How NOT to approach an artist

After reading the blog post “How to Start a Fine Art Collection” on Invaluable’s blog, I’ve been thinking about all the crazy ways collectors have approached me. You might be surprised at some of the questions I’ve been asked and statements I’ve been obliged to respond to while my work is on display at a festival or open studio event:

“When are you going to start painting in oils?”
“Why should I buy this when I can just take a photograph of the same thing?”
“Why does this cost so much?”
“What’s your best price for this–can you give me a discount?”
“How about if you sell this to me without the frame, can you discount it for that?”
“If I buy this, will you re-frame it for me?”
“Why did you think this picture might sell?”
“Are these the original drawings?” (While pointing at printed note cards)
“How big of a drawing can you do for $100?”
“What’s the cheapest original you have for sale?”
“You should consider working abstractly.”
“You did this from a coloring book!”(While pointing to a drawing and the step-by-step booklet that I wrote as I drew it.)
“You just xeroxed a photograph and colored it in.”
“You must have very good pencils.”
“Is it okay if I take a photo of this drawing as long as I leave your signature out of it?”
“Can I take a photo of this drawing and have T-shirts printed from it?”
“My daughter likes to paint–can you come to our house and give her lessons?”

And some of the inquiries I’ve received via email through my website:

“Can you send me a list of all your available work, with sizes and prices?”
“Can you send me the artwork and if I like it I’ll keep it and pay you?”
“Let me know if you ever do a picture of X.” (Where X is a particular animal, flower, scene, person.)

Granted, most of these folks were members of the general public, not art collectors, so they could be somewhat excused for their brashness and/or naivete.  But a couple of them were art collectors, so I expected better from them.  Here’s a rundown of my responses to all these.  Some of them I did actually say at the time.  For others, I was so taken aback that I didn’t think of a good response until long after the person had gone.

“When are you going to start painting in oils?”
(The implication is that drawing must only be a stepping stone to oil painting.)  I’ve painted in oils and was decent at it, and I’ve also had success with many other media, but I came back to colored pencil because I like it best.

“Why should I buy this when I can just take a photograph of the same thing?”
Because my artwork is better than a photograph–it’s my vision of the scene.

“Why does this cost so much?”
Because quality work isn’t cheap.  My work is meticulous and very time-consuming to make, sometimes as much as 100 hours, and usually includes the framing under museum glass or museum acrylic. Even at this price, I make well under minimum wage for it.

“What’s your best price for this–can you give me a discount?”
I’m not Walmart.  The price is the price.

“How about if you sell this to me without the frame, can you discount it for that?”
I carefully chose the mat, frame and glass to tastefully complement the piece, and included it in the price.  If you buy it, you can re-frame it as you like.

“If I buy this, will you re-frame it for me?”
I’m not a framer.  If you buy it, you can have a frame shop frame it as you like.

“Why did you think this picture might sell?”
(This question was asked by a collector.)  I didn’t draw this for you, I drew it for me.  If it speaks to someone else enough for them to want to own it, I’m thrilled, but I’m also fine enjoying it on my own walls.

“Are these the original drawings?” (While pointing at printed note cards)
No, they were made from the original drawings by a printer.  You didn’t really think I’d make ultra-detailed original drawings on 5×7 cards and sell them for $4, did you?

“How big of a drawing can you do for $100?”
I’m probably not the right artist for you to talk to.  If you have a photo reference, size and medium in mind I can give you a price estimate, but not the other way around.

“What’s the cheapest original you have for sale?”
If you’re asking me that, you’re talking to the wrong artist. I don’t create my work just to sell it cheap.

“You should consider working abstractly.”
(This odd statement was made by a collector.)  I’m a realist, so I’m not really interested in working abstractly.  Do you have any idea how many abstract painters have told me they work abstractly because they can’t draw?

“You did this from a coloring book!” (While pointing to a drawing and the step-by-step booklet that I wrote as I drew it.)
I don’t do coloring books.  I wrote that booklet, and it’s not a coloring book, it’s a step-by-step drawing lesson.

“You just xeroxed a photograph and colored it in.”
No I didn’t.  No printer or copier has been anywhere near my drawing paper.  I draw basic, faint outlines first just like any other artist.

“You must have very good pencils.”
I do, but it takes more than that to make a work of art, just as it takes more than good pans to make a gourmet meal.

“Is it okay if I take a photo of this drawing as long as I leave your signature out of it?”
Absolutely not!  That would be even worse than taking a photo of it with my signature in it, which I also don’t want you to do because as soon as you share it I’ve lost control of my own artwork.

“Can I take a photo of this drawing and have T-shirts printed from it?”
Absolutely not!  Why should you get all the profit from my creation?

“My daughter likes to paint–can you come to our house and give her lessons?”
That’s wonderful that your daughter likes to paint, and good for you for encouraging her.  But you’ll notice that I’m not a painter, I draw.  The mediums are very different.  And I’m not a childrens’ art teacher.

“Can you send me a list of all your available work, with sizes and prices?”
All this information is already on  my website.  If you see a piece you like on one of the gallery pages, just click on it to get its full information.  I’m an artist, not a retail catalog.

“Can you send me the artwork and if I like it I’ll keep it and pay you?”
Absolutely not!  I’m not stupid.

“Let me know if you ever do a picture of X.” (Where X is a particular animal, flower, scene, person.)
You’re welcome to join my website mailing list to be notified of all new artworks as soon as they’re available, or commission me to do a picture of X just for you, but I can’t maintain wishlists.

4 thoughts on “How NOT to approach an artist

  1. When exhibiting at an open studio or a festival, artists are on the front lines of public exposure to art. I think these are the typical kinds of questions people newly confronted with art ask, and you’re in the firing range of their interaction.

    • Certainly. And you have to develop a thick skin and count to ten before you respond, sometimes! I think maybe as a society we’re so accustomed to being less than diplomatic with retail associates that we forget that artists and craftsmen are not retail associates, they are the creators of what’s being displayed, so any statements are taken personally.

  2. When I read this, I am reminded of one of the many reasons I don’t do those shows any more. I only did them for a couple of years, and only once did the show ever pay for itself.

  3. I don’t even try to sell my art (because I already have a job that pays pretty well and I make art for fun.) Still, I get a LOT of questions like these and it is very annoying! I especially hate when people tell me “you should draw X” or the one that really gets me “you should make a coloring book”. It’s an odd thing that a lot of people feel they should be directing artists as to our next projects.

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