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 (Spring cleaning, perhaps?).  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!

Starving to Successful

StSBookSHave you always wondered what it takes to show your work in galleries? Is your work being seen by qualified collectors?

In his Amazon.com best-selling book, Xanadu Gallery owner Jason Horejs shares insights gained over a life-time in the art business.

Learn more and order today.

2015-01-07 14_43_10-CSS Button Generator

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business. Connect with Jason on Facebook

100 Comments

  1. This is an excellent article and very timely because I am currently grappling with this challenge right now. I like the way you layer out the pros and cons of each approach. I’m not sure what to do yet, but I appreciate the food for thought. I’ll let you know how I resolve this . . . thank you Jason!

    1. I work in a particular motif, media, wtc, for a time till i have a body to show together. When i have finished the series, I keep promoting it for a time on social media. What doesnt sell I often trade to other artists for their work that I want to own, or even tip other service professionals (hairstylists, tattoo artists, etc.) Who have admired my work, with a choice from that series. Other people that offer services or handmade goods who like my work have offered to barter their services for my pieces, and this has been a very good arrangement!

      1. I paint over mine as well. However, some can’t be painted over and go in the bon fire. I find that the burning is very cleansing and allows the mind to be clear to paint newer and better work.

  2. Here are two more suggestions for unsold art:
    I have cut apart work on canvas or paper, using smaller swatches to make original art cards. I then use the cards to sell in art events, give as thank you’s to buyers, or simply give as gifts. Another way I use pieces of my work is to cut them to format small art fundraisers. Recent,y, I submitted donations to events that featured unsigned 7 x 5 and 6 x 6 original art. Artist names were revealed only after a purchase.

    1. Linda,

      I think that is such a clever way of repurposing artwork. I have done the same with some of my pastels , but hadn’t thought about my oils. Like the unknown artist factor until purchased idea too. Thanks

      Vicki Carol
      vickicarolfineart.com

    2. What do you use to cut the paintings with? I have tried heavy duty scissors and box cutter. It doesn’t work.

  3. I don’t have any old work that didn’t sell. I have saved about eleven works, each from a different period I went through. I probably won’t sell those, it is like a visual history of my path through creating art. If I had any older works laying around that I didn’t want to keep, I would probably paint over them. Liked the article…..thanks.
    ~Margaret

  4. I have employed several of your suggestions over the years and still have enough inventory to outfit the Metropolitan Museum of Art if they should ever come knocking on my door. I have painted over, donated to charity and gifted my work, each to various degrees. I really struggle with destroying things…my work in particular :-). I haven’t gone the bonfire route yet, but I do appreciate your sharing with us, Jason, that others also have this challenge! I’m always open to hearing about another solution!

  5. I take out old works, and rate them on a scale of 1 to 10 in each of the following areas: composition, design, color, value, line, mood, emotion, edges., use of medium. This helps me decide if it is a marketing problem, technical problem, or just a failure. If I do re-paint one, the first effort goes in the fire. The failures get burned, and the marketing problems get another look. (I also found it was best to not tell anyone I burn my failures. Not sure why but non painters seem horrified by this.)
    Love the way you outlined the choices Jayson. Thanks

    1. I agree about the burning of pieces; my husband used to be wood-turner and had many beautiful pieces. One night we had a bon-fire at the beach with friends and my husband threw some of his “dud” pieces into the fire and a couple of our friends were mortified and reached into the fire to get them out and take them home! Not worth burning a friend over 🙂

  6. I have given art to the Thrift Shop/Goodwill Store on occasion. It’s always been picked up when I check up on it a week or so later, so I know its found a good home. Who knows? I may be building up a collector base! When that buyer meets my art again, and s(he) is in a better situation, they may be able to afford my new pieces!

    1. The problem with this approach is that I know people who pick up thrift shop findings and rework them and sign and show them as their own. Disgusting and the reason I won’t go this route.

      1. It could have happened to a piece your original buyer got tired of, too. Or it could find its way to someone who really appreciates it. A painter in my group once found a painting by her mentor at Goodwill. She gladly grabbed it to have something of her teacher and tried her own version of it (she was more a copyist/decorator than an original fine-art painter). When she met her teacher and told her about the painting, her teacher said she had gotten rid of it because she hadn’t liked it,/it was one of her “duds.”

    2. I have done this too but I take my name off them. They are usually quite old pieces that are different from what I currently do. I like to think that someone who could possibly not afford art will enjoy them and be excited to have a piece of real art in their home.

    3. I volunteer at a local non-profit upscale thrift store and shop at others. When I see a good piece of art I may buy it. However, I usually feel sad seeing the art in the store because it typically means the person who owned it didn’t like it or got tired of it…or passed away and their family didn’t like it.

      I have bought art painted or made by friends and returned it to them, felt like it hurt the value of their current art. It doesn’t happen that often but it’s never a happy feeling when I see someone’s talent that should sell for hundreds or thousands stuck in a bin for $5.

  7. Thanks for this article. You offer several interesting suggestions as well as the down-side of each. I like to try and repurpose my artwork, but admit I still have some old fuddy-duddys that are around for sentimental reasons….taking up too much space!! I need to photograph them and get on with it……….

  8. Like everyone in this field, at times my studio looks more like a storage space than a working studio. Since I paint in oil I don’t like to paint over an older piece. If I really like a piece but am not showing it anymore, I remove it from the stretcher and roll it and store it. It takes up less space rolled since most of my work is 4×4 ft. I have also found temporary “foster” homes with some of my young friends who can’t afford my art but really appreciate it, especially between exhibitions when a lot of paintings come back at the same time. I also teach abstract painting and have cut or torn up a demo piece and given it to students who want to do some collage. I realize I need to spend more time marketing but I’d rather paint.

  9. Best solution for me, placing the old art beside the dumpster at my studio. In about 30 minutes all the art magically disappears and everyone is happy.
    I’ve tried all the suggestions that you shared with us and had similar results. You covered it well.
    Thanks

    1. Regarding Lillian’s solution of ‘placing the old art beside the dumpster’. I tried this as a student years ago. Yes – the artworks were soon gone. But I was horrified when my landlord took them and quite inventively placed them down in the mud so he could walk to his car and not get muddy shoes.

      Today I do what Kathy does – I give the paintings to friends – ‘foster homes’ – to be guardian over the artwork.

  10. I paint plein air a lot. With one in ten being perhaps good enough to put in a frame, I save the others and paint over them, often taking them with me on the next plein air trip. If they are paintings that have gone off the track and I know they aren’t ever going to be any good, they become fuel for our annual New Year’s Eve “burn party. I thank the painting for what I learned, then tear it up and toss it in the fire.

  11. My work is consistent over time, so I take a long hard look at a painting that hasn’t sold. Sometimes I reframe, sometimes I crop it, sometimes I just send it as is, rarely I rip it up and pop it in the recyling bin (hopefully I would not have sent out a painting that wasn’t up to the mark in the first place), sometimes I unframe it and pop it in a browser as a bargain.

    It all depends if you have faith in your painting. Did it just not find a buyer at the time? Or is it not up to scratch?

    And when it does find its ‘forever home’, I smile sweetly and say nothing, but have a secret cheer because I am so pleased to see the back of it!

  12. I will do a giveaway via social media, or, if an older piece can go with a newer sale, offer it as a bonus thank you gift with their purchase. Have also seen very prolific artists do a purge sale on a regular basis.
    This was another excellent blog topic ~ thank you.

  13. This is very timely since I’ve been pondering this issue lately! My problem is that my work has changed quite a bit and I do not wish to show the older stuff with the newer. So far I’ve been showing them as 2 different bodies of work in separate venues and that is working for now. One painting that everyone oohed & aaahed over but never sold (an older work) I modified to make a stronger statement. It immediately sold, so that was an eye opener. Although it could have just been the “right time at the right place” factor, but I was happy for the sale nevertheless. A couple I may give as gifts, the ones that can be reworked I will, the rest may get burned! And I’ll keep my eyes open for other opportunities.

  14. If I don’t think a particular painting represents my best efforts I will usually paint over it. Sometimes though I will sell it at a substantially reduced price. Sometimes it depends on
    whether I can afford to buy a currently needed canvas but can’t afford the expense.

    …Sandy Fox

  15. There are always lots of restaurants, bars, salons, etc. wanting to display work from local artists. Set price is set for their patrons to make an impulse buy and it could do well. Lots of new and differerent kinds of people seeing your work. I’ve sold a few works this way. I’ve had 2 different businesses I’ve had this arrangement with over the last 5 years. I think sales would have been much better if I had a few more places and rotated the works. I just let them be at each place and checked on them every so often. A friend told me he had 5 or 6 places like this and would switch them out every month or 2 and was always selling his artworks. He said people would start to think the art belonged to the business if it was there long and they wouldn’t think to buy it. I am switching out work today and adding more local businesses to my roster. My benefit through all of it has been that some of my large and older works weren’t in a closet taking up storage space and they are in public view everyday. Now to get them moving and selling…

  16. At one point I had about 600 paintings and I was planning to move. I decided that I would look over all the artwork and throw out half. So I put about 300 paintings out on the curb for the garbage. Later that day I changed my mind. How could I throw out my very own artwork? Night was falling and I looked outside and most of the artwork was already gone! People were stopping by in cars and on foot and sifting through the paintings and taking them home with them. What a surprise! I decided to let go and think of it as a donation to the world. Meantime, I now have about 300 paintings in storage. But I like your idea of recycling them and putting the old work in the new shows. I don’t know if I will remove the dates on them.

  17. I had a number of old works that did not fit well with my current style. There was a a housing for the homeless project where a block of apartments was being renovated for affordable housing. I donated many pieces for the foyer of the building and for some of the units. They were well received and brought pleasure to many who would never be able to purchase an original piece.

    1. I think this is a great solution! I have also heard of work donated to nursing homes. This is also a possible avenue for family members of a deceased artist who has left a body of work that needs to be dispersed.

  18. I am new at this, in my second year as a full time artist but I must say this information came as a surprise to me, I didn’t even know that older paintings were an issue, still really don’t understand. I sold 10 large paintings last year and 5 more so far this year and no one has even asked about the date I painted any of them. I sold a 12′ x 8′ painting that was 10 years old, crated it and sent it, the buyer was happy and I was glad to get it out of the garage. The only issue I have had was a 10′ long painting that warped. I instantly removed the painting and built new stretcher bars and hung a replacement older painting as a temporary place holder. The buyer was happy that I repaired the first painting and I sold him the space holder painting too. So, I admit I am new, a bit unsure and not selling enough yet, but I have to ask why it makes a difference how old art is? One more thing. I have painted over many paintings from my youth and art school days and I wish I had not done that. Paintings I did in the 60s
    that I had a low opinion of then look good to me now.

  19. I’m still trying to figure out how to change dates on watercolor paintings (on Arches)
    My decision to attempt to sell my paintings materialized less than 2 years ago when I dated ALL MY PAINTINGS. I spent (wasted time) dithering until I learned of Jason’s art site (and his book on marketing art). So while it’s true some art may be several years old, it’s not old art. at least I hope.
    I have no idea what to do if they don’t sell. Frankly, I haven’t gotten that far yet. Maybe I can get some ideas here.
    MOST IMPORTANTLY, WHAT CONSTITUTES OLD ART?

    1. At least with watercolors, it’s easy to just use the back side. Or paint over them with acrylics. Dismounting a canvas from its stretcher bars and re-stapling it involves a little more work.

      By the way, does anybody use the back sides of their canvases? There might be a breatheability issue with oil, but acrylics wouldn’t care, would they?

  20. Jason, these are all great ideas, and I also see the downside to each of them as well. It’s a truly difficult problem when paintings don’t sell and you just can’t bear to paint over them or to destroy them. I was able to sell a few old ones at little shoes I put on an another at a little art festival where people were not familiar with my work. I think it’s okay to put them in a separate section and discount them, explaining that when they are more than 3 years old, you automatically discount them, thereby avoiding the dreaded “no good” label. I think that’s a valid method.

  21. What is old and new in one art form differs greatly from the time-table of another, yes? For example, classical artworks base on a time-table comprising of years, decades, and centuries while other art forms may base on months and seasons (due to changing trends). Yet, even the nature of classical art lends itself well to updates to enhance sales much later … and here is why …

    Provided that a the painting builds on a sound structure (composition, anatomy, perspective, etc), then nearly any paintings can be updated by developing it to the next level of mastery. This is true for most classical artworks, be it an oil painting, a musical composition or a manuscript of literature — there frequently always room for continual edits, if not tweaking, towards mastery i.e., further development. (This also is why we representational artists require deadlines — we’ll tweak into eternity!)

    Anyway, I’ll give a specific example. Once, I painted a storm cloud brewing over an Oregon Cascade mountain peak called South Sister. The oil painting toured shows over the years, but failed to sell — until I updated it by developing the peak more like a portrait. It then sold to a hiker who knew that peak intimately and said that I captured the salient physical features of that summit.

    With a firm foundation and structure already established in my painting (composition, perspective, anatomical accuracy, credible color palette, value scale, etc.) it proved painless updating it years later.

  22. Jason, most of the artists I know, even the commercially successful ones, have basements and flat files full of paintings, drawings, sketches. Its those miles of canvas and paper that it takes to learn and develop one’s craft. Its a real tricky problem to deal with, and I appreciate hearing this variety of solutions. I do feel that it is important to review that work if there are any hidden gems. Last summer I found a dramatic market painting I’d done in my twenties, that had never been finished or exhibited, and that I’d even rolled up for a cross-country move. I realized that it was a very ambitious and complex piece. I learned a lot reviewing what was successful in this piece, and doing a little touch up. I also remembered my big dreams at the time. I had it restretched and framed and people visiting my studio were fascinated by it. Soon a visitor to my studio/gallery fell in love with it and bought it for a substantial price, (one of the highest I’ve ever received for a painting). It is now the focal point for her enormous great room. So fellow artists, don’t forget there may be hidden treasures among all those misfires and also rans.

    1. Karen, I was just reading back through some old posts from Jason and I wanted to thank you for this one of yours. It is a great and timely reminder for me- thank you!! Warm wishes for a great 2017, Danielle

  23. I stage “Art Depart.” I put a selection of my older work in my garage. Using FaceBook and an email blast, I let out the word that anyone who wants a piece can come and get one. It becomes a party and a race for the “best.” Many “takers” beccome “givers.” Other artists often bring art, but pies and plates of cookies show up too. I keep a record of who took what. Each one is now a collector of my work, which is now being appreciated in a home and not neglected in a storage unit. My collector contact list expands; people talk about me. I dont’ think it undermines sales at all as people who fall for a peiece in the gallery and can afford it are not going to wait for the long shot that it will be given away. Best of all, I dont’ get depressed eveytime I go to the storage unit.

  24. Before I sold my house, I hired an estate sale company to sell everthing in it, including hundreds of pieces of my blown glass that were in storage in the basement. The sale lasted three days and when they were done, the house was empty. Some of the people who bought my glass posted it online, which was annoying because I was then competing with myself , but I was happy to have it out of my basement and (mostly) into good homes. When I paint, I reuse old canvases and paint over them – easy to do with encaustic – and I cut up the abstract paper ones that are 8″ x 10″ or 9″ x 12″ into four pieces and glue them to the front of note cards.

  25. Wow, what an appropriate post for me to read. This has been a burning question I’ve been asking myself for past two years. I have culled some of my older paintings that looked great at the time I painted them but over time I realized they had flaws and just not good enough to put out for sale. I took canvas off the stretchers and burned along with my financial papers last fall. . Others that I hated to burn got rolled up and put in tubes. Now I m getting down to the ones I really like, but look a little different in style than what I am painting currently. It is nice to look back over the years to see how my skill has improved, but there is only so much wall space. I have 40 year old paintings hanging in the house and would really like to see my latest work around me. i do have older paintings that should be very salable which is moving in to the subject of needing better marketing.
    Jason, you have given me options to think about. Thanks!

  26. Never thought of it – even though I ‘lost’ 15 pieces of work in a fire last year – but I’m lovin’ the whole bonfire idea.

  27. My house, garden, and husband’s office are full of work that hasn’t sold for one reason or other…mostly because I wasn’t trying that hard at the time, or because there was some flaw. Problem is, I get too fond of my “children” to let them go. I also end up keeping pieces just to remind myself to try that idea or glaze combination again sometime.

    The suggestion I’ve heard for ceramic artists is to destroy work that doesn’t measure up, but not too soon, because time sometimes reveals hidden depths, once one’s initial expectations have had time to fade. Happily, I’ve recently met a mosaic artist who is interested in using pieces from works that I have shattered — otherwise I mix the glazed fragments with the gravel between the flagstones in my garden.

    Since I began reading Jason’s blog, I have stopped explicitly dating my work, but the only reason I wouldn’t try to sell an older piece is if it just doesn’t measure up to the quality of my current work.

  28. Paint over or destroy if not recyclable in some way. I have no problem making room for new adventures.

    I used to early on try to hand on to all of it, but my ceramics teacher told me not to endanger the value of good work with work that is cracked, crooked, damaged, or left field of your main body of work.

    He also taught me the cathartic feel of hammer against pottery for clearing out aggression and clearing out one’s visual field. Why keep bad work in view to remind you of failure. Learn from it and move it out and move on.

  29. I’ve done a bit of all of the above.
    One other way out is to do nothing and let the kids solve the problem after I am gone.
    The worry with this approach is they may throw a lot of it in the skip bin when cleaning out the house for sale!
    I don’t give my art to family as they may not like it but be too polite to say. As art is such a personal thing, if they actually say they love a piece without any prompting, I am only too pleased to give it to them immediately, knowing that they do really like it.

    1. I have gifted pieces to my friends and family for Christmas or birthdays after they have expressed a favorite. It’s a one time thing and they are ecstatic.

  30. What a great topic! I have tried most of these solutions and agree that none is ideal, especially since my work has evolved significantly over the last few years. I am currently in a studio tour and am offering some of my earlier work as unframed prints, stating openly that is earlier work. Because I make digital collages, I tell folks that I like to offer photographic prints, to prove I can actually take pictures too. (I use Photoshop).

    I like to think that over the years I have improved though, so for the most part I destroy the older stuff, because while I was pleased with it at the time, I find most of it now is not good enough. This way, it’s only the best of the old that I offer. I do worry some about the consistency issue though.

    Thanks for this discussion — interesting.

  31. An artist’s portfolio represents, in its entirety, a history of one’s thinking. To the extent that the memory of various painting experiences provides inspiration for future work, it’s useful to keep examples of each period on your walls for reference. Whenever a potential collector expresses interest in my work, but claims she has no more space on her walls, I always reply that the collectors I know always rotate their collections anyway, so why not take home something she loves. In the same way, an artist can act as her own collector, rotating aspects of her past for future inspiration. The other half of this equation is effective marketing and selling, but let’s not forget the arc of one’s evolution over a lifetime. Thanks for the provocative blog post, Jason!

  32. When I moved from Oregon to Connecticut, I had a large body of work that I didn’t want to move with me. Because my schedule was tight, I hired a company that took all the stuff I didn’t want to move that was useable and they donated it to various charities. They completed all the tax forms for me and gave me a CD with the inventory of donated goods. Fortunately, there was a client with one of the charitable organizations that really liked my work so the artwork was donated to that organization and then given to the client. Because I wasn’t filing a schedule C at the time, I was able to deduct the supplies used in making the work.

  33. Great and timely post. Working on improving my marketing efforts. I tried an ‘Oldies but Goodies’ sale of 10 of my earlier pieces through social media. A few expressed interest but wanted to know if I would discount. I had already discounted 50% so that wasn’t an option. I just completed a new website and will double my marketing efforts to find a wider audience.

  34. All of the proposed ideas have merit but the bonfire option. Why, in this day of recycling and repurposing materials would an artist consider that?
    The most important learning opportunity is, why didn’t this piece sell? Do some hard evaluation and pick it apart. Be ruthless. If you can rework the piece do so. Surely we have elevated our skills from early to current work. If it was that bad, paint over it. Or, considering your medium what else can you do with it besides chopping it up for bookmarks? Reframe it or display it in another gallery or retail venue. Your original concept was probably not a collage. Geez ….
    I recently came upon a carefully done three-color woodcut from a local artist. The twenty-year old piece was numbered, signed, professionally framed, on sale at Goodwill for $4. It grieved me. I messaged her offering the work to her but no answer as yet. That is not how I want my work to end up.
    I have repainted several pieces that were lacking in some respect. When I corrected the weak areas they eventually sold. It might be poor execution, price, venue, or even presentation. The greater question is, why didn’t it sell?

  35. I moved to a different town recently and though I gifted some pieces when i left and gave some to the thrift store, now that i’m up in my new digs i still have the problem as I dragged some pieces along and they are taking up space in my studio Some of my very early work I may sell in a studio sale at a very reduced price.

    And as for my new work, I will have them in a gallery up here and hopefully they will sell there or online.

  36. I just sold a 25 year old piece at close to full price, and I just traded a 15 year old painting for $6,000 in legal fees, so I can’t really say I agree with any of the suggestions, and I do date all my work and my style has changed a lot over the years. I tend to wait to enter older styles into appropriate shows or offer discounts on early work unless I’m still in love with the piece. Would you tell Picasso or Cezanne to get rid of earlier works? What about when it’s time for that major retrospective show and you have no early works? And I’m very prolific and have an inventory of over 400 paintings. I consider them money in the bank!

  37. It’s interesting to hear others view points. I have burnt older works when it was house moving time and I’ve chopped others up and sent to the tip. Stretched canvas I sometimes repainted but when I changed to working on watercolour paper storage became more an issue, as I like to paint on full size sheets. I was pleased to find that others at least asked the question . I am trying to market my work more consistently
    and I appreciate the advise given by Jason and other artists.

  38. I’m a new-to-marketing sculptor. As my pieces are typically fifty pounds plus I have already given “what to do with the old” some thought. One avenue that came to mind hasn’t been mentioned in the above, so I will share it.
    There are several artists’ works that I really appreciate. I likely won’t be in a financial position to buy their works outright, but I’m forward enough to let them know I’m open to old-stock swap when they are.
    I hope they are flattered, rather than insulted, and see the win-win potential. I’d be interested to hear other artists reactions to this idea…….and if anyone has experience with it.

  39. Thanks for approaching a subject I was thinking of asking. Ive burnt some of my earlier works, chopped up some and sent them to the tip and used some in collage too. Stretched canvas I will sometimes paint over.. Full size sheets of watercolour became more of an issue to store, especially trying to decide if they should be framed and finding an outlet.
    I think selling them off devalues them but sometimes I feel desperate . Good to hear all the differing points of view. Thank you Jason

  40. I redid an oil painting that had been hanging in my studio for several years. Yes, it did improve the composition, and the painting sold. But some years later, I received a phone call from the buyer telling me that a ghost was appearing in his painting. The figure that I had removed was not staying “put”. I offered to redo the entire painting, but this buyer liked his ghost. Perhaps this will only happen with oils. I don’t know. But I decided that if a painting needed “repainting”, I would start completely over. I wouldn’t take the chance of having a haunted studio.

  41. Lately I’ve been trading my older work with other artists. I get to enjoy collecting art and seeing my friends work around the house. It also results in my work ibeing shown in their collections.

  42. I am a watercolorist and I take in old work on consignment. If the work is not up to current standards, I repaint it. Sometimes I fix small problems, sometimes I do a darker wash on the whole work. My girlfriend pointed out that old stock just hasn’t been seen by the right buyer, which as turned out to be largely true. Unsellable work gets donated or given away.

  43. I am bothered by the equation not-sold equals not-good. Work should be sorted, but this is not the criteria to use..
    Any serious artist will have lots of work on hand. I would be suspicious of someone with only a few pieces. They are either not seriously productive or too comercisl

  44. I have just made a major move and knew that I couldn’t’ take it all with me, so I held a two-day open house weekend inviting all my FB friends and newsletter subscribers, students, collectors and personal friends to come say goodbye and offered my paintings at a deeply reduced price if they would help me find loving homes for my paintings. The works were hung on the walls of my home – every room! I reduced my inventory by half. I kept those paintings that were appropriate for my new home state and the others were donated to charities close to my heart and others were given to a few friends and family. (The rest were destroyed. I feel offended if someone does not love my work enough to purchase it or show any indication that they love the work.) It was a pleasant win/win for everyone and my studio inventory was greatly reduced.

  45. Before anything will be done with old work make a good photograph of it and put online at least to sell as prints, maybe this way it will bring you money after years. You never know with online customers who will desire this artwork on their wall .
    Jenny Rainbow

  46. I recently moved and had to get rid of a lot of old pieces. I went through my entire inventory and culled out the paintings that weren’t really that good or were inconsistent with my later work, and held a giant garage/driveway sale. I sold the pieces at “make me an offer” prices but at least I got rid of most of them. The ones remaining I carted off to Goodwill. I subsequently heard from a couple of people who bought the paintings from Goodwill, who wanted to know more about them. I got no money out of it,but at least I know the paintings are in the homes of people who enjoy looking at them.

  47. I like to evaluate my work, if it has not sold, to question why? Evaluate the colours, marks, title scale, subject matter, what works what fails. Some I keep if I feel they work for me, others I cut the section of canvas or paper (that has worked) as a record of marks and hang these in my studio space. A lot of them get scrapped, the canvas is taken off the stretcher, and then I reuse the stretcher for a new piece, it is a constant learning curve .

  48. Bottom line for me is: do I like/respect the piece. If it’s been 4 years (ish) and it’s been in a number of shows and hasn’t sold and I’m not happy with it I gesso it over.
    Though it’s has happened that someone will want a piece that is gone. C’est las vie.

  49. One day my son asked me what I do with the unsold paintings in my studio. After telling him they were sitting on shelves he suggested we create a “tribute wall” in my home to represent the evolution of my oil paintings throughout the years. We raided the studio and created a very large wall of paintings from ceiling to floor. We also hung an old palette with used brushes, color studies, workshop exercises and works in progress. It is not a wall of my best painting but it does remind me of all the steps I took to get where I am today. The room is very much all about me and my love affair with art.

  50. I always have people that are more than willing to take my art for free. This is primarily friends and family. So smaller pieces are not really an issue. Larger paintings, however are another story. I have quite a few older, large paintings that would only be suitable for a large wall so they would best be hung in a commercial space or with someone with a large wall space. I have donated some of these. I do not destroy my work and will never destroy these particular paintings because they mean too much to me. I really can’t include them with my current work because my style and technique have evolved to something different. Jason this topic has inspired me to go out and find a suitable place to donate them too. Great topic.

  51. I’m not an artist, but I am in the process of pulling together the work of a number of local artists to set up an art rental business, with an option to buy. Kind of buying original work in installments if the client decides to keep it, and building in a bit of a premium into the price before setting the rental value.

  52. Great review of the options Jason. I employ all of them in some way, but in the end…

    Maybe I’m a bit perverse but after a piece has “hung around for awhile” (pun intended ;), regardless of how good or how much my heart bleeds for them, my little creations, I burn them.

    It is cathartic; the finality is followed by a rush to propagate. It fuels the artistic hunger, sharpens the creative edge.

  53. I’ve participated in the “Affordable Arts” shows in my area. I got to reduce my inventory and people get a great deal on work I don’t show anymore! A Win-Win.

  54. I’ve donated old (and new) works to fund-raisers. A more recent piece was donated to an MS fundraiser. One of the participants of the event — a mentally handicapped young man — fell in love with my painting and wanted it desperately. The piece was a pastel painting of an owl (http://christienicklay.com/wise-eyes/). He put all of his tickets into the bucket and waited patiently for the drawing. When he didn’t win it, he was very upset and left. Another attendee saw how sad he was and approached the winner and convinced him to sell it to her. She then wrapped it up and had it delivered to the young man’s home. I was told the look on his face when he opened it was priceless. It made me feel good knowing that something I created had such a profound effect on this young man.

  55. I am a big fan of collage. I have cut up some of my paintings and made new ones using
    collage methods and have been happy with my new non-representative painting

  56. I am fairly lucky or my prices are way too cheap which I just raised, but I do all of the above I don’t have much left over older work and I’m pretty prolific or maybe I’m OCD, lol. Usually my favorite thing is to just reuse the the board I sand off the old image and start over sometimes just a section and repaint and include bits of the old one. I was just in an art fair and took a couple of older pieces lowered the price a little and they sold. If it’s a found object sculpture I disassemble and reuse the parts in other sculptures.

  57. Painted Canvas can be made into bags – also I have made old artwork into sketchbook covers for myself – the inspiration part is kept that way.

    1. What an awesome idea, making them into bags! I now work exclusively in photography and digital art and have canvases of oils and acrylics taking up precious storage space. I don’t have sentimental feelings over those older works because they contributed to my ongoing evolution as an artist. I’m going to make bags and sell the bags this fall at the art shows I’ve got on the calendar. Awesome!

  58. Also – there is a trend in the UK at least for Art Car Boot Sales (like a yard sale) – I am participating in one this weekend at the Goods Shed, Stroud, Glos. and planning to sell lots of old small pieces. Later I think I will host a Bonfire for artists to gather and ceremonially destroy unwanted work. That way at least it gets acknowledged before dying.

  59. In this regard I am fortunate as I am a photographer and digital artist. Yes I have stacks of old prints in my basement but then I can just tear or cut up and send to recycle all the ones I don’t want and still have the original image on my computer or on my web site or in the cloud (wherever that may be). I recommend to all my painter or sculpture artist friends that they take good photographs of their work and digitally store them as these are likely to be around longer than the physical objects and allow others to know what you have accomplished as an artist. In the future those who might have interest in your art work and career (family, friends, researchers) will have much easier access to your work and life history online that in physical fact. Yes it is not the same as experiencing the physical work on the wall or on a pedestal but then the fact is that most of the physical works artists make will likely never survive or be seen after they die.

  60. This storage problem has led to my painting on paper instead of stretched canvas. I have a stack of canvases to paint over…but paper seems the best solution to me, which I can then roll up.

  61. I used to burn/destroy a lot of my work in the past feeling that it was not good enough. I now regret parting with pieces that would have shown my growth over time. My teenage son rescued one failed painting from the burn pile. Seeing it daily I figured out what was wrong and reworked it. It ended up being a painting that got many offers over the years which I had to turn down as it was no longer mine. Sometimes I believe a painting to be complete, only to realize 3 to 5 years later its not, then it gets reworked. Those end up being the ones I learn the most from.

  62. How about “Convince your gallery to hold a ‘starving artist’ sale and invite artists to bring in older works.” Go ahead and pile the paintings in at a higher density than normally displayed, and encourage the artist to hang around and “wheel and deal.” Something like your “studio sale” suggestion, but putting several artist in one place. make a festival of it and get the artists to volunteer some prints/small works as door prizes.

  63. If none of the ideas work that are suggested in the comments, just recycle your work. Remember, canvas is money. Why buy new canvas when you can just gesso or paint over it. Then you are not losing anything.

  64. What would happen if 2 artists exchange art works and then donate the other’s piece to a charity? Since they’re donating someone else’s work, can they claim a deduction of its worth? What do you think?

    1. This would be a good question for your CPA. The problem I see with this is that the IRS would see the exchange of artwork as a sale and want to tax you on that (this is an issue whenever trading artwork), so the offset of the donation might simply zero out the transaction, not result in a deduction.

  65. I have a problem with the idea that older work should be sold at a discount. When it comes to famous dead artists, the older the better. The prices don’t diminish and neither does the perceived quality due to chronology of the work. If you truly think your older work is junk them junk it or paint over it, but otherwise i don’t think it should be sold dirt cheap. I think the only one who cares when it was made is the artist and big discounts devalues the work. Thoughts?

    1. I tend to agree with Lauren that deep discounts or giving away some of our art devalues all of our work. There is still the dilemma of what to do with works we have had for a while—the answer to that dilemma largely depends on what medium(s) we work in, how prolific we are, and how much space we have available for storage. I agree that if we don’t consider a work worthy of our name, unless there is a lesson to be learned from it, or we have a special attachment to it ourselves, we probably are ill-advised to keep or disseminate it, and it is probably best destroyed or repurposed. (See also my comment below.)

  66. With so much art being donated and sold at greatly reduced prices, or put out for trash or recycle and gathered up by people who can’t (or won’t) pay the full price, how can we expect anyone to value and buy our art at full price, no matter how old or how good it is? Maybe the reason the art hasn’t been sold has more to do with the region / venue in which it is being offered and the interest / ability of people in that region to value and buy art, than whether the art piece is “successfully” executed and has artistic merit. I agree that “not sold” doesn’t necessarily mean “not good.”
    In the spirit of moving some of my older art, I have considered offering the opportunity to my contacts to make me an offer, if there are works in my collection they have wanted to have, but, for whatever reason, have not purchased. At least that would give them a chance to demonstrate their interest; it could start a conversation (and negotiation) with a would-be collector that might result in a sale that would be satisfactory to both artist and collector. (I haven’t actually tried this yet, so others’s comments would be appreciated.)

  67. Keeping good art in front of the public is key for sales. One of my favorite larger pieces hung in my studio/gallery for 2 years. Then a gallery called me. One of their artists was unable to deliver artwork and there were a few blank spaces on their walls. I took the piece down to their gallery during the Xmas season. The piece sold on New Years eve day. After that the gallery started to rep my work. Every few months we swap out unsold pieces for new work. Luckily, I found a new gallery in another state who are excited about hanging my “older” inventory. A few of my older pieces that haven’t sold have found a place in my home. I look at this art as reminding me of a phase or from a a series and how I’ve evolved as an artist. These pieces have been marked as NFS. All this keeps my inventory is managable.

  68. Its not just about paintings and canvas’ what about all the prep design work, all the drafts and studies done, all the scrapes of paper and stock with ideas for paintings. Especially challenging for illustrators, what do do with all those drafts and studies? I have portfolios of work and boxes of paintings that I did not want to sell and don’t even know if I could show. What do do with all this “stuff” Really don’t want all of to end up in the basement of my heirs—molding away nor do I want to do the bonfire or thrown to the curb. Is there an Artist warehouse anywhere where work is donated with the hope that it maybe shown and fame shall follow. It is still a conundrum.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *