Do You Make These 5 Costly Mistakes Selling Your Art?


selling your artHave you made mistakes selling your art? Do you wish you could make better decisions when selling your art?

Have you ever sold a painting for too low a price and wished you hadn't done it?

Or have you ever sold a painting to a friend or family member and then was remorseful or even angry because you felt like you got way too little money for the piece?

Don't worry, most artists make these mistakes at one time or another selling their art.

This is very common.

I've made every one of these mistakes and more.  And I'm happy to share with you what I've learned from them.

So hopefully, you can avoid these errors and move your career more quickly in the right direction.

1.  Selling Your Art to Family and Friends

This is the big one.

Your family and friends love you. That's obvious.  They have the best intentions for you.

But they don't have a clue about the art world.  They don't know that art is a valuable luxury.  They don't know how valuable your original works really are.  And basically, they can't afford them.

If you sell your paintings to family and friends for $200 to $300, you are cheating yourself.   Their intentions are good, of course, and they think they've really helped you.   But you know in your heart that your paintings are worth way more than they are paying you.

You will eventually become angry and resentful toward these people you love.

As this pattern continues over time, you will grow bitter toward them or even toward your painting.  And it may kill your spirit and stop you from painting.  So be very careful with all of this when it comes to friends and family.

If you want to give your art as gifts for the holidays, that's okay.  That's another issue.

But if they want to buy your art at prices you know are too low, you are going to have to tell them "no" in a loving and tactful way.

2.  Selling Your Art in Bargain Basement Websites

This is another big mistake.  I see lots of artists doing this all the time.

In fact, the internet is full of artists who are practically giving their work away.

The worst bargain basement offenders are sites like eBay and Etsy.

You are not helping your career selling in these low-end websites.  When you sell on these sites, you are associating your name (which is your brand image) with the idea that you are cheap, and that your art is cheap.

You are putting your unique brand image into a website that offers commodities to cheap customers. But you are not a commodity. Do not put yourself on a website where you will look like one.

People who buy from these sites are not serious art collectors.  They are cheap customers.  And cheap customers are the worst customers.

Cheap customers complain the most. They want more refunds. Eventually, they will give you more headaches than they are worth.

And they certainly cannot help promote your career to the next level.

Stay out of the bargain basement.

3.  Selling Your Art in Art Fairs or Street Fairs

Art fairs and street fairs are just another type of bargain basement.  The buyers at these events are just average people.   They cannot afford to pay you what your paintings are really worth.

4.  Accepting Low-Priced Commissions from Average Buyers

Your art is not average.  You are not average.  You are creating original, one-of-a-kind works of art.  The average person can't afford luxuries like these.

Never quote a low price on a commissioned work because someone can't afford to pay more.  Stay away from average people who have average incomes.  This is not your market.

If you wanted to buy a Rolex watch and you went to the jewelry store and told them you could only afford to pay $200, do you think they would let you have it?   Of course not.  They would laugh you out of the store.

The jeweler knows there are people who can afford Rolex watches.  And so, too, there are people who can afford to pay you what your art is worth.

These are the people you want to find.

5.  Selling Your Art in the Wrong Markets

If you have a website or blog where you sell your work, be careful not to position your work toward the wrong markets.  One of these possible wrong markets would be the home decor market.

Home decor or decoration is not what you are creating.   You are not in competition with Pier 1 Imports or Bed, Bath & Beyond.   Do not lower your prices to try to compete in this market.

Do you have a story of selling your art?

Have you had any experiences like the ones I mention above when selling your art? It might be one of these five, or something completely different. Let us know in the comments!

And for more winning ideas for selling your art, grab my FREE Video Training for Artists  You’re gonna love this FREE 3-part video series that will help get you on the fast track to art selling success.

This Post Has 27 Comments

  1. nakedcarlyart

    This is a very interesting article. I think you make some very good points and it is thought-provoking. Although, it is also a little disheartening. Yes, I am a talented artist. Yes, my work is worth more than I usually charge for it. However, at this point in my very, very early career isn’t getting my work into the world and noticed a start. I do have an etsy shop, and I sell original works for $200-$300 (although, I do have A LOT of works). I know an artist sets the worth of thier work, but in this ecconmy, I think I would rather sell my work for less, allow average buyers who apprecaite it to be able to afford it, and earn a little money. By not selling any works for affordable prices (I do submit to exhibtions, etc as well), how can I create any demand for my work? Artists are everywhere–is it possible their is more than one path to sucess?

    Anyway, thanks for your article, it has given me some food for thought.

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      Thanks so much for your very interesting and excellent comments. You make a very good point. How does a new artist create demand for their work? Your thinking is like mine used to be years ago. I used to think that if I just got my work out there at any price, then it would finally be noticed by the right people. I thought my work would get noticed and then grow into the next level of pricing. Unfortunately, when you sell in the wrong markets, this will never happen. You will eventually become so frustrated that you will give up. Most artists give up by the time they are 50 years of age.
      I am going to be writing a follow-up article that will tell you exactly what you should be doing with your art and your career. So keep on the lookout for this new article that I will post in the next few days. Good luck with your career and thanks again for your excellent comments.

      1. nakedcarlyart

        I assume I am much like any young artist, which leads me to believe I have to start somewhere to build a reputation for my work (granted, as you pointed out in your article, I don’t necessarily want that reputation to be cheap). But you are exactly right—that is completely my way of thinking at this point. I just don’t really know what other option I have—I am looking forward to your next article. So far I am keeping a positive attitude, submitting work to exhibitions, competitions, publications etc. every month. Thanks for taking the time to respond to my comment.

    2. Adri

      I agree that there are markets to take advantage of, and its always good to use those markets, however, to make it bigger one has to sell bigger so to speak.

  2. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

    Thanks once again for your comments. You have lots of other options to develop your career. I will be explaining those in an article that I will probably post next week. I will let you know when I post it. In the mean time, continue with your submissions to mainstream art galleries, competitions and publications. I know that this is hard and you will get a lot of rejection. But this is the only way to build a real career. Also, you have a blog. Continue posting here and telling us about your work. But price your work high, maybe even too high. I would rather err on the high side than on the low side. Do you see what I’m saying. Thanks for your comments.

  3. Cathy Fuchs-Holman

    What price range do you consider high? I’m selling in the $600. to $1500. now. This is so interesting. I had a really successful artist tell me that it’s who you know that matters. I hope that he isn’t right.

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      Thanks for you comments. As an emerging artist, I would keep my prices around $1000. and up if I were you.

  4. juartychick

    I have a B&B where my art is on display and sometimes I sell to guests. In the early days I had a friend who enjoyed asking me to create work for her at really low prices. On the back of this I had a real client who loved my work and I sold a really unique piece at roughly the same price that my friend had requested. When I added up what our takings were for the B&B and the painting it was only like a couple staying for one extra night. I felt that I had sold my work far too low and regretted it for weeks. It took the happy factor out of making a sale.

    The one thing I learnt from that is to have a printed price list, just as you would in a retail outlet.

    I am sure I still don’t sell my paintings at a high enough price and recently I have been approached by a couple of galleries that take 50%. I feel that pricing my work is difficult as I don’t stick to regular sizes and my style can fluctuate. I would like to stick to what I like to create, but find sales in areas that don’t always interest me!

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      Hi Julie- Thanks so much for your great ideas here. I know that all of my readers will benefit from the information you presented here. Thanks again.

  5. apocalypseicons

    Dear Mr Bolyer
    I am so happy there are people like you who are willing to help and share experiences. I am really just finding my feet with the internet and have probably made all the usual mistakes you mentioned above. It is true, one develops a negative mind set. I want to break new ground and start afresh with a new attitude this year. So look forward to reading more of your good sense articles.

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      Thanks so much for your kind words about my blog. It makes me feel good to know that my writings are helping others. I am looking forward to hearing from you again.

  6. Henry Lowen-Smith

    Hi Gary, thank you for your interesting comments also your followers, I have been painting for quite a long time, you are right about pushing yourself forward,I have noticed it here in New Zealand, the slap it out merchants as aposed to the realist artist, as a realist artist I feel I am lucky that people want to buy my work, my prices small 9″ x 12″ to large 4ftx 3ft, from my own gallery are $500-00 to $5000-00, if I was selling through Galleries which I gave up long ago, they would have to be double the price or more, galleries want 60% plus the framing, by the time the Government takes it’s tax plus 15% Goods and services tax there is not much left for the artist, I would say to painters promote and sell your own work and add on the tax factor in your price. by the way I am now 77 maybe people want to get something before I shuffle my clog’s, do have a look at my oil sketch’s and studio work’s on my website thank you again for your interesting posts, one is never to old to learn, I learn every day while painting, keep an inquiring mind. hope I have not bored you. H L S

  7. Asmaa

    Hi Gary
    i would fall in the category where i have been doing work for my family mostly , i have a problem that if someone i love or has a special place for me stands there and takes some time out to praise . I CAN not resist myself from saying Take it!.
    And i have given around 60% of my work … given away….
    and still as an artist i don’t regret that i did gave them away . instead i am glad that someone , maybe a single soul connected and liked what i painted.
    on top of that i am broke these days… LOL
    I am unable to find a way to make money and i will be really reading your articles so maybe i can find my path .. thanks for sharing your knowledge and experiences .
    Yes Etsy is a place where desperate artists like me sell their work , desperate maybe in terms of finances or who just cant wait long enough to find the RIGHT buyer or right path… (this comment is not intended to break the heart of etsy artists out there kindly forgive me if i have done that )

    1. Gary Bolyer

      Thanks for your comments. I think what most artists need is a clear business plan for their career. This is necessary whether you’re selling to the art galleries or online. A clear plan of action with a timeline to achieve it will take you places you never dreamed of. Thanks again.

    2. Nelia

      I found myself nodding my noggin all the way thghuro.

  8. Mary Erickson


    I always enjoy your well written and informative articles. I must disagree with you on one thing you call a mistake. I started my art career at “juried” art fairs after a disappointment with my first gallery. As a young artist, the fair experience was a great learning ground. It gave me a chance to perfect my craft while selling to the general public. realizing that not every one could afford originals, I developed a print line to satisfy the market, all the while painting the subjects I love. This enabled me to increase my original painting prices consistently throughout my “street” career. Having prints, an affordable alternative, made me very successful, and my art available to many more people. I have a list of over 2,000 buyers just from those fairs. I have many collectors from the early days who continue to purchase originals from me. Often they started as print buyers. I have never discounted my original paintings because I feel an obligation to those people who previously purchased my work to protect the value of their paintings. I look on each painting sale as a step in my career, not just a single paycheck. Yes, my prices have gone beyond what some of my earlier collectors will pay, but the fine art galleries I am represented by now have brought me into another market. Those art fairs were a very important part of my career path. I do recommend juried outdoor shows to younger artists because of the experience in people skills and marketing skills they can give. They get the artist out of the studio and in front of a lot of people. One of my first galleries found me at an outdoor fair. Lots of commission work, newspaper articles and a large local following came out of those fairs for me, and for many other professional artists I know. They are not for everyone, but do not discount them for a young, energetic artist.

    1. Diana

      Thank. I’m 23, and just starting my art career. I’ve shown in a few galleries and my university museum, but I’ve never sold anything that way. I’m in the process of applying to my first juried fairs now. I was worried when i read the article, but I really need to start selling somehow otherwise I’ll have to get another job and make less art. I know art fairs are right for me at this stage of my career. Not forever, but I also have a line of prints and my goal is to sell enough to keep me fed and painting. I think it will help me develop a more cohesive portfolio and confidence for approaching galleries when the time comes.

  9. Jeff Musseau

    Nice article , always informative , Not one for doing Commission work but I have received 3 orders in the past 3 months . Before I decided to take any ,the price had to be right, I don’t want to be sitting at my easel al day for a month and not enjoy doing the paintings so I up the price to make it worth my time. I like your comment with Rolex makes a lot of sense.

  10. Judi Hurwitt

    This is from a recent blog post I did on the subject of selling work and regrets.

    “I had sold a painting to a local gentleman though my blog. He sent his wife to pay me and collect the work. On the day she arrived, I had my studio thrown wide open and my husband and I were both puttering around the space. The woman pulled up in front, got out of her truck, and stomped up to the studio, 5-year-old ankle biter in tow. She didn’t look happy. In her hand was a wad of cash.

    My husband and I, tireless curators and referees of my work, looked at each other, and yellow flags started flying onto the field between us: she looked like she was arriving at a garage sale.

    I took her over to where the painting hung, and she frowned at it- not exactly the reaction an artist hopes to get, but it happens from time to time.

    “It’s so small,” she said. Her frown deepened. Her brat, meanwhile, was all over the studio, touching everything and spreading his little boy germs everywhere.

    “I didn’t expect it to be so small!” She turned to me like I’d kicked her. I could see her thoughts as if they were flashing in neon, nailed to her forehead: ‘Why does something so small cost so much??’ This was not an art lover- this was a bargain hunter, proud of her ability to suss out a good deal from a bad one. This, in her mind, was clearly a bad deal.

    “I told your husband the dimensions when I sold it to him.” I refused to apologize for one of the coolest, and most popular, paintings I’d done all year.

    She just kept frowning, looking at it. Frowning.

    My husband and I exchanged glances again. Red flags now, all over the field.

    Hoping she would take the chance to flee, I asked her if she’d like to think about it. Maybe talk to her husband again.

    Snatching up her sprog’s hand, she stomped back to her truck and got in. Minutes passed. More. More. My hopes began to rise that she would just start her vehicle and drive off in it. I was really beginning to regret selling my work to these people.

    Maybe 15 minutes later, she got out of the truck, stomped back to me, shoved the money into my hand and grabbed the painting off the wall.

    Desperate, I said to her retreating back, “If you ever decide you don’t want it anymore, PLEASE don’t throw it away, call me and I will buy it back from you!” And she was gone. I’ve never heard another word from either she or her husband but I suspect that one day soon, my painting will wind up in a garage sale. She’ll feel fortunate to get 2.00 for it.”

    I didn’t give in on the price, but I have deep regrets for selling that painting to that particular person.

  11. Adri

    I too have succumbed to the low end selling bug, because of the market I’m exposed to. The real challenge lies in the trepidation of pricing too high because of the ignorance to the greater meaning of the art I create. I could paint like Rembrandt, but if the viewer only has a 9th grade understanding of art, they will only want to spend what they think its worth. How do I as an artist highlight the value in the meaning of my artwork so that I will get the appropriate corresponding monetary value?
    Email: a blame xpress I on so

  12. Marie A.

    Hi, Gary 🙂 Thanks so much for your article — it held a lot of valuable information and seasoned wisdom 🙂 I’m just starting out as an artist, and I would love to know what POD websites would you recommend as the best sites to sell my art? I do digital art as well as photography, so I feel POD websites are best for my niche, but if you have other pointers you can tell me about where is best for me to sell my digital art and my photography, I would greatly appreciate it. I look forward to hearing back from you 🙂 Thanks 🙂

  13. Mark Goddard

    Hi Gary-

    Thanks for your work and information around the business aspects of art.
    Pricing art and also bidding art projects has been an achillies heal for me.
    It seems that artwork should be bid at a range of the high hundreds to over a thousand dollars. What about giclee reproductions? Selling the digital reproductions?
    At what percent of the price of an original should giclees be priced?

    Thank you,
    Mark –

  14. Gilly B

    Hi Gary, I agree with everything your saying and leading into but for those who have regretted selling their first or subsequent works at cheap prices your probably forgetting the non monetary pleasure you received at selling the work on top of the financial rewards you received.

    You might have forgotten the joy of selling your art at that time and maybe you felt you needed the money then and not wait longer for another buyer to get intersted. Do you remember how that buyer came to find out about your work and were there any others who might have seen it before you sold it? How were you marketing your works then and have you improved your marketing since? Has your style improved since the early days? Would you like to buy the art back and if so did you keep the contact details of the purchasers so you could contact them to make an offer to buy them back or alternatively offer then another work at at a substantially higher price tag? You see, when you sold cheaply you should have also acquired a new admirer or follower and potentially a buyer of more of your works.
    Imo if you can afford to buy back the art why not offer to buy it back or swap it for another cheaper work you might have created? If they say no, you could offer them a current work at a higher price but if you cant get the courage to do it then I’d do if for you instead. You see, there is more than one way of recouping your perceived loss at selling for too cheap a price.

    I’m sure Gary will come up with some great and better ideas than mine , but the implementation of the ideas is the difference between high success and less success.

    I’m into colourful art and I wanted to set up a gallery in Yarra Glen with my friend Bert Ernie and resident artist and the idea was to offer a great location at 20% Commission for artists. Well by the time we started adding up all the real costs of developing and operating it with security and ongoing temperature controls etc the Commission had to be lifted to 33% with gst without even paying for staff wages which on weekends are horrendous. So when I read 60% Commission for city galleries I can understand why they need to ask what appears to be outrageous commission rates on sales and upfront fees because not all art gets sold.

    I have met some very talented emerging artists and seeking more to represent however many appear sceptical or prefer to just pocket the tax free cash they can get at markets rather than considering that the tax is only a small part of the higher price which could be achieved and the subsequent revaluing upwards of all their old and future art is something most bulk artists forget.

    I’m now revamping both my website and the services I offer emerging artists using a combination of services.

    Gary has made some very important points about pricing of art works if your producing good quality art obviously and we should all read and implement his suggestions.

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