Learn Useful Tips to Help Sell Art to Interior Designers

[Publisher’s Note]: This guest post comes from my good friend and co-author, Dick Harrison. He enjoyed a stellar career as an art rep and now shares his sage advice and experience with artists.

A Valuable Perspective

I spent 20+ years selling my art, work by other artists and major fine art publishers. I concentrated my efforts on interior designers and architects. Barney has quite rightly pointed out how 100 collectors can pave the way to a comfortable, satisfying career. No argument from me for that.

Unless every art lover and collector knows your name, or you can’t keep up with the demand for your work, interior designers are a mammoth market you and many artists often overlook.

I sold art by imaginative, hard- working, creative people just like you. Some of the artists I represented were talented amateurs who painted for pleasure and never needed to make a buck from what they created. For them, a sale meant fun money. Some, like me, needed to turn time and talent into dollars to support themselves and their families.

How to Sell Art to Interior DesignersBarney and I have co-authored How to Sell Art to Interior Designers: Learn New Ways to Get Your Work into the Interior Design Market and Sell More Art
It is a book like no other “how to” available. You get the full story these nine tips only touch. If you like these, check us out on Amazon.

Color Is 85% Of The Sale.

As an artist selling to the interior design trade, you need awareness of current color palettes and trends. Staying up-to-date with “what’s hot” isn’t hard. Stroll through a couple of high-end furniture stores, interior designer studios, or new home models.

Pick up copies of the “lifestyle” magazines in your area. Note which colors are being used in furniture fabrics, floor and window coverings and paint.

Both Lowes and Home Depot have websites with decor or idea tabs to click on. Do a search to find many newsletters and subscriptions loaded with ideas and suggestions for home decor. Major retailers stay current on trends. It helps them sell more product to homeowners and interior designers.

[color-box]Houzz.com is a terrific source of design ideas and for locating designers in your area.[/color-box]

Color trends in decorating change, but not as rapidly as color in clothing. Women’s clothing shown this season often suggests the hues that will start to show up in furniture collections next year. These changes occur most rapidly at the high end of the design market, with a few creative designers leading thousands of others into new styles and colors. To stay ahead of the curve, you may want to do some examples in these colors.

Subject Matter Matters.

Buyers are going to live with the art they purchase day-in-and-day-out in their homes and offices. It’s unlikely an interior decorator will select subjects that are political, depressing or morbid, no matter how well conceived or executed. Clients avoid fantasy, surrealism, social commentary and heavily ethnic art unless the customer specifically requests it.

In general, subjects that are upbeat and easy to live with such as landscapes, boats, birds, beach and floral are most likely to be purchased because they “wear” well. Impressive architecture, pictures that convey a mood or condition of light, as long as it isn’t gloomy, are right choices.

Interior designers have no hesitancy about using abstract art. Abstracts are more likely to go into contract jobs such as hotels, offices, and banks.

A surprising number of decorators avoid pictures with people in them unless they are “generic” (not portraits) or secondary elements in the composition. The unpeopled vistas of an Edward Hopper are more likely to appeal than the crowded street scenes of a Reginald Marsh.

Medium Doesn’t Matter – Style Does.

All painting and printing methods from serigraph, to etching and lithography, are acceptable. Now giclée printing overshadows all. They are all possibilities that allow an artist to produce high quality at a reasonable unit cost.

But what if you don’t have the studio capability, equipment or upfront dollars to have someone else reproduce your work? Watercolors are much in demand and can be a “quick” medium. When you have created an unusually excellent composition, consider “editioning” the image.

Use the Editioning Technique.

Do this by laying out three or four sheets of paper at once, painting in all the skies, foregrounds, etc. one after another. Is that “assembly line” work? In a sense, yes. It is also an opportunity to experiment with technique, color, texture and detail from one image to another as well as a way to gain painting facility and manual dexterity. Each piece is an “original”. The decorator doesn’t care if the image is a duplicate as long as her “original” fits the project and budget.

Over and over designers ask for “impressionistic” art. They aren’t always using the term in the sense a Renoir, Monet or Pissarro would have understood it. In the trade, it’s been broadened into a kind of generic “catch-all” phrase. “I want to recognize the subject, but don’t want to see it painted realistically in detail.”

Color Knows No Bounds.

Many artists are so hooked on naturalistic color, particularly if they tend to like or paint realistically. The grass is green, the sky is blue, jonquils yellow. Part of the artist’s skill (and ego) may be tied up in faithfully reproducing what he sees.

Usually, the interior decorator is not limited by that kind of convention. Grass may be peach, sky aqua and jonquils lavender, providing the overall look ties in with her color scheme. The effect may be stunning! If the artist has never experimented in this way, he, too, may be surprised and pleased if he gives up his preconception.

“Fin and Feather” wildlife subjects in the style of Duck Stamp prints are brought to near perfection by artists such as Ray Harm, Guy Cohleach, Richard Evans Younger, Basil Ede are a unique market. Such imagery is more likely to sell to specialized galleries and frame shops, not interior designers.

Does It Look Nice Over The Sofa?

Have you ever met a “nose-in-the-air” artist? I have, in person, and in on-line artist’s forums. (I hope you aren’t one. Better stop reading now.) The very idea of producing a piece of art to match the fabric in a sofa in the home a designer is working on! Even if it’s a twenty foot sectional upholstered in fifty yards of fabric that cost $150 a yard?

I showed the work of one experienced artist whose prints appear in books, fine collections, galleries and museums all over the country. Despite his reputation, he is as realistic about the business as he is funny. The message on his answering machine says,” “This is Larry Stark, famous artist, I can match any sofa.

Once you’ve established a relationship with an interior design firm don’t be surprised if the designer shows you fabric swatches, paint or Formica chips.  Then ask, “Do you have you anything in your portfolio that matches these colors?”

If you’ve been using current colors in what you paint or print, you may be able to say,”Yes” and pull a perfect piece of art.

Being Coachable Is Bankable!

If you haven’t, are you willing to say, “No, but I can do one with those colors to your specifications.” Willingness to produce work to order using a designer’s samples can quite literally mean the difference between a sale and no sale.

I was showing a portfolio of watercolors done by an excellent artist whose work I sold. The designer was working on a large residence with a southwestern motif. One of the paintings was of an adobe house and courtyard. The decorator commented, “That one is perfect except for the color of the door. If he changes it to match this fabric, I’ll buy it.”

I took the painting back to the artist and in less than ten minutes he had washed out the original color on a small section of the picture and matched the requested color. The sale was made. Not only that, my client chose another of his watercolors that paired well with the first. Result? A happy client, two sales for the artist and a commission for me.

Trust Me.

There is an understandable hesitancy on the part of some decorators to “commission” work – to commit to final purchase without seeing the finished product and gaining the approval of the client. The decorator, after all, doesn’t want to spend her money on a picture the client hasn’t accepted.

If the artist understands and will produce the picture “on spec,” trusting the designer’s instinct, expertise and rapport with her client, the sale will happen seven or eight times out of ten. Should the purchase fall through, the artist still has an image to add to his portfolio. In time, another job will come along, and the rejected picture will find a happy home.

Being Flexible Makes Sales.

Often, if you call on designers and show your art in person, you will be asked if you are willing to leave a piece of your precious artwork on approval” to show the client. You will, of course, leave an invoice asking for the return of the art within a specified agreed upon time in the same condition you left it.

If you’re selling online, I’d suggest you offer to ship art “on approval” (buyer pays shipping) with the provision the buyer give you a credit card number.  The buyer understands you will not charge the card unless the art is purchased or returned to you in the same condition you sent it. That’s how Amazon does it. Why not you?

Size, Shape and “My Specs.”

Artwork selected by interior decorators and architects is purchased to fit a particular place in the project on which they are working.  The size and proportion of the image are often critical to what they buy, assuming the subject, style and color of the art complements their overall look.

Once the printer makes a high-resolution capture of the image, a giclee can be printed in virtually any size a buyer would like.

Accommodating Designer Needs Sells More Art.

It was obvious to me when I showed a giclee appropriate for artistic reasons; I had a compelling advantage in making the sale when I said, “This can have this printed to your size specifications.” At that point, the only question was price and if I could deliver on time. It often made the difference between “no sale” and walking away with a check.

Within that horizontal landscape you’ve paid hard earned dollars to have printed as a handsome giclee for your portfolio, there may be half a dozen other very salable images within it. Use you artist’s eye to see portions of the overall composition that can be printed out in a different shape in a needed size.

At times, I showed a sample, only to hear the interior designer say, “Love the image if only it were a square rather than a rectangle. Then I know just where I could use it.”  All I had to do was call her attention to an area of the picture I had already spotted that would make a lovely composition in the shape she wanted. Then say, “Suppose I have my printer do this, to the size you need?” Sale made. Your printer can do it.

Your Time Is My Time.

When you put your portfolio of art in front of the interior designer makes a huge difference. Art is often the last element a designer purchases. The majority of an ID’s time spent with a client is in choosing furniture, floor coverings, draperies, fabrics, and finishes.

The downside to this is that most of the big dollars are spent. The upside is often the designer’s deadline. He or she needs art to complete the job and get paid. The sort of art desired may have been in the designer’s mind from the start, but now she must find proper art for each of the walls, and there isn’t much time left to search.

If you show up, in person or online, at that time the chances are good, you’ll make a sale. If you have read then suggestions above and have art in your portfolio that fits – even if it may not be what she has had in mind from the start – sale made! She’s your client now and a design professional with imagination, flexibility, a need to buy and an open checkbook!

That means you must regularly touch base and ask,

Are you working on projects for which you need art?

Pricing Your Art.

Interior designers and architects work with a broad range of projects, but as a rule, the designers bread and butter is upper-middle-class residential clients, banks, business offices and model homes. Some specialize. Others are generalists taking whatever comes along.

Most art sales (trade price, unframed) will fall in the $100 to $500 range. Under $100, the decorator is almost restricted to posters or reproductions. The number of images purchased for over $500 dropped dramatically. Many sales are made at figures over that but keep in mind, given the decorators’ markup and framing, the client may be paying $1.200, and up, for each piece of art.

“High end” designers with clients who can afford to pay whatever they want are a minority. They’ve worked hard to achieve their place at the upper end, or have been born into social strata where they are dealing mostly with friends or friends of friends. They are a good market for the artist to cultivate.

Most decorative art sales are in the middle range. With that as a given, the artist must be able to work with media, subject and technique that will allow him to produce professional quality art in a reasonably short working time. Multiples and POD of one kind or another are a natural.

Don’t Let Your Ego Get In The Way.

If you make an appointment and the designer doesn’t like the work or has no project, it will fit, don’t be offended and try to sell her something she can’t use. She just won’t buy blue if she needs mauve, no matter how long you talk, how beautiful your art may be, or what a great buy it may be. Instead, sell your willingness to work to her specifications, your flexibility, and your service.

When you say goodbye, thank her for looking and tell her you will contact her periodically to see if she needs anything. Always have a “leave with” – brochure, flyer or CD showing your best work and how to contact you. Like Rome, business relationships aren’t built in a day. Once the contact is made, stay in touch.

Sending a card is a polite grace note and a subtle piece of self-promotion. It adds to your stature as an artist and you thoughtfulness as a salesperson – especially if the front of the card shows an example of your art. Besides that, a series of notecards picturing your work becomes a salable, modestly priced, “impulse” purchase gift shops may stock.



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  • Thank you for the information. It is something that I am considering doing in the near future. Getting all my ducks in a row.

  • I enjoyed reading this post in that it opened up a whole new way of thinking as an artist. If I can create beautiful paintings from my own creative visions, then why not someone else’s? Challenging, yes, but one worth exploring. The key lies in remaining, like Mr. Harrison’s post states, flexible and teachable. Thank you for sharing this with us, Barney. Such a pleasure to read!

  • Hello, I am an abstract photographer. How does photography work with ID? Do they purchase much of it? I know you said any medium was good, but you rarely spoke of photography. I have seen where some artist paint some portions of their canvases with pant. Would that increase my sales with ID?

    I have been told that my abstract is different. I don’t know if that is a good or bad statement. If you have time, with your experience, I would love an opinion.

    I am still trying to find my target market, so I was thinking maybe Interior Designers?

    Thank you for your time. I love the article.

    Suzanne L Kish

  • I love this article. I am a painter, my nose is not in the air, and I coordinate my personal paintings to the colors in my own decor. Yep. My house looks wonderful, totally me and completely comfortable. Years ago I decorated model homes with complete color coordination. Awards were given.

  • Great article! I have been contemplating looking up designers- as a source, and will do now that I read your article. I also was considering looking into ‘Stagers’ for homes/condos that are for sale. I had a friend who showed her work in a high end house, the house being for sale. The people who bought the home also bought some of her art to ‘stay put’ where it was hanging in the showing of the house. I enjoy your articles and find it very informative. Thank you for all your help! Aloha

  • Thanks always for good business info. Artists can do the “art stuff,” but most of us need help with the business ideas. Thanks so much!

  • Very interesting read, but IMHO it does not reflect on what a photographer may be seeking as far as working with interior designers. Of course, I would like to get into that market and have been doing research on it myself recently. Photography to me as an art, reflects the mood, subject, or scene as it was when captured. I see a lot of over contrasted, unrealistic photographs being presented in many of the online galleries today. That makes me curious, is that the trend of what is selling? It is easy enough to enhance the image to bring out a sparkling of color beyond the natural or over do HDR to make the photograph look almost surreal. Is that what sells?
    Sites such as this that charge a hosting fee, a percentage of the sale, and receive a markup on the printing, leaves the artist with very little commission towards the cost of creating their work. At the end of the day, selling from these sites to the designer market’s buying power constitutes very little revenue for the artist. However, as you point out about designers requirements for custom framing, would they even consider buying from a site like this where the image is sold as a finished product?
    Just my curiosity speaking.

    • I believe Dick was talking about using a giclee printing service as opposed on an online print and fulfill service. FineArtAmerica.com allows artists to set their price to whatever they want. See this article http://fineartamerica.com/newsletters/five-percent-commissions.html. As for tweaking the image in Photoshop to match the current trend, that is the kind of research you need to do before you start calling on designers. Either that, or do some “editioning” as Dick mentions and take in samples of the same image with different looks to them and let the designer spec what you need.

      • Thanks for your comments Barney, and I do understand the article as well as the services provided by Fineartamerica.com. Also, I have been an avid user of Photoshop since version 4 was introduced in the early 90s. My comments were concerning using Fineartameria.com as the outlet for reaching and providing art works to interior designers. If I am to understand you, then the suggestion of taking your printing to an outside service instead of using of Fineartamerica.com for our business needs. So, I admittedly confess I am confused by the placement of the article on the site if it is not relevant to using our Fineartamerica.com account for the reason we have it.

        • Denis, FineArtAmerica.com is a resource to get art printed, and to do end-to-end fulfillment if you need that kind of service. I only mentioned it because it allows artists to sell at the price they choose. Other services force a price and commission on an artist. Obviously, if you use a giclee printing service and a local framer, your can charge whatever you want over your costs for a profit. Dick has explained you can sell photography to designers. You just need to figure out the best, most convenient and affordable way to get the finished product available for delivery. If that is FAA, great, if it is a giclee printer and local framer, that works, too.

  • It was wonderful to see your article at a time when I am looking to re-enter the art market. It was a nice kick start to reviving my photography career after a 10-year layoff for reasons that are too complex to get into in a short email.

    Prior to 2005 I had been a working pro for 20+ years, shooting art and advertising/fashion.

    All I ask is if you could take a look at my work on Fine Art America and see if the Interior Design channel would be viable for my work.

    And thank you for the information. I will act on it in my market area of Florida.

    • You can reach my FAA website at: chuck-harris.artistwebsites.com or at charrisphtotos.com. Will keep in mind your advice to sell my work to IDs unframed.

      I realize my website needs an upgrade, but at least the FAA site gained me some visibility.

  • Thanks so much for this great article. I’m a fine art photographer and have chosen interior designers as my target. SO this article was a terrific find for me. I find that I can be consumed by my work, love to shoot, actually I should be targeting tourists also, become absorbed in creating impressionistic art from my images, and have three pro labs that are terrific. BUT I am always stuck when it comes to stepping out the door, and introducing myself to designers I do not know! A little shy, I guess. Also I live in a part of Dallas/Fort Worth that is really high-end so I am intimidated by the high rolling designers. Again too shy I guess. I am currently creating a portfolio organized for the ID. Your article gives me some framework ideas.

    • Hi Terri, Thanks for commenting. Being shy is a problem, but not an excuse. You can overcome it. You have to get out of your own way. As the saying goes, “The dread is worse than the do.” The most successful people challenge themselves to do things they think are hard to do, or even not possible for them to do. Get the book, “Networking for Introverts“, and there are others on Amazon, as well. Reading this book will be an enormous help. Just remember fancy pants designers still put their pants on one leg at a time. As Dick has said, they are interested in the imagery and don’t care about the pedigree. Buck up, look your best and get out there and start making something happen.

      • Mary Timoszyk says:


        Great advice Barney.

        I believe all of us have some degree of shy. You can practice with a friend who may be good at marketing/sales and able to guide you on your presentation. Practice is key.

        Also, before you embark on meeting interior designers in the high end district,you must look the part. Dress well and look your best. Contact a trusted friend who has fashion sense. All of this will help make you feel incredible and confident. Good Luck

  • Wow, Mr Harrison! You have restored my confidence in myself. I have not sold many images (in over 1 year & 1/2) and my husband and parents are trying to persuade me to stop going to Art Shows and festivals because I am spending more in booth fees than I am making. Friends say that they like it, but that they are “not in to abstract”.

    I had about double the number of images on my site and I just recently took many off. That is the reason that the titles are missing. I forgot to put them on again. I do have titles on “Pastels” and “Something Fun”. I sell through FineArtAmerica but I haven’t gotten any sales there.


    On the contents page, I try to guide people to “Buying Prints”. I have the option of using a shopping cart with this site too, but again no success in selling there so I thought that FineArtAmerica had a guarantee and took care of printing and shipping etc. Any suggestions as to how make the Buying Images more prominent? Others have suggested to get another site that offers more for the new technology.

    You mentioned giclees. When I look up the definition it says that it use to mean, Images are generated from high resolution digital scans and printed with archival quality inks onto various substrates including canvas etc, but now it means “any ink jet printer”. The largest images, to date, that I have printed are 32″ X 48″ canvases. My camera is 10 mp. I don’t know if that qualifies as high resolution.

    If you to not wish to continue your response here and wish to email me further, my email address is suzannekish.com. I hate taking up your web space.

    THANK YOU for getting back to me and giving me hope. I was one art show from quitting, if I didn’t make some money. I will order your book and check out the Art Marketing Mastery Workshop.

    Suzanne L Kish http://www.suzannelkish.com

    • Yes! I have no problem meeting in person all the ID in my area. Now if I can get them to meet with me, That has been others problems with ID’s. Coffee? Lunch? Do I pay? I have no problem with coffee.

      Thanks for all your guidance.I went to Amazon to buy the book and it went from $17.00 to over $25 with tax and shipping. I will try ordering through Barnes & Noble. I appreciate you!

  • Thanks for these useful tips.. I was thinking about doing business with designers but didn’t go through with it.. After reading that, it just motivated me to do so and put my energy there.. I’ll finish adding my prints on fineartamerica and afterward, I’ll go look for some designers 😉 Great article ! Thank you..

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