Blog / 2015 / Selling Art to Strangers Online

April 23, 2015

Selling your art to someone you’ve never met can be scary. The internet breeds scammers like evil little bunnies that gnaw away at our trust in humanity, so it’s hard not to be nervous. What’s more, you want to believe that the person emailing you is real because they want your art and that’s an enormous compliment. Since you’re predisposed to like them, it’s even harder to see them clearly.

How do you keep from getting ripped off?

  1. Examine the message carefully.
  2. There are a few things that scammers tend to do with their language and with their choices that can clue you in to their intentions:

    • Is the stranger trying to rush the process? Scammers don’t want you to have time to think things through.
    • Are they being domineering in their language? When someone tries to establish a power dynamic like this, they may very well be a scammer and they’re definitely a jerk.
    • Did they pick an image that isn’t too deep into your site? You aren’t special to the scammer. They’re sending out hundreds of queries at a time, meaning they’re not going to look too far to find an image they can pretend to want for the purposes of their con.

  3. Check out the stranger online.
  4. Most people have some sort of web presence these days and, unless their name is very common, you can probably find a trace of them. The first place to look is among your social media friends or in your email list as it’s likely that a genuine patron will have been following your work for some time before deciding to purchase.

  5. Ask how they found out about your work.
  6. This information can help you connect them to your art in a legitimate way and it might also further confirm their identity. What’s more, a weird response or a non-response can point to a scam.

  7. Get your sales agreement signed.
  8. If I feel good about the stranger and depending on my mood, I won’t always ask a stranger to sign the agreement before I send the art. That said, if I wanted a bit more information about the potential-client-and-possible-scammer, I wouldn’t fail to send them my sales agreement immediately, asking them to review it. This would put the breaks on the urgency, and it would give me more opportunity to evaluate their language and their approach to me and to my art, because that’s what contracts are really good for.

  9. Ask for payment up front.
  10. This stranger is coming to you and you’re the one with the business reputation. If they won’t trust you with a full payment, this may be an alarm bell. Then again, if they’re leery about sending you the full amount but you still want to try to trust them, you might ask for half up front and half once they receive the work. Do not put your art in the mail until at least a partial payment has cleared.

  11. Accept that not everyone is going to be a good and honest person.
  12. I’ve never been ripped off in an online sale, but I have met a bad person via the internet and, despite warning signs, lulled myself into thinking he was good. When I later encountered him in person to do the commission, I had to face facts: a right guy isn’t going to open the door to his apartment wearing only a bathrobe when he knows he has an appointment.

  13. Remember that lots of good things come from the internets too!
  14. It can be hard to keep this in mind, but it’s true. Some of my favorite supporters of my art are people I’ve only ever spoken with via the web.

painting of four sparrows
Gwenn Seemel
Mr. and Mrs. Right, Mr. and Mrs. Also-right (White-throated Sparrow)
2012
acrylic on panel
10 x 10 inches

This was the first painting I sold to a stranger. I took the check for the full payment of $1000 to the client’s bank and cashed it so that I could put the painting in the mail as quickly as possible.

tiger artwork
Gwenn Seemel
Stripes
2014
acrylic on unmounted canvas
12 x 12 inches

The owner of this painted drawing had been following my work for some time before they decided to buy.

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