Years ago when I first took the plunge into the professional art world I started out creating screen prints in runs of up to 100 at a time with home-made equipment in my Garage. I figured it would make sense to be able to distribute my wonderful works as widely as possible, and what better way than producing a ton of copies and then selling them to eager buyers.

At the time I was inspired by some local artists who seemed to have their work in every framing shop and exhibition that I saw around town. I figured that these guys were making it big, as their work seemed so popular.

They were themselves creating prints, both regular four colour process and handmade screen prints. Since the cost of a run of 1000 4 colour process (poster style) prints was many thousands of dollars and ‘Giclee’ colour inkjet printing was a mere twinkle in technology’s eye at the time, I opted for the home-brew screen printing approach.

Well, after a short while one of the local artists that I’d admired so much spotted my work in a shop and gave me a call. I was excited!  He wanted to represent me himself and use his connections to get my prints into the outlets that he had access to. This made me even more excited.

He only wanted the very reasonable sum of 30% of the wholesale price as commission, and since my prints at that time retailed for the absolutely enormous sum of $100 each (Framing Shops like to make a 100% markup) that meant that I would receive the princely sum of $35 for each print, and therefore $3500 for a complete sell out of a print run. I was almost salivating at the thought. It actually seemed like a lot of money to me at the time.

What happened when I stopped salivating?
Read on…

Advertisement
  1. Bridgette says:

    I loved this story. I think many of us get swept up in the whole ideal of having an agent and often the reality is very different from what we imagined. I too was snapped up by an art agent early on my art career and it was initially a very heady experience . However it very quickly becomes apparent that the agent and galleries often take the lions share of the profit and although I had orders pouring in for my work I became too involved in working to order and my inspiration soon dwindled. The exposure I received was brilliant but it came at a high price.

  2. abyssinian says:

    Thank you so much for this article — have been toying with the idea of getting an agent for a long time and I hear both good and bad things about it. Am forwarding this article to artist friends ^_^

  3. Andrew says:

    The Concept of an Agent is much better than the practicality of it. In reality if an agent has too many clients then your artwork is competing amongst the other artists which can be good or bad depending upon public demand by contrast. If the agent has multiple clients they care not weather your work sells over another artists, that said, agents with multiple contacts may command a smaller premium. If an agent has too few clients aside from them being inexperienced they will require a higher margin to sustain themselves, which mean you get less for your hard work. Factor in income taxes if your using commercial money instead of Gold and Silver and you’ll be lucky to make out with enough cash to buy bread after paying the rent.

    What i suggest is you find an out of work relative who wouldn’t mind living with you, who is well connected and cleans up nice and is presentable who can show your work “samples, prints, and originals” to prospective buyers, bring your works to parties and invite people to speculate about the artists meaning behind this or that while enjoying a complementary glass of wine. * buy bulk to save money.

    make sure to have a guest list at each party where people can sign up to receive email or written notification of another “social” where more of your art will be on show.

  4. BETSY HAMMOND says:

    this was a good article to give something to think about my husband is a great artist we have been dealing with out any agent for our 12 years but need to go to the next level so this is really food for thought thanks Betsy

  5. Kelly T in the OKC says:

    I found this article because, as a semi-connected, driven but not-as-talented-as-my-artist-friends kind of guy I want to BE an agent. Not for “regular” artists that are capable of doing it themselves but for the socially awkward/inept artist who would rather keep their works at home until they are sold or at least about to be sold.
    My theory wasn’t to take any certain percentage that would come out of the artists’ pockets but instead ask them “how much do you want me to get you for this?” then adjust the selling price as to what I think the buyer would pay. That way the buyer pays me & the artist gets 100% of their asking price.
    Why more people don’t do it that way I don’t know.

    • KatMcD says:

      Thats a very nice idea. There are a lot of artists that are terrible sales people and most artist have full time day jobs. It is so hard to find time to make art and then go out and sell it. I would love to cut out the selling part. but alas, its part of the job.

    • Bonnie Marie Feinberg says:

      I really understand what you are saying Kelly,
      I have been producing art for years and I write also… put many poems in my paintings. Thought if I got my website put up with quite a bit of my work I would be set… I know my work is good but something happened to getting into the site and now I cannot manage it! … I work full time as a realtor in the Vegas Valley and it’s tough. I do not know where to turn. I think your way is good… some of us have no idea how to market ourselves! My website is BonnieMarie.org and I need help with who to go to!

    • johnnie ferguson says:

      dear Kelly I am a artist looking for help I am an intervert and want to be a recloose artist and do not relish the thought of going to art shows and such. I have had many many people tell me that I should be ritch but do not know how to go about it.I am very poor at this time and I am about to loose my home. Please help me

  6. Ed Passi says:

    all good thoughts and useful info. the idea of getting an agent had crossed my mind, as I just completed an art painting I was commissioned to do by a client in my town. the project was successful and now I’m considering doing more artwork on my own, but exploring ways I could best market the product.

  7. Joseph Sawyer says:

    My art is unique in my stile and content. I could arrange to send you memory from my camera. 818 207 5105 not good with my wifes computer could you call me please!

  8. H. Ragin, Jr. says:

    I am (desperately) trying to locate an agent named Milton Avery. (This is NOT the same person as the artist that died in 1965.)Eliyahu_AncientMusic@yahoo.com

  9. raymond webb says:

    i read with interest the article about the pros and cons of having an agent, I’m looking to sell my watercolours, they are depictions of Elves, Fairies and Pixies, the colours are stupendous! as is the subject matter and the execution of the subject matter, If anybody out there has any ideas as to how to promote my paintings (and every one is a one off!) please let me know by e-mail, Thanks, Kind Regards< Rayy Webb.

  10. Slideman says:

    Very informative and insightful. Nobody has the passion and knows the product better than the artist him/herself. The problem lies when the artist doesn’t know the true value of his own work. I tend to underprice my work because I love to create so much, and I really like my clients and don’t have the guts to ask the kinds of prices they bring at auction. This is where an agent can work, but only if they produce. I already have made a name and demand for my work in a very specialized collectibles field, and now want to branch out to do special seminars, etc. so it would require an agent with a specialized set of networking tools. My “problem” if you can call it that is I never have any product to sell. Everything is usually gone within 24 hours of completion.

  11. timzantsi says:

    i would love to have my agent one day to sell my work,and get my clients demand of my work and hopefully get myself a styl findout my identity.

  12. duke Gibo says:

    wow! this was absolutely what I needed I’m in a tailspin and a lot of confusion on what to do at this point in my second career. Thanks to this article it made me laugh and think and most of all realize the most important thing for me is to not be so hasty on decisions because my biggest problem could be my straight downfall which is the “I want it now!” flaw of mine. Thank you again

  13. Rudolph says:

    Hello,
    I’m looking for an agent or gallery that will promote and sell my work.Also searching for investor,online and real world shops for selling my pieces.I am interested in selling my artwork to individuals and galleries over internet. I am also interested to work on commision, or for projects. For further information please contact me via e-mail : klatuu.ruda@gmail.com

  14. Derek McCarthy says:

    I am an Artist that create’s every day. Truely gifted in all mediums. Every thing i have ever done is an original idea, spawn in my head along with endless ideas. Every Piece, be it sculpturing, painting, tattooing, body art, clothing designs, Metal art, woodworking, air brushing, singing, music, hair, and absolute freehand work. Im not bragging just looking for advice, and someone who can keep up and sell me. do not take my word for it. please come check me out. I am a master artist and i’ve never been trained. i do not know where it comes from, but it is real. Please? anybody out there that might know what I should do, Respond. mccarthyderek4@gmail.com

    • Stuart Wider says:

      I’d suggest taking some of that creativity and applying it to selling the work for yourself at first. Figure out if there is a market for what you do. If there is, and it sells in quantity and you can prove that to a serious gallery or agent then maybe you’ll have a chance with them.

  15. RICHARD LEPAGE says:

    Dear Stuart, I graduated with an MFA in drawing and painting in 1986. There were no DIY computer generated images then. I worked various jobs until two years ago, now at 61 years of age, I can get on with my career. I make surrealistic images of everyday working people in Photoshop. I’m making 1,000 images a month, and have about 6,000 on hand today. I expect to have 10,000 by spring. If I don’t need an agent at this point, what then, do I need? A management brokerage? Help? Any suggestion will be cherished. Thanks. Richard

    • Stuart Wider says:

      Maybe a good place to start would be to figure out for yourself if there is a market for what you create. Who is going to buy these images and why?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *