Modern Ways to Sell Traditional Art

Ed Terpening may represent the future of art education and marketing. His skills as a plein air painter and a software engineer allowed him to use social-media marketing to build a flourishing art career. Reading about his experiences could help you navigate through the new world of digital communication, instruction, promotion, and sales.

by M. Stephen Doherty

China Cove
2008, oil on linen,
12 x 9. Collection
the artist.

California artist Ed Terpening can help you use 21st-century technology to address the challenges of the current recession in the art business. He is an accomplished and dedicated plein air oil painter who takes full advantage of social media, such as, YouTube, Facebook, Reunion, and Twitter, to connect with other artists and collectors. Those are some of the websites where thousands of artists are sharing painting demonstrations, galleries of art, opinions about art materials and techniques, news of exhibition opportunities, answers to technical questions, and schedules of upcoming workshops. Terpening has participated in social media to educate himself, meet other painters, connect with art buyers, and sell original art.

As vital as online social networks can be, it may be difficult to reach their large communities without a clear understanding of how these websites can work to an artist’s advantage. There are millions of members around the world using these sites 24/7. Others are looking for specific information or trying to bring their profiles to the first pages of recommendations when someone conducts a search. For example, if a person searches through Google for “art for sale online,” more than 20 million pages of information will immediately become available on a computer screen.

Terpening understands this technology better than most people because he earned a degree in computer science and now works for Wells Fargo as the vice president of social-media marketing. It is his job to help the bank increase consumer awareness of its products and services and to stimulate positive brand awareness among the millions of people using the internet on a daily basis. His skills and experience give him a unique understanding of how marketing efforts can yield profitable results for individuals or companies, whether they are painters, art students, painting instructors, or banks.

Fortunately, Terpening is a generous man who shares his knowledge with artists by writing nearly 400 blog posts, or short essays, on his website. He has posted to his blog “Life, Plein Air” about all the supplies he uses when painting; data about a successful advertising campaign aimed at selling his paintings; videos and slide shows of his paintings in stages of development; recommended teachers and painting events others might find interesting; and advice about promoting one’s art career.

Through the Palms
No. 3

2008, oil on linen,
14 x 11. Collection
the artist.

Several of Terpening’s recommendations come out of his efforts to achieve “search-engine optimization,” that is, the specific steps he took to increase the number of hits he would receive from people searching for information. For example, he learned that if he mentioned the names of famous artists he studied with or admired, people would find his website when they searched for information about such artists as Edgar Payne, Colin Campbell Cooper, Ken Auster, Ovanes Berberian, Ted Goerschner, or Camille Przewodek. “My website mentions the names of the artists I studied with in workshops, the historical painters who inspired me, and friends I paint with,” Terpening says. “People find me when they search for information about the well-known artists. In other words, members of the social-networking sites who I haven’t met will find me when they search for information about Payne, Cooper, Auster, or Przewodek.

“The internet is evolving rapidly,” Terpening continues. “For artists, the focus used to be one-sided. That is, we’d post our latest paintings and set up an e-commerce feature to sell them. There wasn’t much dialogue with collectors or other artists. People could find biographies, but that alone didn’t do much to build trusted relationships. Now the internet is increasingly a means of interacting with other people in real time. The new technologies are focused on two-way exchanges, and artists, galleries, and corporations are building personal connections through online communities that establish trust and understanding that facilitates sales. For example, when I publish a blog post about a painting, both collectors and artists can submit comments on my blog and start a dialogue with one another and with me. Collectors like to know about the art process, and they get to know the artist as a person.

“Although all this communication is driven by new technology that speeds up the process, in truth it is very similar to what happened when Van Gogh wrote letters to his brother Theo in the 1880s or when Edgar Payne wrote his book Composition of Outdoor Painting in 1941,” Terpening says. “The written word helps us understand the creative process in a way that inspires and informs us, but now we also have online videos, DVDs, digital images, websites, blogs, and social networks through which we can share and connect with others around the world in real time. Today’s Van Goghs aren’t sending letters; they’re probably blogging and starting conversations with many other artists and collectors, thus creating what may someday be a historic archive of artistic development.”

Beach Town
2008, oil on linen,
9 x 12. Private

What all this means is that an aspiring artist can visit a website like those maintained by Terpening or American Artist and watch a painting demonstration, read the list of recommended materials, invite critiques from other artists, learn about other artists painting the same subjects in the same styles, upload paintings and solicit comments, enroll in a distance-learning course, enter a juried competition, or read blog posts written moments ago about a painting in progress.

But although most of the sites involve communication between artists, Terpening has a second website where he posts information for collectors who are interested in painters. “People are curious about the life of a painter, and a lot of them read my blog to find out where I am painting, how I responded to a location, what problems came up, who I was painting with, and where I’m going next,” he explains. “My small plein air paintings are modestly priced because I have a day job that pays the bills, and I’m still a student of art, so people of average means can become involved in my art career and collect my work. I reserve my larger, more complicated studio paintings for physical gallery exhibitions. This possible conflict between less-expensive, direct online sales and framed gallery paintings is something I’m still figuring out, and I know many artists are facing the same dilemma.”

As with any other enterprise, developing a market through the internet takes time and knowledge. Terpening says he currently reads dozens of blogs a day and adds comments to many of them. “One of the ways an artist builds recognition is by adding comments to forums or blogs or by posting blogs and videos. You can increase your overall visibility through participation,” he explains. “The more your name and URL are posted on the internet, the more likely it is that your website will surface when someone searches for art. Internet search engines reward this online participation by ranking your website higher in search results, so it pays to take part in the community of artists who are active online.”

Casa Cosmos Sunset No. 3
2008, oil on linen, 12 x 16.
Private collection.

Although he spends a considerable amount of time each day on his computer, Terpening’s real passion is painting, and he gets most excited talking about being out on location with his paints, brushes, and easel. “I’ve always loved the outdoors, and plein air painting is perfect for my temperament and lifestyle,” he says. “Moreover, the artists I admire most are the landscape painters who capture the vitality and character of nature. After spending 18 years in an office developing technology products with a six-month shelf life, creating art outdoors that could survive for lifetimes is extremely rewarding.”

Terpening paints in a home studio from his plein air sketches and digital photographs when the weather or his work schedule won’t allow him to move outdoors. As a photograph on his website reveals, his studio is the laundry room of his home near the San Francisco Bay. It is there that he loads his digital photographs into a MacBook laptop computer and projects them onto a television set resting on the clothes dryer. His canvas and extensive palette of oil colors are nearby in a Soltek easel.

Lest anyone think Terpening’s use of computer technology is a distraction from the real purpose of art, they simply need to read some of the “Top Observations”—quotes on his blog from artists, scholars, scientists, poets, and historians. They demonstrate his dedication to traditional methods of responding to nature’s glory with brushes and paint. Here are just a few of the thought-provoking quotes he offers:

“It is in the contrast of light and dark that design happens.” —Helen Van Wyk (1930–1994)

“Nature does nothing uselessly.” —Aristotle (384–322 B.C.)

“Think in black and white, but paint in color.” —George Post (1906–1997)

“Whoever ceases to be a student has never been a student.” —George Iles (1852–1942)

“When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.” —John Ruskin (1819–1900)


About the Artist

Ed Terpening began his professional career as a musician before earning a B.S. in computer science from California State University, Fullerton. He worked as a software engineer and an internet media executive before studying painting with nationally known artists, such as Ovanes Berberian, Skip Whitcomb, and Camille Przewodek. He is now the vice president of social-media marketing for Wells Fargo and participates in gallery exhibitions and plein air events across the country. He is a founding member of the Verdes Artist Guild and a member of Oil Painters of America, the National Academy of Professional Plein Air Painters, and the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association. For more information, visit his website at, his page on Facebook,, and

To see what else is featured in the April 2009 issue of American Artist, click here.

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About BrianRiley

Brian Riley is the managing editor for the American Artist family of titles (American Artist, Watercolor, Drawing & Workshop) and has been part of the AA team since 2003. He first became interested in art as a child, specifically drawing, but drifted away from the visual arts as he grew older, gravitating towards writing while in college. His position at AA has offered him the opportunity to reinvigorate his early passion and continue his education.  

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