To Trade or Not to Trade (with Another Artist)

You're minding your own business at your show when an artist you don't know comes up and asks you if you want to do a trade: his artwork for yours.
You don't know anything about this artist's work.
How do you respond?

Deep Thought

How do you handle requests for trades in these situations:

  1. You don't know the artist? (Can you subtly ask to see the work first? And then what?)
  2. You know the artist and don't like the work?
  3. You know the artist and love the work?
  4. You've done trades in the past, but don't feel that they've served you?



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34 thoughts on “To Trade or Not to Trade (with Another Artist)”

  1. Goof question! This has happened to me a number of times, and it’s not so much about how much I like the other artist’s work (often I do) but if I truly want that piece and have the room for it. Also, there’s the factor of measuring equal value in the trade.

  2. I have traded in the past and will continue to do so. But it is always for a piece that I really like and of equal value. There have been a few times when I was approached to trade and the Artwork offered was not something I really liked.A tactful response of “I just have no space for that” or “it just would not work in my house” is how I have responded.And then I usually compliment the Artist on their work.No need to insult someone or hurt their feelings because their Style of work does not appeal to me.

  3. I do trade artwork, but not terribly often. I teach, so sometimes I trade with my students. Classes for one of their paintings. If I’m approached, I usually am direct – I want to first see if they have anything that I would want if I were paying. If not, I let the artist know I’ll consider it when they create something that speaks to me or would fit into my collection. If so, then we make sure that what they want from me is of equal, or near equal value. I always thank them for loving my work enough to want something of mine. It’s an honor! I rarely make an offer to trade, but I have, and I’m not the least bit hurt if the other artist says no, because I understand. I think it’s a great way to build a collection and share art.

  4. I have never initiated a trade, but I have made trades with others who have asked me. Luckily, they’ve all been artists whose work I really love, so it’s been a happy experience. There is nothing wrong with refusing to trade, especially if you: 1. do not love the other artist’s work, 2. do not have a place for the work, or – and this is critically important to a lot of artists – 3. you can’t afford the other work. Many artists, especially those who work in one-of-a-kinds, simply can’t afford to trade a piece they want to sell for cash with which to pay their living expenses for someone else’s work. It’s always flattering to be asked, but it’s always alright to politely decline.

  5. I have been approached by artists and, worse, people re-selling crafty things. My auto-response is “As a rule, I do not do trades.”
    I do trade with artists that I am already friends with that I love love love their work and have a place in mind to put it in my home, but its few and far between.
    I once had someone re-selling (not handmade) candles ask to trade for a $350 piece. I will never need that many candles.
    I never approach someone for a trade because it makes me personally uncomfortable. If I want something bad enough, I will pay for it, and I never know what other’s financial situations are. I’m more likely to end up trading when I go to purchase something and the other person would rather have one of my pieces than the cash.

    1. Jenny: Rather than initiating a trade, you might say (if you were deeply interested): “Let me know if you’re ever interested in a trade.” That puts the ball in their court.

  6. I rarely do trades as I prefer to purchase the art I love. I like to honor the artists I admire by purchasing their work.
    Although I have done a few trades, I’ve never initiated one, and have always been pleased with the results. If asked to trade by someone who I don’t know I would say “I don’t really do trades for my work.”
    The one trade I’d love to do is weekly massages for my artwork. That would be a pretty fabulous!

  7. I just did a trade of a piece of art in exchange for ephemera. It all depends on what’s being offered to me. And one can always say no

  8. I also want to say that I used to do swaps, such for ATCs. I don’t do them any longer because by and large I’m not at all happy with what I get in return. It was very rare I’d get an ATC I’d actually want to keep and of all the ATCs I’ve traded for, I only have 1 that I’ve kept all these years. On the other hand, I have been involved in a yearly calendar swap for about 6 years and have kept them all, because I’ve been so happy with the results.

  9. What Lisa Call said!
    I have put a lot of thought into this. I do not participate in is something I simply do not feel comfortable engaging in at this time. If I love a piece and really want it I will gladly fork over the cash.
    I would tell her /him that I am so glad they love my work but I don’t usually do trades.

  10. I have traded ATC’s in the past, like Lin. The satisfaction with trade for me was the social bonding, not so much what I received as art in return because as Lin said sometimes it’s not that great. Sometimes it is really great though, not everything can be a hit you know, and the kindness and good feeling can do a lot to fuel motivation for bigger things.
    I am culturally geared to like bartering and trading. I’m the kind of person that will ask the manager for a big discount on a floor model, I enjoy the interaction, the thrill of making a deal.
    Would I trade my own art with another artist? Beyond ATCs, I suppose I would but it would depend on how much I desired the item offered. I think I would prize things such as hand made pottery and sculpture, for instance, something I do not know how to do myself and greatly appreciate. I would also trade for artistic textiles like beautiful quilts etc. I wonder if the people that make those things would trade for paintings? haha

  11. I like to barter, I once got 2 months of yoga classes for a painting that I knew would be perfect in the waiting room. When the owner wanted to see it I told her if she liked it she could pay the cash price or take it out in trade. I once initiated a deal for a friend to receive the use of an island condo for 2 weeks in exchange for a large painting. When it comes to other artists and their work it is a little more sensitive as you do not want to insult them if you don’t want it. I’d just say, “I’m at my trade limit for the year, the power company wants cash!” But if I were to go to purchase art I might say that if they wanted to trade we could certainly work something out…and then show them pieces in the appropriate price range. There are all kinds of reasons not to shut out a trade or barter deal. But then, that’s just cause I find it fun when the budget allows. It is a great way to build a collection, and, as the video points out, mark your time and friendship along the way.

  12. No problem if I like their work and they like mine, and the artwork is of similar value. It’s just sometimes awkward if someone wants to trade, and I don’t want anything they have… O_O;

  13. i was just asked a few months ago by a photographer who’s work is good but not great…i said no, that i am a single mom with one in college and the other on her way, so i can’t afford to trade. i didn’t want to tell him the truth about how i felt about his work. i try to always be uplifting and supportive of others work not dismissive or haughty.
    i have happily traded prints of my work in the past and was very delighted with both trades because i thought they were equivalent exchanges.

    1. I guess it’s important to not to divulge the trade, right? If you tell one artist you have a policy against trades and then trade with someone whose work you really like, word might get out. Better to keep it hush hush.

  14. I have certain art prints or books (I’m a comic book writer/artist) that I will give away as a friendly/promotional gesture. Usually when I have a positive interaction with a patron at a comic convention, or when dealing with a creator/blogger/media person I’d like to stay in touch with.
    If someone wants to do a trade, I will typically offer one of those pieces to them. If the person wants to trade for something of higher value, I will decline the trade, but give them the print/book for free. If I don’t like their work, I’ll also decline the trade, but tell them their work just doesn’t fit my aesthetic, and still offer my work for free.
    Perhaps that is a good rule of thumb for any creative. To have a promotional item, more valuable than a postcard, but cheap enough that you wouldn’t mind giving it away.

  15. I barter frequently. I’ve traded my work for raw materials, equipment, food, electrical work, studio help…but I’m trying to recall if I’ve traded it for other artists’ work, and I’m drawing a blank.

  16. Over the course of running a studio business for 20 years, I traded with other artists frequently. If a trade was offered, and I wasn’t interested, it never seemed a problem to simply say no I wasn’t able to do so, and vice versa.
    The most wonderful thing about trading is that I have so many fantastic pieces of art in my home and every one has a memory of a show, of an artist who is a friend, and is so meaningful. I’m so glad to have had the opportunity to trade my work with others!

  17. An artist, who I was a little friendly with, latched onto a piece of mine as if it were hers already and wanted to trade. She was over the top. I didn’t like her work and politely declined the trade. I later sold the piece for $350. What is interesting is that I didn’t really ‘see’ the piece and how attractive it was until these offers.

  18. I’ve done several trades that I’ve been thrilled with and some I’ve turned down. I now live in a smaller home and I need to be selective, so I only trade for what I really want. Last year I turned down a trade, someone wanted an $8000. painting of mine and I really don’t like her work. I was able to honestly say, I didn’t have the room for large pieces. She persisted and wanted to trade for imitation jewelry. I told her I didn’t wear much jewelry, but I did offer the painting for a great price for her if she really wanted it. She declined. It would have been nice if she had not been so persistent. It felt awkward for me.
    I’ve only initiated a couple of trades by saying “if you are ever interested…”
    I’ve traded for building materials, 8 bikes, jewelry, laser skin treatment, sculpture and paintings. If it is something you would love to have and everyone feels good about it, it’s great.

  19. I had an artist just swoon over one of my paintings. She wanted to trade. At the time she didn’t have anything I liked but I asked her to do a specific subject for me for a fair trade value. She agreed. I had no reason to doubt her because her work ethic was/is impeccable. I know no one who works in the studio as constantly and consistently or with as much drive as she. So, I gave her my painting. That was 5 years ago. I am still waiting for mine. What a trip!

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