21 March 2006

Where to Sell My Artwork

As I wrote yesterday, I have a new plan -- one that I hope leads to more financial reward. What I am doing now is working to some degree, but I would like to make double what I am making now. So the question comes down to where to sell my artwork so that I get maximum returns.

Artists have a number of options when it comes to selling artwork. Here's the main ones:
  1. art galleries
  2. art agents
  3. art shows
  4. online venues

Art Galleries: These have been the traditional venue for selling artwork for the last few centuries. The basic procedure is for an artist to send slides of her artwork to a gallery. The gallery looks at the slides and either rejects the artist or asks the artist to bring in actual samples. The lucky artist then takes some originals into the gallery and then the gallery determines if the art is acceptable. If it is, the gallery will usually ask for 4-10 framed pieces, which will be left on consignment. When a piece sells, the gallery sends the artist a check. The good points is that I don't have to take my artwork around -- just ship it to the gallery -- and normally a gallery will get a premium price for the artwork. (A piece I sell on eBay for $60 will become $240+ in a gallery.) Then there are the bad points:

  • galleries take a 50% commission
  • all framing and shipping are the artist's responsibility
  • a good gallery receives 20-50 submissions per day, so it's hard to get into the gallery
  • galleries are notorious for not paying in a timely manner, losing artwork, or just closing their doors leaving the artwork to the bankrupcy court to figure out
  • many galleries want an exclusive arrangement, so I can't sell my art anywhere near the gallery
  • a number of galleries are now charging to even look at slides
  • many galleries no longer want to take on emerging artists, so they only accept established (semi-famous) artists
  • quite a few galleries have closed or are in financial hot water these last 5 years
  • galleries prefer for an artist to do one medium in one style so to have a "body of work"

Art Agents: Art agents work a lot like galleries, but instead of having a store/gallery, the agent takes the artist's portfolio to potential clients. Like a gallery, higher prices is one advantage, as is the fact the agent makes no money until he/she sells your artwork. Having someone who believes in your artwork show your work to serious art buyers can be profitable to both parties. Again there are bad points:

  • the agent takes a commission of 20% or so
  • finding an agent is difficult, finding a good agent is extremely difficult
  • since agents usually are not local, one must trust the agent with several pieces with no way to check on the agent except by phone

Art Shows: These I think about as a do-it-yourself temporary art gallery. The procedure works like this. The artist gets an application and fills it out, sending in the slides/photos of the artwork and their booth along with a check for $25-45. If accepted into the show, the booth fee ($100-1200) must be mailed in. 2 days before the show, the artst begins packing. The day before the show, the artist travels to the venue and sets up. Then the artist sits at the show, being pleasent to the attendees. On the night of the last day, the artist packs up and drives home. The day after the show, the artist unpacks and recovers. The main advantage of art shows is the artist gets most of the money for each piece. It also is "interesting" to meet the public and see their reaction to one's artwork. And then there are the negative parts:

  • shows do no refund the jurying fee (application fee), so applying to 5 shows and being rejected can cost $150 without anything to show for it
  • why one's application is rejected may have to do with politics, the quality of the slides, the physical size of the paintings, etc, and the artist will never know why she was rejected
  • booth fees range from $100 for a one day show to $1200 for a 3 day show with $300 being avaerge for a 2-day show and booth fees are going up
  • many shows are now beginning to take a 10-20% commission
  • weather can make or break an outdoor show
  • in popular areas, such as Palm Springs, there are 1-2 art shows each weekend, so the public now suffers from art show fatigue
  • one's fine oil paintings can be in a booth next to someone selling custom dog collars, because many shows are allowing more and more "fine crafts" into the mix, but they don't discriminate between "fine craft" and not-so-fine craft
  • some promotes require certain types of displays and/or tents
  • it's very tiring to sit and be friendly to everyone, especially when they make rude comments
  • travelling to a show for 3-4 days can easily cost $1000 for hotels, food, booth fee, pet sitters, and gas and take 5-7 days from start to finish

Online Venues: The newest way to sell art is online. Whether it's a private website, an online art gallery, or an auction site, there's two main problems:

  • before you can sell anything, one has to get people who are interested in buying art to visit the site
  • both the artist and the buyer have to trust each other

So, there are the options. Is there one that is better than another? No, because each have significant problems as well as serious advantages. It comes down to figuring out what one is willing to risk and also what works for one's art. (How I sell my botanical watercolors has little relationship on how I can sell my sculptures.) Because I do a variety of art, my solution is to combine the last 3 options and sell each type of art by a specific method. It's not ideal, but no one ever said this was going to be easy!

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