Have you ever wondered what it would be like to earn money with your art? Have you already taken some commissioned work, but aren’t sure how it should really be done? I am asked repeatedly about how to sell art for a living. Many of my students make extra money by creating custom artwork for people. It can be a fun and challenging experience, but it does have its issues. Before you dive in and try to sell your art, there are some things you should consider.
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Art Commissions: General Rules for Selling Art
1. What should you charge when you sell your art? That’s the most common question I hear. Unfortunately, I cannot tell people what to charge. I have no right to tell someone what their time and talent is worth. What I DO tell them is, do not undersell themselves.
When you place a price on your work, your client will value it according to how much they pay for it. There is a very wide range of prices to consider. I go to the extremes. I either give it as gift from the heart, which is priceless, or I place a high dollar price tag on it. Both of these approaches makes the recipient appreciative of the art, and it will be treasured. The gift becomes sentimental and the high priced piece becomes an investment. Both may become an heirloom due to the value I assigned it.
If you underprice your work, the purchaser will value it accordingly. If they pay $25 dollars for something, they will not treasure it nearly as much as they would had they paid $250. You tell the customer what your art is worth by the price that you charge. Sell it cheap, and it may end up being discarded, or sold in a garage sale.
2. Is your skill level worthy of the price you are charging? When you’re just beginning, it stands to reason that you wouldn’t be selling art as expensive as someone like me, who has 40 years of experience, unless you’ve already reached a skill level that is sought after. I’ve seen students who are just starting off charge way too much and have been hurt when the client is not pleased with the project when it’s finished. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by promising something you can’t deliver. Be up front, and make sure you show good examples of your work. Let them see your skill through examples before you agree to anything.
I’ve had students take on jobs that are way over their heads. They then come to my class and need help to complete the artwork, or for me to give them pointers. I make it very clear that I don’t approve of this. If you aren’t capable of completing the art without help, you shouldn’t be representing yourself as a professional. Only take jobs that you feel confident in doing, from start to finish!
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3. Be sure to get your commission in writing. Protect yourself, for it’s very easy to get hurt in this business. Some may never pay you. Some may want to change the agreed price after the piece is finished. It’s important to come to an agreement and make it legally agreed upon in writing. This is a sample art business contract that I use. Feel free to copy it and modify it to fit your needs. Using a contractual agreement is a good way to protect yourself as an artist.
You must be SPECIFIC and have a clear understanding of what your client is expecting and what you are planning on creating. By writing it all down in advance, there are no surprises later. Write down all details that will be included in the art.
4. Get a deposit. Not everyone will like your work. It’s just part of the business. Some may just change their mind and cancel, after you’ve already put time into a piece. Unfortunately, they then do not want to pay you. Always ask for a deposit, just in case. In the unfortunate situation that your client is not pleased, at least you get something for your time and effort out of the deal. And you can keep the art.
5. Make sure to have the contract signed when preparing to sell paintings. It isn’t necessary to notarize the contract. Having two adult signatures and a date constitutes a legal contract. This small piece of paper will carry a lot of weight. Make two copies: one for your records and one for your client. The contract acts as a receipt.
6. If you really want to go pro and sell paintings, it’s also a good idea to get some legal advice from a business attorney and a tax specialist. Since every state has different rules and regulations regarding self-employment liabilities and income earnings, having these professionals in your court can keep you from getting in trouble.
Keep Feeding Your Passion
I realize that none of this sounds very fun. Admittedly, when it becomes a business, art can lose a little of the joy and inspiration. Be sure to continue to do inspirational artwork for yourself. You won’t have the same enthusiasm for a commissioned piece as you will for something highly personal and exciting. You must keep a balance between work and fun, or you will burn out.
I always hope that my students reach the same level of success as I have had. But when I offer advice, I have to be brutally honest about the reality of art business. Maybe I can prevent some disappointment before it happens.
I wish you a lot of luck in your artistic pursuit, and hope you find this info helpful!
Lee Hammond has been called the Queen of Drawing. That may not be fair these days, since in addition to providing the best drawing lessons, she has also created fantastic books and videos filled with the same easy-to-follow acrylic painting techniques, colored pencil techniques and more. Click here to see all of the instructional books and DVDs that Lee Hammond has to offer!