How to Protect Yourself from Art Scams + Shipping Cost Advice

How to Protect Yourself from Art Scams + Shipping Cost Advice


Artists often reach out to ask me career-related questions. Here are three that I addressed recently: 

How to Avoid Art Scams

A gallery has asked to represent my work in a physical exhibition of two artworks for one month and also an online exhibition of ten works for twelve months on their website as well as on Artsy and Artsper. I'm excited because I have never been in contact with galleries, but that's why I also don't know anything about the process and what's a 'good deal' and what's not. For what they are offering, they request a payment of $1,300 and also a 30% commission on sales during their exhibition. Is this a 'normal' price that they are asking for? I'm new to this and don't want to get scammed. 

For reference, when I invite an artist to show with me I also ask for a 30% commission on online sales, but there is zero additional payment required or fees. That, to me, is the biggest red flag. Most, if not all, professional galleries would not ask an artist to cover any other expenses in this manner. And if they did for any reason, then it doesn't make sense for the gallery to then still be deserving of a 30% commission on top of that. 

Putting that aside for a moment, it also doesn't seem like they are offering to promote that many of your works considering the fee. Also, you need to calculate how many pieces you'd have to sell just to break even - while also keeping in mind that there's no guarantee this gallery would sell anything for you (in which case they would still have been paid and you'd have lost money). So unfortunately, this just sounds like what is called a vanity gallery. 

How can I protect myself from fake clients posting as potential collectors online? What can I do to ensure a check payment is not a scam? 

I'm sure you've all gotten the 'birthday/anniversary present' client email or DM where the person pretends they are looking for a gift for a significant other and asks to buy a work of art from you. There are typically a number of simple giveaways that demonstrate they are not a legitimate inquiry like spelling and grammar mistakes and not being specific about why they like your works or which pieces they're interested in. They primarily focus on the price point and ask to pay by check. 

If you don't see any of these signs and think the client may be an actual customer, here are a few things you can say to ensure the process goes smoothly. Thanks to artist Seth Remsnyder who shared this advice!

Send them a checklist to complete that asks for:

-Email address
-Clear picture of a current, valid state or government-issued photo ID
-Current address
-Current phone number
-Name of the bank that hosts the account from which the funds will be withdrawn and transferred
-E-check or proof that the check has been mailed
-The check should specify what the payment is for
-Make the check payable to [Your Name]

Then you can say something along the lines of: Once my bank has validated that the funds are deposited, I will ship the artwork to your address. You can also talk about any other contractual details if it is a commission. If the person is truly interested, they will either abide by these guidelines or work with you to find a simpler method of payment (PayPal, Zelle, credit card, etc). A scammer most likely won't bother and then you can block and report the user's account or address as phishing. 

Pricing Your Art to Cover Shipping Costs

I am negotiating to have my first solo show at a high-end hotel. Some of the works I'll be displaying are canvases, but most are framed with glass and the largest is four feet long. I am to handle the shipping for any buyers. How do I price the pieces so that when the buyer goes to pay and says that they will need the artwork shipped, the cost is included? 

If you don't have an e-commerce platform where your shipping costs are automatically calculated and tacked on at the end of a purchase, it's smart to consider including it in the price (you can of course still do this with your website purchases too). My suggestion would be to get average shipping rates to where your clients are most likely to be based and add that amount to your current prices. This is the easiest option that should suit the majority of clients, but you may run the risk of some of the shipping costs being higher or lower than your average.

If you wanted to be completely covered and not have to cut into your profit at all, then you could add what the highest shipping cost would be to each piece. That said, some shipping rates could go into the hundreds for a larger piece and it would be strange to add that much to the price of a smaller work. I think the best option is to use the average shipping cost by size. For example, add $25 to any works under 12", add $35 to 13-24 inches, add $50 to 25-36 inches, add $70 to 37-48 inches, and so on. These numbers are just meant to serve as examples, you'll need to do research with your preferred carrier(s) to find the right ranges and prices in your area and for your work. 

Thanks for reading! There are more art career resources, including information about The Complete Smartist Guide book, on this website and on my personal page

Pictured artwork by Jodi Miller, Piya Samant, and Chloe McEldowney.