Iron Out the Details First for Your Art Sales

I received this email from an artist who thought you might learn from the experience:

A gentleman purchased 2 paintings of mine at my two local galleries, then contacted me via telephone about doing a commission. When he asked the price, I stated, “between 4500 and 5000.” Then when he came to my studio and we talked about price of course he thought it should be 4500, not 5000. We finally settled on 6000 if I would throw in another small Rembrandt copy that I painted. He paid 3000 down payment. I completed the painting and he came to my studio again to pick it up. He then paid the remaining 3000 which he wrote a check for. Throughout this time we have chatted several times and have become quite friendly, and even took my spouse and I to lunch that day.

While he was here that day, he asked me to do another painting. This one was to be painted similar to one that is in my current gallery exhibit, same size, same subject matter, only this one he wants done on gold leaf. We were sitting at the dining room table discussing this and he said, “do you want me to give you a down payment?” Then I got up and started to go down to the office to check the price of the other painting that is in the gallery, so I could quote him a price. This price would of course be exactly what the painting was priced in the gallery. At that time, he said,”Why don’t I just give you a check for 1500.00 for initial expenses and you can let me know the full price later.” So I did not go check on the price.

Several days later I wrote a letter to him describing my approach, the size, and price, which like the gallery painting was 3700, and thanked him for the 1500 down payment.

Several days later he called and said he wanted to talk to me about something that was in the letter and that was the price. He said we had agreed to 3000 and that was why he gave me the 1500. I was flabbergasted and very embarrassed because it made me feel like he thought I was trying to cheat him, although he tried to soft peddle it. I told him it was 3700 because that was exactly what the other painting was, but he said he remembered 3000. I tried to brush it off as not being important and just said, then let’s keep it at 3000. We chatted more and ended on a cordial tone.

But it has been bugging me ever since. First of all that he had a different memory of what was said that day. But most of all angry with myself for not going and getting the price and filling out a receipt which would have had the full price in writing. Now, 700 dollars isn’t going to break the bank but it would have helped me pay the 25% commission that is due the gallery, and avoided embarrassment in a very awkward situation.

Moral of story: Get it in writing, don’t just assume anything. Be professional and use formal contracts because it will save a lot of headaches later. If it is a telephone quote, don’t say between this and this, say an exact price then follow it up immediately with a letter of confirmation maybe by fax because it would be fast.

I couldn’t agree more and can’t thank you enough for sharing your personal experience so that other artists can benefit. Sure, everyone knows this stuff intellectually. Unfortunately, you sometimes have to learn your lessons the hard way.

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4 comments to Iron Out the Details First for Your Art Sales

  • I couldn’t agree more. When I do commissions, I write up a simple contract and have the person sign the contract and provide a deposit before starting the painting. Having the person sign the contract assures that we have both reviewed and agreed to the pricing beforehand, and that they have provided the appropriate deposit for me to start. If it’s in writing, there’s no confusion!

  • Okay, I just have to get this off my chest. Last winter I produced the artwork for a poster and promotional material for a prestigious equine event held here in Ocala, Florida. In exchange I received a large exhibit space throughout the weekend festivities. I put the original artwork on an easel alongside the framed poster. On the day that I was setting up, I had the pleasant company of a member of a prominent local arts organization in my booth and she flagged down the owner/promoter. He came over and asked if I had sold the original artwork yet. I replied not yet, and he winked and said “we’ll take care of that!”. My companion got very excited and declared that she had helped me sell the original. Fine so far. The event ended with an elegant evening fund raiser and I spotted my booth companion and went over to say hi. She was all “high fives” and declared how she loved to help artists sell their work. I love it too! Kudos to her. I then spotted the owner/promoter who we “assumed” bought the artwork and thanked him for the purchase and asked where and when he would like it delivered. We organized a meeting the next morning. When I arrived the next morning he wasn’t there. One of his staff called him on his cell and he said to me: “…there must be some missed communication, I have no intention of buying the painting.” Shock and embarrassment are stating it lightly. If there was some confusion, why didn’t he say something at the evening event? But even that’s beside the point, I don’t care if it’s the Queen herself, I will always, always, get a deposit. What really stings is that I probably would have sold the painting as I had other interested parties throughout the weekend. I consider myself a pro and should have known much better. Anyway, I hope this helps someone avoid a similar situation.

  • Cas

    Thank you so much for sharing that. The advice people gave in the comments also helps a lot too. I imagine this is harder to do when they’re standing right in front of you, but I’ve been told that when asked for a price over the phone, to ask them for their phone number to give them a call back after you’ve “run some numbers” – and if they object, to tell them you want to make sure you give them an accurate quote and don’t over-charge them. I haven’t had an opportunity to put this into action myself, but I’d think it would help put them at ease, and also give you a chance to take a deep breath and accurately work out a figure without the immediate pressure of them waiting for you to do so.

  • […] was no agreement that outlined terms of […]