How Artists Should Promote Themselves

Posted on May 16, 2017 | Updated on January 25, 2023

Promotion is an essential part for artists. And it can be hard to strike a balance between effectiveness and being overbearing. Successful promotion often makes the difference between perpetually struggling and consistently thriving. Keep reading to discover real-world ways you can promote your work to connect with your audience and make them want to learn more about you.

Tell Your Story (Even If It’s Not Entirely Glamorous)

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People are usually fascinated by how artists find their muses. They want to know what caused you to put your paintbrush to the canvas or enter the recording studio. Even if the path that caused your work to go from idea to fruition was not always smooth, people want to know about it.

Take the example of Anvil, a Canadian band that had some major failures before finally tasting moderate success. Instead of giving audiences the impression they worked hard and the efforts paid off, the band went into all the downfalls in great detail within an award-winning documentary. The realistic portrayal of what can happen to emerging artists on the road earned rave reviews. It also highlighted the idea that success doesn’t always come quickly, so patience is essential.

If you’re feeling discouraged about how your art hasn’t quite taken off yet, while some of your friends are prospering, look for ways to honestly broadcast your story. If it makes sense to your audience, there’s a good chance they’ll recognize the diligence you’re applying to your career. They will see your potential and want to be involved in what you do.

Ensure Your Portfolio Accurately Represents Your Capabilities

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Whether you are a web designer, a fine artist or a musician that has played gigs everywhere from house parties to concert halls, you should ensure your portfolio is a good representation of how your career has progressed. It should also highlight your various skills. The website for an Irish artist named Stephen Lawlor uses thumbnail pictures representing distinct categories.

You click on a thumbnail to view more details about the artwork in each section, including some press releases. This is an excellent example to follow if your body of work is very large and you can’t decide how to make your online portfolio easy to navigate.

If you prefer physical portfolios, build them so they are as complete as the internet-based example above. You may not love all the pieces in the portfolio, but they collectively illustrate how far you’ve come. In the case of a music-centric portfolio, list all the gigs you’ve played even if they weren’t your finest showings or took place in unusual venues. Being complete in that way shows versatility and willingness.

Look For Opportunities to Take Featured Artist Spots

There are more chances than you realize to become a featured artist. Seizing those opportunities is another way to gain exposure, and it could also benefit public spaces and websites by providing beautiful décor and worthy content, respectively.

David Ruth is a great example. He’s an artist from Oakland, CA who makes glass sculptures, and he was also the first featured artist on The website deals with all things related to glass. So it’s particularly cool that it offers ways for artists to promote themselves. The lesson? Look for lesser-known platforms for showing your work. Don’t be afraid to ask if a local business would be willing to display your pieces.

Enter Competitions (Even If You Feel Unworthy)

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Many artists feel hesitant about entering competitions because they don’t feel worthy or good enough. If that way of thinking is familiar to you, consider this: The majority of people who win art competitions don’t start the process overconfidently. It’s normal to feel nervous, but remember that you are indeed worthy.

Art competitions allow your work to be seen by a panel of judges that might not otherwise be aware of what you do. No matter the outcome, you can promote the fact that you entered the competition on your website or within an artist bio. Simply stating “Entrant in the [name of competition]” in a bullet-point format is enough to convey your good efforts.

Artist Brian Hunter emerged victorious after entering the 18th annual RBC Canadian Painting Competition. His winning piece resulted in a $25,000 prize and many mentions in the press. Hunter capitalized on his win by including some of them within a special press-related section on his website. Remember that your own competition entries may garner local interest from newspapers, television stations and bloggers too.

Consider Donating Your Skills or Work to Charitable Causes

It’s often said that artists who want to maintain profitability should never work for free. In terms of promotion, you may want to consider offering your artistic pieces or skills to support good causes. If you’re a web designer, you might give a winning bidder at a charity auction a fully functioning website. If you focus on sketches, you could draw a piece that is somehow associated with a charity. Then sell it for proceeds that will support the cause.

There are almost no limits when it comes to how you might use your abilities for the good of others. Jonathan Lewis is a tattoo artist who helped organize the Tucson Tattoo Expo. In addition to helping the event run smoothly, Lewis donated his body-inking skills to help kids in need. It spreads the word about his artistic abilities, and it also clearly shows his interest in the greater good.

Some artists think of promotion as a necessary evil. Some have difficulty figuring out how to go about it without seeming forced. It’s a common issue. If it’s one you’re facing too, you can use the tips and examples above to make sure your work receives the visibility it deserves.

About The Author

Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her exploring the outdoors with her husband and dog in their RV, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or curled up with a good book with her cats Gem and Cali.

You can find more of Eleanor's work at

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