Trust (and Verify) Artist Opportunities

There are all kinds of opportunities for artists to show and to sell their work.
Your inbox probably has an email from a rich oil sheik in Qatar who wants to buy your art right now.
What do you do?
How can you tell the good opportunities from those you should avoid?
My advice is always to trust first and to be cautious second and most importantly.

Janice McDonald, Helen Hiebert, and Alyson. Helen had a fantastic working experience with a Denver-area library that purchased her piece (above) titled The Wish.
Janice McDonald, Helen Hiebert, and Alyson. Helen had a fantastic working experience with a Denver-area library that purchased her piece (above) titled The Wish.

As with everything in your art business, the onus is on you to verify all of the facts. Here’s how you do that.

Visit When You Can

Peruse online gallery sites for signs of business legitimacy and also to see the range of art they’re showing.

Do you like the work?
Would you be proud to have your art shown alongside that on the site?
Is the photography of high quality?
Are all works credited?
Do they make it easy for customers to buy the art?

Visit brick-and-mortar spaces to check out cleanliness, professionalism, and staff manners. Look for red dots on the walls, keeping in mind that not all galleries mark artworks as Sold.

Inquire From All Angles

After thanking the sheik from Qatar for his interest, ask how he found your site and what he liked most about the artwork he’s interested in. (This is too much work for the phonies.)
Ask venues how long they have been in business.
Ask organizers of juried exhibitions how many years they have been operating, and what the traffic and sales volume have been in the past.
Ask everyone for references from happy artists or clients.
Ask artists associated with the venue or organization what their sales have been like.

Have they been paid in a timely manner?
Has communication been good?
Has the other party lived up to their promises?

Research Online

Vertigo Art Space, curated by Michael McClung
Visit the Better Business Bureau site and enter the business name to see if any complaints have been filed against it.
For any organization, exhibition or venue, a little googling can answer a lot of questions.

What’s the website like?
Are they active on social media?
Do you see their calendar listings in local publications?
Do they advertise?

Search online for the sheik’s name to see if it has been associated with fraudulent email.

Get It In Writing

Read the client agreement carefully.

What is the duration of your commitment?
What is your financial commitment?
What are the venue’s obligations to you?

Don’t ship or sign anything until everything is in writing and the money, if it’s part of the transaction, has cleared the bank. This could take up to a month, so don’t let anyone rush you. (Honestly, when has any art-buying experience ever been urgent?)
I’ll leave you with this thought: I know several artists who have received phishy-looking emails from far-off countries that turned out to be legitimate.
Remember that I said to trust first. You just never know.

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18 thoughts on “Trust (and Verify) Artist Opportunities”

  1. Great advice Alyson! The longer I am an artist, the more due diligence I do before I invest in anything. I have wasted a lot of money in the past going on this or that online gallery, only to have nothing to show for it. I always want for it to turn out well, but you take your chances with anything.

  2. Thank you Alyson for your thoughts on our fire ravaged valley in the Methow Valley, Washington State. Over 300,000 acres burned & fires are 70% contained. We are only 1/3 through our fire season. Yikes!
    What I see is a strong community safety net of neighbors helping neighbors;enduring 8 days without power,phone,internet,road closures and 56 homes lost, including one local artist.
    My big takeaway – are you prepared for “off the grid” living during any kind of emergency or worse, ready for the 10 minute evacuation notice? Do I have a full tank of gas, cash & what art would I save? Luckily, I was in the UK but now realize had I been here, I was not as ready. Next time, I will be.
    Stay safe everyone!

  3. Always a good idea to investigate, if an email sounds interesting.
    One or more of your artist friends probably knows someone, who knows someone who’s heard something about an online gallery or exhibit.
    Re: answering the sheik type email – wouldn’t be the best idea because…once you respond, you’ve given them a ‘live’ email that they can now sell to many mailing lists, over and over, which gets you more and more spam emails. A verified email is more valuable to them.
    On the internet, use caution. Not saying people can’t sell art on the internet, I’ve sold some to complete strangers and regularly fill my workshops just from the internet. Good article !

    1. JR: If there’s even a hint that it might be real, I’d respond anyway. Look at the email address.
      Over time, we come to recognize the bogus ones that all look alike.

  4. Great post. I would add another one for online sites… Check the copyright date or date of last update on the website. If the website hasn’t been updated in three years, it’s a bad sign for the business overall.
    One other rule I’ve set for myself is to be very, very careful before selling an exclusive license for a piece of art. I rarely do it anymore. As someone who’s learned from experience, I can say that even with much research and care, an artist can still get burned.

  5. Nice article Alyson. JR & Keith I agree those are both good ideas. A few more ideas about seeing if an online gallery is legit –
    1. If they are on Twitter or Facebook, @ mention them and see if they reply. If they do you know they will likely be responsive in case you have questions and want to talk to a real person.
    2. Look them up on to get an idea for how much traffic their site is getting.

  6. Re Better Business Bureau… Please be aware that scams are perpetrated in their name, usually via Yahoo accounts, particularly In the UK.
    I know that my one sale made in the USA was satisfactorily completed and I have a fully satisfied client.

  7. I had a offer from Paris they wanted 3 of my works along with a $500.00 for ea.. to put in their Gallery.. i was just getting into shows and common sense told me.. that this was a bogus offer.. but good for the ego.. so what did i do with the letter? posted it at art shows .. and think it did help…. happy painting.. alma

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