How to make money buying and selling art
Buying and selling art is a really exciting way to bring in an extra income. It isn’t a steady earner and unless you go nuclear on it, it won’t replace your income. However, it is an interesting and creative way to grow your money steadily over time.
In our household my partner is the art collector and I have seen him consistently generate returns of about 30% on the art he buys and sells. Some of the art he buys turns out to not be very collectable and he either makes a loss or holds onto them. The majority of art he sells makes him a profit.
Quite often a piece will end up on the walls, making our home look nice until it’s time to sell it on and look for something new.
If you are not excited by investing in stocks and shares or creating and maintaining a blog, investing in art is a really different alternative. It also gives you something to talk about that most people will find more interesting than traditional investments. It also means you spend a lot of time looking at lovely images – food for the soul and the mind.
Is buying and selling art to make money right for you?
Before you decide if you want to make money buying and selling art, answer the two following questions:
- Do I like art?
- Do I like it enough to spend time reading and researching around it?
If you said “yes” to both, keep reading!
If “no” then this is probably not for you because it takes a bit of passion to invest the time and energy into knowing what to buy. Otherwise you stand to lose money rather than make it.
There are many different genres of art and if you are looking to use art as an income generator on the side you are probably not looking at the fine art market where you need thousands of pounds to invest per piece.
A good place to start is buying and selling prints, particularly in the Urban Art genre. This is the art that comes in and out of our household, so I will focus on that
What is Urban Art?
Urban art or street art is work produced by artists who started out on the streets. Once derided as “graffitti”, urban art used to be seen as a problem that needed to be wiped clean off the walls of our cities. However artists such as Banksy have popularised this form of art, with detailed pieces often with a political statement behind them, created using spray paint and stencils.
While some artists’ work stays on the streets, many transition into the world of print or bespoke pieces made on more traditional media such as canvas, paper and found objects. A Banksy now will cost you tens of thousands but a few years ago could be picked up for much, much less.
But while Banksy’s work is out of reach for most, there are a plethora of artists who are making new and exciting pieces and prints which are much more accessible to everyday folks. You can pick up limited edition prints from as little as £10/ $10 and sell them on for a profit (or keep them if you fall in love – but don’t do this too often as it kind of defeats the object!)
Who are some other urban artists besides Banksy?
There are many interesting artists on the scene. Here are just a few to whet your whistle.
Ben Eine – seen on streets around the world, Eine is a master of colourful typefaces, creating stylish and often exuberant messages with his bespoke alphabets. Instagram.
Hush studio-hush.com https://www.instagram.com/hushartist/?hl=en
Dabs Myla https://www.instagram.com/dabsmyla/ https://dabsmyla.com
J.R. https://www.jr-art.net/ https://www.instagram.com/jr/
Slinkachoo https://slinkachu.com/ https://www.instagram.com/slinkachu_official/?hl=en
D*Face www.dface.co.uk https://www.instagram.com/dface_official/?hl=en
How does buying and selling art work?
1. Research what artists’ work you want to buy
Like any investment, there’s no point just buying any old art. First off you can read up on who is who online. For Urban Art there are a few sites like graffiti street, urban art association, and street art bio that will tell you who is doing what.
Look out for art fairs that specialise in Urban Art (or the art you are interested in) and find out who is doing what and who is creating a buzz.
Urban artists who are making prints often have their own website and instagram account or are affiliated to an art gallery who helps them market, display and sell their work. Sign up to the websites to be in the know when a new print is coming out.
To find out what people are saying about the artists look them up on Instagram or have a look through places like the Urban Art Forum, where serious collectors debate the merits of various pieces (and also buy and sell).
Take a look at work that the artists have sold. Get an idea of what prices have been paid for the work, and if pieces then get resold (on the secondary market – EBay is often a good place to check) see how much they go for.
2. Find out where and when the artist’s work is for sale
The cheapest way to buy most art is to buy it when it is released – this is the primary market. The secondary market is when someone has already bought a piece and sells it on. If the artist is in demand, it will cost more to buy their work on the secondary market.
However, if the artist you want to buy IS in demand that means you have to be quick off the mark to get a first release.
3. Buying on the primary market
Many artists will announce they are selling a new print via their website or gallery. If you are on their email list you will find out first.
Sometimes a print is so fiercely desirable that people will be online at the exact time the print goes on sale. A print can sell out in minutes! You need to be ready and waiting to see if you get lucky and get to the front of the online queuing system before the print is sold or the website crashes from demand. Be warned: these print “drops” as they are known can be addictive!
Other sites such as OneRun showcase new artists very cheaply and this can be a good way to buy art. The print runs are also often short but you can buy more speculatively here if you are attracted to a new artist.
4. Buying on the secondary market
You can also buy pieces on Ebay and through re-sellers. When you buy on the secondary market check that the piece has a “COA” or Certificate of Authenticity. There are plenty of fakes around and a collector will spot this instantly if you try to sell a piece that isn’t genuine.
If you buy a second hand piece, check it for marks, tears and imperfections. These make art harder to sell on. Some art naturally has some bumps in the paint and hand finished pieces by nature have some inconsistencies but if you see something you are not happy with, go back to the seller and query it.
Buying on the secondary market requires a bit more research than buying a print when it is first released. If an artist is in demand, buying on the primary market means you are almost definitely going to get it at its best possible price.
But when you buy a piece on the secondary market you need to evaluate whether the price you are paying is a good one. Is it below what others have sold at? Is there room for the price to go up?
Some terms you will see when buying and selling art (prints)
A set of prints of a certain image, made from a single printing plate, all the same size and as close to identical as possible. Open editions do not have any limits on the numbers that are produced. Limited editions are much more desirable and will be marked with numbers e.g. 43/100 is the 43rd print out of 100. Sometimes different editions are made from the same plate in different colourways on different types of paper or material.
Limited editions, which means there are a finite number of prints, are usually numbered as above. When you buy a limited edition print the number is usually at the bottom right or on the back of the print and will have the number of the print, a slash, and the total number of prints in the edition e.g. 43/100. Limited editions are worth more on the art market because there are only a set number of them compared to an open edition.
Artists proof (A.P.)
The first set of prints made for the artist’s own use, are marked as A.P. Sometimes there is only one of these and sometimes there are a few of them – which may or may not be numbered. They are worth more than ordinary limited edition prints.
“Giclee” is a name given to a print made with a very high quality digital inkjet printer. This is not a conventional printout, but made with very fine drops of ink on heavy, quality paper. These are not normally limited edition as they can be produced on demand.
Not all prints are produced on paper. Some can be done as one off pieces on “found materials” such as cardboard, second hand furniture or other flotsam and jetsam. It’s hard to value these pieces but they are often worth a fair bit more than a straight print.
A poster is a high quality mass produced print. Although these are often significantly less valuable than a limited edition print, if the poster is from the right artist, even this can go up in value. Not that long ago there was a sale of Banksy Baked Bean Can posters – you could buy them for a few pounds and then find them being flipped on Ebay not long after for much more.
A limited edition print is one in which a limit is placed on the numbers in order to create a scarcity of the print. Limited editions are numbered and signed by the artist.
A lithograph is a method of printing where the design is drawn on a stone (or certain types of plates) with a greasy crayon or ink. The printing ink sticks to the greasy areas and not the stone–reproducing the design when printed.
Also known as silkscreen, this is a common form of printing in the urban art world. Silk or synthetic mesh is stretched tightly over a frame. A stencil is stuck to the fabric blocking the non-printing areas. Ink is forced through the open fabric wit a squeegee and layers added onto the one before in different colours.
A proof is an impression of a print pulled prior to the regular, published edition of the print. These are done so the artist can see what the image looks like when printed and what work still needs to be done. An artist’s proof is an impression issued extra to the regular numbered edition and reserved for the artist’s own use. Artist’s proofs are usually signed and are sometimes marked “A.P.”, “E.A.”.
Storing art before you sell
Prints are shipped flat or in cylinders.
Flat is ideal as this is best for the art.
If you are not planning to hold onto a print that long, you can keep it in a cylinder, ready to ship out.
However, if you are planning on holding on to a piece for a bit, consider moving it to an art folder or architects drawer, where it can be stored flat.
If you are using paper to protect the art, make sure it is special acid free paper designed to be the right PH for art.
Selling your art
How do you decide whether it’s the right time to sell a piece of art? Well there could be several reasons. You might just decide you want to free up the money for something such as to reinvest in other pieces. Or you might have seen that there is a strong demand for your artist and you want to cash in on that.
Alternately, you may have just bought an original print and want to flip it (sell straight away) to take advantage of the fact that those that missed on out in the first time, may be ready to pay a higher price for it the next day – knowing that it will be in pristine condition.
The easiest way to sell most prints is on Ebay. Look at other prints that have been sold and take note of what people are interested in. You’ll need good photos of the print, stating (and showing) the number and edition of the print, if it’s an AP etc.
Some people list other popular artists in the title e.g. “D*FACE print like BANKSY, EINE, etc” Don’t do this as Ebay do not look kindly on this. The idea is to pull in people looking for something else. One way you an more legitimately do this is if you include some freebies in with the print from these artists e.g. a Banksy postcard, which you can then legitimately list in the title if you want to go down this route.
Personally I think most art buyers are discerning enough to know what they are looking for so for me, those tactics are unnecessary.
If you have bought a piece of art that comes with a COA (certificate of authenticity) mention that you have this and that it will be included in the sale. You’ll also need to highlight any flaws or damage if relevant.
The other way you can sell is through art forums or groups. This is as simple as putting up a post. Make sure you contribute to the forum in other ways, not just as someone who pops on there to flog a bit of art. People want to deal with other art lovers, not just people out to make a fast buck. This is why you have to have some passion for doing it – then none of this is a chore!
Art should be shipped in robust packaging either flat or in a cylinder. Insure it in case of damage (at the buyer’s cost). If you are buying in, be aware that you may have to pay customs on art from abroad. This can severely eat into your profits so find out what the percentage charge is and do the maths before you buy from outside your country.
In some countries e.g. the UK, you don’t have to pay tax on selling art if it is below the capital gains tax threshold. Check what the rules are where you live and pay the right taxes, but you may find that (like many of the activities associated with wealthy people) the taxes you have to pay are surprisingly low!
So I hope this has given you enough of an introduction to make you think about this as a route to making a side income if – and I cannot stress this enough – you are interested in art anyway!
I watch my partner make brilliant sale after sale. For instance I asked him to invest £1000 for me. He told me to buy a Mario Testino photo of Kate Moss, which I paid £700 for. He also bought one and sold it 4 years later for £4500!
But he does well because he is passionate about the art he buys and researches it like a demon.
Let me know if you do this – I’d love to hear how it goes. And also if you want to know anything else, just message me here at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more money making ideas head here to 75 ways to make extra money on the side.