the 6 worst pieces of promotion advice for artists, and the real solutions.

After countless suggestions of sites to use for promotion, I’m starting to realize that several things do not help at all:

1. Selling on more sites, adding more print-on-demand stores, or more marketing profiles.


When you ask most people “how should I promote my art?” you will often get well-meaning people, telling you “you should sell at *printsite*!” or “are you on *marketsy* site yet?” or even “maybe you should sell them on *auctionworld*!”  “Do you have a *deviantshit* profile???” It’s as if they purposely misunderstood your question! “But I already sell on *somesite*!” You protest. “I already have a *americanartprints* profile, do I really need to be on *shirthoarders* too?”
You know, and I know, that you already ARE selling your work on a site like these. There is already at least one site out there with your work on it, for sale, clearly marked prices and all. What you need isn’t TEN MORE OF THOSE, you need PEOPLE TO GO TO THE ONES YOU ALREADY HAVE, and spend their money on your work. Yet asking how to do this never gets that kind of response! This is because most people have one or two sites they have heard of, vaguely, or bought something from once, and so they assume- if you are asking how to promote, it’s because you don’t even know where to list shit.

Most people aren’t trying to sell art. They’re buying it. So yeah- if ten people suggest *randomprintplace*, you should check it out, maybe. Because you already know ten people shop there. But be wary of paying for a bunch of shops or profiles on these sites, because they usually don’t offer much return. (If you DO need to know which sites to sell on, you’re not ready to promote the art yet. concentrate first on listing it, a lot of it, all in one place. I like redbubble for print-on-demand and squareup market for direct sales of originals. )

2. Writing in-depth or posting art directly on social media sites instead of your own.


I keep my favorites to the left.

Let me guess- you post your work to facebook, twitter, tumblr, instagram, googleplus, wanelo, weheartit, pinterest, linkedin, and maybe even a few dozen other places like this. You’re exhausted. You put off making stuff because you spend way too much time in an endless round of liking and sharing and pinning and chatting with people who never buy a damn thing. Then you get caught up in talking to friends and family, and somehow the day is gone and you actually didn’t do anything you could call “work”. I know. OH TRUST ME I KNOW. Then you go look at your own site, your own blog on your own domain and there’s only like two views. Ghost town. Well, of course it’s a ghost town! You don’t live there, you live in social networks, and you don’t invite anyone there- you talk to them on facebook!

How many people on there do you NOT know? How many people on there BUY things from you that way? I know I get sales to previous clients or friends on these sites sometimes, so it’s tempting to post there a lot, and spend time interacting, and all that…and call that “promotion”. But it’s not, really. It’s not work-related, it’s not promoting, if you do it that way. It’s either time spent with friends hanging out, or you’re just creating content for free so someone else can make money off of your work.
How social sites work, you see, is that people who make things and write stuff, they post these things on that site. That site then slaps ads everywhere and rolls in the dough. If they find out they can charge you to post your work too, they will. They’ll take the ad money YOU and YOUR WORK attracted, and ALSO charge you too. Without your work and your writing and your time spent there, THEY DO NOT MAKE MONEY FROM ADS or datasharing or…or any money AT ALL. YOU ARE PAYING THEM TO GET PAID. There are solutions to this, which will be in the next section (if you click through)

3. Submitting your art to blogs, sites, magazines, or the like.

chosen at random from one of these sites. He could have gotten more visibility by posting a picture of his fucking dinner on facebook.

chosen at random from one of these sites. He could have gotten more visibility by posting a picture of his fucking dinner on facebook.

If you take the time to look at the subscriber counts, a lot of these places have even less followers than you might. For example- I have nearly 3,000 fans, friends, and followers on my fb page. I have nearly that many here on my site as well. I’ve been told to submit my work and write ‘interviews’ and CREATE FREE CONTENT FOR blogs and sites that have less than a thousand followers! Why? They should be submitting work to me, for cryin out loud. Now a site with tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of followers is different; submitting to a big site is a bit better– but still, consider who those followers and subscribers are. Are they people who buy art? Are they people who buy the kind of art you make? or are they other artists, or people who sell art supplies? Consider the audience.
Now if you don’t have to make much effort to submit, it’s fine to take a few minutes now and then and do it. but if a site wants UNPUBLISHED work, or they want you to fill out a long form, consider what kind of return you’ll get on the time you spent on the submission process. and consider what it costs you to basically give them your work, before you yourself can show or sell it. Don’t ever pay for someone to promote you who can’t promote themselves. And remember that your time is money; spending time is PAYING. It IS. You could be writing for your own site, painting, drawing, planning. Shit, you could be laying in a goddamn hammock drinking a mojito. YOUR TIME IS WORTH SOMETHING. That’s why they want YOU to take the time to write your own interview, curate your images, and submit something they can publish with no time spent. They’re laying in a goddamn hammock drinking mojitos while you do their work for them!

You are not a magazine editor, you are not a blog author on their site. You’re not a marketing shill, you’re not a salesman, and you’re not getting paid to do their job. The difficult thing about this fact is that the really good blogs, sites, magazines? Yes they do all the work, they find you, they promote you, it’s valuable as hell- but you have to get your work in front of them somehow. And THAT is why submitting to these sites is worthwhile sometimes. If the magazine/site/blog has influential subscribers or very very many followers, it’s a good bet that being posted there will get your work in front of not only a lot of people, but at least a few of the right people.  So, again- keep in mind how big the readership is, and who they are, and spend your time wisely when submitting work.

4. This one’s a biggie. Entering juried shows and contests.

this is just one site and a facebook group and I count like ten thousand of these things. it's not income, it's outgo. why do you think there's so many? because they know we're suckers.

this is just one site and a facebook group and I count like ten thousand of these things. it’s not income, it’s outgo. why do you think there’s so many? because they know we’re suckers.

This would be a great idea! Seriously, plenty of people will see work entered in shows and if you’re really good, the money from winning a contest is great! BUT. Entry fees.

Now I am a sucker. I am willing to spend money on things that promise the moon, if I’m desperate (which is often). But when you have a ten-dollar promotion budget, how much of that will it take to enter a contest that costs $35 per entry? Do you guys remember those vanity press poetry books? Like, you paid twenty bucks or something, and in return you got “published”. They’d send you a copy of the book, of course- and it was a huge book of absolutely fucking terrible poems, each one written by someone who had twenty dollars? ( The modern version of this is a whole lot better, by the way.)

THAT is what these contests and shows remind me of. Look, I understand this is like a sacred cow to some artists. They’ve maybe spent thousands over the years; maybe they’ve won a few contests or been in a few juried shows, maybe they’ve even sold one or ten pieces in ten years of that. But I don’t want to spend thousands of dollars on a book of shitty poetry. Hell, even the JURIED shows are really just shows of suckers-who-are-better-than-mediocre-and-had-forty-bucks. I’ve been in a lot of group shows now, and not a single one asked me for fucking money. And I’ve sold everything in a few of them. Yeah they may ask a commission when you sell- but they’re not asking you to pay them. It’s like the social networks all over again- give us content so we can get paid! AND PAY US TOO!

Also consider the amount of new people who buy art that will see your work. Now a show that sells out every year and has buyers flocking to it and a huge ad budget and you’ve heard of them before and some of the artists are people whose work you love and etc etc…yeah, you know, if you have twenty bucks, it’s not a terrible thing to pay to get in. You’re getting more out of it then, it’s actual promotion. But just like with the magazines and blogs, keep an eye on how many people actually go to it.  And who that audience is.

5. Flickr, youtube.


unedited mayhem.

Oh, you should make a video of you painting! That’ll get you some sales!

First of all, youtube is mostly very young people cursing at each other about hitler in comments on vidya playthroughs. That aside, most people will immediately turn off any annotations, links, or other shit you try to add to the video. Also most people are not on youtube thinking about buying art; they are watching clips of movies or shows, ranting, or lost hopelessly in the depths of weirdness.

Then, flickr. You’re not allowed to promote yourself there. You could of course (like many people do) try to fly under the radar, posting unwatermarked images of your work for easy stealing then put up your shop link in hopes that one of the dozens who see it might be honest and pay you- but eventually flickr will just delete you, and any networking you’ve done there will be wiped away. Actually, this goes for ANY site that hosts your content; all the social networks, every single market or auction site- from etsy to facebook to flickr to youtube to…any place where you have a ‘profile’ and not a ‘whois’ listing, they can decide one day that they hate you, change the rules, or other people can harass you until YOUR WORK IS GONE. They can remove you, shut you down, or censor you. If you are using these sites for anything but traffic back to your own site, you’re being ripped off.

6. Post it to reddit! Join some forums and put your link in your signature!

don't go to places where you don't want to spend time off the clock.

don’t go to places where you don’t want to spend time off the clock.

Ok this is the one that frosts my dick the hardest which is why I saved it until the end. No. Just….no, and what’s more, fuck you.

my dick is so frosty he walked away from this fiery disaster laughing. no really, he totally did.

my dick is so frosty he walked away from this fiery disaster laughing. no really, he totally did.

First of all, reddit is a hivemind of insane anger and weirdness. (I had to click on “all” to get that link, you’d better appreciate all the suffering I had to go through to write this article.)

People get death threats over pictures of dogs there. It’s like youtube that way. I mean, I’m on there, yeah. But I hatehatehate posting my own shit there, as do any sane people. Reddit is like youtube comments on a grand scale- unless you’re paying for an ad there, posting too much of your own stuff can get you shadowbanned, and nobody can see your posts at all. It’s worse than useless for promotion of art, unless you’re paying for an ad (which, actually, is pretty good value for the money compared to other ads you could get.)

Now forums. I’ve been online a long, long time. I’ve spent countless hours in obscure corners of unimaginable forums, discussing anything you can think of. I’ve met tons of people that way, made friends, and had some really incredible conversations. Because, you see, that’s wht forums are for. They’re not really that great as promotion.

Now a few may work- but they’re going to be extremely specific. Like, I paint serial killer’s portraits. Some of the people who have bought these are people I know from a gore & E/N forum I have been on for like eleven years or so. So you might think that was a great return, right? NO. No. I was not there to promote myself, I was there because I love that fucking place and the stuff in it. I’m actually interested in the things discussed there. I have spent maybe a few hundred hours there reading and writing, and have probably sold three prints to people from there. By this math I realize that I got paid like, a cent an hour for  my time there! BAD RETURN ON INVESTMENT. I don’t mind, though, because again, I wasn’t there to promote my work, I was there for FUN, and getting paid even a dollar a year for fun is ok by me.

Do not join forums just to promote your work. If you paint pictures of race cars, and you are really into talking about race cars, by all means join a forum and talk about race cars, and put your link in your signature. But if you paint race cars but you don’t care about their inner workings, mechanics, brands, or what happens in a pit stop? Don’t join a forum just to push your shit at strangers.

The only forums worth joining are ones that you actually want to read and write in, that you’d join even if you could not once mention your work at all in any manner. Every time you think about joining a forum, remember this. And places that tell you this is a good promotion strategy are idiots. Spam is really bad. People hate that shit.


sometimes the only solution is to reach right in there and rearrange the legs so the kids can get out.

sometimes the only solution is to reach right in there and rearrange the legs so the kids can get out.

Problem one; too many places to sell.

Pick a site for your originals, and a site for your prints. And leave it at that.

If you make watercolor landscapes, and you also make ink drawings of flowers, look at the selling sites and decide where each belongs. If you are very lucky, most of your work can all go on one site. This is for originals, mind you. You should have a non-social non-profile site where you can accept payment too, for commissions or whatever. I use squareup for this, and also to list my originals. If someone is international, I sell via email, by sending a paypal invoice. This is simple and quick, and helps me keep track of what has sold and what hasn’t.

Then, pick a site for your prints. If you’re lucky, again, it should be all one site. For me, I’ve taken too much shitty advice and so I now have fine art stuff on FAA, graphic stuff on redbubble, my actual tattoo flash and other things on another redbubble, and a fucking zazzle too of all gawdamn things. Fuck I need to take my own advice and consolidate. Anyway, if you do this right you now have only TWO sites to promote, which is a helluva lot easier than promoting twenty. You have a site for originals, and a site for prints. That’s really all you need.

(If you sell digital art as files, you can set up a site for just those as well. Etsy sucks SHIT, but they do in fact have a good system set up for digital file sales. just keep an eye on the TOS as they like to change it often and badly. Also be aware that many factories and china-based manufacturers sell there, and they often raid other people’s art and thieve it for their products. on second thought, fuck etsy, don’t do it. set up somewhere else like faa and just email the buyer the artwork files.)

what does your boss look like? and what if you're anti-social? huh? WHAT THEN SMARTASS?

what does your boss look like? and what if you’re anti-social? huh? WHAT THEN SMARTASS?

Problems two and five: too damn social, and what they call ‘digital sharecropping’.

Ok now this is a tough one, but stay with me.

step one: get your own site. buy the domain, and either pay for a host or set up on a service which provides templates and hosting. I own my domain and I am hosted by, for example.

step two: post every image to that site, not to the social networks. never ever ever again post the image itself to a site you do not own. never write more than one paragraph on a site you do not own. if you’re on one of the social networks and you want to reply to something someone said with a long text, go immediately to your own site, and write the reply there; start off with, “I recently read (whatever they said) and I think (your reply to it)” Then post it to your own site.

step three: set up sharing, and set it up well. enable EVERY DAMN BIT  of social sharing your site can handle. Turn on every social networks’ button on every place it can be. Turn on autoshare so that your post to your site gets reposted in link form to every social network you can think of. Now, when you post to your site/blog, that post is put up on every one of the sites you USED to spend half an hour on posting pictures. And instead of your content being used by those sites to gain traffic, you’ll be using them to get traffic to YOU. If you look at the bottom of this post, you can see that this can be shared or reposted or pinned or whateverthehelled to any place really. Please do that, actually. Click all those damn buttons, it would help me and might help someone who needs to read this.

step four: WATERMARK THE FUCK OUT OF EVERYTHING EVERY TIME. I really mean it. I know, it’s easy to get lazy or too excited and post things without. I do it WAY TOO FUCKING OFTEN. But make an effort, try to watermark every image you produce with your domain address. that way you don’t have to fear sharing; people can share and repost your work as much as they like because it ALL LEADS BACK TO YOU. The other half of this step is NEVER POST PRINT-QUALITY IMAGES. Make them small, no bigger than 200kb for most things. If they want a print, they’ll have to be honest and pay. If they want to repost, they’ll have to be honest and attribute the work to your site. This makes it easy for you to stop being anxious about image theft and shit like that.

dude, they should be paying ME to stand here

dude, they should be paying ME to stand here

Problems three and four: OH BONDAGE UP YOURS

Simple solution for this one. Only submit to sites, magazines, and blogs that meet the following criteria:

  1. they have more audience members than you do, or more influential ones
  2. they have audience members who might buy your work
  3. they have a simple submission process

You can waive these entirely if it is a publication you love the shit out of, like I love this one.

Use the same criteria to decide if you will enter competitions or juried shows. Also, check out ad rates at reddit, or other sites that have lots of traffic, and consider how many people you will reach at the show/contest, compared to how many you will reach with an ad at the same price. Again, if it’s one you have heard of and are excited about, waive all the rules. Sometimes you have to please yourself too.

gone fishing.

gone fishing.

Problem six: just pay for an ad, and relax a little.

Seriously, just pay for an ad on sites like 4chan or reddit, and only go to forums for fun, not for promotion. I know a lot of my readers are tattoo artists; just hand every client not only your business card, but maybe a little print with your domain name on the back, or a handful of them. “Give these out to your friends, and hey add me or share my stuff online…I love hearing from my tribe after the tattoo heals up!” Because everyone you tattoo, everyone you love, everyone you keep in touch with, and everyone that buys your work is part of your personal tribe, and if they’re anything like me, they LOVE to help and they LOVE to feel special. Being part of someone’s tribe is AWESOME. Invite people in, all the people you touch in some way, and enjoy their company. You’re not really just selling stuff you made. You’re communicating with people, being a part of their lives. Just be sure you do it in ways that help you out in the long run!

my tribe: there are a lot of us in here but there is still TONS of room, come on in!

my tribe: there are a lot of us in here but there is still TONS of room, come on in!


(Well, ok, only six problems are solved. It’s a start.)


(Published on: Dec 12, 2013)