Tacoma artist Geri Handon is blazing new trails in the business of marketing and selling fine art. Her paintings and those of other artists already were available for purchase on the net when she launched her own version of what is fast becoming a popular way of doing business—the online auction.

Handon started her art selling business in a physical, bricks and mortar gallery in Bellevue more than four years ago but soon decided that wasn’t the way she wanted to go.

“With rents being what they are,” she says, “it became price-prohibitive to maintain the gallery.”

That’s when she switched her business to the virtual gallery she operates on the web. She calls it the Living Artist Gallery (www.livingartistgallery.com).

The online gallery provides digital images of paintings available for either sale or auction. Visitors can purchase either originals or prints by placing their orders directly on the web or by e-mail—or they can participate in the auction by submitting a bid.

The site also provides a toll-free phone number where prospective buyers can obtain further information about a work, an artist or a possible transaction.

The African-American artist, a native of New Jersey, already has sold six original canvasses as well as limited-edition, numbered prints through the e-gallery, which has displayed several of her award-winning paintings.

She designed and maintains the colorful website herself, including scanning prints and electronically placing digital images of the paintings.

The online auction is a relatively new feature of the Living Artist Gallery, she says, adding that in the first three months, she sold two paintings for $390 and $320. She features one painting every six weeks or so, she explains, and requires no minimum bid.

Her current offering is an acrylic painting she did herself, she says, and the last time she checked, the highest bid she’d received was under $30.

“The online auction is what people are most interested in,” Handon says. “Patrons are getting the art they want at a price they can afford without the sales pressure of an auction house or a physical gallery.”

Businesses throughout the country have launched online auction sites, including e-commerce giant Amazon.com, which branched out from books and music only to a range of consumer goods. According to media reports, the novelty appears to be attracting a lot of traffic.

Handon says her virtual gallery provides a venue for living artists she characterizes as under-represented in the traditional, commercial galleries, particularly women, disabled people and international artists.

“I felt the name should reflect the purpose,” she says of Living Artist Gallery. “It is important to support living artists in order for our cultures to survive.”

Featured artists have included two from Bulgaria—Jacqueline Yamelieva and Marchel Yameliev; a young, beginning artist named Jeffrey Sturdivant; and several women, including Barbara Womack, Bobby Lee Godwin, Mary Tyers and Elin Zamorano. The artists work in a range of media, from traditional oils to watercolors and acrylics.

“So far the revenue is slow because art is a luxury item that can only thrive in a very good economy,” Handon says. “We have such an economy nowadays—I am hoping it will continue.”

She describes the e-gallery as still a new venture and says she is growing it slowly. At times its growth rate can be frustrating, she confides, but she doesn’t regret making the switch from a traditional gallery to a virtual one.

Perhaps the most critical challenge an online businesses such as hers faces is promoting itself, making potential customers aware it exists and convincing them to pick the gallery from among the untold thousands of other sites they can visit during an on-line shopping trip through a market without visible limits or obvious address. So far, Handon says, she has relied on press releases, flyers and the word-of-mouth referrals from satisfied visitors.

She’s hoping the appearance of her press release in various national publications will spur interest. She helps the process in summer when she attends art and wine festivals in various parts of the country, where she advertises her website to prospective customers.

That’s one of the advantages of a virtual business. You don’t have to show up at the office every day and there’s very little day-to-day upkeep.

By Bassam Bishuti for the Business Examiner