Tag Archives: how to sell a painting

Emerging Artist: Paula Shubatis + How to Price Student Work

The last couple months have been a wonderful blur. We went on maternity + paternity leave and have spent some much deserved time at home with out little one. It’s an amazing adventure and it’s bittersweet to return to the real world after a long hibernation. But it feels good to be back.

One of the few trips that have led me out of the studio recently was a trip to meet Paula Shubatis, a senior at The University of Michigan Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design. She was having trouble figuring out how to price her works. When I arrived at her studio, I was in awe of the caliber and scale of her handstretched oil paintings. Not only were they superbly executed, the content of decaying architecture and complementing organic forms required real investigation.

Sous Bois

The following are thoughts from Paula about how she found her way as an artist and painter, what her process is and how she sees her career in the future.

I’ve always been a maker.  Whether it was drawing on the walls, or making my own iteration of the Sistine chapel on the underside my mother’s mahogany coffee table, I’ve felt the constant need to make and do throughout my whole life.  But, it was not until high school that I was able to get a better technical knowledge of making through art classes.  After taking AP art in high school, I knew that I wanted to go to art school.  I came to art school under the false pretenses that I would go into something practical like graphic design, but secretly always knew that I wanted to be a painter.  Experiences with design only affirmed that I was awful at it, and it gave me great anxiety.  Through this rejection of design, I found my love of physicality of craft, in the realms of painting and fiber arts.  Once I found my genuine love and passion for making, I not only knew that I wanted to be a studio artist, but I had to be one, because I wouldn’t know what to do if I wasn’t.  

f. The Dance of the Arcadians

“Foraging a Vernacular Identity” is inspired by my curiosity of the mysteries which lie in the ordinary places which surround me.  I have a strong fascination with how systems of math and science are at play to create the poetry of a space, but could never hope to understand them.  I find myself drawn to painting nature and architecture because of their inherent relationships to math and science.  My paintings are a series of experiments through which I break down shapes, colors and forms of spaces into modular units, and reassemble them to try to figure out how they work.   I like to manipulate different variables like scale, directionality of marks and orientation to play with how the viewer might perceive a space. I often combine different variables of multiple spaces to create one hybridized space.  This process of experimentation and analysis becomes deeply introspective, and I find that I project myself onto spaces which I paint.  I convey my own sense of a fractured reality and disjuncture with the world though a dialogue between degenerate architecture and nature.          

Painting requires one to operate within a very peculiar state of being.  It asks one to be conscious, alert, and responsive at all times, and maintain a dichotomy between an idea, and how that idea actually translates into paint.  Painting asks one to suspend disbelief, and allow one’s self to become immersed in the surface.  Immersing one’s self in a surface demands a full commitment to the surface, and coping with the inevitable possibility of failure.  The surfaces which I grapple with aren’t just fictitious worlds, but they are also my own selfish spaces where I discover and share my most intimate secrets.  It can be very difficult to reveal the truths which I find within my paintings to both the viewer and myself.  It takes just the right mix of self-doubt and brazen confidence to have both the courage and motivation to make new discoveries.  

SnaggletoothPainting will always be something, which I always do, even if I had to dig up cadmium from the earth.  I see painting as a mode of visual communication.  I hope to share this mode of visual communication with others through making and outreach as a teaching artist, and also as a gallery artist.  As long as I have the means to do these things, I will be happy.  While the life and career of a studio artist might be more turbulent than those of other professions, the joy, satisfaction, and fulfillment which it gives me are well worth it.

It’s evident that Paula has a clear understanding of her work and how to talk about it, which is a great portion of an artist’s ability to sell their work. Her concern of striking a balance between asking too much and too little (since she is after all, a “student artist”) is a common one among the art school set. But here I was, staring at eight foot tall works that in any retail setting would go for tens of thousands of dollars or more and yet, I had to tell her something that would appeal to a collector, perhaps visiting the senior show with or without an intent to buy. There are two areas to consider when you’re selling your work: practical and sentimental.

The Prodigal Daughter


How much time did you spend on the piece?

How much did your materials cost?

Is this a special medium/something rarely seen?

What’s the market like in your area? (this may be a non-issue if you’re selling your work nationwide or on the internet)


How much are you willing to let it go for?

Are you just trying to make a first sale?

If money was not an issue, what would you pay for it?

Once you’ve considered these factors, you should have a clearer picture in your mind of what you’re willing to let a work go for. One issue that Paula brought up was her status as a student and how that may affect a buyer. There are plenty of talented graduates that go on to show and sell work immediately out of college and I don’t believe they should be shortchanged just because of their newness in the industry. That said, I encourage young artists to coin themselves “emerging” or “contemporary” to get away from the stigma of a “student artist.” Because yes, starving art students should make a dollar but it should be a fair amount that they feel is respectable.

On a side note, I want to address those that don’t want to sell. At some point, you’ll create a work and think, I’ll never produce something this good ever again. This is the best work I’ve ever done and I can’t sell it. But consider this – if you don’t sell it, then what’s the point? I see “NFS” (not for sale) on pieces at shows and that negates every reason to create work in the first place. If you document it with great photos and remember the process, believe me, you’ll create something even better in the future. Better to have a collector enjoy than to hold onto something so precious because you think you won’t obtain a higher standard of craft than where you are now. That’s silly, isn’t it?

e. Ponte d' Chaos

You may be wondering if I gave Paula a concrete set of numbers to work with. And yes, ultimately, I did. For the large ones that stood about 8 feet by 6 feet, I recommended a range of $8,000-10,000. For the smaller ones $4,000-6000. I took into account the number of hours, the polished nature of her work, the content and the overall feeling of her paintings. They’re truly monoliths, worthy of a large space such as a corporate lobby or a collector’s living room, somewhere with high ceilings. A few of Paula’s pieces will be for sale at the Senior Show coming up on April 19th and I’ll be anxious to hear the feedback she receives and give any pointers I can to facilitate selling her works.

The next post will be about how to sell the works and get publicity in the local market. Feel free to add to the conversation or post questions. We’re all in this together.

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How Do I Sell this Painting/Print/Drawing My Mom Gave Me?

You know it’s worth something and yet the art dealer won’t take it and it hasn’t sold on craigslist. What do you do with the painting that was given to you that you’d rather have the cash value for?

The last two weeks we’ve received quite a few inquiry calls about selling works that were given to them so I decided to answer some of the most common questions. (This is a general overview and not to be taken as professional or legal advice. Every situation is exclusive of any other and we’d prefer you call us for your specific needs)!

My mom told me she paid $3,000 for the painting. What can I sell it for? 

Unless it’s a “known artist” (this does not have to be a household name, but I consider this a person that has an auction and/or private retail record. Or, someone that has been “discovered” by a dealer or curator and has been deemed academically relevant), the likelihood of a piece appreciating is very slim. That doesn’t mean that paintings you bought for a few hundred dollars can’t grow in value, but the seemingly long list of artists you see becomes very short when you talk about resale. And more realistically, the painting is not worth what you paid for it and in some cases, worth less.

It’s worth less than we paid for it? How is this possible?

If your mom bought it from a dealer or art fair, and it’s a contemporary (living) artist, it’s hard to gauge in one lifetime what the piece will be worth. It all depends on demand for that particular artist’s work. If there’s little competition and the works are easily accessible, the work is worth what the dealer and artist agreed to split the sale for and what it  covered –  a lot of overhead such as utilities, travel, insurance, publicity, marketing and general costs. Those are the facts behind selling works at a gallery. It is after all, a business.

I found a dealer that sells this artist’s works but they wouldn’t accept the painting for consignment. Why?

There are many reasons a dealer may not accept the work. But the most common one is that they don’t believe they can sell it. Dealers know what their clients will buy and they have to protect their investments as well. By the time a dealer takes on the cost of insuring, shipping and (if required) framing or having the work cleaned/repaired, it may not be worth the trouble to take on the consignment. Sometimes they may ask you to take on a part or all of these costs and you could see how this could add up and possibly deter you from the transaction as well.

Also, remember that if you’re in a hurry to sell your piece, this is a lengthy process. Rarely do dealers buy the piece from you outright. They will hold the painting under terms that if and when the work sells, they will send you a check for your share. A dealer’s cut can be any percentage you’ve agreed to but generally it’s 20-50 of the retail selling price.

Where else can I look to sell it?

Auction houses are a great resource for buying and selling works and would be my next suggestion for clients. Keep in mind you have to show proof of ownership whether it be a receipt or legal paperwork bequeathing the work to you (a will, notarized document) and provenance (a list of who the work has belonged to since it’s creation) only helps to make the piece more sellable.

Auctioneers have the same responsibility as a dealer has to represent, market and sell your work to the highest bidder so they also get to decide whether they will accept your piece for sale as well. This can also be a long process since sales may occur seasonally or bi-annually.

The auction house won’t accept it either. What do I do now?

A client asked if they could sell the piece on ebay themselves. I told them that it was a possible avenue but they should remember that they take on all liability of the sale. Meaning, if they advertise the work by a particular artist and it’s authenticated later that it’s not, they can be sued or have the price of the piece demanded by the buyer. That said, there are many successful sales on ebay. I just simply remind people to be wary and protect themselves.

None of the above worked. Why won’t anyone buy this??

It would be simple enough to say that in a low market, art isn’t selling. But that’s not the case for high end collectors as a recent contemporary sale proved for Sotheby’s and Christie’s earlier this month. So why hasn’t anyone bought your painting?

Let’s say you have a 1,000 people in a room. Only about 10% of those people are “art collectors”, or people that actively seek art from artists, dealers and fairs on a regular basis. Of those 100 collectors, perhaps only half of them may like the painting of flowers you’re offering but how many of them will actually want to buy it for the $3,000 that your mother paid for it? Unless it’s a known artist or they truly, truly love it, the percentage will be very small – maybe 2 or 3 people.

I wish I had better news for everyone that needs the extra holiday cash this season. But I wanted to give some realistic advice to help you better understand the daunting task of fine art collecting and selling. It’s not simply slapping on a price tag, unfortunately. It’s actually easier to sell a multi-million dollar work than a low or middle market one and this is true at almost any time in art collecting history. I’m always here for questions so please feel free to email me. Best of luck with your collection building!

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