How to buy art on the Crawl

Seems easy enough, right? You see a painting you like, so you buy it and take it home. And it is easy for some people, but for others buying art is a bit of a mystery. So to demystify the process, here’s some practical advice on how to buy the art you’ll treasure for years.

The hardest part is choosing the right artwork. The Eastside Culture Crawl has an amazing range of artwork, from realism to abstraction, in various media, and priced from $10 to $10,000.  Even though the Crawl is not juried, in general the artwork is of good quality because the artist has a studio and a professional commitment to their art. However, as in all large events there are different levels of art, and you have to use your own judgement.

Choosing the right painting is a lot like falling in love. Really. You walk into a studio and see this painting and Blam, love hits you. If you’re a little indecisive, like me, you may wander around the studio and examine every other painting, but your first love keeps calling to you. In my own studio experience, although people often like two or three paintings, it’s always the first one that they like that is the right one.

Again, I consulted with my friend Liz Malinka, who is a Crawl regular with an amazing art collection.  What I really like about her art collection is its diversity, some of the paintings come from the best galleries in town, but others are from new artists she discovered on the Crawl. She says there is nothing as satisfying as the joy of the artist who is selling their first painting.  Liz also advises, “If you love a piece buy it!! If you have to think twice, it's probably not for you. I always ask myself, if I walked away from a piece and turned around and someone else bought it, would I be heartbroken? If the answer is yes, then I buy it immediately!”

I could write a whole blog post on why people buy art, but I’ll just say one thing:  if you really like a piece of art, it will bring you a lot of pleasure. Nobody ever regretted buying a special artwork.

The Price is Right

Obviously, price is important. If you don’t buy art regularly, you may wonder if you’re getting value for your money. Fortunately, the Crawl offers you a perfect opportunity to shop around and compare prices. It should only take a few studios to give you an idea of the price range of paintings you like. Art by established artists will be more expensive than someone right out of art school.  Art is generally priced by size, but occasionally artists price by the age of the work, with newer work being more expensive. Some artists even price based on how pleased they are with the work!

If you really like a painting in the first studio you visit, you can ask if the artist will put the painting on hold for you (some do and some don’t). Or there is something called the right of first refusal, so if someone else wants the painting, the artist will call you first and you have to decide right away. However, the Crawl is a crucial time for artists to make sales, so please be respectful about placing holds.

Since the Crawl is an informal situation, you may wonder if you should bargain for a lower price. Here are the facts about pricing. If an artist is represented by galleries, the price will be firm, since if the artist undersells the gallery he or she runs the risk of getting dropped. In fact, some galleries get a commission on paintings that are sold on the Crawl since they promote the artist year round, so the artist is not even keeping the full price.  It may be possible to negotiate a better deal if you pay cash. Most painters do not take credit cards, they usually take cheques or PayPal, so bring your chequebook. Most clay or textile artists do take credit cards, since they are used to working craft fairs.

If you are buying multiple pieces, you may be able to get a discount. If you return year after year to make purchases from the same artist or refer your friends, you may get a discount.  Also, if you can tell that a work is older, perhaps from a previous series, the artist may be more inclined to give you a discount.  You can certainly make a polite inquiry about discounts, but do keep in mind that most artists are not getting rich once you add up the costs of studios, materials and time spent.

Instead of discounts, you may be able to negotiate other benefits: staggered payments, delivery of the work if you do not have a car, or even help in deciding where to place the work in your home.  Some artists may allow you to try a few paintings in your home, to see how they work before you purchase one.

Not just paintings

Most of this advice has been around painting, which is the area I know best. However, I realize that there are other areas, like clay, sculpture, textiles and woodworking, which are slightly different.

My observation around clay is that it is already so reasonably priced and practical, that buying it is an easy decision. I have pottery from four different artists here in the Mergatroid Building and I delight in using it all, enjoying the handmade feel of a teacup or the beauty of a glazed bowl. They make fabulous gifts as well, so I do a lot of my Christmas shopping right outside my studio door.

As for textiles and sculpture, I think they are similar to artwork.  Take the time to ask about the process, what raw materials are used, and all the stages in creating the work. Once you realize the effort that goes into creating the work, I think you’ll find the prices are very reasonable. 

Boomerang chair by Dexel Crafted
In my building we have a number of furniture makers. Buying furniture from them can be as easy as seeing something you like in their studio and then purchasing it, since much of the furniture you see on the Crawl is for sale. Most woodworkers have books of the custom work they have created.  I spoke to Curt Dexel of Dexel Crafted in my building and he tells me that much of his work is custom, which begins with a discussion with the client about their needs. If you commission a piece of furniture, you have the luxury of many options around materials, size and details.  Just keep in mind that although the prices will be higher than Ikea, the quality is much higher.

Don't forget

It sounds funny, but it’s almost certain that once you’ve seen a lot of studios, you will get them confused. So take notes, take business cards and take photos (ask first though!) so that if you want to follow up afterwards, you can.

Most artists are happy to open their studios to you after the Crawl, if you want to come back and see the artwork again or even if you missed their studio the first time around. However studios are a working space, so they are cleaned up ferociously before the Crawl but they will normally be a lot messier and less gallery-like. And you will have to make an appointment first, since studios are only open for these three days. If there is an artist you particularly liked, but you missed out on a favourite piece, try contacting them in a few months time when they will have new work. And be sure to get on the mailing lists of the artists you like.

There is lots of talk around supporting the local economy, and buying directly from artists is an excellent way to do that. As you sit back in your hand-crafted wood chair, sipping coffee from a specially-chosen clay mug and admiring your challenging new painting, you are a true supporter of the arts!