend blares Michael Buble on the radio (the guy has pipes).
I’m a Capricorn who has a soft spot for Emilio Estevez’s extremely moving and versatile performances in The Mighty Ducks Series.
I’m also the Founder of a company that specializes in art and unique home goods, called Art-Shelf. Art-Shelf offers our customers a way to find extremely unique art to stylize their home, while also providing them with an opportunity to give back to various charities. We currently have about 35 artists featured on the site, spanning from a group of guys in NYC who take European Wine Crates and recycle them into wine crate furniture, to a group of former scientists who will take a sample of your DNA and make a huge print in any style you want.
What inspired you to start Art-Shelf?
I watched for a while as my sister Sally, (whose work is featured on Art-Shelf) made a lot of sales for her customized oil paintings but also saw her go through the arduous process of creating a website and trying to market her work.
I thought that there had to be a lot of other talented artists out there who needed a marketplace to sell their work and tell their story. I also wanted to give people an opportunity to connect with and support talented artists who make their living pursuing their passion.
How long has Art-Shelf been active? What makes the business special?
Art-Shelf was launched in early September. Despite its release not single-handedly bringing down the internet, business has been going well and we’re keeping a steady pace in terms of sales. My first order was from my Mom and Dad- which wasn’t the biggest confidence booster in the world, but Art-Shelf’s bank account doesn’t know the difference between a legit and pity order so I’ll take it.
What makes the business special is that our art is truly unique and high quality. Some of our pieces are also customizable, so a buyer with a keen eye can work with the artist to create something entirely their own. As opposed to a site like Etsy, where it might take you hours to sift through the clutter to eventually find high quality yet cost-efficient art and home goods, Art-Shelf provides our customers with an intuitive marketplace of premium artwork that.
Like Etsy, it has something for everyone, but it’s an intimate setting that fosters an exciting buying experience and makes the customer feel like he or she is buying something truly exceptional from a truly exceptional creator.
Has it been a mostly solo operation to get things up and running? How have you primarily spread the word?
It’s been mostly a solo/lone-wolf operation that has taken a lot of extremely early mornings and late nights. I’ve harnessed the ever-powerful tools of social media to help spread the word. While I dabbled a little in Google Adwords, it was extremely expensive competing with search terms like “unique gifts,” “cool art,” or “unique home goods,” so I really started focusing on organic growth via social media.
I’ve also had some success with offering coupons via social media, but I’m still trying to crack that million-dollar marketing campaign and what the best way is to spread the word. In the meantime, check it out on Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest.
Did you design the website yourself? If so, what platform did you use?
I did design the whole website on my own using a platform called Wix. While I had taken a class at Harvard Extension School in web design and had planned on creating the site myself, I not only realized I was an atrocious web designer, but I decided it was best to not reinvent the wheel. Know thy strengths, know thy weakness (I think that’s an original quote from Ghandi or Mr. Miyagi).
I’ve been happy with this platform – it freed up time that I spent attracting valuable artists and hopefully makes the site look a lot better than what I would have otherwise developed.
What social media channels have you found to be most effective when promoting the site?
Facebook has been absolutely huge. It’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words, which I realized quickly by the number of likes, shares, and responses to cool pieces of art that I would put on my Facebook page. Twitter and Pinterest have also been valuable.
A lot of the stuff on Art-Shelf is so unique that it’s very difficult to describe in words, which is why sharing images of the art on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest has been extremely helpful in getting the word out.
7. How do you reach out to new artists to see if they want to join the site?
I read a lot of art blogs now to discover up-and-coming artists. You want to find artists who don’t yet have gallery representation or a selling platform but have something that’s different and unique to offer. If you’re their only marketplace to sell their work, they’ll do your advertising for you by getting all of their families and friends to visit the site.
So I’ll call them up, do my sales guy routine, but I’ll also try to really be sure it’s a good fit for both parties.
What do you see for Art-Shelf a year from now? Five years from now?
While I can’t say I see myself on a yacht blaring Chumbawamba (at least that’s my vision of a baller) as a result of starting Art-Shelf, I do see Art-Shelf being a success given that we offer something for everyone. If you’re looking for extremely high-end and original art, we have that- but if you’re moving into your first apartment and need something more affordable, we have something for that buyer as well.
If we’re the established choice for a variety of different tastes, I think Art-Shelf will be a great success. But at the same time, there are certainly challenges like getting the word out there and reaching new audiences. I wholeheartedly believe we have a great product that will sell, so how well we spread the word will truly define how well the company does.
So, if in five years I’ve figured out the best marketing platform, maybe I’ll be able to at least settle for blaring Chumbawamba from a Sunfish? Gotta start somewhere.
Today, artists are posting all sorts of work to a dizzying number of channels – from Imgur to Facebook, Pinterest to WordPress – how can they cut through the noise?
It’s overwhelming for sure.
What I’d say though is that unless you’ve found that golden road for marketing, you almost have to be everywhere at once. I think an artist’s selected marketing platforms really depends on how established you are as an artist and how much you know your target audience.
There are different groups of potential buyers who are extremely loyal to certain social media platforms and one of the most effective ways to ensure you’re reaching a lot of people is to ensure you’re posting on a lot of platforms.
While some might call that casting too wide of a net, or taking blind shots (any other outdoorsy sportsman analogies I can use?), I think you definitely have to start broad before you’ve found your bread and butter to make the perfect recipe (we’re now onto cooking analogies). This will allow you to learn who your target audience is and what marketing platforms and methods work best.
However, if you’re already an established artist and are offering something extremely specialized, you’ll hopefully have an idea of who you’re trying to reach.
Not to beat a dead horse (now onto animals), but if you’re an artist who specializes in nude renditions of various Star Trek heroines, I’d say marketing via WordPress or something that will reach a slightly geekier audience is better than taking out a full-page ad in “Home and Garden” or “Soccer Mom’s Life,” so while it’s great to do a little on all platforms at the start to see what clicks, the goal is to definitely be able to find that marketing platform that works better than all the others and make it your bread and butter (back to cooking).
What do you think the future of artists is? What should they be doing today to help promote their work tomorrow?
What’s fascinating is how much cool stuff there is out there. The rapid growth of technology has truly been a catalyst for artistic exploration. Think about what crazy stuff Salvadore Dali could’ve created with a 3D printer – or what Picasso could’ve dreamed up and made with Photoshop.
We’re tapping into a lot of that funkiness and artistic exploration. We have one artist who will take any picture you want and create a huge print made of Legos out of it.
He’ll either give you the base and all of the Legos along with an instruction guide on where to place each Lego so that you can make it yourself,or he’ll assemble it for you at no additional cost.
Anything you’d like to add?
I’d just like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to do this interview. These are the exact type of marketing platforms that are so crucial to artists and start-ups as it enables us to reach an intelligent community of readers.
Interested in buying or selling on Art-Shelf? Check out the site here!