Documenting the Sale of Your Artwork

Separate yourself as a professional artist by including these important documents with your artwork.

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by Rita Job

In this day and age, documenting the sale of your artwork is extremely important. Every sale requires at least two pieces of paperwork to make sure that everything is recorded properly for your own records, the buyer, and tax purposes. If you’re working with a gallery, most of the important documentation will be taken care of by the gallery staff, but if you’re navigating the waters of artwork sales on your own, you need to be able to create an Artist Bill of Sale and a Certificate of Authenticity. As a bonus, you can also include a press packet for your collectors’ records.

Documenting the sale of your artwork

Artist’s Bill of Sale

What is an Artist’s Bill of Sale? This is one of your most important documents. Basically an invoice, an Artist Bill of Sale acts as a record of transaction between you and the buyer and should include information about the artwork, the parties involved, and services provided. Country, state, and local requirements for invoices do vary, so be certain to check with your local government to make sure you’re providing the required information.

One important requirement to definitely check on is the sales tax. What is the tax rate for artwork in your state or city? Who’s responsible for paying, the artist or the buyer? Are there any exemptions? These questions are very important and you, as an artist, need to understand your responsibilities for collecting and paying taxes.

Regardless of the local requirements that might exist, the basic outline of the Artist’s Bill of Sale will be same no matter where you are and should include the following:

Click for PDF
Click for PDF

1. Date of sale and invoice number. Invoice numbers can be used as a unique reference ID and will prove very helpful should you need to quickly find the documentation later.

2. Artist’s contact information. Include your full name and, at least, an address. It might also be helpful to provide your telephone number or an email, to make contacting you in the future convenient and fast.

3. Buyer’s contact information. List the same contact information for your buyers as you have for yourself, making sure that the buyer’s address is their Shipping address since this is where the taxes come into play. Don’t forget to add the buyer to your mailing list, if they’re not already on it.

4. Artwork sold. This is the field where the price of the artwork should be listed. Each artwork should be recorded separately and never grouped as one transaction. You should also include the description of your artwork, such as the title, dimensions, and medium.

5. Subtotal. That’s the total cost of the work before taxes. Subtotal is the field where you can make notes regarding any other fees in addition to the price of the artwork itself.  For example, if someone has asked to purchase the artwork without the included frame or with a different frame, you might include any discounts or additional costs.

6. Taxes. Since tax rates vary between regions and types of transaction, be sure to look up rates that apply to artwork sales in your area.

7. Other charges. Do buyers want your artwork delivered? Are they purchasing a frame or an encasing from you as well? Will you be commissioned to visit their residence or place of business to hang or advise on the placement of the artwork? One-off charges like that do come up and should be listed separately.

8. Total. The sums from the Subtotal, Taxes, and Other Charges categories will go into this field.

Other things to include in your Artist Bill of Sale. Definitely include a line about the Copyright and Reproduction rights. Doing so will inform your collector that you have the ownership of both and that you know how to protect it. Signature lines are also useful. Having both parties sign the Bill of Sale indicates the understanding between the two of you and acts not only as another lever of protection for the artist, but also as a “closure” of the deal for the collector.

When it comes to formatting, be as creative as you wish. For a collector, even looking at a unique and beautiful Artist’s Bill of Sale can bring memories and raise positive emotions associated with the purchase.

If you like art as much as we do, and want to be updated with the latest info about Agora Gallery, our exhibitions, and our artists, don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter!

Certificate of Authenticity

What is a Certificate of Authenticity? The Certificate of Authenticity is another essential document that should accompany every artwork you finish. Just as it sounds, it’s a document that certifies that the sold artwork is an authentic creation by the artist that signed it.

Why do you need a Certificate of Authenticity? Let’s say that five years from now you are an incredibly well-known artist and your works are selling for big money. Art collectors who have purchased your earlier works may want to sell it to a museum or other major institution, but how would they prove that this is your work? This is where the Certificate of Authenticity comes in very handy. Furthermore, this important paper can also be used for valuing an estate, for insurance purposes, and for other legal matters surrounding your artwork.

It’s good to have a certificate made for each work you finish, so that you can be ready to sell it as soon as the paint dries, especially if you already have a buyer lined up. You can either make a certificate for each piece you’re working on and store them in your records, or you can make a general template and create and modify them as needed. It can over-complicate matters if you’ve sold the work but don’t have a certificate ready immediately.

What to include in a Certificate of Authenticity

A high-quality Certificate of Authenticity contains information about the artwork, a line or paragraph certifying its authenticity, the artist’s name and signature, and the date. It’s also very important to note that this certificate is not a transfer or release of copyright.

Click for PDF
Click for PDF

1. Artwork information. Include here the title of artwork, artist’s name, dimensions, medium, and the year created. If you’re really feeling ambitious, add where the work was created as well.

2. Special instructions. If you have special hanging or display instructions, you can include this on the certificate. This is especially wise if your works are made up of materials more prone to degrading in certain circumstances, such as glow-in-the-dark paint.

3. Artwork image. You’ll want to attach a high-resolution image of the artwork itself for extra security and convenience.

Remember, Certificates of Authenticity provide not only valuable information about the artwork itself, they also bestow reassurance about its legitimacy on the collectors. It’s the document that art collectors hold on to and use as proof of genuineness and originality in case of a sale.

Press Information and Personal Texts

If you’ve ever been written about in the press, collectors would often love to have this information. You can also include your artist statement and personal biography. You should have these materials already. You can either print them out or send them as a PDF.

Click for PDF
Click for PDF

 

By including an Artist’s Bill of Sale (or invoice) and a Certificate of Authenticity, you separate yourself as a professional artist and add that extra level of  legitimacy to your work.

 

Looking to enhance your career and build a presence in New York? Submit your portfolio to us and get the opportunity to present your work to a broad range of national and international art collectors and buyers. Visit our Gallery Representation And Artist Promotion page for more information.

Share with us in the comments what else you like to include in your sales paperwork!

This post is also available in: Spanish

16 comments

  • Excellent article! Thank you for providing this helpful advice. We have a couple of questions. as photographers desiring to sell our work on metal as well as giclee and digitally matted prints in various sizes. Should Certificates of Authenticity be medium-specific and size-specific? For example, if we want to make a particular image available as a 24×36 metal, an 16×24 metal, a 16×24 giclee and 11×14 digital matted print as limited editions with Certificate of Authenticity, is the proper way to begin the numbering with #1 for each medium and #1 for each size? So, the 24×36 metal would begin with #1 and the 16×24 metal would begin with #1, and the giclee number #1? Thank you for your help!

  • Hi thanks for this article, slightly related but possibly unrelated to bill of sale and authenticity question—But say I hypothetically sell an original painting to someone, if I had prints of the same original painting after I sold it, can I still sell the prints of the original painting to other people? if anyone can answer thid that would be awesome! Thank you

    • Dear Luke,

      Yes, you may sell prints of the painting, unless you have a contract with the person you sold the original that says otherwise.

  • Dear Agora Expert, thank you for this blog and the information provided. I feel everything I’ve read so far in this blog should be taught in art schools, but most of them don’t. My question to you is would a bill of sale and certification of authenticity be necessary for caricature artists that do commission work for clients?

    • Dear Markas,

      Thank You!

      The bill of sale would be optional, but you should always provide a Certificate Of Authenticity. You can simply keep a record of sales for yourself, you don’t have to give it to the client unless they ask for it.

  • Dear Agora,

    I recently walked into an exhibition of an online art gallery. I saw a piece that I liked which was supposedly drawn by a modernist master.
    I asked gallery owner if the piece came with a certificate of authenticity n he said that his gallery will issue one but it comes without the artist signature.

    Is the certificate of authenticity of the art still valid without the artist signature? Should I proceed with the purchase? Also I saw the info on the art exhibited to be using a different mediumof painting which the artist traditionally uses. Is it safe to take the certificate of authentication fron the online art gallery issued by the gallery as the real deal?

    Thanks

    • I forgot to add that the painting is done by a living artist

    • Hi Elizabeth,

      First of all, you should enquire who owns the work – the artist or the gallery/foundation/company. The certificate of authenticity requires a signature, if not the artist, then the estate for the artist. The gallery can also sign but needs to take full responsibility for the authenticity of the work should the buyer learn that the piece is not original or as claimed to be.

      No purchase is really safe without a signature or stamp and the backing of a reputable seller. If the gallery cannot provide you with one, we would suggest against it.

      Hope this helps! 🙂

  • Dear Agora expert, thank you a lot for your information, so important in a time of lots of self-made career internet artists that doesn’t know how to frame their work properly. I include myself.

    My question is: I want to send an artwork to somebody from a cultural institution as a gift for great help he provided me in the past. I want to send him the work in a professional manner, indistinctly whether the art is for free. I want to prepare both Certificate of Authenticity and Press info but, should I enclose a Bill of Sale? (This would help valuing the work, and tracking it better, but since he didn’t pay for it, could be difficult to calculate price and taxes of the sale)

    Thank you so much for your time. (I guess it must exist a proper way to present donated work as well)

    Alberto

    • Hi Alberto,

      There is no need to include the Bill of Sale, unless requested.

      Hope this helps!

  • thanks much, this is exactly the information I was looking for!

  • Thank you I did not even think of doing certificates of authenticity. Learn something new every day. That will be something I will do now for all of my commissions.

  • Dear Agora expert, thanx a lot for the opportunity of this blog and your help. I have a question concerning the certificate of autenticity. Do I need to make one even if I sell thorugh a gallery? In case of so shall I glue it on the back of the painting or it’s better a loose paper in an envelope?
    Thank you in advance
    Best regards
    Berkeley

    • Dear Berkeley, if you’re working with a gallery, they should provide you with a standard certificate. However, they can still ask you to provide your own documentation for legal purposes.

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