Abbey Ryan is making a full-time income selling her art online. This is a case history of how she did it and who she is.
Ryan became interested in art during high school. Despite having a natural aptitude, she entered college as a science major and it wasn’t until a few years later that she made the switch to art. Ryan ended up staying an extra year in school to earn her BFA in painting and received a scholarship to spend a summer at the Art Students’ League in New York City. She enrolled in medical school to pursue medical illustration but eventually Ryan realized her true passion was for painting. She went on to earn her MFA from Hunter.
A desire to continue painting, coupled with financial necessity led Ryan to begin researching how to use the internet to sell her work. She had heard that other artists used this method and she thought it would be worth pursuing. She set up a blog and began to post her work. Every day, Ryan would create a painting in her studio. Before it dried, she would photograph the painting and upload the image to her blog. At the same time, she began using ebay to put the paintings up for auction.
At first Ryan got the word out about her new endeavor by emailing friends and family. Around this time she also began using Facebook to find exposure for her work. Word of mouth led to Ryan’s first bid on ebay. She recalls her surprise at the time because the potential buyer was not someone she knew. Ryan says there is a certain intrigue involved in the online sale of art because she can never be entirely sure how a buyer found her blog and her work.
In those early days she was selling paintings for under $100. Around $59 was typical. She admits that selling art on ebay carries an inherent risk. Because of the nature of the auction, on any given day a painting could sell for the absolute minimum reserve price or could go for much more if the price is driven up by competition during the auction.
Ryan began to receive a bit of publicity for her work. She reached out to blogs that cover artists’ stories and was able to create some exposure for herself that way. This led to both online and in print press attention for her work. She was invited to join the site Daily Paintworks, a small, family run website that features artists’ work in virtual galleries and helps facilitate online sales.
Over the course of a year, momentum began to build for Ryan. She watched the sale price of her work steadily increase and found that she was receiving more traffic to her blog and ebay auctions. The exposure and hard work were beginning to pay off in more ways than one. Ryan says, “I would imagine probably that after a year of painting every day my paintings got better.” This seemingly minor detail is in fact a key piece of the puzzle for any working artist.
Ryan takes her studio practice very seriously. Although her paintings are typically small and relatively quick to complete, Ryan generally works 12-15 hour days six days a week. She is not shy to admit that despite her success she is still burdened with the same doubt and fear that lead to procrastination for many. Much of her day revolves around mentally preparing to paint. Early morning and late evening are her most productive times in the studio. She takes advantage of her natural rhythm and uses time throughout the day when she is not in the studio to accomplish other tasks. Ryan says that she spends around three hours each day replying to the many emails she receives about her blog and her work. The actual posting of her work takes up another hour or two. She incorporates these, as well as the many tasks of daily life, into her routine.
There is an element of performance about the way Ryan presents her work, she says. By putting her art online she immediately involves a larger audience. Her buyers and followers have developed an expectation when it comes to her volume of work and when she misses a day they aren’t afraid to email her and ask why. This connection allows Ryan to share not only her successes with a broader audience, but also her flaws. This is, in a very real sense, one of the basic principles of art. This exposure of the complete picture lends an integrity to the work.
Ryan is quick to express her gratitude for the success she has found through internet art sales. She is humble and perhaps reluctant to admit that it involved a great deal of work on her part to get where she is today, earning an income that is enough to support herself. To artists interested in pursuing a path like hers Ryan says to honor the work you do in the studio first. This is the reason for the journey and should always be the starting point. Before the excitement and validation of press and publicity, your studio time should be your main focus.
Then, as in her case, she posted a unique work on ebay every single day, 365 days a year, and after a little more than two years, the price was steady at about $400 a painting, a day, which was indeed an income for her. It took a lot of hard work and blogging, but that is what made her a full time income while living outside any major city in upstate New York.