Art Bartering

Matthew Kowalski, Shady Intentions
Matthew Kowalski, Shady Intentions. Acrylic and oil-based paint, offset printing inks, on paper, 23 x 35 inches. ©The Artist

Sometimes it’s great to trade your art for a service or other product.
Then there are the times when you don’t really want what the other person is offering.
Matthew Kowalski wants to know: “What is the polite, friendly way of saying you would prefer to be paid with money?”
WWYD? (What would you do?)

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17 thoughts on “Art Bartering”

  1. I get this all the time with the exchange being use of my art for ‘exposure’. I don’t want any more exposure – I want money! But they always seem to find an artist willing to do the freebie (I used to do that too, until I learned better). I would love to have something to say without letting my annoyance show through.

  2. I have a barter policy written, and I can refer to it for these conversations. It is not posted for the public, but it reminds me of my boundaries.
    The high points include:
    Barter agreements are for no more than 50% of the price of the work.
    I will discuss barter only if I am in profit that month.
    I have a limited number of barter sales I will consider in the calendar year.
    If I do not want what the other person is offering, I suggest a payment plan. In fact, that option is part of any barter discussion.
    Unless it’s a service really valuable, like a plumber or electrician, I tend to only barter with friends anyway.
    And what about the converse? I would not suggest bartering my art for a service unless the person has already expressed a desire to own my work.
    Thanks for this topic. I need to review my policy and update it!

  3. I love Carla’s solution. I don’t mind trades, but only with artists who are my friends. Otherwise, trades aren’t a normal policy for me. So when asked, I usually just say I don’t do trades.
    One exception: A long time ago my dentist offered to take a painting for some dental work. I happily agreed! He hung it in his reception area.

  4. Carla, Thank you!
    I used to have a very strict “I’m sorry, but I do not trade” policy. And then within the past few months I have started to dabble in trading. I have had a few discussions with various people (artists and IT people alike), and it’s a fine line. I think we can all agree on the “only if I am in the positive on the month,” but I also am glad to know it’s ok to suggest a payment plan.
    I am going to take Carla’s suggestion and write my own reminder-policy for when this happens to me as I often feel uncomfortable saying whether I will trade or not.

  5. Nobody has ever tried to barter a product or service for my artwork, yet… they just want me to drop the price so low I’d be losing money on the transaction. I’d almost rather give something away as a gift than to get an insulting amount of money for it… I said ALMOST! 🙂
    I am also a graphic designer and I bartered my design services to an artist friend of mine so she could have business cards and a professional website. She was happy because she was struggling to get started and was worried about cash outlay, and I was happy because I love her artwork and received a piece that really speaks to me emotionally.
    However, if I weren’t receiving a steady paycheck at a 9-5 graphic design job, it would have been a harder decision to barter with my friend. I can’t pay the electric bill with a painting, after all… they want cash!

  6. I like the idea of trading goods and services, but of course it only works if each party wants what the other is offering! A polite “I am not doing trades right now, but will keep you in mind for the future” works, but if the truth is that you’re not interested in their product, it might be better to be honest. Something like “I’m not in the market for ___ right now, but I will keep you in mind for the future” might be more truthful. Always keep the door open, though, because you never know what might happen!

  7. The landlord of my studio/office doesn’t take anything but the green stuff, usually in the form of a check. So, for that reason alone, I can’t do trades! And that’s what I usually tell people who want something cheap, free or traded: it doesn’t fit my business model! (Of course, I’ll make an exception every now and again if I really want to.)

  8. I occasionally barter with someone if they have something that I could use in return. At art/craft shows I’ve traded for things that I would be giving as gifts or that I really liked for myself. It didn’t put money in my pocket toward my expenses, but it saved me from the outlay of the gift I needed to get anyway.
    This past fall a photographer at a show loved one of my Faces of Angels but said it was not in her budget. She said that if I ever needed photographic services and would like to trade, she’d love to do that. Her work is fabulous, she teaches a lot locally. I ended up trading her for some lessons for my husband – he’s excited, she’s happy, I’m thrilled.

  9. Oh, but when someone wants to trade whose work either doesn’t appeal to me or isn’t something I can use, I just say that I’m not in a position to do that right now. I think Carla’s method of having a policy in her head is really useful.

  10. A long time ago I did a few trades for goods or services and never felt comfortable with the arrangement in the end. So now I will not do it. I like how money clearly defines the value of the art. Bartering makes that value a bit murky. That is especially true with trading for a services.
    My policy is that I only sell my work or donate it to causes I believe in. Nothing in between.
    I always prefer clear straight talk. If you do not exchange art for anything but dollars, tell the person asking for a trade – without apologies or excuses – “I only sell my art.”

  11. Interesting discussion! I haven’t really had an issue with this, but the talk makes me rethink my practices. Carla’s right is putting policies in writing as a guide, though always subject to exceptions.
    Funny, I’ve never bartered with my art, yet I’m eager to barter my services for the ‘other job’ (massage) if it’s something I really need (haircare, car work, etc…). Not sure why, maybe it has to do with the creative process and determining value. I like Becky’s vague, “I’m not in a position to do that right now.”

  12. I love this discussion! It’s so valuable to me right now. Tracy, I also do healing work, and the murky barter issue that happened in that area is what prompted me to make an art barter policy. I need to tighten mine up even more, and you all are giving me such inspiration.
    Michael, I agree that it does murk with the stated value of a piece to barter for services. That brings up the related issue of value and pricing anyway. As it happens today I am having a resonant pricing session with two colleagues, to get really clear about my prices for healing work. It’s a spiritual level to apply after one has crunched some numbers in ways Alyson has offered. I’ll apply it to my artwork too. If anyone is interested, Resonant Pricing is from Mark Silver’s Heart of Business. Here’s his web page for that: Alyson, if you are not familiar, you may find it interesting resource for next time you revise your pricing article and your prices.

  13. Kimberly Lennox

    This is a great discussion! I have successfully bartered many times. It’s entirely possible that I undervalue my work because it comes so easily to me that I figure it’s just a couple hours of my time, doing something that I enjoy anyway. Also, I am easy to please. But I have witnessed a couple of nightmare outcomes. The biggest problem comes from not getting everything figured out ahead of time. A personal trainer friend of mine traded training sessions with an artist friend for a sign for her business and trusted the artist to be brilliant – as her work generally is. What she got was really beautiful but completely inappropriate. It all ended very badly. Had they spent more time together planning the outcome and discussing expectations it would have been better. I love all of Carla’s advice and will take it to heart. Disappointment comes from unfulfilled expectations. Expectations that are clearly defined lead to excellent results.

  14. Great discussion! I only knew it was happening because of Carla’s kind mention of our resonant pricing blog post.
    Even in our business I’ve had to think long and hard about bartering. So much so that I wrote up an entire explanation for our position on bartering. If you care to look, it’s on our contact page: – Scroll down to “Frequent Questions” and you’ll see “Does Heart of Business accept barter.”
    The short answer is we require that someone meet our clarity with their clarity. Meaning they have to make a very clear offer to us, to match the clarity of what we’re offering. There are certain things we will not accept, and every time it’s on a case-by-case basis. The end result is that we do very little bartering.
    I totally support you all getting paid the green stuff for your inspired hard work!

  15. WOW! Thanks for an awesome debate, and some really helpful answers and suggestions! My dilemma is resolved, thanks to you. I have had some good trades for valuable services, including the photographer and caterer who provided great services at my first solo exhibition. Great trade there. Just wanted a positive way to so “no thank you” for services I do not need.
    The collective power of your minds must be profound, because the painting Alyson chose to display with this blog sold — for cash! The green stuff!! Thanks, Alyson and all!

  16. Pingback: Artists: Do You Feel Compelled to Work for Free or Barter? | Art and Avarice

  17. I am an artist who prefers to showcase OTHER artists’ work in my home instead of my own. Recently, I propositioned an illustrator to trade my artwork for his. He found the idea of bartering between artist to be interesting, but felt that some artists may be skeptical selling their finished pieces. Clearly, the idea of trading among artists will not be for everyone. However, there needs to be a place online (blog, Facebook, website) where the artists who DO want to barter can go and showcase their own work. I’m a little surprised that a place like that doesn’t already exist, actually.
    If anyone knows of a place online set up for exactly that purpose, please let me know. Thanks!

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