If you are selling your artwork, then the answer is yes. A business license is granted by the city and state where you live. You may also need a sales privilege license to collect sales tax and an employer identification number (EIN) for filing taxes for your business. Additional licenses may be required when your artwork is sold at art festivals and shows.
Galleries accept work on a consignment basis. They sell to the customer and reimburse the artist on a pre-agreed basis. The gallery doesn't own the artwork, the artist still does. When the sale is made, the ownership transfers from the artist to the gallery, since it's illegal to sell something you don't own. Since the artist isn't selling directly to the public, a sales privilege license isn't necessary.
Arts and Craft Shows
If you set up a booth and sell your artwork directly to the public, you need a business license and sales privilege license. You may also need a license from the city where the arts and craft show takes place. The show promoter should be able to tell you if you do, but contact the city directly. Some cities ask to see the license from the vendors at the show. If you don’t have one, you could be fined. If the show promoter takes the money from the customers. then you may not need an additional license.
You won't need a sales privilege license because you're not selling directly to the public and collecting sales tax. You are selling to a store or other entity that then sells directly to the public. Online sites that sell artwork are a combination of a wholesaler and a gallery. They don't take physical possession of the artwork. A customer buys the artwork from online sites and pays them. The online site notifies you to ship the artwork and then pays you less a processing fee. You determine the price for the artwork and know what the fees are before the sale is made.
Commissioned artwork is work that you create specifically for someone else based on her direction. That direction can be general, relying on your artistic abilities or extremely detailed. The artwork belongs to the person that has paid you to create it. You may or may not own the copyright to the artwork, depending on whether the art was created as a work for hire. If you have been hired as an employee to create the art, you don't need a business license.
- "How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist"; Caroll Michels; 2009
- "Entrepreneur": How To Sell At Craft Fairs and Shows
- Deviant Art: Have You Been Commissioned to Create Art