Much like the wedding industry, the art world is full of all sorts of preconcieved notions of what you should do, as if you will make a dreadful mistake if you don't buy a particular abstract for your sitting room or have little miniture clay pots filled with organic chocolate for your reception favours.
People have seriously bought into this notion and by doing so, they have become fearful of making some sort of mistake and ending up looking foolish. The solution is that they feel they need consult with an expert and buy from a gallery. This can be a good thing, and galleries definitely have thier place, but it isn't your only option.
Something happened almost 10 years ago that changed the way that artists would work and sell in a huge way - online selling on a self represented basis. This allowed artists to open thier studio to an international marketplace without relying on a third party (an art gallery) to advertise, solicit clients, have showings and ship thier work.
Instead, artists could now take thier own pictures, upload them to thier website, an auction site or an artisan marketplace site and find thier own niche. Relationships were possible in a brand new way between artist and patron leading to a new level of partnership in many cases. Collectors had the opportunity to sit in a boardroom and snipe a prized painting by an up and coming artist at the closing seconds of an auction.
Suddenly all an artist needed was a digital camera, an internet connection and the desire to create. Prices could vary widely from an artist undervaluing the potential of a piece to gross inflations based on the seller's hubris. Add in artists who figured that they could command gallery level pricing without paying a gallery the commission cut. Sometimes these strategies paid off, other times the prices gradually shifted to reflect the audience and environment.
Of course this flooded the new marketplace with a stunning spectrum of quality and marketing styles and for a few years, buyers had to navigate the whole gamut with nothing to compare these artists prices and quality standards with. Things seem to have leveled off in that respect. There are ways one can do some quick research and find a piece they love at a price point they can handle.
One way is the "birds of a feather" approach. Look at an artist's blog, check out thier listings and make note of the price structures on the type and size of item you are looking for. (so, if you are looking at an original painting, 6"x 6" on canvas please ignore everything else) Next, go back to the blog and look at the links bar to the side. These artists will probably be painting in a similar style, selliing in a similar place or painting similar subjects.
Birds of a feather flock together, when these artists post online, they tend to attract similar artists who connect to them on a certain level. Look at the other sites, if the paintings look to be of a similar caliber as opposed to waaaa-aaay better, then this approach will work. Some artists may collect a bunch of links to artists they are a serious fan of whom the wish to emulate... this pricing concept won't work here.
Once you start clicking on these similar artist's sites and exploring their pricing (again, keep the size and type in mind, ignore really different stuff), you will notice that the value of your first artist will either be confirmed or denied. You might also realize that you have found a diamond in the rough if that artist is just starting out and finding thier presence in the online world.
Look at the feedback, you will get fast at scanning comments. Compare your artist to some similar ones who have been selling for a while and see if the comments measure up. This will tell you if the customer experience dealing with an artist is likely to be a good one. Notice whether or not that artist has repeat business - this shows they are doing something right and it brings people back.
If you are ready to purchase, then you simply go back feeling confident in your research and follow that sites purchasing guidelines. A site such as etsy or ebay will have a section where you can view the seller's return and shipping policies. Make note if your artist is located in another country, this may add a small bit to your shipping time and price.
Most importantly, if you have questions, a custom order, or want combined pricing - contact the artist. They LOVE hearing from thier patrons. This is a rare and special priviledge and they really want your feedback. You may be surprised at the ease in which you can build a friendship with an artist you enjoy.
Thanks for reading this loooong article. For the month of February 2009, if you purchase a painting from my etsy shop, such as the Peach painting pictured above, type in "birds of a feather" in the "message from buyer" line and I will refund your shipping price. Free shipping on a large painting is a great reward for being interested in original art! (this offer is for Canada and US only, if you are from somewhere else, I will definitely give you a shipping discount though. Talk to me and let me know where you are and we'll figure something out!)