salesmanA picture may be worth a thousand words, but many artists would rather have a root canal than have to come up with 300 words to describe their own art!

Yet in these days of online art marketing, that is exactly what many artists must do.

If you sell your art or craft in any kind of online venue, the written description can be just as important as the visuals. Thorough descriptions are necessary in order to tell potential buyers more about the piece, to “sell” its features and virtues, and they are also helpful for search engine optimization.

If you studied art or art history, you may have learned the formalist approach of describing the visual elements—the form, composition, medium, techniques, and subject matter. And that’s always a good start.

But what many of us are called upon to do in the Internet age is to describe our own art with more of a marketing approach. Instead of thinking of the piece as the artist sees it, we have to think of it from the point of view of the potential buyer. We have to describe not only its features, but also its benefits—without sounding like a used car salesman!

Here are some writing tips:

  • Describe your work as if you were talking to someone who could not see the picture, as if the only experience they will ever have of it is what your words can tell them about it.
  • Describe the mood or feeling of the piece as well as the visual characteristics. What ambiance does it evoke, what essence, what spirit, what undertones? If you have trouble with this, you might want to ask friends to rattle off some descriptive adjectives about the feeling of your work.
  • Mention the colors, but also use words that describe the colors and their effect, words like luminous, dusky, radiant, glassy, or diffused.
  • Try to put yourself in the mind of the buyer. They are not looking for an ocean painting with a lot of blue. They are looking for a striking piece of art for the foyer that will greet visitors with a warm blast of dazzling sunlight and evoke dreamy memories of the intoxicating salt air and the shimmering cobalt sea. How can you make them FEEL your artwork with words?
  • Think about action words. Art is not passive. What can the piece DO? Will it inspire and motivate? Charm and delight? Soothe and nurture? What will the buyer DO with it? Will they cherish it? Luxuriate in it? Will it create an atmosphere, or make a statement? You don’t want to go overboard with this of course, but you ARE selling an experience, so do try to imagine what that experience might be for someone.

This language of description is completely subjective, of course, and any artwork can mean many different things to different people. But with some effort, some imagination, some practice, and maybe a little help from your friends, you can give your potential buyers a more lively and interesting description of your art.

Guest artist/author: Ellen Beeler is the author of The Language of Description: An Etsy Seller’s Word Reference Guide, an e-book that provides word lists for help in writing clear and compelling product descriptions for Etsy shops and other online sellers.

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You might also like to read, “How to Write a Bio that Gets Read”.

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