Yesterday, Judy Chapman of Old Lyme, Connecticut wrote, “How do you handle requests from people interested in your paintings via the Internet? Sometimes I don’t know them from Adam. Also, how do you ship and handle payments, etc?”
Thanks, Judy. First of all, anyone who has an Internet presence is going to get the typical Nigerian Scam letter. This is where someone wants to buy your work and often wants you to ship it by a specified carrier to a foreign country. They generally pay you more than you are asking (ostensibly by mistake) and then ask you to mail back the difference. They cry a lot when you don’t. Their own cheque or money order looks remarkably genuine, but it eventually bounces.
If you’re the slightest bit suspicious, take the cheque to your bank, wait at least a month and don’t ship a shred of art until your bank manager swears on a pile of old James Bond novels that the cheque has cleared.
At the same time there are currently more and more legitimate inquiries for art coming our way via the Net. I ask them to phone me so I can get an idea who they are — besides it’s nice to make their acquaintance. Typically, we send a few jpegs.
Sometimes they’re folks who want to pay over time. I trust them, charge them no interest, pre-pay the framing and shipping, offer to give their money back if they change their mind (doesn’t happen), and with only one exception in recent memory, haven’t been bilked yet.
Beautiful online connectivity is just beginning. The Internet knocks down national boundaries, facilitates choice, establishes legal recourse and nets quality friendships. Everyone needs an artist-friend, and you may as well be it.
Once, while passing through a small prairie town, I dropped in to say hello to an email customer I’d never met. I ended up staying three days, ate the best part of a moose she had shot and painted her a free 11″x 14″ of a bird feeder while she mended a hole in my sweater.
PS: “Friendship is the source of the greatest pleasures, and without friends even the most agreeable pursuits can become tedious.” (St. Thomas Aquinas)
Esoterica: By far, most of my sales are through galleries. Without these galleries there would be little interest in my work. Further, I wouldn’t be able to get decent prices if I was the only one blowing my horn. But these days, more than ever, some collectors want to connect with the artist, and it’s often the World Wide Web that empowers them. “The world is round,” said Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “so that friendship may encircle it.” Current thinkers like Steven Pinker in The Better Angels of Our Nature think we are entering a new era of trust. Less violence too. Certainly, amicable connecting is more available and controllable than it used to be. Further, in the rare cases where folks drive a thousand miles to get a look at you, it’s a good opportunity to tidy up the studio.
Do your homework
by Larry Moore, Orlando, FL, USA
I had one e-quest to buy a specific painting that really threw me. It had all the earmarks of spam, terrible English, a shipping address that turned out to be a restaurant and he wanted my account number so he could transfer the money. Right. But he named other artists he had collected so I called them and he was legit. When in doubt do your homework.
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The seventh sense
by Marjorie Tressler, Waynesboro, PA, USA
You are right, we need artist/friends, and I have 6 of the best. We are a group of 7 woman artists who collaborate in having shows, meet once a month at each other’s homes for lunch, tea, and a critique of each other’s work from that previous month. We also have become very dear friends supporting each other through some very tough spots in our lives as artists and women. This has been going on for the last 15 years but now we have added another meeting — once a month we get together to drink wine, have a light supper and watch a video about an artist or just discuss art, and we have invited some men /artists to join us for that night only. But our group of women is called, “Spectrum Seven,” — longer version, “A Spectrum of Seven Woman Artists.” “We think this personifies what we as artists invoke — The Seventh Sense. We have five senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell and some people claim a sixth sense which involves the spirit. But the Seventh Sense (ours) is the spirit made manifest — the artistic interpretation of our five basic senses.”
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Painting helps fill the hole
by Mike Drake, Augusta, GA, USA
I had a painting of a beach scene in my guild shows and no one bought it, to my astonishment. I had been to the dentist for a root canal, and afterwards the receptionist/ money collector informed me I had exceeded my insurance allowance for the year. “Oh my,” I thought, being an unemployed remodeler/ repair guy. I asked the dentist if he would barter some work toward my bill. He said, “Yes,” and he would get back to me after he had hip replacement surgery in the next couple of weeks. Well, two weeks went by and nothing, so I trotted that beach painting down to his office and left it with a $200 price on it to apply to my bill if he liked it. Finally, the receptionist called and said, “Sold,” and said he also had a rental property that needed some work, and he would make up a list soon for me, and not to worry about the rest of the bill. Hey, it ain’t Wall Street, but I’ll take it.
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Send the work C.O.D.
by Anne Siciliano, Dryden, ON, Canada
If someone orders off the Internet and you don’t know them from Adam, I send the framed artwork to the address given, through the Postal Service, and I ship it C.O.D., which stands for Cash on Delivery. The customer also pays for the shipping charges. This way no one is waiting. I will not wait for my payment, because it has to be paid in full by money order when they pick it up at the Post Office, and they don’t have to send money to a stranger (the artist) until they receive the artwork. It works great!!! Both parties are happy. And it’s worry free!
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Good sales using PayPal
by Jim Oberst, Hot Springs Village, AR, USA
In January 2010 I began painting one small watercolor per week and posting it on a separate website as a discipline to encourage myself to paint more often. It has worked very well. But I was concerned about the large pile of paintings that I’d be generating. So I also worked at selling them online inexpensively (but in line with the prices of my larger paintings). I had no idea whether I’d sell any of them. I worked hard to get my Web presence out there in front of many people. Well, that worked, too. So far I’ve posted 92 paintings, and have sold 30 of them, with 4 mailed outside the US. I have a PayPal-generated “Buy Now” button below the image of each painting. Selling with PayPal handling the money is extremely safe. And when someone wants to buy any paintings from me via the Web, I just tell them I only accept PayPal. Once you say that, you never hear from the scammers again. Google has a similar checkout service. I also have a money-back guarantee, and have not yet had a return.
What about flippers?
What do you think of people who buy your work on the pretense of keeping it, but you suspect they are remounting/reframing and then selling it? My friend and I think this might have happened to our work we presented in a small local art fair. Two women came in and scooped 6 small paintings of ours, and it just didn’t feel right to us. Whatever sells? Down and dirty? All’s fair in love and art?
(RG note) Thanks, A. This is all the more reason to sell your work at respectable prices. My direct sales are always at or very near current gallery prices, and this policy essentially prevents someone from making a quick resale at a profit. My prices are published on my website.
Built on trust
by Cindi Walton, Boise, ID, USA
My husband and I own a small Christmas card company. For 19 years we have designed, marketed and sold Christmas cards for construction equipment people. In all those years we have never taken credit cards. We started out thinking that in order for someone to trust us, we needed to trust them. So, we sent Christmas cards to our customers with an invoice. Our bad debt has never been more than 1% of our sales and some years less than that. Doesn’t that make you feel good about our fellow human beings? Most people want to pay their bills and do. The biggest collection problem I’ve had are with big companies who take forever to process invoices and, now, so many of them want to put purchases on credit cards. I really think that a lot of our customers keep buying our cards because of the relationship we have built with them and because we trusted them.
Online sales of inexpensive works
by Deon Matzen, Clinton, WA, USA
I have had the same type of scam folks contact me from time to time. I tell them that they must pay cash up front including the shipping and the local taxes. I will select the shipper. You never hear from them again.
I do, however, do a lot of sales through email contacts. My policy on a $200 framed commission is a $100 Non-Refundable deposit and the balance with shipping and taxes added upon approval of a digital scan of the completed work. These are mostly dog commissions, although I had to do a row of ducks, too. I have never had anyone not pay. I guess because they have the deposit to lose, they follow through with the balance.
It seems to work well and I am keeping pretty busy this time of year with people giving gifts of dog portraits to family and friends. I promote my work by producing several calendars which focus on a specific subject. I sell these and give some away as promotional materials. Postcards too.
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by Sharon Allen
My first step when I get an e-mail regarding purchase of a painting seen on my website — no matter how legitimate the e-mail might sound — is to do a Google search for the person’s name. If the name is associated with any known scams, it will show up immediately. My second step is to reply to the e-mail and explain that I only accept payment through PayPal. Probably 99% of scammers disappear immediately. I also ask where the person is located so that I can calculate shipping costs. If I get a reply, I can then narrow down my Google search to a particular State or City and may even find a second e-mail address for the person. If that’s the case, I send an e-mail to THAT e-dress asking if this is the person inquiring about the painting. If I get a positive reply, I explain that I’m particularly cautious because of all the art scammers out there. The buyers have been surprised, but always understanding and, actually, happy to discover that I’m legitimate and cautious! From that point, the sale proceeds the same way it would from a co-op gallery or an outdoor show. I also follow up with an annual holiday card to each collector.
Paying the gallery for wild sales
by Mary Moquin, Sandwich, MA, USA
I’m in a gallery that advertises nationally. Therefore, they feel entitled to their full percentage even if I was approached via email, via my own website, for a sale.
I am absolutely fine giving that over if the lead was in some way related to the gallery, but I am required to share the profits even if they never heard of the gallery. I also would never undercut the gallery as I do appreciate and rely on the exposure that venue offers. However, I also teach and make my own connections via other avenues and through my website. Sometimes sharing those sales seems above and beyond. Websites open a whole new arena. People can discover work regardless of gallery exposure, but perhaps the affiliation with the gallery is what helps secure the sale? I am conflicted.
(RG note) Thanks, Mary. This is a sticky subject, and it can be a problem for some artists. If I can trace a call or email to a specific gallery that has worked hard to bring a person to buy, and yet the customer contacts me directly, I give the gallery a kickback out of the blue — generally 25%. In the case of national advertising, I pay for (generally) half of it when they are mentioning me, advertising for a show, etc., for the simple reason that it helps other dealers across the country. When gallery A runs an ad, there is often a sale in gallery B or C resulting from it. Customers are often particularly loyal to their local gallery. A simple solution to this conundrum is to have more than one gallery that advertises nationally (or internationally).
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Being safe, not sorry
by oliver, TX, USA
Robert made a great point — make sure you have funds in hand before shipping and can document that the art was well packaged when shipped. Best way I know to quietly document the transaction. I usually take a picture of how the art was packaged as well. Use your camera phone for this — costs a couple of seconds to do but there are lots of ways such a picture or three can come in handy.
When doing all this it is sometimes tough to not be your own “sales prevention” and turn off the customer, but handled properly and professionally it isn’t an issue for good buyers. Perhaps the best thought I can give is think through all the issues and establish your policies. Do listen to feedback on the policies, but don’t chase “sales” break policy and get ripped off in the process. For example, “Can’t you just send me the work on approval?” from the decorator 2 States over. They can make all kinds of assurances, but if you do and they “forget” to return your art, what can you do? What will it cost to get your art back etc. — hard to sue and meet legal minimums. Reporting to police may get a response – sometime in the next year, given the cutbacks. Generally, they’ll say it’s a civil matter and leave it be, and then, hey, there is no realistic civil recourse.
(RG note) Thanks, oliver. Maybe things are a bit more trusting in Canada, but we frequently send work “on approval” within this country. Further, once I have talked to someone on the phone, we frequently ship right away if the work is available and not a commission (which is another kettle of fish). Showing goodwill is part of the art. Regarding that last letter, many people wrote and asked how I was bilked on the one time I have been in recent memory. That was where a fellow sent five or six post-dated cheques and the last three bounced. We phoned him a few times and he said he would make good, and maybe he will someday when things get better for him. He’s in the investment business. All people are basically good.
Enjoy the past comments below for Net profits…
oil painting, 37.75 x 48.25 inches
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