Apparently, You Can Sell Art Wrong (ie Illegally, I Guess)

"Point State Park at 8AM" watercolor plein air
“Point State Park at 8AM” watercolor plein air

I’ve been invited to participate as a vendor at an art festival on a farm in Washington, Pennsylvania (selling your paintings out of a barn stable – neat)! This is pretty exciting! I mean, one minute you’re throwing art on walls, the next you’re meeting potential clients at places, they’re saying “Oh wow!” about your work, then they want you showing up at a thing to sell that work…

… I mean, okay, at most places you do have to pay to be a vendor (but trust me, I’ve spent $75 on way stupider things), and sure, it’s a hassle – but I hear participating in art festivals is a neat hassle, so I’m in! Selling work is fun! Getting a table! Giving people receipts! Having a tiny ten-by-ten-foot store of your own! Hot diggity!

Here’s the catch: You need legal-type paperworks. Which I’d assumed, so I went sniffing about to see what I needed. And do you know what I found out?

Selling art without charging sales tax – every time, period – is illegal. Operating outside the law, without a state tax ID number, is factually illegal.

WHAT. What. What is this. Surely this is false. Surely, SURELY, no one cares if you just sell, oh, a single painting once a year. Right? I mean, you don’t need a state tax ID number to sell at a yard sale right?! And that is right – sort of. In the grand state of Pennsylvania at least, no one cares if you sell mainly clothes at a yard sale twice a year. But, the minute you open an Etsy store and sell regularly from it without a state tax ID number – and without collecting sales tax – you’re operating an illegal business. If you sell anything you make, on the semi regular, you must collect state sales taxes on those things every time. Honest to God, no fooling. If the IRS finds you out, they will swoop down on you and audit your solvent-covered ass quicker than you could draw a frowny-face.

Jeezes, fuck!

"Point State Park at 7AM" watercolor plein air
“Point State Park at 7AM” watercolor plein air

So okay: If I want to sell my paintings – at all, fucking apparently – I need a state tax ID number, right? Right. OR SO IT WOULD SEEM. Depending on where you are, you may also need to collect and have paperwork for local tax, and you may need a license for selling in a particular municipality! If you’re selling to someone in another state, you may need a transient vendor license (which means you go places, like a little wandering art minstrel). And you can’t just collect these monies and pay later, you must have the paperwork before you sell anything. It’s the law. It’s the weird, overbearing, freakishly cramping law.

And don’t even get me started on the items you do/don’t have to charge taxes for: let me just say that if I sold a thimble in Pennsylvania, I’d have to charge a 6% state tax on it, but not if I sold thread – just only if that thread was meant for clothing. Believe me, I checked. I studiously did my research on this junk. It’s staggeringly weird.

The main grump I have with all of this is simple: This is taking time out of the studio! I want to be making things, not spending time worrying about audits and licenses!

But, it would seem this is the way of things for the career path I’ve chosen. That no one bothered to tell me. And if I have to fill out paperwork to be legitimate, then darn it that’s just the kind of woman I am! Now, excuse me while I go fill out some minute and mundane details instead of painting tonight…

(Do you have words of wisdom about the legal side of selling your art? Is your state a pain in the butt about collecting state taxes? Are you as lost as I feel?! Comment in the doobly-doo and help a homie out!)


One thought on “Apparently, You Can Sell Art Wrong (ie Illegally, I Guess)

  1. It’s not helpful but maybe funny… I believe that Satan popped two boils on his back and spawned two children. One was a lawyer, the other, an accountant. Their insestual offspring was a tax man and and insurance guy.

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