Facilitate Payment for the Sale of Your Artwork

To continue the conversation about what to do when you’re not getting paid for the sale of your art, let’s look at concrete steps to getting paid more quickly.

Victor Issa, Freedom. Bronze, life-sized. ©The Artist
Victor Issa, Freedom. Bronze, life-size. ©The Artist

1. Start with an email message.
Most people respond best to email these days, so starting with this option is natural. You can send a gentle note: “Per the terms of our contract, I think I was supposed to be sent payment last week for the sale of my art in your gallery. Could you please check on that and get back to me?”

2. Use the phone.
I don’t trust the reliability of email, so don’t assume that you’re being ignored just because your email message wasn’t answered quickly. After a couple of days have passed, pick up the phone and repeat the conversation under #1 above. If you must leave a message with someone who isn’t in charge, ask when your call will be returned.

3. Use the phone again.
If you didn’t get action or the desired response, try making contact again the following week.

4. Send a hard copy letter.
If your gallerist is avoiding contact with you by phone and email, put your concerns in a letter. A letter is sure to reach him or her and looks very official. There is no need to be threatening or unkind. Just outline the details of situation–being clear about the answers you’re seeking.

You are not in a position to float loans to the gallery. It’s their responsibility to make sure they have the financial means to stay in business. But, if you want to maintain a good relationship with the gallery and don’t want them to go under, put them at ease.

At any or all points in your attempts to get paid, reassure the gallery. You don’t want to cause trouble, you just need to be paid for the sale of your art. Ask: “Is there anything I can do to help?” (While still being paid, of course.) Remember that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

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5 thoughts on “Facilitate Payment for the Sale of Your Artwork”

  1. Alyson,
    Excellent points.
    Related to this from the perspective of the gallery owner, in mid-October I made a sale of Wray painting in which I had to pay out a small percentage to someone helping me, and to Wray. I waited to do this as I wanted to make sure the collector took possession happily. The collector wanted and paid extra for a different frame, which, unfortunately, they didn’t like. So I took back the frame and reimbursed the collector. The collector is now happy with the painting in their frame of choice, and checks (for the percentage of what ultimately sold) went out to Wray and the helper two days go on December 1st.
    Fortunately for me, everyone was very gracious and understanding.

  2. My first step is to walk over to the gallery in person …In August, I did this & discovered that the sidewalks up & down the street had all been torn up for repairs. When I got to the gallery, lo & behold, they were gone…It made sense & I didn’t blame them for leaving (I was supposed to be in an upcoming show-wouldn’t it be great if artists were compensated when galleries just up & close? I guess that’s a rhetorical question…hmmm.)…On my way home, I stopped in on a health centre type store, just to realign my chakra or whatever you call it when you are depressed about something…The owner said “How are you?” & I ended up telling her the truth…A hug later, I now had a new showing opportunity…& now, I have my art & my healing environment in the same locale…

  3. The artist gallery relationship is a partnership–communication is essential. Check in with them often–find out what is happening. If they are not reciprocating with communication & glad to hear from you–you are (at the very least) on shaky ground. Get something in writing. But the artist has responsibility as well–you can’t just hand over your precious work and forget about it. If your work is in a gallery that is far away, you are at greater risk–be a squeaky wheel. The problem with the current gallery setup for artists is that galleries take your work without any investment on their part. What other retail business do you know that gets all their merchandise for free? If you have had to pay for your merchandise, there is a much higher motivation to sell it & get your investment back. In the old days galleries actually bought work from artists–or had a deal with an artist they believed in to pay them a stipend for a certain amount of work. That allowed the artist to live & work while the gallery dealt with sales. Of course, many artists were taken advantage of in that scenario as well, because they gave all their power away.
    My advice–only deal with people you trust. Become a friend or at least involved with what’s happening. Be responsible for your own work.

  4. Theresa grillo Laird

    I once had the experience of having to wait 6 months to get paid. I’d made multiple calls which were usually met with some version or another of we’re having trouble collecting. At that time, the gallery was owned by two people but I usually saw only one of them. Finally after many calls to her, I happened to reach the other partner. When she heard I was still trying to collect, she said of course you need to collect! A check was waiting on my next visit. Sometimes it pays to contact the more silent partner.

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