Consignment Forms for Artists – We’re All In This Together

Art Business: Yawn, right? Still, I think it’s important enough to write about. Of all the artists that I know, the successful ones (read: make their main income from art) are totally involved in the business side of their art, not just the creation of it. The romantic stereotype of the messy artist who just creates in a cluttered studio is really the image of an artist who won’t survive.

Gallery Consign ex

Consignment form examples, front and back. Every painting that leaves the studio is accompanied by two consignment forms – one copy for the gallery to keep for their records, and one for them to sign for my records. I don’t go home without it.

I want to stress that this is directed equally towards Artists and Galleries, but is written from the Artist’s (my) perspective. Artists should realize that each of their business decisions, even on a small scale, affects other Artists and the art world at large. An Artist-Gallery relationship is a lot like a marriage. You should spend a lot of time asking questions and getting to know them before making a commitment. Artists need to make it clear what they want, listen to what the Gallery wants, and then work with the gallery to make that happen – don’t just sit back and wait for the checks to roll in. It doesn’t work that way.

(I’ve worked in a handful of Galleries before, so I can easily sympathize with owners, and I know how problematic and difficult living artists can be. Think how much consignment forms would streamline everything! If I owned a Gallery, I wouldn’t do business with an Artist who didn’t use them.)

The 5 main reasons for using consignment forms:

1. It protects both parties involved. If you were consigning any other physical object for sale, such as power tools or furniture, wouldn’t you want to have signed forms as proof that the agreement actually exists? Fedex and UPS have you sign to verify receipt of a package. Otherwise, how do you prove that the exchange ever occurred in the first place? Art is no different, even if it does have the artist’s signature on it. The Gallery could have purchased it separately from a third party. As my uncle says, a contract is as good as the paper it’s signed on. Meaning, no contract, no good. Get it in writing. Plan for the worst case scenario, and create a consignment form and agreement that will prevent you from ever getting there.

I have heard horror stories from other Artists: Galleries that were closed due to creditors where the consigned artwork was confiscated as payment for debts; Galleries that didn’t pay what they agreed to pay when selling; Galleries that denied work was ever even given to them. I’ve also heard Artist horror stories from the Gallery side of things, too, so why wouldn’t both sides draw up a fair agreement that protects both everyone?

2. It keeps everyone involved happy. Because the Artist and Gallery are all on the same page at the outset and have the same understanding of the agreement, misunderstandings have much less chance of occurring.

3. The art world is in reality a small community. If an Artist sets certain precedents in a Gallery relationship, good or bad, that affects other Artists who come afterwards. If an Artist accepts sub-standard commission rates just for the sake of a wall to hang on (don’t do this, Artists), the Gallery will continue to use those rates because they can, and that Artist has now made it harder for every Artist who comes after him to get a decent agreement. If one Artist walks away from what they perceive as a bad deal, but the next ten Artists agree to it, nothing will change. But if one Artist walks away from a bad deal, and subsequent Artists do too, that sends a message to the Gallery that maybe they need to change something to get the good artists in the door. Artists need to stick to their guns, or be prepared to walk.

4. It creates a record. Of your work, your exhibition history, your collectors. This is provenance, which determines authenticity later down the road. And the art historians will love you.

5. You know where your work is, and how long its been there. Obviously Art is not the same as a loaf of bread at the grocery store that needs to be replaced after a few days, but it’s a good idea to refresh your work in a Gallery from time to time. Collectors like to see something new and it’s a good way to stay involved with your Gallery. If you don’t have some sort of record of these things, and have multiple paintings out at multiple Galleries, it’s very easy to forget how much something was priced at, or what size it was, or how it was framed. Documentation is your friend.

Gallery forms_s

5 things to keep in mind, and to ask for when negotiating with a Gallery (your email correspondence is also documentation):

1. 50/50 is not a good deal. Artists, you should be insisting on at least 60/40. I can’t say this enough, and I can already hear the Galleries complaining, but hear me out. Artists have mortgages, utility payments, car payments, and more, just like Gallery owners, as well as the upfront costs of Framing and Shipping work to the Gallery. I know Galleries have other expenses. However, Galleries tend to represent multiple Artists, often upwards of 40+ at times, while Artists tend to be represented by, let’s say, 4-5 Galleries. So, even if a lot of the Artists represented in a Gallery aren’t selling, chances are good that a few are, and the Gallery will be earning income from that. Even with 4-5 Galleries, there is still a good chance that an Artist will go for long periods of time without selling anything.

(If Galleries would purchase some of the work outright from an Artist like they used to, it would be an immense help. Years ago when an Artist had an exhibition, a Gallery might purchase 1/3 of the new work. Not only would this give the Artist the ability to continue to survive and create, but now the Gallery is really invested in selling the work, because they own it, rather than having no horse in the race as is the case with consignments.)

2. Frames should be dealt with separately in consignments, and not subject to commissions. Why is the Artist expected to eat this cost? If an Artist gave an unframed work to a Gallery and the Gallery had to go to the expense of framing it, the Gallery would want to be reimbursed for that expense, and rightly so. Well, so should Artists. Here’s how I break it down (see the top image above):

Step 1: Gallery Retail Price (the price the collector pays) – Frame Cost = Adjusted Retail. (It’s easy math, people, even for Artists.) Step 2: Divide the Adjusted Retail into the previously agreed commission rates. A standard 60/40 agreement would give the Artist 60%. Step 3: Add Frame Cost to whichever party paid for it. Boom. If the Gallery supplied the frame, the Frame Cost is added to their commission, but since Artists usually take care of this expense, it would be added to their commission. I don’t know why Galleries are so averse to this. Presentation is important, and Artists need to recoup their Frame Cost if they’re going to continue to present their work well. (OMG, you say, 60% PLUS Frame Cost? Player loses one turn, go back to Point 1 above.)

(One suggestion I’ve heard from Galleries, since they usually insist on a 50/50 split, is to double the frame cost in the Gallery Retail Price. This way, when the commissions are split down the middle, the Artist DOES get reimbursed for the frame, but this unnecessarily inflates the price for the Collector and also pays the Gallery more money for a frame they didn’t supply. Don’t do this.)

Now, a Gallery might be paying for a few other things like magazine ads or exhibition brochures – these are definitely expensive, and the Artist probably never sees the cost of any of this. This then is a negotiating point at the outset of the relationship – who pays for what? Does the Artist pay for frames and shipping to the Gallery, while the Gallery pays for x number of ads per yer? Lay it all out on the table and agree to it beforehand.

3. When a Gallery sells a painting (at least in CA), they are required by law to give the Artist the name and address of the Collector. It’s a state law*, and if the Artist requests it and the Gallery refuses, it’s a misdemeanor. If Galleries are so concerned that their Artists are going to try to sell directly to the Collector, maybe the Gallery should reconsider who they represent. (If a Gallery is doing well for an Artist, the Artist will have no reason to do anything other than paint, which is what we want to be doing anyways, not selling.)

4. You can always say No. Artists – if you’re not getting what you’re asking for, or feel like you’re compromising just for ‘exposure,’ you can ALWAYS say No and walk away. Maybe it would be better NOT to sign on with a gallery; instead regroup and work on strengthening your Art. Don’t be hungry for ‘representation’ or ‘exposure.’ Make your Art your best ambassador.

5. ALL reproduction and copyrights remain exclusively with the Artist. Your forms should clearly state that it is only the physical artwork being sold, and copyright as well as any and all rights for reproduction in any form remain with the Artist. Think of them as two separate things: a physical artwork that hangs on a wall, and an image that can be reproduced onto t-shirts, postcards, whatever. The latter rights to reproduction always remain with the artist unless they are explicitly sold as such. (If anyone in the Illustration or freelance world wants to weigh in on this with more detail that would be awesome.)

So you start to see why Artists might seem so crazy – we have to manage not only the creative side, protecting the playful child-like approach, anticipating and responding to new experiences in order to create, but we have to balance it with the responsible, grown-up side of doing business in the art world. Add to that a preponderance of galleries that jump at the first mention of ‘consignment forms,” and it can be precarious at times to maintain those two worlds and yet not have them influence each other too much. Like I said at the outset, I’m hoping this improves Artist-Gallery relationships, puts more out on the table and up for discussion. If you want something, ask for it. Also, listen for (or ask if you don’t hear it) what the other party wants or needs. If it doesn’t sound like it will work, there are plenty of Galleries in the Sea.

OK, now I’d love to hear from you. Are you an Artist? What are you experiences? How about Galleries? Do you have something to add that I might have missed? Let’s start a discussion about this and make it the norm for every artwork to be accompanied by a consignment form.

*Want the nitty-gritty? Here’s the 1909 CA law requiring Consignees (Galleries) to give the name AND address of the Purchaser (Collector) to the Consignors (Artist) upon request.

Required Information

Stats. 1909,c. 706.p. 1081, Section 1.

It is hereby made the duty of every commission merchant, broker, factor or consignee, to whom any property is consigned or entrusted for sale, to make, when accounting thereof or subsequently, upon the written demand of his principal or consignor, a true written statement setting forth the names and address of the person or persons to whom a sale of the said property, or any portion thereof, was made. The quantity so sold to each purchaser, and the respective price obtained therefor; provided however, that unless separate written demand shall be made as to each consignment or shipment regarding which said statement is desired, prior to sale, it shall be sufficient to set forth in said statement only so many said matters above enumerated as said commission merchant, broker, factor, of consignee may be able to obtain from the books of account kept by him: and said statement shall not be required in case of cash sale where the amount of the transaction is less than fifty dollars. Any person violating the provisions of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor.  (Added by stats. 1909, c 706, p. 1081, Section, 1.)

El Velorio

"El Mariachi Muerto," Oil on canvas mounted on panel, 24" x 48"

“El Mariachi Muerto,” Oil on canvas mounted on panel, 24″ x 48″

I’m excited to participate this year in El Velorio, a Day of the Dead themed art exhibition and event held November 8, 2014 at Plaza de la Raza, 3540 N. Mission Rd, Los Angeles, CA 90031 (Lincoln Heights). Check out the artwork in the exhibit here.

This family-friendly event will have face painting, music, food, and plenty of art to enjoy. Get your tickets soon, as this popular event will sell out quickly.

The inspiration for “El Mariachi Muerto,” my large ofrenda or altarpiece which will be exhibited at El Velorio, came from the many visits to Dia de Los Muertos on Olvera Street with my wife and her family over the years. My father-in-law has built an altar on the plaza a number of times, and I was inspired to create my own after witnessing the vivid colors surrounding the event. The colors of the food, costumes, and decorations gave me an opportunity to build and paint my own altar. I wanted to convey the richness that surrounds this annual celebration of family present and past.

For purchasing inquiries contact El Velorio Curator Erika Hirugami.

El Velorio 2014

Seeing Color in the Desert – International Artist Magazine

Screen shot 2014-07-16 at 12.10.31 PM

My article Seeing Color in the Desert (originally posted on has been reprinted in the August/September 2014 issue of International Artist magazine. It originally started with notes from my sketchbook about what I was observing while out painting, and what to do about certain problems that color posed or provided a solution to.

Upcoming Workshops

Cobb Estate Nocturne-edit

Painting a nocturne

I’ve just put new painting workshops on the calendar, so they’re now open to registration. These workshops have limited space available, and are filled on a first come first served basis. For more info and to register, visit


Pasadena, CA
October 4-5, 2014, $275

Pasadena, CA
October 17-19, 2014, $450


Borrego Springs, CA
March 13-15, 2015, $450

Joshua Tree, CA
April 10-12, 2015, $450


Students painting in the high desert in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

Eric Merrell has taught art for over a decade with institutions such as the Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art (LAAFA), the CSU Summer Arts Program, Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD), Crested Butte (CO) Center for the Arts, and others.

Crested Butte Plein Air Invitational


I’m making frames and double-checking all of my tubes of paint, getting geared up to head out to Colorado next month for the Crested Butte Plein Air Invitational in Crested Butte, Colorado. I’ll be painting on location in Colorado for about two weeks prior to the exhibition opening, which will be July 11-13. If you plan to be in the area please stop by and say hi!

I’ll also be teaching a 1-day painting workshop on July 3 in conjunction with the Crested Butte Center for the Arts – check it out!

On Seeing Color in the Desert

By Eric Merrell

(Originally published on

I really began to develop some of the color ideas during my Joshua Tree residency in 2009. In the desert in summer, especially in JT, there are strong shadows early in the morning and late in the afternoon, but for 5-6 hours when the sun is overhead there is hardly a shadow for miles.

Caravan of the Moon

After struggling with it for awhile, I realized that when the shadows disappeared I lost artistically the ability to use value contrast (lights and darks) in a painting, but I still had color contrast. During the middle of the day (as in moonlight), we can still perceive distance, the masses and forms of boulders and trees, and the world continues to exist in three dimensions without the help of shadows (value), so I began to see that color was the way to try to convey that sense of light. One begins to mix all sorts of interesting colors to try and solve the problem. Painting is really problem solving.

These color ideas apply to any situation and any location. But the particular brightness of the desert, where everything exists in such a high-key situation – sand, mountains, sky, brush – it provides a wonderful problem for exploring the richness of color. Just as a white tablecloth reflects the ‘truest’ colors of outdoor light (when we look at something ‘white’, we are seeing the full spectrum of visible light), the desert reflects a great deal of light back to our eyes, back into shadows.

Students in my workshops often comment to me that they see color afterwards that they didn’t see before the workshop. When we study our visual world and what we see in terms of color and paint it is like exercising a muscle: the more often you use it, the stronger it becomes. In the scheme of art history, it also makes sense that our use of color continues to become more and more sophisticated.

Eric Merrell teaching a class. Photo by Ramona Rosales.

Color is a way we interpret our perceptions – truthfully, painting is another language, and not at all related to photography (which is itself another genuine art form). I think it is a language that almost everyone in the world understands, with its ability to bridge cultural barriers, because we all live in a color-filled, three-dimensional world, but most people are not very fluent in it (for many reasons).

In her fascinating book Color, Victoria Finlay remarks that the section of wavelengths that we can see, visible light, includes about ten million variations of color. So the more colors I have on my palette, the more variations I can mix, and the more subtle my vision can become. As well as being descriptive, I can also use those colors to provide an emotional element.

Finlay’s book is about the history and cultures surrounding actual paint pigments. The part I like most, though, is the idea that objects don’t have a static ‘color’ – they’re constantly changing throughout the different light of the day and over time. An orange carrot in the dark isn’t orange.

Molten Universe (View of the Salton Sea)

As Finlay writes: “The best way I’ve found of understanding this is to think not so much of something ‘being’ a color but of it ‘doing’ a color. The atoms in a ripe tomato are busy shivering – or dancing or singing; the metaphors can be as joyful as the colors they describe – in such a way that when white light falls on them they absorb most of the blue and yellow light and they reject the red – meaning paradoxically that the ‘red’ tomato is actually one that contains every wavelength except red. A week before, those atoms would have been doing a slightly different dance – absorbing the red light and rejecting the rest, to give the appearance of a green tomato instead.”

I’ve been compiling some thoughts as a way for me to better understand color myself, because it’s so multi-faceted. Cezanne was spot-on with his observation that “Painting from nature is not copying the object, it is realizing one’s sensations.” Here are a few notes:

  • Painting involves all the senses, not just sight. Sound plays a big role: One of my favorite parts of painting in the desert is crunching through the sand to my location. Also, when painting at night where our visual perceptions are reduced, audio increases and even small noises are very noticeable, like a lizard scooting by.
  • There is no such thing as “local color.”
  • Society today is so heavily bombarded by photography, film and other mechanical forms of art that we accept it as unbiased truth and don’t look any further or deeper (an individual camera lens doesn’t ‘see’ the same way our eyes do, in stereo, and a photograph can be incredibly biased. Painting in many forms has become a sub-category of photography, aimed at technical prowess, not in its own realm.
  • ‘Color’ is a man-made invention, as is the concept of value. These terms are helpful to us in understanding what we’re seeing, but it becomes very hard to get away from names (i.e., a tree is brown and green, the sky is blue, rocks are gray) – what color is a ‘green’ tree in moonlight?
  • Artists rely too heavily on science to ‘explain’ what they’re seeing instead of developing an eye for color. Art shouldn’t need an explanation. It’s interesting to know, but the scientific reason for why mountains appear bluer as they recede into the distance isn’t necessary to artists. The relationships between the colors however is very important – because, in other words, artists shouldn’t be painting a solely objective scientific vision of the world but should include their own subjective vision with all of the variables that entails.
  • Have confidence in your opinion.
  • We don’t have many historically-based examples of artists using rich color because stronger pigments weren’t available until fairly recently, so artists like Rembrandt had to rely much more on value. Aside from the recent history of Impressionism, when stronger color is used it tends to move away from perceived light in the natural world towards Expressionism or Fauvism, where color is ‘liberated’ from its role (i.e. when AndréDerain paints a bridge, he might paint it bright Cadmium Yellow.) If Rembrandt were alive today, I’m pretty sure he would take advantage of as many contemporary colors as he could, but his earthy palette was a result of the time he lived in.
  • When someone looks at a painting with color, they tend to single out one spot of color – especially if they can name it, say a blue shadow – and look for that individual color in the landscape. Color doesn’t exist in a vacuum like that – that spot of blue is very purposefully placed next to whatever colors surround it, just like in the landscape.

Merrell Looks at Color in his Own Paintings

A couple of these paintings are very dependent on color contrasts – The Heat Lingers at Dusk was done after sunset.

The Heat Lingers at Dusk

The rocky hill is silhouetted strongly against the sky in terms of value, but the greens of the Joshua Trees were visible in front of that and help create more atmosphere. There is space and depth between the Joshua Trees nearest us and the further hill. We can see the color shifts, but we really can’t see any defining features of the spiky Joshua Trees. Also, the hill is still 3-dimensional, so I needed subtle color shifts to convey the idea that the hill recedes away from us as we look up towards its peaks, angling in space.

The Face in the Sand was a challenge – I could see SO many colors shifts in the shadow, but in the painting those colors have to exist in the shadow realm for it to work.

The Face in the Sand

It’s counter-intuitive to think that yellow can be a shadow, and ‘dark,’ because we think of yellow as a light ‘warm’ color. All that matters are getting the relationships correct. I try to ask myself what the light is doing, and find some of the color solutions that way. If the yellows were to get too light in value, they would begin to read as part of the sunlit sand on the ground.

Snow Creek Canyon

Snow Creek Canyon was done on a somewhat overcast morning, but this also needed to show a shift as we visually climb the mountain. The warmer salmony colors towards the base shift towards violets and greens as it gains elevation, shifting and turning away from us.

Shadow of Where a River Once Was, a nocturne, also relies heavily on color contrast. The first impact is value-based with the brightly lit boulders in the foreground alongside a dark shadow, but then our eyes wander up and back into the canyon.

Shadow of Where a River Once Was

It gets softer and softer, but our eyes can still perceive these little shifts, and value is unable to help us in that arena where it becomes incredibly soft. I’m trying to convey this softness by shifting and playing the colors off of each other while staying in the same value. The sky here is made up of bluish- and reddish-violets, violet-greens, and colors that go beyond naming, but are all relative to the other colors of the painting. Many people including artists think I’m a little nuts for painting in the dark, but if you stand in the moonlight for awhile, your eyes will adjust and you’ll see all sorts of things.

The other pieces have some value contrast in them, but I’ll often use those areas as anchors in a painting to explore other color contrasts. The central Joshua Tree in Echoes and Silence is grounded by its shadow, but I wanted to use that to get to the hill behind it, the bright orange-ochre with shifts towards red and violet, against the sky. It really looked like that, and could have been done without the tree, but that value contrast kept it from getting too abstract in this instance.

Echoes and Silence

Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language. –Aldo Leopold

I like this quote by Aldo Leopold, which to me is encouraging us to dig deeper artistically. Sunsets, flowers, late afternoon sunlight are all beautiful subjects for painting, but there’s more. Artists have more tools today than artists working 50 or 100 years ago. I think we can go beyond what our artistic forefathers did, in terms of color, composition, and impact. We need to expand our color beyond the predictable and into those areas “as yet uncaptured by language.”

 Eric Merrell is a Signature Artist Member of the California Art Club, and a historian for the club. For more on his work see:

Parched Air


On Location in Utah

Blue Mountain Lodge-group shot

Back Row, L-R: Colin Page (ME), Paul Schulenburg (MA), Glenn Dean (CA), Jeremy Lipking (CA), Eric Merrell (CA), Logan Hagege (CA), Ignat Ignatov (CA), Marc Hanson (CO); Front Row, L-R: Peter Kalill (MA), Jerome Greene (MA), Ernesto Nemesio (CA), James Coe (NY), Frank Gardner (MEX).

I joined our motley collection of artists this year for our informal annual painting trip, this time to paint in Utah. Hailing from the East coast, West coast and Mexico, we all stayed together at a lodge and traveled to many of the parks nearby, including Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park, Monument Valley, and even an Anasazi ruin. (Previous trips have included Maine, Cape Cod, and Mexico.) It was a great week of camaraderie, painting, and catching up while talking shop; also, lots of practical jokes and fun.

Painting in Canyonlands_s

Eric Merrell painting in Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

Frank G painting Canyonlands_s

Frank Gardner painting in Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

Many of the locations are spread out around eastern Utah and required a 1.5 – 2 hour drive, but we got early starts to the day and saw a lot of that part of the state. Or, if we got late starts, at least we painted until dark!

Marc H painting Canyonlands_s

Marc Hanson painting on the edge in Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

Ernesto, James, Paul, Jerome, Logan, Pete, Marc_s

(L-R): Ernesto Nemesio, James Coe, Paul Schulenburg, Jerome Greene, Logan Hagege, Pete Kalill, Marc Hanson.

Canyonlands-Eric, Marc, James_s

Eric Merrell, Marc Hanson, and James Coe painting in Canyonlands.

Anasazi Ruins, Utah-Jerome, James, Marc, Eric_s

Jerome Greene, James Coe, Marc Hanson, and Eric Merrell painting from an Anasazi ruin, Utah.

Monument Valley-group shot_s

Monument Valley (L-R): Eric Merrell, James Coe, Pete Kalill, Ernesto Nemesio, Colin Page, Jerome Greene, Marc Hanson, Ignat Ignatov, Frank Gardner, and Paul Schulenburg.

By the end of the trip the lodge was packed with paintings, probably 15-20 per person, along with tons of photos and sketches. Many of the guys from the East coast had never been to places like this, and I’m always intrigued to see what people paint in new places. Lots of great compositions and new ideas came out of the trip, and everyone went home inspired.

We had fantastic weather all week until the last two days: first we had a full day of wind, including some 40+ mph gusts up on the bluffs of Canyonlands (some people nearly lost their easels off of the 1,400′ cliff), and then snow on the last day. To start the early morning 11-hr drive back home, I had to dig my truck out of a few inches of ice and snow, and, south of Monument Valley drove through a blowing snowstorm; but by the time we reached the Mojave Desert back in California it was nice and warm.

Painting setup in Blanding, Utah 2013_s

On the last full day we got a good covering of snow to work with.