A friend indeed

Dear Artist, Yesterday, Richard Brady of Maynard, Massachusetts wrote, “I’ve begun a working relationship with a friend. He’s taken the initiative to introduce my paintings to potential clients. I’ve given a 10% finder’s fee in the past to a person who made a referral which led to a sale or a commission. Not much effort for him. Beyond just an introduction, is a higher percentage appropriate if the intermediary makes phone calls and sends e-mails to hard sell the work? Is the finder’s fee to be paid for additional work the client may purchase later? If the intermediary puts a higher price on the work than I initially sought, would that additional money belong to the intermediary?”

“Omaggio a Picasso”
oil painting, 20 x 17 inches
by Richard Brady

Thanks, Richard. First, the term “hard sell” makes my teeth squirm. Art should never be hard sold. A good agent shares the magic of his connection with you and looks after the interests of your clients. Second, a “friend” who represents you in a decent manner is certainly worth the 10% finder’s fee you mentioned. A really good friend who is truly effective may be worth the 50% you would normally pay a gallery. The standard rate for agents or “vest-pocket dealers” is between 20% and 40%. These intermediaries may not have art-related overheads, but they are still often responsible for framing, shipping, hanging, collecting, etc. Friends who do this sort of thing are friends indeed. The best way to deal with ongoing sales is to have an agreement with your friend for a specific period of time — say two years. You might agree to pay him the agreed percentage on everything that comes your way via him during that period. This includes new customers who are friends of the customers he has found for you. If the two of you still like the system and are still friends, you can renew for another time period — even change the percentage — but each should have the option to unilaterally withdraw. No agent, intermediary or friend has the right to put a higher (or lower) price on your work without consulting with you. The consistency of your retail prices is a sacred covenant made with all your collectors. To let someone muck with this is shooting yourself in the foot. To let your “friend” inflate your prices and keep the change is out of the question. Best regards, Robert PS: “The person who reps you is golden.” (Nick Farbacher) Esoterica: Artists need to keep busy while they’re waiting for something to happen. At the same time, artists don’t want to be careless when it comes to business, but they do need to be free to concentrate on their craft. Good galleries, good dealers and good friends make the fully-engaged creative lifestyle possible. Richard Brady’s work is time consuming. He commands relatively high prices and is well regarded in the field of hyper-realism. Readers who might have other advice or experience are invited to pass it along.   Richard Brady

“Zachim Full Moon”
oil painting, 48 x 60 inches


“Minute Man in Winter”
oil painting, 16 x 20 inches


“Boat House on the Concord River”
oil painting, 36 x 48 inches


“Spring Apple Orchard”
oil painting


oil painting


“North Bridge”
oil painting 24 x 32 inches

            An unknown friend by Martha Vanoni, Cody, WY, USA   Your letter reminded me of an experience of my own. A nationally renowned painter lives in the same town as I do. I have gone to him for mentoring on occasion. I was in his home one day and saw a beautiful oil painting of a waterfall in Yellowstone Park, approx. 4′ x 6′. I’m guessing that the asking price was around $40,000. A few weeks later I ran into some wealthy friends of mine who wanted a large vertical painting to go over their very large river rock fireplace. I told them this is what I had always envisioned would be perfect for that spot and said they must see it. Well, they did and bought it. I was happy that I could make the two parties happy. I never thought of getting a percentage. After reading your letter I feel that it would have been nice if I’d gotten, at least, a heartfelt thank you from the artist. There are 2 comments for An unknown friend by Martha Vanoni
From: Pam Simpson Lussier — Jun 08, 2012

It sounds like you are getting something better if he is mentoring you. Just saying.

From: Nolly Gelsinger — Jun 10, 2012

I have a friendly business arrangement with a woman who represents me at shows. I am not a painter but a person who makes glass beads, which can be like painting, but very small. I pay my representative 50% of my sales and she bears all the costs. For me, this makes a lot of sense. I am in the studio a lot more than I could be if I was doing shows on my own, and it makes financial sense, too, since I have no out of pocket. In these days of buyers being a lot more carefully with their discretionary spending, I am not earning as much but I think that all things being equal, it’s still a good deal.

  Trusting your own value by Linda Anderson Stewart, AB, Canada  

“Where Glaciers Roamed”
oil painting
by Linda Anderson Stewart

I think we artists have a tendency to be a bit uncomfortable with the financial end of our business. We start by being so grateful when someone likes our work enough to buy it, we’ll sell it for ridiculously low prices. Then, when we do actually develop our craft and have earned some respect and some gallery representation, we are embarrassed by what prices our work commands in a more public forum. I believe we all need to learn to believe that what we do is actually of real value and not just in a monetary way. They unfortunately get tangled up together and become a catch 22. We need to keep working, as our passion dictates. We need money to facilitate that, so we put our work in others hands to sell and bite our nails the whole way feeling we are not worthy of the prices being asked. When we don’t sell like hot cakes we get the jitters and go back to selling our work for peanuts, ergo undervaluing not only our work but who we are as professional, competent painters. Please, dear painters, I know we run the risk of starving. However, we need to stand our ground. We need to command respect in a way that folks understand. Set realistic, well researched prices for your work and stick by them. If they don’t sell right away, take them back and let them rest for a while and put them out again, at the same price. Galleries will learn to live with what you have asked… and will sell to that price. The cream will rise. You need to trust and respect your own value, and that of the work you produce. There are 4 comments for Trusting your own value by Linda Anderson Stewart
From: Loretta West — Jun 08, 2012

I agree with your statement, Linda. In the end it really is a game of patience and persistence. Love the painting too!

From: Anonymous — Jun 08, 2012

This is my second attempt to say that of all the Canadian glacier paintings I have seen on this wonderful site, this is the most powerful. I love the title and your advice, too.

From: Anonymous — Jun 09, 2012

Wow…thank you…I am very flattered

From: Anonymous — Jun 10, 2012

Just this past month had a kind of combination of these two ideas – was asked to exhibit older works from years/exhibits past in a new public government building – the show was coordinated by someone who functions as an artist’s agent, who used to run a gallery where I had been with. She later coordinated the sale of four of these works – they dated from 1995 and hadn’t sold at what were legit prices then – and they brought several thousand this time. I gave the agent a pre-agreed upon 20% – a fair commision. Hold to your prices and welcome help to keep exhibiting them! Good things will come!

  Finder’s fees for gallery art by Kathleen Eaton, MI, USA  

“On top of the world”
oil painting
by Kathleen Eaton

What happens if a friend or relative deserves a finder’s fee, but my work is currently shown in a gallery whose commission is 50%? On what price do I pay the finder’s fee? Do I have to price my art higher to allow for this possibility? (RG note) Thanks, Kathleen. Under no circumstances change the price to accommodate an extra fee. I’d say works of art that are already in galleries are off limits for finder’s fees. Perhaps your friend or relative might like a sketch or drawing in exchange for his or her good will. Finder’s fees and vest pocket dealer commissions are generally given to associates or friends who make connections for you before the piece goes out to your regular galley system.   The death of watercolour by Tony Kampwerth, Knoxville, TN, USA  

watercolour painting
by Tony Kampwerth

Last weekend we had a plein air event as a fund raiser for the art museum. We had a guest artist who is an oil painting plein air artist to do a demo and dished out some awards at the reception. All of the awards were for oil paintings even though there were a fair number of watercolors completed as well. It seems that the artist magazines feature mainly oil or acrylic media artworks. I’m wondering now what to do with all of the framed and unframed paintings that I have accumulated over a 40 plus year period of watercolor painting. I am now changing over to acrylic painting in hopes of being accepted as a “quality” artist even though my heart is still with the watercolor medium. I wonder how many others like me are experiencing the same “trend.” (RG note) Thanks, Tony. The practice makes my blood boil. It’s so important that exquisite watercolours not be passed up in juried shows. Balance of media makes a show richer and more interesting. A few connoisseurs know the difficulty and winning charm of watercolours. Temporarily, in my experience, everything under glass is being neglected, but it’s my firm belief that their day will come round again. There are 5 comments for The death of watercolour by Tony Kampwerth
From: Faith — Jun 08, 2012

Oh dear, you do seem to be out of touch! There are excellent ways of archiving watercolor. Look at Arletta Pech’s gorgeous watercolor work, for instance. But I do think that if you want to sell watercolors you must paint in a modern, adventurous way. There are plenty of conventional watercolors hanging round the world. Try watercolor with other mediums, such as gel pens or oil pastels. I think people look extensively at what is on the paper or canvas. People who collect watercolors know how to present them. The painter has to make them presentable.

From: Brenda W. — Jun 08, 2012

I too have noticed this same trend in recent years. I visited a large gallery a couple of weeks ago and there were two small (8×10) W/C paintings in the whole place (and they were hidden away beneath a stair case! I love watercolour! It is a medium unto itself .. no other can give you what the flow of W/C paint can (wet in wet). Unfortunately the need to keep it under glass is what puts the cost up and therefore can be a deterrent for both artists and buyers. I will continue to paint them however, as I do believe ‘their day will come round again’ …..

From: Ginny — Jun 08, 2012

Although this is NOT the way that some wc artists would choose to respond…wc can also be presented well on canvas and on some kinds of aqua board WITHOUT glass. They are made safe and archieval now with layers if wonderful clear Matt or gloss sprays. I would love to see more watercolorists give this new presentation a whirl.

From: Doug Mays — Jun 08, 2012

The people who appreciate watercolors the most are those who have struggled with the physical aspects of the medium. Controlling pigment, water and time takes years to learn. It is a medium that many give up then gravitate to other forgiving mediums such as oil and acrylics. Watercolour is an noble, unpretentious medium and may it live forever.

From: Dianne — Jun 08, 2012

Watercolour media lays bare the heart & soul of the artist, and leaves little room for error. It is an art in itself. The true essence and vision of the watercolour artist with regard to any subject, will be evident in a painting of this media choice. Appreciation of this elusive media will always prevail.

  Buying paintings back by Susan Meyer, Tucson, AZ, USA  

“Prickly Pear”
watercolour painting
by Susan Meyer

I just had a lady call and inquire about selling three paintings back to me. The reason behind the question is that her husband died (he had bought the paintings) and she apparently can use some extra money. I have never done this, so I am not sure if I should do this or how much to offer if I do it. Any thoughts/advice would be greatly appreciated. (RG note) Thanks, Susan. I have, on occasion, bought work back in similar circumstances. It is difficult, after paying dealer commissions and particularly after a short time, to give them their money back. In the case where customers have bought from me directly and no fee has been paid, a return is easier to make. I generally find that a painting, once sold, can generally be sold again, often, as prices go up every year, at a higher price. All the more reason to have top quality work go out in the first place. On the other hand, folks who have owned work for a long time and have seen a considerable increase in value from what they originally paid can be directed to auction houses and dealers and take their chances in the secondary market. There is 1 comment for Buying paintings back by Susan Meyer
From: Faith — Jun 08, 2012

See taking the paintings back as an act of charity. You could go even further and donate them to auctions for good causes (50-50 if you are really hard up). But as Bob says, if the paintings have intrinsic value they should be resellable. Someone should find out!

  Who writes your script? by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA  

“Purple cedars”
pastel painting
by Paul deMarrais

Like many people over 50, I have been on a mission in the last year or two. I want to improve my success in life and to this end I have read dozens of pages of advice from ‘life coaches’ and gurus of all sorts. You could say I’ve been saturated with their theories. Here is a summation of what I have gathered. Between the years of 0-7 we take in all the information provided by adults in our life and in the environment around us. We have no filter to discern whether what we are being told is in any way accurate. We must simply download it like a computer into our subconscious mind. If we are told that ‘money is the root of all evil’ then perhaps we will never see the good in making any of it. If we are told that the world is a place full of evil and evil doers, we may end up very pessimistic. All of this subconscious data forms a ‘script’ for us, the basis for our actions in the big play of our life. The problem is that others have written the script for us. If it is a good script, we are on a good path. Unfortunately most people’s scripts mirror the flaws of their parents and might not be so good. If our totality is looked at like an iceberg, our subconscious accounts for 2/3 of what is under the water where our conscious mind is a smaller part, the part we are likely to see. Many of us are sunk by our unconscious programming. To change this programming is not easy. One must battle against it as the most formidable enemy we will fight in life. Only after changing these negative ‘scripts’ can we control the part we play in our lives and make the best of our god given abilities. Seen in this context, the shadow you speak of is our unconscious mind: a turbulent stream of flotsam that is stored in our brains and brought to the surface by thousands of external cues. It’s a wonder any of us can produce anything! There are 4 comments for Who writes your script? by Paul deMarrais
From: Faith — Jun 08, 2012

I’ve just turned 70 and given up the idea of self-improvement in favour of survival! One of my voice teachers used to preach (half a century ago) that “Thoughts are things”. It’s probably a good idea to reverse that statement. That way you can concentrate on your achievements and build on them. Try it!

From: Jackie Knott — Jun 08, 2012

As you say, be sure that information is passed to us accurately – such as “money is the root of all evil.” No, it isn’t. The scripture reads, “For the LOVE of money is the root of all evil:” (1 Tim 6:10)Big difference. We must love our art more than any compensation we receive for it.

From: Anonymous — Jun 08, 2012
From: Angela Treat Lyon — Jun 11, 2012

These hidden and sometimes life-sabotaging beliefs can be changed using EFT, the Emotional Freedom Techniques. I’d have done myself off the planet long ago without it. Google EFT, or go to EFTBooks.com to find out more. Simple, fast, effective. I’ve taught hundreds of people how to use EFT to take the innate energy in the doubts and fears confronting them and shift their beliefs around those fears into powerful creative energy they can then use to make what they want of their lives. It really is up to us to not give in to the internal BS. No matter what.

  Unknown artist by Dave Paulley, Osage, WY, USA  

“Good morning Inyan Kara”
original painting
by Dave Paulley

We have a situation that I’m sure other couples in the art business have or have had. I have been painting some 45 years and have done reasonably well with it up until several years ago. I never really worked with galleries that much and consequently never made a name for myself in the art business. Most of my work in the earlier days was by commission. Now, years later and much older and somewhat wiser I find myself unknown and unable to do much traveling to have those that might be interested to take a look at my art. I recently joined what I thought was a road to success at least to some degree. It was a western art organization that seemed to hold some promise but after the big show we find some 70 or more artists and over 240 art pieces hung in a area not suitable for that many pieces so it turned out to be a fiasco, cost a lot of money and not much sold. Now that I have ceased whining, my question to you is: Do you think it is possible to find a reliable agent that can do something with my art to work toward the mainstream with it. I have heard lots of horror stories about agents but possibly there are some good ones out there. I am 81 years of age and my wife is 75. We are still on our feet at least to a degree but like I say it takes a lot more now to do much traveling like we should have done years ago. (RG note) Thanks, Dave. Going from commission to commission means that your work gets tucked away in homes and nobody knows about you outside the immediate bailiwick. Operating through galleries exposes you to thousands who may not buy you but who become aware of you. Galleries are the best route, but my experience with independent agents has also been first rate. An agent, while working directly with clients, can also represent you to galleries. The best way to set this up is to have the galleries work directly with you and pay the agent only a small one-time finder’s fee. A well-motivated agent can often work with clients to provide a variety of work. Perhaps Osage, where you live in the upper right hand corner of Wyoming, is not such a large market, so you need to find agents in other cities. I would attempt to find a person who might carry your flag to galleries all over the lower forty-eight. Give him a decent commission for everything he starts for you. Base it on cash flow.   Respect and collaboration by Marilyn Harding, Canada   I was such a ‘friend’ and the experience was costly and extremely painful in the end. However, here is what I learned: The art world is entirely unregulated and working with an artist who understands the scruples and costs of doing good business is as important to an agent as a caring and diligent representative — gallery or agent — is to an artist of integrity. I did not set out to be an agent but was a collector. I was passionate about art and the relevance of quality art in a harmonious and happy living or work environment. I do not see art as a luxury. However, what I see is a world awash with ‘art’ of every calibre and a public that is so confused it is reluctant to buy. As you wrote in a recent article, Robert, 4% of the population creates art and 2% buy it. If the market was truly laissez faire then the art of quality would rise to the top and be self-evident, but the market is entirely contrived and what is marketed is what sells. And as a consumerist society we equate sales with success and ‘if it sells it must be good.’ So where does that leave the professional artist who produces quality work? Galleries can’t accommodate the number of artists producing, and hard sell agents just contribute to the gulf between the artist and the buyer. Art fairs are a free-fo- all and do as much to undermine as they do to promote. On the other hand, artists can’t afford to be exclusive either, I don’t think. And this calls for a very deep commitment to self-regulation and the honour system. Artists who give paintings away, deal directly with clients at a discount, who price inconsistently, produce inferior work or deal with other agents/galleries without disclosure, betray the trust and investment of time and money that was made on their behalf by the initial gallery or agent. They also undermine the integrity to their past buyers who bought at the established market price. Commissions aren’t ‘give-aways’ by the artist or ‘rip-offs’ by the galleries as so often stated. Often, they barely — and sometimes don’t even — begin to cover the hard costs of rents, advertising, PR, print materials, receptions and the like, let alone the time and goodwill expended. Through the T & E process, I now have gathered a small coterie of artists with shared values on art and business. We work as a community, each with our own expertise. We have a mutually non-exclusive agreement with expressed parameters of overlap. I prefer a Letter of Understanding which we are presently crafting as a group. Ours is a relationship of respect and collaboration. Friendship and success thrive in this environment. I consider myself an art liaison rather than agent because I am as committed to promoting art of quality, in general, as I am to artists of excellence, individually. In this way, I see the 4:2 ratio of artists to buyers adjusting by the filter of excellence on the one side, and expanded awareness and trust on the other side to bring that statistic into a more beneficial ratio for all parties. I do this through collaborative efforts with various stakeholders — but that is a story for another time. Robert, thank you for your clear voice and heartfelt sharing. I am an avid devotee of your Twice-Weekly Letters and, while not an artist, benefit from the wisdom in every post.   Too good to be true by John Ferrie, Vancouver, BC, Canada  

“City hall with cars II”
acrylic painting
by John Ferrie

This guy is an idiot! NO friendship started out as a ‘working relationship” and it is possibly the fastest way to end a friendship, by being a cheapskate and giving the guy 10% of potential sales. If someone comes along with the “come with me I’ll make you a star” and makes a few phone calls, yet mysteriously doesn’t have a business plan or any sort of credentials as an agent, they are usually just a phony who needs their ego filled. Trust me, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. An artist/agent relationship is a serious thing and not something to be entered into lightly. I have more clients who own art they bought from pushy and aggressive sales people and were told it was “important” to buy this. Art is a luxury item and is the last thing people buy. They should buy it because they love it, not because of a hard sell! A business relationship should be well established before a single client comes across the artists’ doorstep. An agent isn’t just calling up people they know, although that is a good place to start, but someone who will pound the pavement, keep their ear to the ground promoting and moving an artist’s work, lining up sales, commissions, interviews and “call to artists” competitions. An agent needs to look into potential showings and follow an artist’s work as it grows and changes. Making a few calls to clients is one thing, understanding an artist’s voice is entirely another. A business plan is a good place to start out and establishing the split between sales is crucial. Having a few goals to see where each party wants to be in a year, two years or five years is a good thing as well. What happens if a big gallery picks this artist up and really doesn’t want to deal with their agent? Or what happens when the artist wants to donate to a charity, give a painting away as a gift or just stop painting for a while. What is the agreement on those issues? And finally, there should be an understanding if and when either party wants to dissolve the relationship. Artists handing all the pesky business decisions to another person so they can just paint while the other party is out “reeling in the clients” is an exercise in sheer futility. There is 1 comment for Too good to be true by John Ferrie
From: andre kamille satie — Jun 09, 2012

I LOVE this painting! Trying to learn to use acrylic after a lifetime of painting in oil (why not?). I’m going to your website right now ! Thanks for posting.

  Tricycleasel by Peter Fox, BC, Canada  

Peter at work on the tricycleasel with Annie napping below.

The Tricycleasel has electric drive in the front wheel and is handy for lanes and driveways particularly on flat ground. The roof pops up but not the back. The picture was shot at Trout Lake in East Vancouver. There is plenty of room for equipment and paints as well as for Annie, 12, the beagle. (RG note) Thanks, Peter. I’m a bit concerned about your dog — she doesn’t have a helmet. It’s bad enough that dogs don’t wear pants. Do we need legislation? Mosey on easy… There are 7 comments for Tricycleasel by Peter Fox
From: Michael McDevitt — Jun 08, 2012

You have taken pedaling your art to a whole new level.

From: Anonymous — Jun 08, 2012

Are there any other views of this vehicle? It has a roof? Great idea.

From: Dianne — Jun 08, 2012

This is a beauty – i have a 15 yr old cockapoo – who hates being left at home while I paint our countryside! Could use one.

From: Roi Jackson — Jun 09, 2012

Another word has entered my vocabulary. “Tricycleasel”, pronounced Try-sa-cleazel. BC seems to be a hotspot for creative and inventive nuts.

From: Peter — Jun 10, 2012
From: Gary — Jun 10, 2012

Oh, ya, I remember it ————-the Art Dog! I wonder if Robert still uses it?

From: BC gal — Jun 11, 2012

Give us a break! What are we supposed to do on those long rainy weekends with a garage full of wood and tools!


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for A friend indeed

From: Dwight — Jun 05, 2012

Like John Ferrie, I have been there, done that. Both of the short essays above should be read and seriously considered by any artist contemplating “taking on” an agent. Keeping faith with galleries and patrons concerning price and everything else is paramount for our business. I’ve had an agent who bumped prices and told no one, thinking, I guess, the artists are too stupid to find out. Seriously, read the above comments by Marilyn and John.

From: Anonymous — Jun 06, 2012

I’ve had clients who loved my work enough to refer me to others. They gave referrals in the same spirit as I would tell a friend of a new restaurant I especially liked or a tip on a piece of property up for sale. Normally that is a one-time thing. No one expects compensation for such as that (unless they’re a real estate agent) and word of mouth is the nicest sort of procurement. However, if a person sincerely wishes to promote me he or she deserves and must be paid an agent’s commission – not a gallery commission but an agent commission. If they are performing the same function of the professional pay them the same fee. Don’t be so stingy with appreciation you’re not willing to pay for it. If this agent is not compensated the loose agreement will not be productive and the friendship will not survive. I’d be reluctant to claim friendship with anyone who didn’t value my efforts – friends are more valuable than that.

From: Nick Schiller — Jun 06, 2012

In practically all creative fields these days, creative types are using personal networking and direct connection more than ever. Take yourself back a few years–it would take some time to find paper and pen, write a note find an envelope and a stamp and take it to the Post. Nowadays we are much more efficient–our communication with one another is much faster and it can be clearer and better informed. At the same time there is nothing wrong with conscripting others to help with our connections. And there is nothing wrong with crossing their palms.

From: Gerald Mason — Jun 06, 2012

Interior designers have been working with dealers and galleries on small commissions for years. If you befriend one or two of these they can direct your work to the sites they work on. Often, the eye of the designer is all it takes to get the client’s approval.

From: Tom Auld — Jun 06, 2012
From: Walter W. Nelson — Jun 06, 2012
From: Naomi Choudary — Jun 06, 2012

It’s all about taking charge of yourself and your livelihood. It was never completely easy for anyone in any business. You have to work it out, develop the work and develop advocates. The best place to start is with friends. UK

From: Steven Clay — Jun 06, 2012

Via the consignment system, everything is done by speculation. The artist make the work on spec and sends it to a dealer without any money changing hands. Often months or even years go by before a buyer is found. Any person who works with an artist must also be a speculator and not expect remuneration until the deal is done, however long it takes.

From: John S. — Jun 10, 2012
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Southwest Furrows

giclee, 11 x 14 inches by Carolina De Medina, NJ, USA

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes Roger Cummins of London, UK who wrote, “Perhaps we are changing from a gallery-based system to ‘getting along with a little help from our friends.’ ”