Schemes and Scams Aimed at Artists

Part 1: Schemes and Questionable Offers

"Oh, you're an artist. Do you sell your work?" 
How often have you heard that? Our society defines success in terms of dollars and cents. We can't help but feel some pressure to have our work sell. And it's natural for us to seek some personal recognition. There is an increasing number of schemes and scams aimed at artists. All these threats are targeted toward two points—our desire to sell our work and achieve recognition.

You have to be careful if an offer or deal concerning showing your artwork is "too good to be true."
You have to be careful if an offer or deal concerning showing your
artwork is "too good to be true."

Our best defense is to know about these schemes. In that way, we will be able to recognize them and better protect ourselves. Although many of the following shady proposals and schemes may not be illegal, they may not be in our best interest either. 

Blind Offers: Reject any offer from anyone who does not know you and is not familiar with your work. Delete all such proposals. Do not reply, open any attachments or click on any links.
Contact Lists for a Fee: Paying for contact lists of galleries, agents or art buyers is a waste of time and money. These are not targeted listings. Lists of this nature are for shot gun advertising and that is not the way to make initial contacts. 
Vanity Galleries: Galleries that want money up front to exhibit your work are vanity galleries. You are paying them for wall space. What incentive is there for them to sell your work if you pay then in advance? And they are talking Big Money. Basic representation starts from $3,500 to $5,000. For that you get 10 to 12 feet of wall space for a limited time. 
Some of these places try to make it sound like this is the way it works in the "big time". It is not. If you do sign up, they will try to sell you everything from Internet consultation to magazine space in their gallery publication. Beware.
Vanity Publications and Paid Publicity: When a publisher offers you space in a coffee table style book, look out. These guys are slick and they talk Big Money. One page costs over $900. Two pages go for $1,400 and you can buy the cover for a little over $6,500. Sound good?
These books are supposed to introduce emerging artists to top galleries and "art lovers". However the top people in the art business know what these books are, paid advertising. The books are on the same level as vanity publications like "Who's Who". If you want to get rid of a thousand dollars, find a nice charity. 
The same goes for paid publicity in any periodical. Any time a magazine, artist's rep or gallery wants money up front, your best bet is to back off.
Competitions and Exhibitions Charging Entry Fees: Some exhibitions can be helpful to both emerging and professional artists. However, it is best to enter only juried exhibitions sponsored buy established art organizations and trusted magazines. Contests sponsored by little known sources or online galleries are questionable or worthless.
In almost all cases, you are responsible for the shipping costs to and from an exhibit. This can be anywhere from $120 to $350 plus, depending on the distances involved. Check if receiving and hanging fees are involved. Find out if the judges are established artists and check them on the Internet.
Online Galleries That Charge Fees: If you simply want to display your work on the Internet, that's fine. Find an online gallery with very low fees, if any. If you expect to sell your work, know that it is not easy. It is very difficult to sell art priced over $250 on the Internet. Remember that your work can get lost on a large online gallery. If you decide to join, read the terms and conditions thoroughly. Be sure you know who is responsible for shipping costs in the event of a sale. Check if and when gallery commissions charged. 
Large Art Expos: Large art expos warrant a caution flag. These are the art world's answer to "Home and Garden" shows. Even so, they may be helpful to some artists. It is good to be skeptical because once more we talking Big Money. 

Trust yourself, believe in your work, and consult with those closest to you.
Trust yourself, believe in your work, and
consult with those closest to you.

Consider the New York Art Expo: An artist will pay almost $900 per day for four days, a minimum of $3,550. For this, the artist receives an exhibition space of about 4 x 10 feet. He is included in the Expo along with 400 or more other exhibitors selling everything from frames to sculpture. This demands a lot of investigation and considerable thought before jumping in.

Promoters of Books by Artists: These guys promote books that are produced by artists. That includes everything from self published books to scrapbook-looking things. One outfit operates out of an old store front in lower Manhattan. If you join, they will go to book fairs and such promoting your book. For instance, if you send them $500, you become an associate member. They'll send you a tote bag and one of the books they have in the back room. Sound good?
Artist's Consultants: If you are really in bad shape and forgot why you bother to paint, artist's consultants are there to help you. They are ready to review your portfolio and offer pointed suggestions. An initial session costs about $425 but additional sessions are only $175. Although, if the consultant needs a consultant, an "art professor" will be called in. That will be an additional $50. Isn't that nice?
All schemes and scams aside—some of this can sound a little grim. The point is there is no quick or easy way to become a recognized, successful artist. It is a lot of hard work over a long period of time. Yet, none of this should be discouraging. First, you must believe in yourself and your abilities. Work out a series of realistic goals and project them over the next few years. Plan it out as a fascinating journey and consult with those close to you. You want them with you every step of the way.
Paul Sullivan

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Paul Sullivan

About Paul Sullivan

After a long career in advertising art, Paul Sullivan is now a full-time watercolor artist. A graduate of the University of Toledo and the Toledo Museum School of Design, Paul has a BA in Fine Art. He is a Silver Signature Member of the Arizona Watercolor Association and a Signature Member of both the Pennsylvania Watercolor Society and the Watercolor Society of Alabama. Paul's work has been featured in exhibitions throughout the U.S. and in China. Visit his website → View all posts by Paul Sullivan →

6 thoughts on “Schemes and Scams Aimed at Artists

  1. Thank you for this article – I am always amazed that people are still “scamming” — especially artists. I wanted to add that there are even “scammers” on the internet through emails. I have received several emails — two were actually identical — from a person who cannot write or spell stating that he wants a painting for his wife for her anniversary – they pick a painting from my web page that is not sold and want to know the price and how soon they can have it – both emails ware identical — so what are they looking to get??????? I wrote them back and told them it was a “scam” — I mean — come on! I have more important things to do – like paint!

  2. Dear Mr. Sullivan,

    Please take a look at a new website and tell me what you think of the project related to artists.
    Interested artists can introduce their work via the website simply by meeting project requirements. Participating artists are not paid or charged to have their work featured on the website and the cross traffic continues to grow. The project is based on a narrative poem storybook that facilitates display of small format art (on paper) on each of its pages. This includes small prints of larger paintings too. So fans of the story can “Illustrate” it with their choice of compatible art. See all at:

  3. Nearly every single competition offered by your affiliate artistnetwork requires an entry fee. Are yousuggesting that they’re a scam and we shouldn’t enter their competitions?

    Shades of Gray Competition: $30.00 for the first digital submission and $25.00 for each additional digital submission.
    Over 60 Competition: All early-bird entries are $20 per image (submitted no later than September 2, 2014, 11:59 pm EST. Entries submitted after that date are $25 per image.
    All Media Competition: Entries are $30 per image.
    Incite Mixed Media Competition: $25.00 for the first submission and $20.00 for each additional submission.
    Splash 17 Competition: $30.00 for the first digital submission and $25.00 for each additional digital submission.


  4. I’m willing to pay around $25 as an entry fee for a first submission and 15 for subsequent. I always check out the website of those who are offering. Some of them have very little on their site which is a good indication that it’s a front for something other than a good gallery; I check out their gallery artists, etc. Does it look legitimate?
    I check out their winners from previous competition and decide whether I want to be in the company of artists who have been chosen for awards in previous years. You need to do your due diligence.
    I don’t enter the competitions where you have to send your work eventually, since once it’s gone, you have no control over getting the work back or getting payment if it’s sold.

  5. Pumkin54

    Thanks for your question on competitions and exhibitions charging entry fees. I welcome any questions. However, you seem to think I am suggesting all competitions and exhibitions charging entry fees are somehow a scam. That is not what I meant or was it what I wrote.

    What I wrote was: “Some exhibitions can be helpful to both emerging and professional artists. However, it is best to enter only juried exhibitions sponsored buy established art organizations and trusted magazines. Contests sponsored by little known sources or online galleries are questionable or worthless.”

    Almost all competitions and exhibitions have entry fees. It costs money to hold a competition or exhibit. However, I believe there are many sources sponsoring questionable competitions and exhibits. Some of these sponsors seem most interested in collecting entry fees. I am suggesting that artists enter only juried competitions and exhibitions that are sponsored by established art organizations or trusted periodicals devoted to art. By “established art organizations” I mean groups such as—local, regional and national watercolor societies—National Oil and Acrylic Painters Society, etc.

    The points stated in the article “Schemes and Scams Aimed at Artists” are my views only. My views are based on 59 years as a professional artist and business person. I am not affiliated with Artist Daily. These statements do not necessarily reflect those of Artist Daily or its parent company.

  6. Okay, I was confused. I was thinking, “But your own affiliate charges fees…” I hope some of the other things you listed are common sense to people. I would hate to think people are getting sucked into things like vanity publications, etc. I did once…when I was 10 years old and had a poem “published” for like 10 dollars or something, a fortune for a kid. Never again. And hopefully adults know better.