20 things I learned in the Sign Business that helped my Art Business

As it turns out, the Art business has a few things in common with the sign business. Having spent many years in the sign business, I have had the opportunity to meet and work with hundreds of every day people on a custom sign just for them. I have also had the opportunity to do many commissioned paintings and murals, art shows, auctions, etc., and I’ve noticed a few things…

Art Business, Sign Business

Art Business, CashArtBlog

Having dealt with so many people over the years, . Rich, poor, picky, smart, old, young, male, female, experienced and new business people, teachers, and even other artists.  There are some things I have noticed along the way that I think could help you, in your art business as you deal with collectors, dealers, gallery owners, buyers…anyone who might be looking at purchasing some of your work in person. By art business, I mean any creative endeavor where you meet with people and present your work and hope that commerce takes place.

A piece of art and a sign have some similarities, and some differences. A piece of art or a sculpture to decorate a home or office is great, but is not a must have item in almost every circumstance. On the other hand, a sign is for commerce, and is quite necessary, even required by law for some businesses. It sure makes it easier when a client must have something verses when you they would like to have something.

In the sign business I have made thousands of signs for I don’t even know how many people in my life. In my art business, I have painted several, but not as nearly many paintings, drawings, illustrations, and wall murals on a commission basis, and I can use the same basic approach to the business part of each. Now, this is no Gallup poll that I orchestrated, no scientific study that I commissioned, just me and I my experience, so take it for what it’s worth, and nothin’ is 100%. But I present them here for your consideration. Use them if you can.

I picked twenty similarities between the sign and art business, and broke them down in to three groups: People, Product, and Price. 

Art Business, Sign Business –  20 Similarities


  1. People, for the most part, are good and honest. They may forget, make mistakes, or try and get over from time to time, and exaggerate the amount of money they have, but generally most people pay their bills and are good. 

  2. If you are working with a business person, in most cases they are used to dealing with bigger numbers than an employed person. For example, an owner of a trucking company buys many trucks that cost over $100,000 each, and that’s just the beginning. They are used to big numbers (not that they like it all the time). The guy who gets off at five o’clock and has his pickup break down, has a whole different number spectrum than the business owner. Whether you are in the art business or the sign business, if you can deal with the people that are used to dealing with bigger numbers and writing bigger checks, it’s easier to talk to them about your higher priced stuff.

  3. Try not to judge people by the way they talk on the phone, or dress. The guy in the nice suit typical has little cash, and the farmers coming into town to run errands usually bring their check books and are some of the nicest and sharpest people around.  The one thing I can look at on a person and gather some information about them are their shoes. The guy in the suit with old, beat up shoes, typically is not flush with extra cash. The person wearing jeans with holes in them and a nice pair of shoes usually has money to spend. I don’t know why it is, but people that own sailboats and corvettes tend to be really picky, and sometimes it’s just better to send them on their way.

  4. The people that are the hardest nut to crack, have built up that wall around themselves, and seem somewhat intimidating at first, can be your best sign or art business clientele if you perform.  Once you do good work for them, and you show that you are trustworthy and competent, they will let down their guard and even smile on occasion! Those type of people can be tough at first, but if you can get through your first dealings with them in a good way, they are gold. If you need some tips on talking with people and getting a conversation going, check out F.O.R.M.

  5. When someone tries to micro-manage every part of the sign/art process, it never turns out as good as if they just give you some guidelines and let you do it. It happens every single time! It’s one thing to have input, quite another to breathe down your neck and dictate every little thing you do.

  6. Whether you are making signs or have your own art business, when you gain a new customer, client, or collector, most of the time they will do business with you again. You don’t have to be perfect, but if they like you, if they perceive you as being a professional,  and if the price is fair, most of the time they will come back because they are now familiar with you.

  7. No matter how mundane the project you are working on might be, there is someone who thinks it is great, and is fascinated by watching you make it. Many, many times people have marveled at the most simple creation, and I am dumbfounded by their amazement of the simple.

  8. Word of mouth is king, and people that do not have a “creative” career like knowing someone who is really good at some creative endeavor, and will tell others about you.

  9. The customer is not always right. But nobody is.

  10. I don’t know if they are telling me the truth, or if it’s a cop out, but I have more people than I can count tell me they are color blind. It’s staggering how many people tell me that.


Art Business, Sign Business – 20 Similarities


  1. Using the best materials you can afford is not expensive considering what could happen if those materials don’t hold up. I know this too well through no fault of my own.

  2. You and your product, whether it’s your sign business, your art business, or anything else, is your reputation. It takes years to build a good reputation, and it can be ruined in a moment.

  3. Most, but not all people want their sign, to “stand out”. Most, but not all people I talk with regarding paintings never mention that term.

  4. A sign business is easier than an art business, and they are both creative endeavors. In both cases you are making a product, you need to find your market, cultivate a clientel, and you need to get paid. And it doesn’t happen overnight and without a lot of effort.

Art Business, Sign Business – 15 Similarities 


  1. Art business, sign business, widget business…a good job at a fair price will set you up for repeat business. Trying to get rich off of one person, one job, or one painting is a mistake if you want staying power.

  2. When someone asks you how much it’s going to cost, and you give them a price, 90% of the time they change something or add something. But they still have the same price that you mentioned in their head. Tell them right away if it’s going to change the price.

  3. Whether it’s art business or sign business, it’s easier to ask right up front how the client would like to pay for the product or service. Deal with it right at the beginning instead of waiting to the end.
  4. When it comes time to pricing your work, be fair not only to your customer, but to yourself. You need to eat, pay rent, and drink coffee too. Consider all of your overhead, not just the materials and labor on a particular work. Pricing is not easy, but you have to be able to sustain a living at a minimum.  

  5. If your having trouble talking about money with patrons, try some humor. If it’s time to collect say “It’s all over but the cryin’ now”. Or “Now for the hard part”, or “Now for the easy part”.  “Make sure that check doesn’t bounce up and hit the ceiling”. Stuff like that lightens the moment.
  6. If, for some reason you aren’t getting paid from someone, I have found that making a phone call first is the easiest and fastest way to get somewhere. It doesn’t work all the time, but it works a lot of the time. Sometimes you have to call more than once. Stay on top of it, be nice, and be persistent. If  they can’t pay all of it, try and get some of it now and some later. By dealing with money up front (see No. 3), you can help yourself avoid this ugly stuff more than if you just wait until the end to deal with money.

It’s Your Art Business

I hope there is at least one item in the above list that can help you. Making your mark with your creativity is great, but it’s important to stay in tune with the art business side of things too.

Parting Shot – Like this article? How about commenting or subscribing?  It’s simple, and it’s free. Thanks for reading, and best of luck to you and your art business.

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