5-Plus Simple Ways to Avoid Making Financial Mistakes as an Artist

In Robin Sealark’s video that I have included below, she talks about the very important topic of how artists can make financial mistakes. I expand on some of her ideas and added a few of my own:

[1] Be Savvy About Your Expenses and Income

Once you start selling your paintings, your financial situation will change in several ways. One way is that you may be required to pay taxes on the income from your sales. Here are some tips I use to keep my taxes to an absolute minimum.

Keep Excellent Records of Your Expenses

If your art hobby becomes a business – and it certainly can if it hasn’t yet – you will be able to subtract your expenses from your income and thereby pay less taxes.

(Disclaimer: I am not a tax consultant but my tax guy told me to do this and it saved me money. If you don’t have a tax guy, I recommend you think about it. Mine makes sure that I get every tax break I can while keeping me out of tax trouble.)

Every time I buy something related to one of my businesses, I put the receipt into a large envelope. This is the backup documentation I need when it’s time to do my taxes.

At the end of the year, I open a spreadsheet and enter the information in the envelope like this:

Date                                        Item                                                                       Cost

January 1, 20XX……….Canvas ……………………………………………..$3.99
January 20, 20XX……..Art book “Mixing Acrylics”……………$39.95
Feb. 3, 20XX……………..Entrance fee for Art Fair…………………$45.00
March 10, 20XX………..Printed 100 flyers for Art Class………$21.42

Then the spreadsheet totals up the expenses.

NOTE: You don’t have to wait until you are selling your creations to keep track of your expenses. Start this month. Then you’ll have a better idea of what your art work is really costing you.

Keep Excellent Records of Your Sales

I use a large envelope to keep the paperwork from my sales. Every time I make a business sale of any kind, I write out all the details of the sale and put the paperwork, stapled together, in the envelope. I include:

* The date I sold the item
* A description of the item
* The amount the item sold for
* The name of the person who bought it
* Any other details or paperwork from the sale

Don’t wait until you are selling lots of artwork to keep track of your sales. Start when you sell your first piece. If you end up having to pay taxes on your business income, you’ll have all the documentation of sales you need.

At the end of the year, open a spreadsheet and enter the sales information you find in your envelope:

Date                Item                                                                 Amount of Income

Feb 4, 20XX…….Painting: “Aspen Splendor” 12×16………….$200.
Apr 12, 20XX……Taught painting class at Senior Center…..$120.

The spreadsheet can total all your income in one swoop.

***If your expenses add up to more than your sales income, you may not have to pay any taxes on your art sales. Show your documentation (papers and spreadsheet) to a tax person. S/he will be able to tell you if you have to pay taxes on these sales or not. You might have to pay only a percentage of what you would have paid without a record of your expenses.

[2] Be on the Lookout for Bargains

 Some bargains you can find locally, some online.

 A Glass Paint Pallet

For quite a while, I was trying different things to use as my paint pallet. It wasn’t until I switched to glass that I stopped spending money looking for the right pallet for me.

I called my local glass company and asked what it would cost for a 12″x20″ piece of 1/4-inch plate glass with sanded edges. (I measured my work area before calling the glass company.) It was only $15 and ready for pickup in 3 days. This has saved me money and this pallet with outlast me.

Online Bargains

The online art supply stores are always running sales, especially at the end of the year. Get on their email list and watch for the items you use regularly to go on sale.



Walmart will deliver art supplies to your home in 2 days if your order totals $35 or more. The order can include food and household supplies, not just art supplies.


[3] Frames

I belong to a club that puts on yard sales regularly. We get lots of donations so we all have to pitch in to help. This gives me first choice of frames and reference photos that come in. In one season, I was able to pay very little for a wide variety of frames.

So if you go to yard sales, ask if they have paintings for sale. The artwork might be outdated but the frames could come at a real bargain.

Your own artwork will bring in more money if it is framed. If you don’t have a canvas that fits the frame, use MDF (medium density fiberboard) board from Home Depot  and have them cut it to fit the frame.

[4] Consider Trading

In my town, we have a small newspaper called The Shopper. We can put up to 2 free “Wanted” or “Want to Trade” ads in this paper every week.

If your area has a similar newspaper and you need art supplies, art books or frames, you might advertise. There could be someone who is looking for an artist who could use supplies they don’t need or want. If you have something to trade, mention that in the ad.

[5] Thoughts from Robin Sealark

Robin talks about other financial aspects of Art as a Business starting at minute 1:19. She addresses taking care of your supplies and electronics, charging for commission work, using contracts, getting a portion of commission money up front, her very bad and expensive tax experience, advertising for supply companies and a few other thoughts of how artists can avoid financial mistakes: