Collective Wisdom | What to do With Older, Unsold Artwork

I’m not sure why, but I’ve recently received a lot of questions from artists wondering what to do with older unsold artwork.  Storing old artwork can become a huge challenge, especially for artists who have built up hundreds works over the years. Studio space is at a premium, and every square inch that is taken up in storage, is a square inch that’s not available as work space. I have a number of different suggestions of possible approaches to dealing with older work, their benefits and challenges, and then I would like to encourage you to share your experience with older work. Together, hopefully we can find the perfect solution to the older work challenge!

Idea #1 – Rotate Older Work Into Your Current Inventory

Sometimes older work didn’t sell, not because there was something wrong with it, but because it simply didn’t wasn’t in the right place at the right time to get a buyer. I’ve sold many works that were created years prior to the sale. For artists whose work is consistent over the years in terms of style, technique and quality, recirculating art can be a viable option. The older work can be shown in galleries or at shows or art festivals, and, as long as the work doesn’t have a date on it, no one may even realize the work is older.

The work might need to be touched up, and it may need a new frame, but refreshing your older work in this way allows you to leverage your existing work to bulk up your inventory.

The Problems with This Approach

If your work has changed significantly since the older work was created, it may not be possible to show it with your newer work. In this case, introducing older work may make your body of work feel inconsistent, or it may call into question the quality of your newer work.

Many artists pass through significant changes in style and format, and for those artists, it’s not feasible to reintroduce the older work.

You would also want to avoid sending a piece to a gallery that has already had the work, unless they expressly requested the piece back (unlikely), or unless the work was significantly modified.

Idea #2 – Repurpose the Materials to Create New Art

I’ve known of many artists who take old canvases and paint an entirely new painting over the top of an older work. Some of these pieces are totally new compositions, while some are significant modifications of the older imagery. I’ve seen abstract artists who will let glimpses of the old work show through as texture in the new piece. I’ve also known of sculptors who have melted down an old piece to cast a new work (not recommended in most cases).

The Problems with This Approach

Not all art materials lend themselves to being reused, and sometimes the effort it takes to prepare used materials isn’t worth the effort.

Idea #3 – Offer the Art for Sale at Dramatically Reduced Prices on Your Website or at Shows

Some artists will offer older work in a “bargain bin” at their open studio event, or at a show. The price may be significantly reduced in order to help the work sell more quickly. I’ve heard of artists offering older work at 50%-70% off the original retail price.

The Problems with This Approach

Deep discount sales of this kind present several problems. First, the old work can be a distraction from your new work. The pricing of the older work can also be a distraction. The bargain art may make your regularly priced work seem expensive and prevent sales – not the desired outcome at all!

Idea #4 – Hold a Studio Sale

Another idea is to hold a kind of art yard-sale at your studio. The sale may target existing customers, or it may be an opportunity for friends and neighbors to acquire your art at prices more suited to their income.

The Problems with This Approach

If you target existing customers you risk training them that they shouldn’t buy your current work, but should instead wait for your work to age and for the price to decrease.

Even if you aren’t targeting existing customers, this approach may not work well. Your neighbors may feel that even at a greatly reduced price, the work is still too expensive, or they may feel they don’t want to spend their hard-earned money on your rejects.

Idea # 5 – Donate the Work to Charity

Some charities hold art-related auctions or sales. Your donations give them a potential source of fund-raising.

The Problems with This Approach

Charity fundraisers can actually be a good source to build relationships with influential people in your community. A silent auction bidder may eventually turn into a collector. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to put your best artistic foot forward instead of presenting older work.

Another problem with this approach is that most events will only be interested in taking a piece or two per event, not a good way to dispose of a large body of unsold work.

Finally, the other huge disappointment in donating work to charity is that you can’t deduct the value of the artwork from your tax bill. You can only deduct the value of the materials, but most of you are already taking a deduction for those materials, so the net effect is that you get no deduction for the donation. This is inexcusable, and the congress should definitely amend the law to allow artists to take more of a deduction for donations, but until that happens, you are going to be donating out the goodness of your heart.

Idea #6 – Give the Work to Family Members or Friends

Many of your family members or friends would love to have a piece of your work, and they’re unlikely to look a gift painting in the mouth . . .

The Problems with This Approach

If you are particularly prolific, you may eventually overwhelm friends and family with too much art.

Idea #7 – Bonfire

I remember an experience early in my career when I was working in a large gallery. An artist was in town from out of state and brought in several new pieces. The owner of the gallery indicated that it would be a good idea for the artist to remove several older works from inventory.

The young artist agreed, and pleasantly removed the older pieces, work on masonite panels, from their frames. One by one, he snapped the paintings in half over his knee, destroying them. My co-workers and I were mystified, perhaps even horrified, at the destruction, but the artist felt that if the work hadn’t sold, it must not be any good.

In the end, I suppose that if you feel your studio space is worth more than the work, or that it would take to much effort to dispose of the work in any other way, destruction is certainly an option.

The Problems with This Approach

It seems like a travesty that the destroyed work will never be enjoyed.

Bigger Issues

If all, or most of your work is piling up in your studio, you don’t have a storage problem, you have a marketing problem! If you are producing work far faster than it sells, it’s time for you to shift your energy away from production and towards marketing. It’s time to find gallery representation, or to participate in more shows and develop a collector list.

What Have You Done With Older Work?

Share your thoughts and experiences about what to do with older work, or ask questions about the topic in the comments below. Your input is invaluable – thanks!

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87 Comments

  1. Your post couldn’t come at a better time. This call for Bad Art just came into my feed and I am at a loss to see why I would want to donate my pieces for all the reasons you listed above (https://www.burnabyartscouncil.org/call-for-bad-art/).

    The best idea I have come across for what to do with old art was to create one of a kind art cards by cutting the canvas into smaller pieces and glueing it to pre-made cards. You can pick a part of the painting that you like, or pick sections that are pleasing in an abstract way. If someone buys the card and frames it, they are taking with them something I am proud of and will maintain the value of my art in the eye of collectors.

    1. Great idea, similarly, my neighbor cut up old paintings and glued them over images on a recycled gift bag. I still have it, and love it! Heck, that would even work on a brown paper bag. And I have cut some up as bookmarks, my web address written on the back. Could do the same for special business card-style handouts, just keep some in your pocket or bag. Lay out bookmarks/cards for free at shows/galleries.

    2. I go with burning the old work. If it can be gessoed or reworked for improvement, great. But, if you don’t want it to be floating around flea markets or thrift stores after you’re dead, destroy it. I remember that Robert Glenn had a huge bonfire before he died.
      When I stopped doing etchings, I threw away what didn’t sell unless I loved it for myself and I destroyed etching plate so no one could ever print from them. This was upsetting to my daughter who confiscated some of them.

  2. I knew an artist who painted over his signature so as to not undervalue his current work, and then dumped a great body of his very old work in a local auction house; work that had been marked for $1,000 each sold for $20 at the auction. Got better $ than a bonfire.

  3. Once again, it’s not a great way to move a large body of work – but in this day of social media marketing, using a free giveaway on your social media is a way to attract more followers to your page or drive them to your mailing list.

  4. Sooo, what do you do with older pieces? I paint in series, I work on a concept until I feel I have thoroughly explored it (stopping before it feels like I have exploited it). since I have been painting and creating for 45 years there are a few remnants of some of these series. Studio space is a premium. I have rotated around galleries, donated a few and rented some but still looking for a good solution.

  5. I have kept older work in storage in my studio for exhibition possibilities where there isn’t an age limitation. This has actually worked out very well for me as five of my older pieces were selected to be in the US Embassy in Lima, Peru in 2017 and have been in the Ambassadors residence and the Embassy building. One piece was from 2004, another from 2005, and two from 2009. The fifth was from 2011.

    I also exhibit older work that is part of a series in solo exhibitions from time to time so it is good to still have some of this work in my studio. I add work to series over many years so the work is constantly developing and growing.

  6. I like Idea #6 – gifting to family and friends. No complaints yet. I occasionally do scrape-and-paint-overs too. I hang onto a lot of unsuccessful work because I feel they can be rectified someday. In some cases this has worked out successfully. I never know when or how work will “graduate” to the A List. My motto is “A painting is never done until it has sold”. My heirs will have a challenge!

  7. My largest sale was a piece from my studio attic that I had to wash gecko poop off of before I took it to a show. It sold before I even had it hung! Paid for a grand trip along Highway 101!😏 And it was fifteen years old.

  8. I think artists should refuse to adhere to age of Art object rules, year of completion, etc. it is just bs, if we all refused, juried shows and galleries would have to drop the policy. It is a dumb policy, that limits what viewers get to see, and forces artists into storing large parts of their oeuvre. I would like to be able to see artists work all along their process, this dumb rule makes that difficult. I think it has become arbitrary and repressive. Wow, let’s see if you let this comment be viewed.

    1. I agree that this is a rule that benefits the show and not the artist. I can see limiting submissions of the same piece over and over, but when a piece is done ought not disqualify a piece.

    2. Yes, I totally agree. I really resent being asked to submit work done only in the last 3 years. I have been working for over 50 years and tend to work in series and work on a idea til i’m done. If the work is good and fits the concept of the show what difference does it make if it’s 30 or any number of years old? Lately though I must say, there has been more interest in my older work and many shows have stopped asking for the date of completion. So that’s a good sign.

    3. I really agree with you on that. It makes me angry that work has to be new to have value! What about all the old master’s….I’d happily take a very old Monet!!

      I think that’s just a “gallery trick” that forces their artists to show new work, I understand that but I also feel that a lot of work always has value.

    4. I totally agree with that! It is a ridiculous rule. I keep track of what I show/enter where because I agree with not showing pieces already exhibited there, but age doesn’t matter in the artist, so why should it matter in the work?!

  9. One of the galleries I am in has an annual “clearance sale”. Prices are slashed from the original and folks love getting fine art at less. Each year I am in a studio tour and have a table or wall marked “Studio Tour Specials”.. and anything left over I will donate to charities raising money for their fundraisers. I am happy to support these causes and look forward to donating something.

    I also can easily paint over older works and have that option as well. I never put a date on the work, but it is imbedded in a skew # for my personal tracking of my art.

  10. I frequently will pull older paintings from storage, and immediately see some flaw that I didn’t see before. When I say “flaws” I’m speaking of how much I may have learned, how much better or more professional my art/color/compositions may have become since I last looked at the old piece. I often set about re-painting it, or at least in certain places on the canvas. I am rewarded with a nice “new”painting, that ends up being even better!!

  11. I recently donated several much older works to a veterans organization. These works have no relationship to what I am doing now and were taking up precious storage space. Why shouldn’t someone enjoy them? The older I get, the less I worry about “the problems with this approach.”

  12. jason,

    what do you think about ebay auction for older pieces? or having an artist giveaway on the blog for a piece? perhaps shipping might be the only cost people would have to pay?

    sometimes an older piece might be cut smaller and refurbished into several new paintings. since i work on paper and panels this works.

    thanks jason, karen

  13. I’m a Batik artist and have giclees made on paper and canvas when a piece sells quickly. Sometimes the repros don’t have the same impact as the originals. If they don’t sell in a few years I donate them to several horse/other animal rescues in the Tucson area. Occasionally I will donate an original piece.
    I’m always asked to donate and am happy to.

    When we were ready to move to AZ from Maryland almost 20 years ago, I had a moving sale at my studio. It went very well. Any pieces I had left went to the school my grandchildren were attending, for their annual fund raiser auction.

    So I ended up keeping only the pieces I wanted to move with me. However, I also found that images of eastern flowers and landscapes did not sell well herein AZ.

    I belong to Desert Artisans in Tucson where we have 2sidewalk sales a year. Occasionally I will put some pieces in the sale. What is great about the sale is that we sell almost as much inside the gallery as outside. Only the sale is outside. We used to do about 4 sales a year, which did extremely well, but found that people were also waiting for our sales to buy art. We also stopped advertising the sale on our quarterly postcards. We only use our social media to advertise a couple of weeks before the sale.
    This has worked very well for us.

    I don’t have much original batiks at my home/studio. I find that it helps create new energy and pieces that need to go into several shows a year, including the Tubac Center of the Arts Open Studio Tour that I’ve done for the past 9 year. This has worked very well for me.

    Dikki Van Helsland

  14. For works on paper or stretched canvas; I found cropping and representing the best of each painting in a new way. I was able to offer these “recycled” works at lower price points and sold many to first time buyers of original art! ADDED BENIFIT – my compositions have grown stronger with my newer paintings

  15. I was trying to build artwork for a show, when I realized everything was on the small side. So I have pulled out a couple older large paintings I had stored under a bed, I re-worked them to update them to my present style. This saved me a lot of work and expense for a big impact.

    1. Yes, had it not been for Johanna van Gogh-Bonner finding his work in an atitic and marketing it, we would not have known he existed.
      Old art does not die, it appreciates and in most cases is unique in the whole wide world.and therefore collectible which brings up the concept in practice in many countries in the world and a number of states in U.S. of royalties to be paid as a percentage of appreciated value for the life of the copyright retained by artist or aritist’s estate. Current copyright termi is artist’s life plus 70 years unless commissioned then a bit more. European copyright is 100 years. Copyright laws change, do research to be safe.

  16. My older work often looks much like what I am doing now, but it was framed under glazing with a white mat for exhibition in watercolor shows. In the last several years I’ve learned to mount, varnish, and frame my watercolors without glazing, so I often “convert” those older works to my current presentation format and they are like new. They feel more contemporary and approachable avoiding the false stigma that watercolors are perishable.
    I love many of your other suggestions too and will consider some of those for older work that does quite fit my current style or is slightly lesser in quality. Thank you for this post.

  17. Family reunion 2019.
    I went through older art and had a box of 70 works.
    Also a sealed box with a slit on top for “small donations to charity”.
    Raised $414. And donated this to: “Book Clubs for Inmates”
    Even the children and teens picked their favorites and made small donations!

  18. I use a little of most of these ideas for excess inventory. I give some to family members, donate to charities, repurpose some of the material, and destroy some pieces. I just don’t over do it on any of the techniques.

    1. I’ve learned to cut my losses while I’m painting and scrape it all off! This is probably the best lesson I’ve learned from more than a few years at the easel as an oil painter.

  19. I don’t think destroying old, unworthy pieces is a “travesty” at all. (I can only imagine how many horribly ugly bits of pottery I would be surrounded with if I had kept every one of my early efforts in ceramics.) I’m sure you’re familiar with the Japanese tradition of looong apprenticeships? I think these days we are too quick to assume expertise. Students are often impatient, and think watching a YouTube video or two is all they need to become adept in a certain technique or medium. I believe it is a GOOD thing to continue to raise our personal standards. (And I have the boxes of old canvas to prove it.) While I wait to travel more of the Dunning-Kruger curve, I will continue to pitch, break, sand, and burn old, unworthy pieces…

  20. Sometimes there is something wrong with the painting that is making it unappealing, if you can fix it try. If that doesn’t work it is best to just sand it down and paint over it. I don’t like to throw away good art materials, we already have so much waste in this world. I have some old paintings that I hold onto so that I can put them on the walls to decorate. I’ve sold lots of older piece right off the living room wall, at full price! Some pieces don’t age well, don’t go with your new work and it os best to say goodbye to them. I gift paintings occasionally but prefer to re-use the canvas for a new project if its in good shape.

    1. Yep, that’s what I’m doing, sanding, then gesso and paint over it. Sometimes I sand it and just paint over larger areas of the painting and let the first painting peek through.

  21. I always am in the process of transmuting existing forms of art into something beyond what I thought was a finished piece. Change is inevitable , personal growth is a choice. The art work is simply a physical manifestation of thoughts & feelings moving through me. Art is just one way thoughts and feelings move through me. Some thoughts and feelings I want to keep, some need to be burned, some need to be transmuted and reworked or repurposed. I literally ask the work, what it wants to become now and I listen and go with the answer. The Art work is not static, it’s energetic and has a life span. I live by creating vacuums and letting go of the old to bring in the new. I practice letting go all the time. I’m not my art work but my art work is part of my experience. I let the evolution happen and open to the flow of inner guidance.

  22. Several years ago i donated a series of large spiritual pieces to my local hospice….they were beautiful pieces and they went well with their space..they still hang proudly in the hallways,chapel and offices of the facility. I cannot tell you how many people have written and commented to me on how much they enjoyed and appreciated the art while they were visiting or staying with a loved one at the hospice……

  23. My one question is this. It seems we may be discussing what to do with ‘reject’, not so good pieces. But what if the older paintings are considered ‘good’ but your style has changed? eg. from painting detail to painting looser ! Quite a visual change but not in quality.

  24. Jason, I’ve been a fan of your blogs and posts for a long time. Thanks for being so willing to share all this good info with us.

    I believe what you said: “Sometimes older work didn’t sell, not because there was something wrong with it, but because it simply didn’t wasn’t in the right place at the right time to get a buyer.” I know galleries have to keep the space fresh, but a painting that hasn’t been seen by many collectors (e.g. they were looking for sculpture and ignored the paintings or some other distraction, or only a few collectors came in during a certain season, or the gallery had one-man shows and took much of the other artists’ work down for weeks at a time, or the work wasn’t in the gallery’s “sweet spot”) can still be fresh when rotated, or when it reappears later.

    Over the years, many of my galleries have called me to let me know that someone wants a painting they fell in love with 2 years earlier. If it’s still around the gallery, or around my studio, they’re so happy. If not, I paint a similar commission piece. The fact that the galleries quickly return “left-over” work these days leaves lots of us artists with the left-overs that are still viable. and possibly not seen…..yet. Rather than watching an artist break up some great artwork, paint over it, burn it, cut it up, or sell it for half price because the right person wasn’t there at the right time, I think owners/directors might consider recycling some of those same great pieces through their galleries during a later season. Even if it’s older work, if it’s good it’s still good. And most the collectors probably won’t know it’s not “fresh.” They might just buy it.

  25. I’ve found my old unsold pieces to be a burden, both physically and emotionally as they don’t compare to my present quality of work, I’ve tried all of things suggested by everyone but yesterday I finally had a good hard look over these pieces and had a bonfire. It didn’t hurt and I felt lighter BUT I didn’t tell anyone and had no witness.

    1. I have done the bonfire. Some pieces should not be shown. One of my favourite artists said that “our job is to create the best work we can at a given time “. Sometimes a work shouldn’t be just good enough and considered complete.

  26. I work in pastels on sanded paper, but several years ago, my work was pastels on smoother rag paper that had just enough “tooth” to hold the pastels. These pieces have an entirely different look, as the luminosity of the paper shines through in some areas akin to the effect of watercolor washes. I sold well in this approach, but still have some good work that remains. I switched to sanded rag paper because of the effect it gives of an oil painting, and for the ability to apply pigment more heavily so the vibrancy of the saturated colors of pastels can shine. I also love the velvety texture it gives. Along the way, I learned more about shading in blues, which I didn’t know before. I have three very good works that I shaded in blacks and grays, so I reserved these three pieces for a re-do. It will take some major work to replace all the shading in blues instead of blacks, but the pieces will be much more attractive and in line with the rest of my current body of work when I finish them. I haven’t shown them in years, and have moved to a new location several hours away from where I used to show, so they’ll be as new pieces of work, and I will be much happier even if they don’t sell, in which case I’ll gift them to my kids.

  27. Paint over them! Specially if your style has changed, or the quality of your work has really increased over the years. Some of my paintings have 3 layers on them! In the last several months I have sold a number of repainted canvases. So with the simple addition of a little paint, I moved out a canvas that was taking up space. No sense trying to sell second rate work, or pieces that don’t fit your current body of work. I no longer date work, I have actually painted over dates on some pieces that I thought had value. I agree with an earlier post about contests and exhibits that limit work to the last 2 years or so. That is another reason I painted over some dates. I keep detailed records of where I enter work, so I just don’t reenter work at the same place.

    I am thinking of going through my inventory again and selecting a few more that I no longer feel fit my body of work, or the direction I want to go from here. Including them in an exhibit with my new work just makes them look even more out of place, and can also make it seem like you have problems being consistent, so I will paint them over in my current style, and skill level.

  28. Because I am a sculptor and work in 3D space in my studio can get filled up really fast. Last year I decided to do a studio sale and targeted my friends and neighbors. I made sure to sell everything between $10 to $100 to make sure it was affordable to my friends who wouldn’t normally be able to buy my work. It was great. I made over $500 in a couple hours mostly off of sculptures that I wasn’t taking to shows anyway because it was older, or scratch and dent, or things that I created that didn’t really fit my usual style. My friends were happy to get my work for so inexpensive and I was happy to free up the much needed space in my studio it was a win-win in my mind. I will be doing it again this year after I am done with shows.

  29. My situation is a bit different in that I am an art instructor/painter. I have relied more on teaching than painting for consistent income. I have taught small classes in my studio for about 30 years. I recently gave about 20 paintings away to about 20 of my very special students that I taught for a number of years. The work they could choose from was unsold work from earlier periods of my painting career. They truly appreciated the gift and are enjoying showing it off. Some of these students I have not seen in over 20 years and it has been a blessing to reconnect in this way.

  30. As with many of my fellow senior artists, this is a very troubling problem for me as I have accumulated a lot of artwork over many years and, well, there is an end in sight for me as well as all of us. I enjoy painting but it is difficult nowadays to get exciting about adding to my inventory. Over the past many years I have sold, given away, donated, and painted over many of my paintings. I have even destroyed some of my artwork. Still the new paintings outpace the attrition. I could just keep doing what I have been doing and not worry about what my spouse and offspring are going to do with all of my artwork once I am out of the picture. But that frame of mind only lasts so long and then I think about how I am going to pass the buck onto them to deal with all the artwork that I have left behind. Jokingly my wife has threatened to give away my art at my funeral. That is a great idea but again it’s a lot of work and coordination for my survivors especially during a tense and grieving time!

    As with most of us artists, I am not nationally well known so there will not be a rush to buy up my artwork once I am gone. My relatively obscurity and not unique painting style adds to the inventory dilemma. So, I am very curious to find out what other artists are doing or planning to do with their unsold inventory of artwork before they can no longer create more. . . or deal with it.

  31. As a photographer who has pieces on gallery wrapped canvas, many of these ideas, while good, aren’t suitable for me. I do have a monthly booth at a local market held at a museum where I sell my “Overstock” pieces. Unfortunately, the sales aren’t keeping up with my new inventory, now on aluminum. My next plan is a driveway “studio sale” at home. But are there any other photographers with this proble?

    1. Don’t know what to do with early work that is not up to par for me now. Have thrown some away or have donated some that doesn’t have my name on it. Would rather have a few people happy about my older, simpler work but I don’t want people bartering for cheaper prices on my good stuff.
      That’s a subject for a new column.

  32. I sometimes collaborate with others: we exchange canvas that has not worked out well, and “finish” each other’s pieces. To me it is sad that cooperative projects are the exception, as many of these turn from “not-quite” into “oh-my!”

    Also, consider co-marketing opportunities. Contests with your excess art as a prize, nestled in among newer pieces. Done properly, at the minimum you end up with contact information on a number of people who liked your excess piece enough to enter the contest, and might eventually want to buy.

  33. That is a great ideas about “older work”
    I use earth materials for my art works . When
    I create a piece my family , my sisters and my
    Friends did not let me to display in the gallery
    Or art show . They grabbed that piece .
    I believe right place and right time is true .
    I believe we can donate , gift , sell by EBay
    Older work’s .

  34. Since I keep a relatively consistent style, my older unsold work is in my “art bank” gaining value as my career expands. I’ve sold paintings 5-6 years after I painted them for 5x what I was asking when I painted them. Some art collectors like to own an older piece that shows how the artists skill has increased. Count me in on that list, I was an art collector before I was an artist. I like to own an early piece from the artists I collect. At the very least it makes an interesting point of conversation when showing my collection to people. At best, an artists early works usually end up being quite valuable if the artist stays well known until they die.

  35. It was rather discouraging to have all the options wind up with “problems”.

    I am just wondering what is the real relevance of time, of how ago long the art work was created, if it is a true work of art. It has intrinsic relevance that should transcend time by speaking to someone. It should not become garbage just because of time passing if it is true art.

    We still marvel at ancient works. Perhaps our implicit regard of our work as “old” communicates that vibration. If we regarded it as somehow precious, that vibration might transform its presence.

  36. I make my own painting panels by mounting canvas on gator board. If the painting is old and I no longer like it I remove the canvas, cut it up and throw it away. I mount new canvas on the board and reuse it again for a new painting. I have done this over and over.

    If I still want to keep the old canvas even if I no longer think the painting is something I want to show, I take the canvas off and save the canvas. I have a stack of them and they all fit in a little box. I might want to keep them as reference for color or for a happy memory of a location where I painted or I can see something in them that will be useful in a future painting.

    For older panels I want to get rid of that were done before I started making my own panels, If they are not scrape-able or reuseable, I spray paint them brown and put them in the dumpster, sometimes cut them in half. I know a friend who threw some old paintings out and later saw a neighbor searching through her dumpster taking them out.

    I don’t use stretched canvas since I like to paint on a hard surface and don’t have space to store piles of stretched canvases. I store my older panels unframed in a chest of drawers. ( in addition to giving some away to charity, and to friends and relatives)

    1. This sounds like a great idea- what method do you use to mount the canvas, so you can remove it and remount something else? Thanks.

  37. I work in fiber, and I recently cut up some old works that I was no longer happy with, and made totebags. They’re selling well. Of course, the time spent — first making the art, then transforming them — means I’m not making any money on them. But I like the idea of recycling.

  38. WOW!
    If “older” is a problem, then lets clear out the museums and start over!
    Ya gotta know when your on or off the beam. Home runs will hopefully increase as we progress, however, I have pulled out some “previously” created works, unhappy with at the time, however objectively viewed later, were very valuable, and insightful, and reveled hints of what was to come, a home run in its time.
    A very wise artist once said to me about no sale at a show. ” the right person was not at this show!”, raised the price, and marketed elsewhere.
    If “value” of the piece is determined by the sale, then let me remind you of Vincent, and what Micheal Jackson indicated was a great career move. Many collectors value “early works” for there insight and chronological establishment.
    Best news to offer, Art, unless Ice Sculpture, Has GREAT shelf life. Date on the back or in you archives journal, UNLESS it is a commission. Changing the framing is the Best idea, works created that were really “off the beam” someone might still fall in love with. Cropping can be excellent when there is a jewel in one area and a mess elsewhere. Be honest with yourself, if you want any piece to represent you were you where/ are at any time, the price should be consistent, or make it “priceless” and place it yourself where you see it belongs!

  39. I recently saw a suggestion about offer a reduced price to newsletter readers for their birthday. Their suggestions was the discount had to be deep to motivate people to act, suggesting 50%. I wouldn’t consider more than 40% and am concerned what the galleries who represent my work would feel about be making such an offer. Of course the offer would only apply to inventory I hold, not what is in galleries, but wouldn’t that undermine the galleries? Jason and others, I’d love to hear what you think.

  40. I find that most of my unsold work is work that I consider my most innovative; it is the work that moves me forward in my journey as an artist. So, I don’t mind having it around to look at and enjoy. The pieces are the touchstones to my development as an artist. Since I am a sculptor, my work does not “stack” easily in a closet or storage bin, so I have created a sculpture garden. My sculpture is made of copper and brass and holds up to the elements quite well. I love walking around my garden, looking at what I consider my life’s journey. In addition, many of my older pieces have remained in my home and reflect once again my life as a sculptor. When I entertain, my guests enjoy looking at my early work…If someone comes along and likes the work, then I sell it. Sometimes pieces are meant to stay in your life…

  41. Eventually, for many, many artists if they have been productive, the large inventory of unsold works is a huge problem. It becomes an estate issue, often as much of a burden for beneficiaries as a potential, but statistically improbable source of enrichment to them and society (museums, “collections:, etc.. Little recognition of this exists, – Also, the “only newest work is marketable or acceptable” for consideration in juried shows, is just plain market idiocy, having nothing to do with the intrinsic value of a given work. Art for marketing is marketing, not necessarily art.

  42. I do photographic mixed media with the resulting image being printed on metallic paper. Items that get scratched, bent, or older pieces that I’m not so fond of or haven’t sold – I take my photo cutter and slice them into bookmark size, then I slap a label on the back with my contact info. They disappear like hotcakes. I don’t make money off of them directly, the people are constantly reminded of my work.
    I do have some old matted prints that I am selling at a steep discount, as I no longer mat my work. If they don’t sell, I can always remove the mats and make more bookmarks.

  43. Offer the buyer of a current full-price painting the opportunity to select a piece from your “Early Works” bin. This could be an advertised bogo special to encourage sales, or a lovely way to thank a purchaser for their support.
    I did this at a sales event years ago, and my collectors were thrilled to choose their bonus painting!

  44. I think it is worthwhile to show progress an artist makes throughout his or her career by keeping older workers that might be considered less developed. At least from a teaching standpoint what we do as art is a process of becoming throughout all of our lifetimes, so I believe keeping some of it is of value if you wish to do so.
    I also agree that a date on a painting is important for the viewer, even if it’s hundreds of years from now, and a work shouldn’t be viewed as old if it isn’t in the current year or even style. Just because something has age doesn’t mean it lacks value.
    I appreciate the diverse detailed comments. Thank you all for posting.

  45. My collectors buy my old artwork to add to their collection. They like to collect my work and don’t care when I made it. They love getting the older art at a lower price and they understand the newer work has a higher value. What can I say. My collectors are real people, not art snobs.

  46. This assumes the only purpose for your art work is for sales. Some people create to express ideas or make a statement about society or for other reasons as well.

  47. I don’t see this as a problem,but rather the whole world of being an artist. I often take old work out of storage and divide them into two groups. The first being work just not good enough to save,so I spend a day sanding them down. The second pile is work that still holds my interest and these paintings give me the freedom to expand and experiment. No problem there. So it’s all the world of art. New work and old,good ideas still hanging around.

  48. I’ve tried #2, #3, and #7. Your pros and cons are spot on for each approach. So far, I’m not a big fan of any of the approaches but I haven’t figured out anything better. I guess there’s comfort in knowing I’m not the only one with this dilemma.

  49. Whatever we decide to do individually, I think it’s important to save at least a few of our older works, even the ‘bad’ ones, toward a retrospective show. People love to see the progression of art over time. Honestly, I’m for saving all of it. Consider other places in your home where it can be stored. My studio is small, so I have to do that anyway. I just went through some older art that was in storage and it was a heartwarming experience. It inspired me to revive some of my old themes in my new work. I gifted some of the originals from around 2007 to the child models (now adults) who had posed for them. Every one of them was thrilled to get theirs, and a couple of them have inquired about commissioning something new.
    Ebay has not worked well for me, (sold only a few) but that had more to do with my lack of marketing skills. But whatever I do, I will never again destroy my work. The one time I did, someone asked about buying it because they’d seen a picture of it on a friend’s Facebook page…..AFTER I’d thrown it out.

  50. all these ideas are interesting. I am toying with a judicious bonfire. I reuse old watercolor paintings in my current mixed media work. Those sheets of 300# paper are too good to not reuse. I cut a few large pieces painted on wood up to be able to transport them when I left a studio group. Someone found the pieces i tossed and asked if they could use them and I said yes. My late husband built me some panels…those can be sanded down and reused. I have made postcards, bookmarks, canvas mixed media wall hanging from old stretched canvas. Still I have a pile.
    I do take exception to the suggestion that if we are producing “too much” then we need to slow down or stop production to do marketing…I cannot do that. Besides what is too much?
    In spite of all the advice to just make a practice of keeping hours in your studio and working even without “inspiration”, I have to be in a “zone” and when I am in it there is no stopping or I lose the muse!
    The less I make art the harder it is to make art. So marketing takes a back seat. Luckily I do not need to make a living at art although I would love to sell more and maybe be in a gallery. But I cannot stop making it and stacking it. I work in series which lead to other series and processes . Still food for thought. I am really excited to sort and burn..no loss if no one ever saw it to begin with!

  51. About #5 donating to charities, this was the avenue fellow artist and friend chose when she was in her ‘90’s: she offered her oil paintings for sale to past patrons, friends, artists, etc at the price set bu the BUYER with the understanding that she, the ARTIST, would donate the entire proceeds to the charity of HER choice. In her case it was a ministry she had participated in for along time at the church she attended. I do not know if this approach is tax-deductible, and I doubt this was a consideration.

  52. I have taken some of my failed works and not so failed and put them in a collage or
    mixed media piece. I like pointing out to people that what they have is truly coming from a
    piece of my art. I created a subject from one of the old masters from pieces of a watercolor painting.

  53. Dear Jason-

    Please give me permission to reprint this interesting and timely article in our society newsletter. As a watercolor artist I face the problem of trying to determine the eventual fate of a large collection of unsold framed paintings under glass. This is not an uncommon problem with watercolor and certain other media. I want to share your sensible suggestions in the quarterly newsletter of the Montana Watercolor Society. I’m not sure I need permission because you have given permission to share on social media. Does this permission cover printed media as well? Please let me know if is OK, or not, to make that assumption in the future. Thank you.

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