Recognize and Avoid Art Scams

I was looking at the art listings on Craigslist when I clicked through to an artist’s website that seemed a little off.

The first thing I noticed: the artist’s picture was peculiarly crappy. It didn’t make sense that she had such professional pictures of her art, but was willing to put up this tight-cropped blurry snapshot for a headshot.

Then I noticed her paintings were super-large scale, some quite good but suspiciously like things we used to import from China at my former workplace; some things looked like Photoshop effects, and others were so disparate in style they didn’t make sense in the same shop.

And then there were the all caps. The generic sounding website name. There was even an interview from another obscure website, but everything in it was generic and unverifiable. What was going on here? It could be some sort of scam, but to what purpose?

I googled “art scam” and found:, in which scam artists went door-to-door claiming to be art students selling original paintings, which were in fact, mass-produced prints-on-canvas. I felt a little silly for not having figured it out immediately; even after seeing what were obviously Photoshop effects, I’d rationalized away the possibility that someone would make a website to sell fake art. But that’s the point isn’t it? We don’t expect that behavior, so it takes seeing a scam a couple times to recognize it.

I worked in the giftware industry, so I have a lot of experience looking at mass-produced digitally printed “paintings”. Yes, they can even have texture; check out some of the convincing “original art” that factories produce: (This site has an informative section on fine art scams; it deals mainly with historical reproductions, but the same techniques apply to fakes made with contemporary imagery.)

Types of fakes you’re likely to encounter:

Oatmeal Boy hates fake art!

A lot of times on e-Bay I see “original drawings” which are clearly digital manipulations of photos. To make one, just Google-gank a photo of a celebrity and run a filter on it and make it look like a drawing. Then print it out on textured paper.

Or, I’ve seen someone add complexity by flipping a couple photos, merging them together, adding a photo filter and then passing that off as an oil or acrylic painting. This instance would have been totally fine if they’d just used (and paid for) stock images and sold it as digital collage. There would still have been a market for it, and no need to deceive anyone.

I hope that buyers will become more aware that in the digital age, yes, you can make a photo look like a painting. You can print it very big. You can print it on canvas and stretch it over a frame (POD sites like Cafepress do this for you). You can easily add texture with a layer of thick varnish applied in choppy strokes. And if your victims are none the wiser, you can sell this as original art. I want everyone to realize how easy this is for someone who lacks scruples.

So now you know:

  1. Digital art can be printed on canvas.
  2. Textures can be added to digital prints to enhance the illusion.
  3. Scammers will continue to take advantage of and profit from this technology as long as the public remains uneducated. Let’s make this kind of scam as well known as parking lot hustles or check overpayment scams.

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