How artists can promote their careers


1) Create a personalized letterhead with address and phone number.

2) The copy should list the art being left behind, the value of the art *, who is receiving the art, the date left, the date to pick up and a place for the potential client’s signature. The original receipt stays with the artist, and if the customer has a copy machine, a copy should be made for them. If they do not want to sign the receipt, do not leave the art with them.

Personal Appearance: Remember Your Audience

Visualize yourself at a party at the collector’s home, at a gallery event or trade show where you are introducing your work. Artists are the collector’s “show pieces,” so play the part.

Dress appropriately for the occasion. I wear a simple black T-shirt (or black long-sleeve dress shirt, depending on the function), black pants, etc. Be comfortable, but keep in mind what the collector will find acceptable.

Create a “comfort zone” between yourself and your audience. Smile, speak in a positive, friendly tone, and talk with confidence about your work, your professional training and experience. I find that audiences like to hear about why I painted a particular subject. If there’s a good story behind a work, tell it with passion.

Create an atmosphere of professionalism, and carry your head high. Be sure to thank your host in front of his or her friends for becoming a collector of your work.

There is no one who has more passion about your work than you. When

artists communicate that passion to their audience, the excitement begins.

Be confident, show commitment and discipline in creating your work, be positive at all times, and above all, be honest with yourself that you have the staying power to succeed.

Who Should Represent You?

When an outside party represents an artist’s work, it creates more credibility for the artist. That someone else, if possible, should also love the work. However, artists must understand that the needs of the outside party that has agreed to represent them must be fulfilled for the relationship to be successful. Those needs usually are servicing their customers or collectors and to make money doing so.

So, what is the best type of representation: a gallery, art agent, licensing agent, designer, architect, art publisher, or all of these?

If possible, I would recommend working with an art agent who can handle the marketing aspect of an artist’s career. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to get one of the better agents to represent you before gaining recognition in the art marketplace. Don’t fall into the trap of an art agent who wants advanced money from you for representation. He or she should only be compensated when something is sold and the money is received for the sale. Depending on how much the agent invests in time and money on selling your art determines what percentage he or she should get from what you receive for the art. An agent’s compensation could range from 10 to 40 percent of what an artist receives. To find a good agent, I would recommend talking with a number of galleries about the agents they work with and asking if they would recommend one or two of them for you to contact. Art publishers are also good sources.

In starting out, I would look at working with galleries and interior designers. Under no circumstances should artists sign an exclusive agreement with anyone in the early stages of their career. The only exception I would consider is granting limited exclusivity to an out-of-town gallery that has agreed to reasonably promote the art.

Interior designers are fairly easy to work with. They usually have a client with a specific request, and it usually is a fairly quick sale if your art is accepted. I pay an interior designer 25 to 30 percent commission of the sell price once I have been paid for the art.

Pricing Art

Remember, whatever price you come up with, price it at the gallery retail price, meaning determine the price you would like to make off of a given piece, and double it to reflect the gallery’s take if it sells the work. If a gallery sells the work, you will get 50 percent. If you sell it yourself, you’ll keep 100 percent of the profit.

This pricing structure will always protect an artist’s reputation, and it establishes the price range for the art. How an artist is perceived in the market goes a long way in what he or she will get for an artwork.

Legal Contracts

Knowledge in the legal arena is of high importance to any artist’s success. I can’t tell you the number of times that artists have come to me seeking advice after they have signed a poor contract, which has relinquished their rights and has hurt their future earnings.

The art business requires contracts for everyone’s protection. There are contracts and agreements needed for almost any situation. Fortunately, there are legal books available for fine artists with standard forms to use. (You can also see Legal Lowdown columnist Joshua Kaufman’s article last month on “Covering Your Contractual Bases.”) Some of the books contain a CD that has the stock forms that artists can customize to their specifications. Borders or Barnes & Noble will have them. There are also volunteer lawyers’ organizations to help artists. Contact a local arts organization for the names of those local lawyers.

Part 2 of Scharf’s exclusive series on the Business Side of Fine Art will cover art marketing and alternative outlets for selling art. See it in the November issue!


Max R. Scharf was formally trained at The School of Fine Art at Washington University in St. Louis and is a graduate of the Owner President Management Program (OPM) of The Graduate School of Business Administration at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. He is a Certified Advertising Specialist (CAS) and was elected as a Signature Member of the National Oil & Acrylic Painters Society (NOAPS). In 2003, he was designated as an NOAPS Signature Artist Emeritus.

Scharf spent 27 years in corporate America before moving to a full-time fine-art career, working as a technical illustrator, art director, sales promotion manager, company owner and CEO. He received the coveted Counselor Magazine “Person of the Year”award in 1985 and was credited with starting the imprinted wearable segment of the promotional products market, which today is the targest (30 percent) segment of the $18+ billion promotional products market. In 1989, Scharf began operating a successful marketing and management consulting practice, Scharf & Associates, while simultaneously launching his professional fine-art career as a landscape Impressionist painter.

Scharf’s paintings and limited-edition prints hang in private and corporate collections in more than 15 countries throughout the world and in many cities in the United States. He has participated in numerous academic, private and public exhibitions. Among his many achievements is “Impressions of National Parks,” a solo exhibition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Interior’s National Park Service.