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Oils Are Bestsellers; or, Subjects to Oil Paint
If you are picking a medium to paint in based on how well it sells, oils are a good choice. Beyond prints, oils are the best sellers. Real artists have to compete with galleries, high end markets, low end furniture markets, starving artists sales, the Wally World complex, and people who really don’t care about provenance, skill, color, texture, little details like that. People who say they prefer prints to the real thing. Sometimes they let a decorator put originals in their homes with no artist’s names on the front. I suppose they trust the decorator’s taste. So plan to paint really well and sell high. Or turn them out like hotcakes and sell low. Or better yet, keep the local charities afloat with your gifts and donations of your hard-earned substance.
If you are still on the making money kick, try painting landscapes in an old masters’ style as one of the favorite sellers. Landscapes are neutral in content and everyone loves them. They are soothing. I’ve actually had someone come in and say, do you have something very soothing? And another friend said, Oh, I couldn’t have these in my house! They are too high energy! Well, okay and allrightee, then. I have even been told they couldn’t buy my art because it was too interesting, and stimulated your mind too much, that they would have to stay there all day just looking at it and admiring it and never getting any work done. (Thought that was a compliment, didn’t we?)
I have heard that local views sell. In my town I’ve sold a commissioned painting of the Market House in Fayetteville. (link) I’ve been asked about lighthouses and have sold one. I have done pen-and-ink commissions of local churches. I have sold many house portraits, both painted and drawn. I sold the archway in Dorfen, Germany, when I was there. However, selling art of local views has its downside, as people in a town often develop what I call the Nazareth complex. “Can anything good come from here?” So, of course, they up-snob you to the city, where only good artists dwell. Doesn’t matter that you are requested for national shows, that you have status in national societies. So in that regard, maybe someone outside your town would come closer to buying you.
Then there are abstract versions of all of this. Speculation is what we are dealing with, if you put it in financial terms. That means, in horse terms, long shots. You can do people’s pets, a cat or a dog. Put a sample up at the local vet. I’ve heard that figure studies of nudes sell well. And there are all the genre paintings of tigers, lions, giraffe, deer, ducks, etcetera. There are seascapes, harbours, and beach scenes. Some love impressionism. I have loved painting glass with reflections, and upon reflection, have sold a lot of paintings with glass as the subject, even broken glass. Perhaps on balance, pictures containing glass have probably been my best sellers, if you discount house portraits and face or figure portraits.
Other sellers have been red leaves, gel pens, seashells. Isn’t it interesting I have not mentioned fruit, or wine bottles. However, I have sold wine bottle still lifes in oil. I’ve sold a horse. I’ve sold countless magnolias; although unmentioned on all the national lists, they are a good Southern staple. I was told that in times past, every Southern lady had a magnolia painting over her mantelpiece. (link to magnolia painting) Another two subjects that were popular sellers were glass jugs in bright colors and bubbles
So, the key is to find from these subjects those that you love and paint them. Then, of course, you must frame them. And make it really big and classy, more money to invest in your long shot, while you’re buying the best paints, the best brushes, the best canvases and rigid supports, the easels, the palettes, the acid-free, all the things connected to your trade. But do not think you will get paid for your time. Everyone knows an artist is a giver. He gives his work away so the buyer can pay his dentist and the artist can’t.
Probably the best explanation for that is that people make up reasons not to buy what you sell, unless they have to have it. Having to have it can be psychological, as in, you are such a hot property, but it could be that people just can’t afford it. They sure do afford that luxury yacht trip, though, these same people. They can’t afford your courses, but they can afford the top-dollar universities and schools even when content is lacking. Oh, did I say that? Purely generic, the statement. Can’t afford your portrait, but a new fishing rod, that’s okay.
I was just talking to my pedicurist, who said people her age weren’t buying antiques and things of ‘value’ anymore. Look at the furniture stores and local chop shops that are really selling now. I was told the same thing by an antique dealer who said you couldn’t give brown furniture away. It has to be cheap, quick, and out the door.
The other thing I have noticed is that $500 is the magic price point. People come into my studio and think I will leap at the figure $500, so they try to get paintings they see priced at 800, 1000, 1200, 1500, and even 2000 for $500. That is the top imaginable ‘big buck’ item for art. Oh, really. Art is the bargain basement mentality, the I bet she’ll take anything so she won’t starve. Hey, I’ll come wave a $100 bill in her face so she’ll swoon and get her down even lower. Then there’s the call on the phone, ‘I’m thinking about getting an original picture; can you tell me about that?’ Snap, snap, snap, if you hesitate, then you’re thinking how to raise the price on me. Really.
In any case, now that I’ve had my little cynical bit of fun, let’s get back to subjects that one paints in oils, and let me say this. Make your own list. Check it several times. And I would end up painting things I like since that may be decorating your own house and blessing yourself and your children, rather than being given to strangers. I hope you’ve read my eBook, Oil Painting Techniques Easy(ier), and if not, make sure you do. I teach you how to do the real expensive stuff that is worth it, whether painting or selling.