Trust, Verify, and Secure Artist Opportunities

There are all kinds of opportunities for you to show and to sell your art.

It's thrilling when a new opportunity comes your way. You want to jump on it. But then the doubts creep in. There's no reason to get cynical.

My advice is to approach each opportunity from a place of trust because you never know what will come of it.

Then you must back up that trust by verifying it with research and securing written agreements.

Here’s how you do that.

acrylic painting of layered shapes in reds and yellows and blues artist Patrick Slattery | on Art Biz Success
©Patrick Slattery, Circus. Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 36 inches.

Research online.

For any organization, exhibition or venue, a little googling can answer a lot of questions.

  • What’s the website like?
  • How long have they been in business?
  • Do you like the work you see? Would you be proud to have your art shown alongside it?
  • Is the quality of the photography and videography good?
  • Are all works credited to the artists?
  • Are they active on social media?
  • Do you see their calendar listings in local publications?
  • Are their shows reviewed by publications?
  • Do they advertise?
  • If it's an online gallery, do they make it easy for customers to purchase?

Visit the Better Business Bureau site and enter the business name to see if any complaints have been filed against it.

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.

Necklace with botanical elements by Holly Gage of sterling metal clay with stones of tanzanite and citrine
Holly Gage, Celebration of Spring. Tanzanite, citrine, and sterling metal clay, 18 inches.

Inquire from all angles.

After thanking the sheik from Qatar for his interest in your art, 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 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?

Yes! You can ask these questions. Better to ask them now rather than hit yourself later for not taking the initiative. 

Now that you've done your homework, you can begin to finalize the deal.

acrylic painting of blue waterfalls with red and yellow backgroun | on Art Biz Success
©Donna Wocher, Blue Falls. Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 24 inches.

Make it official by getting it in writing.

Many people brag about doing business on a handshake, but getting a signature on a piece of paper will save you all kinds of grief. 

And, yes, you should get it in writing even if the person on the other end is your best friend. Scratch that. You should get it in writing especially if the person on the other end is your best friend.

Written agreements will save your relationships.

Let me say that again: written agreements will save your relationships. We often think that they are unnecessary and can come between two people, when they actually do just the opposite. They ensure that everyone is on the same page and knows their individual roles.  

It would be tragic for you to lose a longtime friendship because you each had different expectations of a transaction. This is why you have written agreements not just with new people in your life, but also with those with whom you are closest. 

alcohol dye and stencil print on paper of layers florals blues and greens and yellows with red leaf overlay | on Art Biz Success
©Lois Bender, The Coral Reef Sea Garden Panorama A. Alcohol dye and stencil pochoir print on paper, 20 x 26 inches.

On a related note, and a lesson I learned the hard way, keep all correspondence related to a potential transaction. 

Get everything in writing and organized in a single spot. You want a solid paper, or digital paper, trail. 

You will need agreements for the following situations.

  • Gallery consignments
  • Commissioned artwork
  • Loans of artwork (for whenever you leave your artwork anywhere)
  • Donated artwork
  • Teaching commitments
  • Speaking engagements

If the venue or organization doesn’t have a standard agreement, you must create one. If you’re the initiator of the transaction (such as loaning your art or leading a workshop), it’s best if you write the contract. 

Don’t ship anything until everything is in writing and the money, if it’s included in the transaction, has cleared the bank. 

Protect yourself and your future.

As the CEO of your art business, it's your responsibility to do the research, ask questions, and close deals with a written contract. Nobody will ever care about your well being as much as you do. 


Looking for written agreement resources?

In episode 125 of The Art Biz, intellectual property and internet law attorney Kathryn Goldman shares her Four Step Framework for protecting your creative rights. 

Listen and read here

woman with gray shoulder length hair Kathryn Goldman headshot | on Art Biz Success

This post was originally published on July 31, 2014 and has been expanded and updated with original comments intact. 

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18 thoughts on “Trust, Verify, and Secure 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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Get a transcript of episode 182 of The Art Biz (Rethinking Mailing Lists for Artists) followed by a 3-page worksheet to evaluate the overall health and usage of the 3 types of artist lists.

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