The Art of Buying Art


The art of buying art
The Art of Buying Art. It's Easier Than You Think


Not all that long ago I was called to appraise a piece of art that my friend wanted to purchase. It was an original, and one that I had previously seen on a number of occasions. It was a call out of the blue, my friend had been offered this "original" painting but had no idea where to begin in determining if it was worth the asking price.

There was no doubt that this piece was the real thing, it had been well documented and photographed, and I knew it was in a private collection. I knew the last time it was sold and how much it sold for, and I knew that the asking price this time around was considerably lower than it had previously fetched. That's what raised a very large red flag telling me that it might not be the real thing at all. At this point I knew it wasn't worth a 60-mile journey to see it.

So many people start out collecting art without any real idea of what they are doing. You would be surprised at just how many paintings my friend has purchased on a whim, sometimes he gets it right, other times he just likes a piece and it matters not that it's a fake or a bad investment.

He buys art if he likes it. In fact the piece he was about to purchase was an alleged original J.M.W Turner until I spotted a made in China stamp on the back. The miracle that is FaceTime made it possible without even having to go out of the house. Joseph Mallord William Turner, RA was an English Romanticist landscape painter. Turner was considered a controversial figure in his day, but is now regarded as the artist who elevated landscape painting to an eminence rivalling history painting, but one thing he definitely didn't do was to paint his landscapes and apply a made in China sticker on the back.

To be fair, from a distance of just under 300-miles, it would have passed for an original. But at a distance of 12-inches in high definition, the sticker stood out like a lighthouse on the freeway. Unnoticed allegedly by the seller who presumably now checks all of his fakes, and unnoticed by my friend who had presumed that the frame had been replaced. It hadn't, and they certainly didn't use MDF in Turners time, and as for the canvas, it was no more than a couple of years old. The manufacturers name was printed on the back.

Perhaps one of the poorest fakes I have ever seen. Add to the fact that the seller wanted £300 for it, he clearly had no clue how to even price a fake. Fakes you see are usually only slightly below the going price, that way it doesn't raise a flag quite as quickly. In some cases they're priced higher than the original. All in a ploy to throw you off the scent.

Now I'm not a Turner specialist by any stretch of the imagination, give me a Banksy, a Peter Max, or even a Van Gogh, and I'm all over it, but a Turner is more complex, and there are a lot of fakes, some of them even look pretty great. It's easy to be fooled. If there was any chance of this being a genuine Turner, I would have been there like a shot with a £1,000.


Are there any special techniques that you could use to make sure you are purchasing legitimate art? Yes. Even for the uninitiated, there are some things that you can check without having an art appraiser to hand, one of them is learning that MDF was never used by Turner, nor was his work made in China.

In fact, Winsor & Newton summed it up on their website, “Your business Winsor is to make colour. Mine is to use them.” This is Turner responding to gentle criticism from William Winsor who was concerned about Turner’s occasional lack of forward thinking when it came to using colour that would last. It must have been hard for a genius like Turner to pocket his pride and take a more considered approach, but Winsor’s point is as valid now as it was then: For the work of an artist to last they need to choose colour that will stand the test of time. This simple message remains one of the fundamental aspects of the work of Winsor & Newton today.

The Turner I had been asked to take a look at wasn't anywhere close to the colours of any other Turner, and certainly this particular piece was way too vibrant since I last saw the original. That could've been the picture quality, but it wasn't. I compared colours of known objects to check.

Whilst there is nothing like having an expert to hand, sometimes you have to decide quickly as to whether or not a piece is worth the asking price. The problem is that there is no quick way of carrying out proper due diligence, nor is there a substitute for a professional appraiser. I used FaceTime only because I wanted to see it before I turned up. If you decide to go it alone, firstly you need to do a little research around the art, and also decide why you can do it all without an experienced evaluator.

Many collectors will be as keen on the artworks provenance as you are. Ask to see any documentation that covers where the art has been, who has owned it, who was the artist, and why the art is relevant. At this point the more you know about the piece the better. You can overpay more easily than you can underpay.

Keep an eye on the markets. The once expensive Damien Hirst works started to fall off in value during the last recession. If the price was right you could bet on a Hirst comeback, or you could have overpaid. My money is on Hirst coming back in vogue in the next few years, not so long ago would have been an ideal time to bag a bargain. This is the cyclical ebb and flow of the arts world in general. It still holds true that the opinions of a few art collectors continue to sway the masses. If one of these art collectors suddenly dislikes a piece of work, it's pretty much doomed for now. But at some point it will come back in vogue, art is a long game.

When you see a piece of work that you like, you need to check out the artist if you are unfamiliar with their work. It doesn't matter actually if you are familiar, it's still good practice to carry out as much research as you can.

The Internet makes it a little easier than it was in the past, you can research an artist online, but you will also need to back up online research by speaking to galleries, museums, exhibition catalogues, and there are websites that even allow you to check am artists signature or monogram. You can check out to make a start and search more than 10,000 artists signatures.

A signature can paint a picture
Check out multiple sites and references before you buy


The seller will no doubt be able to tell you about the piece of art, but never rely on the seller alone. If it's a known artwork then others will have documented it. It may have been documented in a previous collection,

You should also check things like the artists date of birth and date of death if the artist is no longer with us, check where the artist lives or lived, publications that mention the artist, any awards received, collectors who own the artists work, auction houses and previous sales history and listings, and where the artist studied if they were formally educated in the arts.

What you find out will start to build a picture (no pun intended) of who the artist is, and have some information about the artists career, achievements, and importantly, why the work is considered as a notable piece.

When you read about the artist, you want to look out for the length of the feature the artist appears. A single sentence saying who the artist is, isn't worth as much as three or four paragraphs in a worthy publication, and look out for those explanations that amount to nothing more than a sales pitch. There is unfortunately a lot of hype in the art world, expertly written to make you want to buy a piece of art. You should be looking for cold, hard, facts.

Speak to other people, especially speak to other people who know the artists work but have no agenda in selling the work. A galleries job is to sell and promote their artists, and a fine job most of them do too, but a knowledgeable individual who will make nothing if the work sells will carry more weight.

Also check other art by the same artist. This will often provide a context to the piece of art you are interested in. Is the work part of a series, are the other pieces available, do you want to own the series, is the art worth more when sold together with other works.


If buying art doesn't come naturally to you there are also a few other insights that will make the buying experience more pleasurable. Many people will when starting out, buy art that matches the decor. If you have a home with neutral tones, a bold piece of art will break up the colour scheme and will become a focal piece of the space you display the art.

Buying artwork that simply matches the decor very often gets lost. A magnolia wall, a light coloured sofa, some light woodwork, all looks very nice, but when you hang a rather neutral piece of art it just blends in. You really want art to stand out, and if you are paying a premium for great art, you certainly wouldn't want it getting lost in the colours of your wall and sofa. Be bold.


I love chatting to my collectors, in fact over the years I have built up some great friendships out of my art. I make a point of getting in touch with them to thank them whenever they purchase my work, and very often I send them a free signed print.

So if you can build a relationship with the artist in person it will help you to not only understand the work, but also understand the context and the artist. If you can't contact the artist read up on the Internet and also visit their website or the galleries website. Follow the artist on social media if they have a presence, and make it known that you love their work.

If you like a piece of the artists work and it is available in a gallery, or direct from the artist, building up a relationship with the gallery and/or the artist and ask if there are any payment plans whereby you can pay a deposit and pay the remainder over a period of time. Most good galleries will be able to offer at least some form of credit, or the artist may be able to offer a discount on works that haven't sold.

If you fall in love with a piece and can afford it, don't hesitate in buying it. Some original pieces may not be available for long and limited editions can sell out quickly. When it comes to open edition prints, time is not always quite so critical but occasionally you still need to act fast.

From time to time I retire some of my open edition prints or the price will increase. Other artists do this too, especially if they have not sold a print, or the opposite, they've sold many of the prints and want to limit the number available in the future.

I have written a number of times about buying your art from emerging artists. For the most part it makes little sense to wait to see if the artist makes a name for themselves, if you love a piece and it is by an emerging artist and the artist then becomes the next Warhol or Banksy, well, you'll have made a great investment. Of course they might never make it so big that the value increases exponentially, but you love the art.

When you buy paper prints make sure that you mat them, and that the mat is acid free. Many budget frames come complete with a mat and that can make it seem like a true bargain. The issue is that if the mat is not acid free then it will eventually devour the picture and it will cost you a lot more to replace the art.

You can still purchase budget frames but always check that the mat is acid free. If it's not, then invest in an acid free mat and use that instead. You want to keep some distance between the frame and the artwork. Think of an acid free mat as your security.


Occasionally you might want to commission an artist to create a specific piece of art for you, you can get the exact size you need and you'll have a truly unique work created by the hands of the artist you love.

Here's a tip for commissioning artwork, never ask the artist to stray too far out of their style, and try not to control them too much. If you do any of these two things you'll either end up with a piece that the artist hasn't felt passionate about creating, and the final work will not represent the artists true style. The style that made you love them in the first place will be lost and the value of the work will decrease.

I have known artists who have completed a commission after having done revisions in the double figures. Yet the original work was phenomenal, and totally in line with the specification given by the client, and then some. Towards the end, and even though they are professional artists who work on only commissions, they have refused to do more future work for a particular client. If they have taken on more work, prices have been increased significantly. One artist I know did a total of 77 revisions before saying to the client, let's just start over but this time leave it to me.

Most professional artists will have a meeting with you and will get your exact requirements. If you say you want a blue sky and after the work is completed you ask them to do it again but this time with a red sky, the artist will most likely take issue. Professional artists will be used to working on commissions, but some of the stories I have heard over the years from both sides, commissioner and artist, will make your hair curl.

If you Commission an artwork, choose an artist who has experience of commissions, and make sure you provide with a good idea of what you would like. Also be clear about the number of revisions included in the price. But more importantly, remember that you have chosen the artist because you love what they do, don't try to make them create a piece that is so far away from the artists usual style. They are after all, the artist.

There's a thought that many artists have when setting their commission pricing list, and it is that every artist would love to make public a specific pricing list for some commissions. Leave the artist alone and let them produce the best work you will ever have seen and the cost is $1,000, the artist designs and you watch, $1200, the artist designs, you advise, $1500, the artist creates, you help, $1800, you create whilst the artist watches, $2,000, you create everything, $3,000. They might not publish this list, but I know a few artists who wish they had.


Check out my latest artworks at


You finally find what you re looking for and you know about the artist. Now it's time to carefully examine the work, its frame, how it is mounted, any labels and stickers, signatures, materials used, as this will provide you with what you need to make a decision about if this is the right work for you.

If the seller can tell you everything you need to know about the artwork that's an indication that they are passionate enough and care enough about the art.

The seller should be able to also tell you how the art was produced. This is important especially when dealing with limited edition prints. Was the process of creation manufactured or done by hand, in some cases the most original part of a limited edition print is the hand signed signature. The rest is a copy.

You also need to find out of the piece you are interested in is a major or minor. Major works are more important than the artists minor works, so are also more collectible. Major works will hold and generally increase in value, whereas the minor works are much cheaper, less collectible, and may not recover your costs in the future, although they can still be worth a lot of money.

If the artist is known to create a particular subject on a particular size, these will be known as typical pieces. These will be the most collectible, but artists also do what is known as A-typical work where they may have experimented with other subjects and sizes, even other materials. These are more unusual and often difficult to price. If you like the different subject and size, or medium, then you might want an a-typical piece, but a little bit like buying a pink car with yellow spots, it might not be to everyone's taste so might be harder to sell further down the line.

Another important thing to remember is that artists tend to work in phases, so some work will be favoured if it was during one of the artists more popular phases.


Whether it is a giclee print or an original, make sure that the work you are buying is in good condition and will stand the test of time. This is why I am so picky with who I sell my giclee prints through. You want a piece that will last for generations, so you need to make sure that the printing process or the painting doesn't deteriorate the moment you hang it on your wall. If you buy through my site, not only will the art last for generations, but you will receive a 30-day money back guarantee.

Fine Art America which is part of the Pixels group is my preferred printing facility. Not only are their printing technologies some of the most state of the art, their prints will last for generations because both the ink, and the canvas or paper is some of the best quality available and is fade resistant. The quality is superb and when placed next to a print from a well known chain, you can immediately tell that the box store print will not stand the test of time. Box store prints are less vibrant too, and the material used in box store prints, is used because it's cheap.

Make sure you pay a fair price. The price should reflect today's value and not the value from yesterday, or any future possible value, because the future can change a second after you make the purchase.

Compare the price to their similar pieces from other artists, and other works from the same artist. Sometimes in the art world, art really is overpriced. Equally you will find that some works are underpriced, it's up to you to decide if it is a fair price. Remember that the artist occasionally likes to actually eat.

Artists sales results are available and especially if a significant piece has been previously sold at auction. There are also many art databases available online, and from the auction houses. If the piece has been sold previously, there's a good chance you'll find a record of it somewhere. Whenever I produce a work I record everything, the time spent, tools and materials used, production cost, and my expenses/rate, who it was sold to, and if I sell the original I make all of that information available on request to the buyer, and provide a pack of documents detailing every aspect of the work. It helps if proof of provenance is required later on.

Also by checking previous prices you will get an indication as to if the artists work is increasing or decreasing in value over time. My originals tend to increase at around 10% per year, and each year the cost of prints increases slightly too.

Once you have agreed the price, make sure that you get any associated paperwork, and a receipt that explains exactly what you are buying. The more detailed the receipt, the better. You also need to be careful of internal appraisals. Independent appraisals are worth much more than those from someone who is actually selling the work. You'd be surprised just how many internal appraisals still take place. Also remember that an appraisal is usually for insurance purposes, not necessarily the actual value of the art.

If you decide to haggle with a gallery then you need a rock solid argument to be able to beat down a price. Never try to haggle because you want a discount, you should haggle if there are legitimate reasons that the work is not worth what is being asked. If you plan on buying from the gallery in the future, haggling might put them off from wanting to sell to you later on. If you are loyal to a gallery, they may even offer a discount higher than a discount you could achieve by haggling. Just remember that the artists commission is also lowered when you haggle, you're not just haggling with the gallery, but taking money away from the artist too.

No matter how big or small your budget, collecting art is addictive. The more you buy, the better you will become at appraisal and ultimately you'll have so much more fun. Collecting art needn't be a stuffy experience, if it is done correctly it can be a pleasure to go out and seek the next big thing.

Art collecting is not exclusive to the richest people and organisations in our society. I am far away from being a millionaire, yet my art collection is something I am very proud of. Whilst the media might portray the industry as stuffy, the reality is that there are lots of artists and galleries who are more down to earth.

I make a point of buying work from local and independent artists from around the world, and my current collection is as interesting if not more so, than some of the collections I have seen in high-end galleries. Take a look at my recent artists spotlight post and the artists spotlight page on this blog to see that there are some truly great artists who are truly great people too, yet their work is so much better than some of the work we see at Frieze, and in top-end galleries, and costs nowhere near what you would pay elsewhere.

Cheaper art doesn't mean that we have to compromise on quality. It doesn't have to be an easy to create piece, nor does it have to come from the imagination of a modern master. A look around social media on any given day is like walking through an ever changing prestigious gallery where the exhibition changes daily and the art is top end.


The art of selling your own art
The Art of Selling Your Own Art


So now you have some idea of how to buy art, what about selling your own art? I wrote recently in my how to be a better artist blog post which you can find here: about the importance of documenting your art. There is a lot more to selling art than simply creating a masterpiece.

Firstly, you need to follow last week's advice and secondly you need to put your customer first. I have been lucky enough to visit galleries and exhibitions all over the world and even now I am often surprised to see some artists attending exhibitions who prefer checking their text messages on their smartphones than engaging with potential buyers. Stop it right now if you are one of those artists. You might as well not be there. You'll notice that I'm always frank and honest, and sometimes a little bit blunt. But really, stop it. If I see someone interested in my work, I'll make a point of talking to them. Also remember that art collectors don't all walk around events wearing Gucci.

Whilst it is nice to have a following as an artist, it's important that you don't purely focus on collectors all of the time. Regular people buy art too and these people could go on to become your biggest collectors. I have a number of collectors and each will tell you that they started out just buying a single piece. One collector started out only buying two $3 greetings cards featuring my work, sometimes owning a larger piece is aspirational until one day when their personal circumstances change.

Whilst I'm a not a huge fan of free commissions in return for promises of great exposure, there is something that you can do to make sure your art is enjoyed before it's sold.

In some cases artists are loaning a piece of work for a set time so that the customer can decide if the piece suits their environment. I know a few artists who do this, charging a small deposit and the costs of delivery, both of which come off the final sale price if the customer decides to purchase the art. The great thing about this is that the buyer and the artist can engage. That is the most important thing when buying and selling art, buyers love to connect with the artist, and often that connection alone is how the art is sold, it's actually not always about the art. Just make sure you have some simple terms and conditions in place, such as knowing that any damage will be paid for.

Use empty spaces to create pop up galleries. I recently wrote about a pop up exhibition in Estonia that I had visited, and I have previously written about our declining high streets. Approach your local authority and see if they will allow a group of artists to utilise unused space for a day or a week. Not only will customers come and take a look, often it will drive up customers for other retail businesses in the town too.

Work with other artists. That's exactly what my Facebook group, The Artists Exchange is all about. Artists promoting other artists and each other. This encourages cross-pollination of audiences, and it's also a great tool for local galleries to work together, particularly when they are holding special events out of hours.

If you are a gallery then you have some responsibility too. Supporting new artists is something I believe all great galleries should do, yet there are galleries who won't even entertain an artist who hasn't previously exhibited or sold. Wouldn't it be great if just even occasionally a gallery would help promote a new artist. I'll be taking a look at what a perfect gallery would look like in a future blog post.

Utilise analytics for your online sales. I do this all of the time, and whilst it's a bit of a steep learning curve to be able to usefully use something like Google analytics, it's well worth the time and effort. You can learn who's visiting your site, who gives you the most likes, shares, comments, where your website or online gallery is viewed the most, and particulars such as the age group of those most interested in your work.

This can tell you the exact market where your work is most likely to sell. If your work is loved by females aged between 25 and 35, there is no point in targeting a male audience of 50-60 year olds. If you plan on spending money on advertising you'll need this information up front. You really need to know your buyer. If you're struggling with using analytics and would like to see a future analytics tutorial post, then please do let me know.

So there you have it, if you are thinking of buying or selling art you should by now be a little more prepared to enter the art world with a little more knowledge than you may have had twenty-minutes ago.

If you want to read more about buying and selling art, then please do take a look in my blog archives. I constantly write to support artists and buyers, and I'm always happy to provide advice. Just contact me via or fill in the contact form on any of the pages in this blog.


Mark (M.A) Taylor is a UK based artist who lives in Staffordshire. His experience of professional art spans over 30-years and he is the founder of two well-known Facebook Groups, the Artists Exchange and The Artist Hangout. His work is available from and a range of retail locations across the USA and Canada, and you can buy smaller works directly using PayPal. You can follow him on Facebook at and on Twitter @beechhouseart

Mark has been supporting local, independent and international artists and art collectors since before he created this blog and he often speaks at events. By purchasing M.As art you will be supporting him to continue creating blog posts that help those new and not so new artists to become just a little better prepared for life in the art world.



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