Selling Art Online - The Creative Guide to Turning Your Artistic Work Into Cash

Please note that this post was created back in January of 2013, so some of the numbers stated below are out of date. Also, tracking this information was easier back then, and Etsy has made changes to what information they display, so I can’t update it based on the same parameters. That said, the status of the sites featured still remain strong.

Occasionally, I like to head over to CraftCount.com, just for kicks (and a little self-flagellation), to see which shops are doing really well. I did this the other day and noticed an unbelievable anomaly; The Black Apple, queen of all art sales, had been dethroned. Emily Winfield-Martin is one of the originals, opening her shop on Etsy way back in July of 2005. Because she’s been around for so long, it’s no wonder her shop has been at the very top of the art sales list for a very long time; topping the chart at over 40,000 sales since her beginning.

That was the case until this past holiday season, when a relative young buck by the name of Collage-O-Rama, ran over Black Apple’s sales numbers like an unmanned steam roller on a 30% grade. I honestly never thought I would see the day that Black Apple would be uprooted from the top spot, but a brief conversation with a long-time Etsy veteran, who will remain nameless for now, alerted me to the idea that many sellers on Etsy have seen better days, with sales dropping dramatically in the past year for various reasons.

There’s a lot of speculation as to why sales are slipping for many on Etsy, but it does make me wonder why some shops are losing ground, and others are taking over with vigor. Many of the shops in this list have been barely a blip on the sales radar until this past year, so I’m curious what they are doing different than others who are falling behind. You can bet that I will be inquiring directly with some to see if they will impart some sales wisdom.

Before I begin talking about these 15 sales juggernauts, I have a couple a caveats.

  • I originally was going to write only about artists, but several people expressed an interest in knowing some of this info from all kinds of shops, so I opened it up to anyone doing handmade goods on Etsy; no vintage sales and no supplies.
  • The numbers I’m showing below are based on estimates and averages, both on dollar amounts and sales numbers. I averaged the amount of sales against how many months they’ve had their shop open, but I realize these shops may have had a warming up period  before they took off, which means the numbers could be skewed a bit. However, the numbers on these shops are so huge, it’s hard to consider they’d be an worse off even with exact accurate data. The revenue numbers are an estimate of monthly gross numbers, before all expenses, so don’t get starry-eyed just yet.
  • The amounts I do talk about do not represent any fluctuations in sales pace. These numbers may seem impressive, but they could be declining for some shops, which might not seem like much when you’re pulling in $10,000 a month, but what if you’re accustomed to pulling in $15,000? It’s all relative.

15. THE BLACK APPLE

Given everything I’ve said about The Black Apple, to have the shop bottom out this list puts my perception of success in some serious perspective. However, it’s important to note that The Black Apple far exceeds the boundaries of Etsy, selling the work in numerous places including some licensing. Winfield-Martin may not be in the top spot, but I guarantee she’s not hurting for sales.

Avg. Sales per Mo: 465 | Avg. Price Point: $16 | Avg. Rev. / Mo: $7,400

14. MATTE ART

Matte Stephens is another long-time veteran of Etsy with a truly unique, illustrative quality to his work. I’m not sure if he does work for kids books, but he could be the next Richard Scary in a hot minute. Stephens has far fewer sales than some of his contemporaries, but his price point is considerably higher, and he still seems to make a pretty decent income from his Etsy sales alone.

Avg. Sales / Mo: 115 | Avg. Price Point: $50 | Avg. Rev. / Mo: $5,600

13. CHRISTY STUDIO

I live with a woman who is very discerning taste when it comes to fashion, notably, handbags. By osmosis, I think I’ve learned what makes a good handbag, and I can say with conviction, Christy’s bags are nice. I like the large, rustic, outback nature of the designs. If Christy were to diversify to bags geared toward men, she might make some waves, but again, she’s on this list for a reason.

Avg. Sales / Mo: 200 | Avg. Price Point: $40 | Avg. Rev. / Mo: $8,200

12. COLLAGE-O-RAMA

At first glance, Collage-O-Rama comes off as just another Etsian selling pictures of random images printed onto book pages. There’s a ton of people attacking this trend, but few are doing it with any real artistic expertise. Despite what I consider an unfortunate name, C-O-R actually has some really creative, quirky and funny designs, and they’re making the most of their niche, as I spoke about in the intro.

Avg. Sales / Mo: 1,050 | Avg. Price Point: $8 | Avg. Rev. / Mo: $8,400

11. PURPLE POSSOM

Emily, the shop owner at Purple Possom, has really carved a niche for herself. Although the design is not my favorite, the concept is unique; making stickers to use in monthly photos of infants and toddlers. When my son was born, I took monthly photos of his because I wanted to have a documentation of his growth. This product takes that to the next level, and it’s obviously a successful one.

Avg. Sales / Mo: 1,085 | Avg. Price Point: $8 | Avg. Rev. / Mo: $8,700

10. FESTIVE HOME DECOR

I’m familiar with Festive Home Decor because my wife has purchased some of their products, so I feel partially responsible for them being in this list, aside from typing this paragraph, of course. If someone said you could make a really substantial living selling decorative pillows on a handmade website, I’d probably scoff at the idea, but no longer.

Avg. Sales / Mo: 300 | Avg. Price Point: $30 | Avg. Rev. / Mo: $9,000

09. BERKLEY ILLUSTRATION

Rounding out the artists  on this list is Ryan and Lucy Berkley, a creative duo out of Portland. I’m a big fan of their work, and I know they have quite the following outside of Etsy because they are a mainstay at craft shows like Renegade. Their quirky style is accessible and appeals to a variety of age groups. Great style + tenacious work ethic = big sales. (update: featured as Etsy’s QYDJ series today.)

Avg. Sales / Mo: 600 | Avg. Price Point: $18 | Avg. Rev. / Mo: $10,800

08. BIRDESIGN

More cutesy graphics you say? Perhaps, but this cute packs a punch, with over 18,000 sales in a little more than a year! Again, another category chock full of crappy stores, but BIRdesign is definitely the cream. The aesthetic is not my style, but the execution of these digital graphics rivals anything you might find on TinyPrints. Also, nothing makes me smile quite like passive revenue streams.

Avg. Sales / Mo: 1,200 | Avg. Price Point: $9 | Avg. Rev. / Mo: $10,900

07. ZEN THREADS

If I told you that you could make a million dollars selling t-shirts with animals printed on them, would you believe me? Well believe it. Granted, Zen Threads hasn’t quite made $1 million via Etsy, BUT they are very close, and I’m sure they sell these shirts other places, so it’s safe to assume they’ve hit that mark at some point, or will very, very soon. HUGE props to them.

Avg. Sales / Mo: 775 | Avg. Price Point: $20 | Avg. Rev. / Mo: $15,750

06. BURGER & FRIENDS

Staying on the clothing track, Burger and Friends likes cats, and apparently, so do lots of other people. It’s entirely possible the success of this site could be only a trend, and it could fizzle eventually. Trend or not, though, 12,000 sales in about 18 months is substantial, and I’m sure they’re planning for future trends. Unicorns? Zombies maybe?

Avg. Sales / Mo: 700 | Avg. Price Point: $25 | Avg. Rev. / Mo: $17,500

05. TRIBAL STYLE

It took me a second to figure out what Tribal Style was all about. I couldn’t believe that people who sport large piercings could really make up such a market to bring in this kind of revenue, but then I looked at the product closer. Tribal Style caters to the average individual who wants to touch the taboo sides of their personality without actually diving in, and it works, in very big ways.

Avg. Sales / Mo: 928 | Avg. Price Point: $20 | Avg. Rev. / Mo: $18,560

05. EDM DESIGNS

I figured Steampunk was dead, another trend that had fallen by the wayside, but again, my trend radar is WAY off, or at least in respect to EDM. With a considerable amount of sales and a sizable price point, EDM is doing quite well, but I would be interested to find out how long it takes to make each of these pieces, as well as the cost for materials. Net revenue may not be great, but at least they love what they do.

Avg. Sales / Mo: 195 | Avg. Price Point: $100 | Avg. Rev. / Mo: $19,500

03. A.HEIRLOOM

Have you ever been on Etsy, with a serious lack of a serving platter for your fruit and cheese, but would really like something that represents your love of your state? A. Heirloom has exactly what you need. The simplicity of these products gives me one of those “palm to forehead” moments where I wonder why I didn’t think of it.

Avg. Sales / Mo: 525 | Avg. Price Point: $48 | Avg. Rev. / Mo: $25,000

02. SIMPLE SHAPES

I know a guy who has a vinyl graphics printer, and he does ok, but he’s not doing this well by any stretch of the imagination. You can bet I’m going to forward this shop to him, and if he’s smart, he’ll put aside his masculine tendencies and get into the children’s bedroom art market because there is obviously some money out there to be had. Another genius idea with a very small start-up cost.

Avg. Sales / Mo: 365 | Avg. Price Point: $100 | Avg. Rev. / Mo: $36,500

01. THREE BIRD NEST

Trust me, I’m as shocked as you to find that the #1 shop on this list is someone who sells headbands. I’m not a connoisseur  but they seem to be well made, which I’m sure lends to some of their success, but I doubt the quality counts solely for the meteoric growth they are seeing.

My mom makes hand-painted scarves, so I have a reasonable idea on the costs of these items, and the majority of the cost is in the manufacturing time. Aside from that, the cost of these pieces cannot be that high, but even if the overhead on these headbands is 50%, they are still killing it. These numbers make me want to talk to them to find out their story. Maybe I’ll see if I can make that happen. Whatever the story, she has obviously found her market and she’s making the most of it. More power to Three Bird Nest.

Avg. Sales / Mo: 2,300 | Avg. Price Point: $28 | Avg. Rev. / Mo: $65,000!!!