12 Mistakes Every Artist Should Avoid

Improve Your Art Business. Learn the 12 Mistakes Every Artist Should Avoid In 2012.

Ideas to Improve Your Art Business This Year

 Learning how avoid mistakes is critical to success in the art business.

Today, I’m honored to publish this guest post by Gary T. Kerr. He is the is president of Fine Art Impressions, Charlotte, NC. It is one of the most highly respected art printing studios in the industry.

12 Mistakes Every Artist Should Avoid In 2012

1. Signing your art with just your initials

 Why? There are no famous artists that did so. And, when you sign a painting with your initials, you are secretly saying; “I’m not ready yet.” There will be exceptions to this, but this is based on having photographed 10,000 paintings at our studio—a pretty good sample. Sign your paintings with your name consistently. Here are some excellent alternatives to just your initials; J. J. Smith, John J. Smith, John Smith, J. Smith. But not J.J.S.! Treat your signature the way companies treat their brands and logos. And, don’t use a Sharpie to sign your art!

 2. Not framing your art

Let’s divide up the world here. Your art is either representational or non-representational. Non-representational art may look better as a clean, frameless presentation and may be your best choice for your framing aesthetic. Conversely, representational art should be presented in a proper frame—even if it is a minimalist, floater-type. Framing your art adds value and nicely framed art is less likely to have an interested buyer balk at the price. Frame your art, present it well in a gorgeous frame to maximize perceived value and communicate to the world ‘You know what you are doing.’

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Download List of 7 Essential Tools Artists Use

 3. Touching up or altering your art after it was finished

Once finished, leave your painting alone. You must be willing to let go of your art after it is done. Tinkering with a painting is irresistible to most artists, it takes enormous discipline to finish a piece and leave it alone. The fact is, no painting is ever completely finished. Being willing to let the last 3% go is what makes an artist great. Are you?

 4. Using art height and width dimensions interchangeably

In the world of art, you must always communicate image dimensions accurately with height stated first and width stated second. It is not interchangeable. Be sure to use this consistently everywhere; web, brochures, placards, and verbally. If you catch someone doing this in reverse, please correct them—nicely.

 5. Discounting your art to make a sale

Lowering your prices to make a sale may seem like a smart move, but you are setting a precedent. You must establish a price and stick with it, or possibly raise it. Protect your past buyers by letting potential buyers know you will protect them by not discounting your art to make a sale. If you run into price sensitive buyers, offer a fine art print instead. Reserve your originals for people who really want original art and are willing to pay for it.

6. Using cheap or low-end artist materials

Every artist has been tempted to save money on artist materials. Reconsider this habit for yourself. If you wish to be taken seriously, skip the canvas wrapped panels—those are for art students. Consider a quality stretched canvas or premium brand watercolor paper and avoid the cheap knockoff brands trying to save a few dollars. Good brushes are essential too and make a difference, but only if you take proper care of them. Talented artists believe in their journey; quality art materials help you on that journey. You will be judged by the quality of your art materials. Quality art materials perform better, last longer, and put your art more in the collectible category. Sloppy, low end presentment of your art will confound your journey. Your art creates value and dollars will follow that value—but not if it looks like a homemade experiment.

7. Not Titling Your Art

Your art needs to be titled. This is a business of selling emotion, and your title will emphasize the emotional connection of your art. An untitled piece may be found with non-representational art, but avoid it if possible. A fitting title confirms to the art buyer that this piece belongs in their home. Don’t leave this critical step out of presenting your art professionally. Avoid tongue-in-cheek or kitsch titles. Observe how fine art is titled in museums and fine art galleries. Always keep accurate records of your titles and the year painted. Avoid using titles from movies or other cliché approaches.

Download List of 7 Essential Tools Artists Use
Download List of 7 Essential Tools Artists Use

8. Painting one-off paintings

You are on a journey. Have a plan to paint 8 to 12 pieces minimum in a cohesive voice and style. Any artist can hit one or two home-runs; successful artists paint in a consistent voice and theme, which drives sales and interest. Their discipline to stay consistent helps to build their portfolios and steady sales. The result is finding frequently open doors to galleries and with collectors. Don’t be a one-hit wonder, paint a portfolio and the right doors will open for your art.

9. Painting in multiple voices and styles

The best advice you will ever get is this: If I mix 10 of your images in with 90 other images from other artists and I can’t pick out your 10, you will struggle to attract the attention of serious art dealers or collectors. Paint in a consistent voice and theme that tells it is unmistakably you. If you paint all over the map, no one is going to find you.

10. Mishandling your art

Always treat your art as valuable. By respecting every painting you make, you are subconsciously leading to a sale if you perceive that your art has value. Treat it accordingly and the value will carry through to that sale. Whether it is your best piece or not, treat it with respect trains your mind to value all your work. Never carry your art in a trash bag, the message to yourself could be catastrophic. Professional portfolio cases and proper packaging are worth the time and effort to avoid harming your art. When shipping your art, consider a quality float-box or custom crate to ensure worry-free arrival.

11. Displaying art for sale on the floor

Where a painting is located for sale contributes to its perceived value. Always hang art, or place it on an easel and be sure it is properly lit for viewing. Art relegated to unimportant status will never help you or your sales. Take a look at the care galleries and museums put into hanging and lighting art properly.

12. Selling your art without first getting a preservation-Grade art capture

As the son of an artist who had painted hundreds of oil paintings in the ‘70s and ‘80s that are all sold, I can testify it will be a huge loss to your family, just as it was to mine, to not have even a photographic slide of any of those paintings. Don’t let this happen to your family. Your art image may actually be worth many more times the amount of the sale of the original. You would not tear up a winning lottery ticket would you? Selling your art without a capture is the same thing. The copyright laws are on your side, but without a preservation-grade art capture, that copyright is worthless. Without a quality art capture, there will be no retrospective of you in the future—don’t let that happen.

Download List of 7 Essential Tools Artists Use
Download List of 7 Essential Tools Artists Use

Gary T. Kerr is president of Fine Art Impressions offering art imaging and advisory services. His studio has locations in Charlotte, Moscow, Prague, Hong Kong and Sydney. He offers a free consultation to any artist looking to self-publish their art. He can be reached at his studio at or 1.800.419.4442.



Download List of 7 Essential Tools Artists Use
Download List of 7 Essential Tools Artists Use


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  1. I must admit, I’ve made the mistake of #4 – using Height & Weight dimensions interchangeably. Not sure why I make this mistake – I know the rules – But I forget sometimes!

    This is an excellent post and GREAT reminders!

  2. Other mistakes:
    #13. Signing your art with a felt pen.
    It eventually bleeds through, fades out and looks tacky as heck.

    #14 Not titling or dating the art on the back of the artwork.
    On the back of every canvas write, as a minimum, the name of artist, title of artwork, and date completed.
    Sure, maybe there is a list of this art info somewhere…but 150-200+ years from now who will know where the list is or the name of the painting? More info on the back of the art has to add value to it.

  3. Overall…very useful information…although,just for the sake of factual accuracy,there was at least one “famous artist” who did sign some of his paintings with his initials,HTL,…Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec(I suspect there are others as well)And I do take exception to the comment,”when you sign a painting with your initials,you are secretly saying,”I’m not ready yet”…while this may be so in some instances…I don’t think it is so in all instances…especially where artists have “very” long names like myself!Thanks for the article.

    1. Thank you. I have a long name and have been mulling over this one for days. Also, I have a logo of my initials I sign and have been using for decades.

  4. Excellent information for any artist at any level of their career!–Fail to respect your work and you will fail in your success and prosperity..It’s almost like child abuse-if it came from you, then it’s your responsibility to take care of your creation as it is a reflection of you the artist…

  5. Suggestion to artists: When possible get your art scanned in with a flat bed scanner such as a Cruse Scanner. The quality is much, much, much better than a digital photo. (All my paintings are Cruse scanned.)
    The scanner will give you a much more detail than a digital photo.

  6. @ Charles we use a Better Light capture system and it is the benchmark for quality:

    For example:

    The important thing is that the capture be preservation-grade to enable artists to monetize their art now and in the future. If your device makes captures with the DNA of your art in it (most don’t), then you are are doing it right. But I would urge you to study the above sample capture carefully noting paint structure, sharpness, and color quality as well as being free from specular glare, blur, or other common defects of digitized art.

    At the end of the day, the music is in the pianist, not the piano.

  7. Mr. Kerr, thank you for your reply.

    Keep in mind, I am the artist – I am not selling an art capturing service or product. I want the best reproduction of my art – I do not care how it is done.

    I have tried all the different methods of photographing & scanning in my art & the Cruse Scanner ($100,000+) is the best for capturing, as you call it, the “DNA of the art”. (I wish I could afford one of scanners.)

    With the Cruse Scanner the scans are 1:1. If the original painting is 100×100 cm, then the scan is 100×100 cm.
    The digital file is the same size as the original painting, 100×100 cm, at 300 megapixels (or higher). For example, a 16-bit file of a 100×100 cm scan is 792+MB in size.
    In the past I have hired photographers to take photos of my art. Not as good of quality as the Cruse scanner.

    And you mention specular glare, blur and other “common defects” (???) of digitized art – Never seen it in the hundreds of scans I have had done of my paintings.
    And, speaking of “common defects” of digitized art – what are your photos taken with? Digital cameras, correct? It is digitized art, too.

    Regarding the link to your art photo. Nice photo, but to be honest, I couldn’t use the digital file to make prints with – too many shadows. The texture is over emphasized/exaggerated with the from-the-top lighting on the painting.
    When printing your digital file on canvas it would not look optimal – the too much 3D texture in the photo can cause problems with the texture in the canvas. (I print my own prints in my art studio with my wide-format printer).
    I will stick with scans from the Cruse scanner for now. When something with better quality and is more cost effective comes along I will be sure to use it.

  8. Mr. Kaufman, your mischaracterization of what our prints look like when you have not seen one is completely unfair and pejorative. Cruse scanners are a fine device, but everybody in the business knows its advantage is automation, not craftsmanship. Having had dozens of Cruse scans come across my desk, none of them met our museum caliber-standards. You are happy with your files, and that is great, but don’t tell artists that a Cruse scanner is the only way to go. You need to know that most Cruse scanner configurations don’t meet curatorial safety guidelines as the risk of suspending the optics above a horizontal painting is too risky. Their vertical capture base addresses this issue, but they are not commonly found. It is better to let marketplace decide which imaging options work best for them, my professional opinions are based on having captured over 10,000 diverse paintings and satisfying over 700 artists and institutions spanning 3 continents including some of the most demanding museums in the world. I hope you can allow yourself to see another point of view.

  9. Again, I am an artist and not trying to sell a photo digital service as are…so I understand your desire to promote your method of service. I am sure you have many satisfied customers.
    As an artist I have tried all methods of digitizing my art and found the scans from a Cruse scanner the highest quality and best for me. (And when something better and more economical comes along I will try it.)
    Regarding the scans meeting your “museum caliber-standards”.
    I know several large museums in Europe that own Cruse scanners. (Cruse scanners are made in Germany.) And the Cruse scanning service that scans my art work has also done a lot of work for the Städel Art Museum in Frankfurt, Germany. One would think they would have “museum caliber-standards”.

    Regarding your claims about what everybody says about Cruse….well, I will let readers see for themselves what others say about the Cruse scanner:

    Too each his own, Mr. Kerr, but artists should know there are alternatives to your digital camera photo services and explore the possibilities…and we have not even discussed prices yet! 🙂

  10. Hi Kathleen, Thanks for your comments. In art, as with most things in life, there are not hard fast rules as much as their are good suggestions. Your comment reminds of us of this.

  11. Given that art is not only an act of creation, but is also an instrument of financial gain, it just makes sense to take the best care of it. In the hustle bustle of life, we sometimes forget what is important. Taking proper care of one’s art helps strengthen the resolve the business aspect is as serious as the work involved to make it.

  12. Dear Charles and Gary, It’s obvious you both have solid opinions on the scanning techniques you each prefer. In talking with vendors, giclee printers and artists over the years, I have found a majority of top pros have preferences that favor either the BetterLight or the Cruse Scanner for creating digital files of their work. I’ve seen fantastic results from both products. And, I’ve heard compelling technical reasons why one is better than the other. I think artists should not just decide on equipment, but look past that to the person using the equipment. Great giclee printing doesn’t happen due to equipment. It is the mix of science, art and craftsmanship that produces world class results. Personally, I’d rather have the most competent printing service using a BetterLight system than an incompetent, or garden variety operator of a Cruse Scanner, and vice-versa.

  13. Hi Barney…thanks for your reply!The issue of signing one’s paintings is one that I find fraught with a bit of controversy…but a very important and interesting one.In researching this issue, I found a fascinating artistic signature that was a very unique,stylized and distinctive monogram composed of the aritist’s initials…the “butterfly signature” of James McNeill Whistler,he of the iconic Whistler’s Mother painting…sometimes,as in his painting,Symphony in White,No.1:The White Girl,1862,he placed his “signature butterfly” on the frame of the painting.
    My conclusion on the issue of signing one’s paintings is that you should develop a signature or monogram that is legible,easily recognizable as yours,and consistently used on your paintings.You can also sign your paintings…on the back!

  14. Dear Kathleen, It’s always good to take clues from highly regarded artists. I’ll stick with Picasso’s advice to a young painter who begged him to comment on his work. Picasso advised, “Sign your name bigger.”

    Otherwise, in recognizing the artist is the person and brand behind the art it only makes sense to sign on the front. The two work in synergy to create awareness and interest in the art and the artist. If an artist is not a legend or icon, or even if they are, they do themselves a disservice in not clearly signing the work.

  15. Hey Charles,

    Forgive me, I don’t know your work. But I’m willing to bet anything your work’s surface is not very dimensional. Perhaps smooth even.

  16. Great post Barney~ my particular pet peeves are when i see artists using poor quality materials and then selling them for big money ~ so unprofessional. You owe it to yourself to use the best materials possible and are obligated to making sure it is going to last long after you are gone. Also, when I see art work on the floor in galleries~ there is something in the subconscious mind that thinks ‘hmmm, this isn’t good enough to get onto the wall?’ and it devalues the work in my opinion.

  17. Hi Georgia, One doesn’t have to be a perfectionist, that can be annoying, too. But, everyone needs to understand buyers use all kinds of extraneous information to make a decision. They are consciously and subconsciously scanning and processing information to help make a decision. Work on the floor indicates a devaluation by the artist or gallery towards the work. Walk the talk.

  18. Having worked with Gary for years, I can say that, he is the best at what he does.
    I believe that his superior product has given my work an edge. I believe I still hold the world record for “the most expensive inkjet printed on canvas”. (there is no embellishing on my finished prints, they are “Multiple Originals”). Gary Kerr has made my work possible, many thanks again Gary.
    David Amato

  19. As a shipper of art ranging from private collection to museum pieces, I would concur especially with points #2 (frame it!) , #6 (don’t use cheap materials), and #10 (be careful!). I would say our experience is insured art just ends up commanding a higher value when framed. Also, don’t cheap out with a carboard box and bubble wrap just because you want to save some money. If you’re not using an expert, the shipping materials can rub against the artwork and end up taking off finishes, gold leaf, even oils when 3D off the canvas. A good article with many good points.

    1. Thanks for your comments. Buying and selling art includes shipping. How it is done speaks volumes to buyers. Build the price to ship it right into the sale. Anything else cheapens the product. One return for damage can wipe out the meager savings made on using cheap or incorrect materials.

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