Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Buying art from an artists studio

Payment can take many readily familiar forms – cash or check. It can also include credit cards, debit cards, Paypal, barter, etc. Cash and check are pretty straight forward. Any artist can take those.

Credit Cards

If an artist is a little more sophisticated they can also take credit or debit cards. Basically this is an arrangement where the client can charge their purchase to their existing credit cards. With a little effort, an artist can get a merchant account and start taking credit cards. We found on average, that the ability to take credit cards boosted the individual sales amount as well as boosted the number of sales by about 30%. Not to shabby!


A twist on credit cards, and a easier way to become a credit card merchant , for an artist, is to open a Paypal account. With Paypal you can take credit cards, travelers checks, etc. through your web site. Also can be used in a pinch for a sale that pops up at the studio. Very handy. Paypal is only good though if you make sales through your studio, near a computer.

If, as an artist, you do art/craft shows you will need to have a conventional merchant account though a bank. You can become a “paper” merchant – one who takes credit cards and physically calls each sale in. This is different from the normal merchant who just swipes a credit card through a credit card reader and the card is automatically verified.


Finally, barter. Barter is a hard mechanism to get right. For us it has worked well a couple of times, but you have to have the right ingredients. You first have to have two equally willing parties. Dumb as that sounds, most times one side of the barter arrangement is more keen to do the deal than the other side. There should be an established price for services from both sides of the arrangement. For instance, we did a barter about 7 years ago with a vet. We traded some art (which was priced at our normal standard price) for veterinary services (which were also priced at his normal price). This worked out well for both parties since the vet loved our work and we loved his services. He got the artwork he wanted for his business and we got a credit on our account that we used up over several months. A very good way to go.

Most times though, barter is used by people in an unequal transaction when the value or prices of services are murky. The artist usually comes out poorly, we have found. To illustrate, a client comes in and wants to barter for some art. You have done no business with them but they are eager to “do” a deal. The client wants a custom artwork and wants to trade accounting for your business for a year. Sounds good. As an artist you can spend more time doing art and less doing accounting. What a deal turns into a Faustian bargain.

After the artwork has traded hands, the accountant wants to change your accounting style from single entry (the simplest) to double entry (a much more complicated method). Next they become quite imperial in their demands that you do all the accounting for your business their way. Then when tax time comes, they make out your income taxes poorly, and give you very poor advice about paying Social Security taxes. All of this causes you to do the years taxes over your way and refill out the income tax forms. A very poor barter. This can happen, so be forewarned.

Those are the main ways we have found to pay for artwork. We prefer anything that is a cut and dried transaction. Also a cut and dried transaction gives both parties what they want now, for the client: artwork now – for the artist: money now. Barter can get messy because to utilize the full extent of the services for the artwork sometimes the party with the artwork decides that they have paid enough and gets rid of the remaining credit. Makes for hard feelings in the next transaction.

Copyright 2008 Carl Wright

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