The digital era has changed the way that art is bought and sold, and it’s now easier than ever to sell your artwork on your own. Social media channels and easy-to-use sales platforms has transformed the art market into a space that is both more transparent and democratic. While only a short time ago, the average artist needed gallery or agent representation to sell work, the internet allows a plethora of options for artists to connect directly with collectors and commercial commissions.
The numbers match up. In 2017, the online art market grew by 17 percent from the previous year, and is projected to continue to grow. Young art collectors, who view the acquisition of art as both an investment and a lifestyle choice, tend to lead the pack with more seasoned buyers following slowly behind. And while the art gallery model isn’t ever likely to disappear completely, the way the world consumes art is on the frontier of permanent change.
If you are an artist that wants to go solo and sell your artwork on your own terms, here are the necessary documents and strategies you will need to employ to facilitate sales, protect your works and keep up with all your legal responsibilities.
Essential Documents to Sell Your Artwork
In order to sell your artwork, you will need to provide an artist bill of sale and a certificate of authenticity. Although not a requirement, it is a good idea to have proper documentation of copyright and reproduction rights in the off chance that legal woes pop up in the future.
The bill of sale is your most important document. Artwork in physical form is considered personal property, and therefore a transfer of title will be necessary in the form of a bill of sale. This also functions as a record of the transaction for both the artist and the person buying the artwork and will be used later on when filing taxes. Specific requirements for invoices can vary from state to state, so be sure to double-check with your local or state government when drawing up your artist bill of sale.
Despite slight variations in local requirements, a basic template does exist and an artist bill of sale should include the following information: date of sale and invoice number, contact information for both artist and buyer with both a physical address as well as a phone number or email, and an itemized list that includes artwork sold with a description of the artwork, including the title, medium and dimensions, as well as any extra costs such as framing, delivery and installation. If you are selling multiple works at once, itemize each artwork individually. Billing should be divided in a subtotal, which is the cost of work and services before taxes, in accordance with state requirements and the total sale.
An artist bill of sale should also include information about the copyright and reproduction rights to inform buyers that they are only purchasing the rights to the physical piece of artwork. Both artist and collector should sign and date the artist bill of sale to demonstrate that both are in accordance with the terms of the sale.
Technically speaking, a copyright is automatically put in place the moment that a piece of artwork is created. However, registering the work will make any potential legal disputes much easier in the future by providing a public record that serves as simple proof that the artwork is yours. Registering is simple and can be done online with the Copyright Office of the U.S. Library of Congress. All you need to do is fill out a registration form on the electronic Copyright Office page and pay the fee.
In addition to copyrighting all your work, you should also have a certificate of authenticity for all finished artwork. This document functions as proof that the artwork is an authentic creation of the artist that has signed and dated it. Artists can author a certificate of authenticity themselves.
A certificate of authenticity is particularly important for serious collectors, since these collectors are likely buying your work for two reasons: They have a personal connection to your works, and they believe in its potential as a financial investment. In the best case scenario, a few years down the road you become a sought after artist and the buyer considers flipping one of your pieces. The certificate of authenticity will ensure that they have a genuine work, and will also be useful to you in the future, as they can be used to value your estate for insurance purposes and any other legal matters that may arise with your work.
A valid certificate of authenticity must include specific details about the artwork, including detailed information about the medium, full title and the date of completion. Depending on the medium, you may need to include additional information, including materials used and dates. The more specific the information the better, including the type of paint, ink, canvas or paper used, weight, dimensions both framed and unframed, and an extensive record of dates. Paintings, for example, only require one date of completion. Prints and photographs, however, require the date of completion of the original and the date of the print. Although not required, artists may opt to include a brief description of the work that describes the techniques used and themes explored and any other comments from the artist. Detailed information will help future archiving of your work. A certificate of authenticity should include a seal that includes the original signature of the artist, a copyright and reproduction rights statement and a photo of the work for comparison.
Keeping in Touch with Collectors Post-Sale
Now that you have made a sale, how can you turn a first-time buyer into a regular collector? The work begins before you sell your artwork. It is important to develop an understanding of where you fit into the market and who your buyers are. Ask your buyer questions: How did they find you? Why are they purchasing this particular work of art? How often do they purchase artwork? Is it a gift or a personal purchase? Who are the other artists that they have in their collection?
Once a purchase has been made, send out a personalized thank you note. Create a small file with basic information of your buyer and look for patterns. Zero in on details from specific buyers as well and reach out directly when you have a series of works that may be of particular interest to a buyer that expressed a strong interest in your works.
You should also be collecting contact information and encourage buyers to sign up for your newsletter or follow you on social media. Create a newsletter that is sent out on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. Newsletters should include information and photographs about new works, upcoming exhibitions, media appearances and any other important news. Make the newsletter feel personal, not salesy, in order to generate a personal connection with your buyers.
Maintaining active social media will help you keep in contact with established buyers as well as help you sell your artwork more regularly. A 2015 study by Artsy revealed that platforms like Instagram are becoming powerful tools in the online art market, particularly for emerging artists. The study looked at the online spending habits of art collectors with more than 100 works in their collection. They found that 51 percent of respondents purchased works from artists they discovered on the app, and 30 percent had bought specific works seen on the app. Most importantly, they indicated that they were attracted to artists with feeds that felt personalized and showed not only individual works but posts that demonstrated behind the scenes insights into the creation of works.
The art world is certainly changing and the artist is taking on a more autonomous role in the distribution of their work. The leap to sell your artwork without gallery representation doesn’t have to be so daunting if you follow these simple tips.
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