This is What Commercial Art Buyers Are Really Looking For

Only a select few artists ever really make it to the top. Then, there are those who do earn a decent living, and are able to say (with confidence) that they have made a career out of their artwork. Next are those artists who create, maybe even sell, their best work from time to time, but primarily do logo design, portrait photography, art instruction, or another related job. Finally, of course, there are those artists who are “starving,” or have to work in another field, unrelated to their artwork, in order to get by. Could the difference between these four groups be an understanding of how the art market works?

What is the Current Status of the Art Market?

In order to fully understand what buyers are looking for, it’s important to know exactly what’s going on in the art market. Art sales did drop a bit in 2015 from the previous year, according to a study by Invaluable. The great news, though, is that online sales skyrocketed. So, now is the time to take advantage of that trend, and get on board.

Where Do People Discover Art? via @illumaglass

Nearly 1/4 of buyers now discover new work via social media. While galleries and museums are still a viable option for selling your work, it seems they’re gradually being drowned out by the internet. This shouldn’t come as a surprise with the rate at which everything else is changing with technology.

Where Do Buyers Primarily Purchase Art Online?

Two years ago, art sales were at their peak worldwide. At this time, a study was conducted, by ArtTactic and the Hiscox Group, to find out what percentage of art buyers were purchasing from various online avenues (This sample is not limited to commercial buyers). Their findings show that five main platform types are driving art sales:

  1. Online Galleries
  2. Online-Only Auctions
  3. Bricks and Clicks
  4. Online Auction Aggregators
  5. Inquire to Buy Platforms

Where Do People Purchase Art Online? via @illumaglass

TIP: With social media being a major point of discovery, these trends say that you should be sharing images of your work on social media with links back to your online art sales platforms.

How Should You Present Your Art to Commercial Buyers?

Team One, a marketing agency serving brands like Lexus, Marriot, and the Ritz Carlton, is just one example of a company who is dedicated to the purchase of various artworks for use in high-end advertising projects. Projects like these often require the purchase of photography that can’t just be sourced from a stock photo site and other visual pieces, including digital design, illustration, painting, and more. For artists and photographers, landing a contract with a company like this can make a six or seven figure difference in salary, since the clients they serve understand the value of true, quality artwork in commercial projects, and have the capital to invest in it.

Tips for Reaching Out to Commercial Art Buyers via @illumaglass

If you want to be proactive, you should reach out to the companies that are known to purchase art for their business needs. Luckily, Wonderful Machine was able to interview the managing art buyer, Lisa Matthews, at Team One for insight into her preference for connecting with photographers for commercial work. Here are some tips we compiled, based on what she had to say:

  • Contact an art buyer, from the company you want to work with, directly via phone or email to make an appointment.
  • Be relevant with the buyers you’re communicating with.
  • Share pictures of your work in your email body.
  • Maintain a website with your latest work (make sure it has a fast load time).
  • Share your work on social media.
  • Work with an art representative.
  • Adapt with the market.

Do You Have to Work With a Representative?

Some artists question whether having a rep is necessary. The answer is a soft “yes.” Here are two reasons why.

1. You’ll Save Time

A representative can present the work of multiple artists at one time to a potential client, keeping several portfolios in one book for companies to peruse. They can also work with multiple companies at one time sharing only your work, whatever the agreement. Either way, communications could be handled by someone else, giving you the time to create.

2. Negotiations Will Run More Smoothly

Next, when working with a representative, negotiations will be something you don’t have to worry about. The artist-buyer relationship should be positive, resentment-free. If a buyer makes a low offer, at first, your rep can be the one to respond without the same level of attachment to the work that you might have. Being emotionally attached or detached to your work can have adverse effects on your ability to negotiate a fair price, so a rep should add to the likelihood better prices for your work.

Why Wouldn’t You Want to Work With a Rep?

There are stories out there about horrible experiences between artists and representatives. For a creative, the worst feeling in the world is being “caged.” If an art rep acts like they are your boss or makes demands of you, it can be a sure way to curb creativity. This is not what anyone wants.

An art rep is supposed to work for the artist; the artist does not work for the rep. If you fear that you could get into a situation where a rep could tie you down, know that great reps are out there. But, if you’re certain that you would like to handle communications on your own, without the help of an agent, then try it. This is your career, after all.


Commercial art buyers are, in a nutshell, looking for high quality art that’s easy to access, and easy to negotiate prices for. In this day and age, they want you to have a website that’s easy to navigate, and they’re likely to find you on social media. They like working with a rep, to make negotiations less emotional, but it probably isn’t a complete necessity. So, make sure you’ve got a strong online presence and share your work on social media. When you reach out to buyers with a pitch, include images in the email body, with a taste of what’s in store, and direct them to more of your best work. This is how you’re going to get the best response.

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