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Art = For Sale, Not on Sale

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  • Post category:Business / Photo Tips

Dear artist friends,

Over the past few years I have had this conversation in person with a few of you, mostly while we’re visiting during a lull at an art show.

The topic of discussion: should art be on sale.

For those new to this discussion, there is a difference between on sale and for sale. The discussion revolves around on sale. Of course our work should be for sale for us to be in business. For artists are business people.

I don’t claim to be an expert in this field but I do have nine years under my belt of art sales and each year I have seen a steady increase in sales, including 2020 and beyond. I have read many blogs and listened to numerous veterans in the art field.

Here is my conclusion: Art is always for sale, but not on sale.*

Here are are few of my reasons:

  1. Art is valuable. Art does not go out of season or expire and shouldn’t be classified in the same category as retail or groceries.
  2. My buyers and patrons are valuable. They invest in me when they purchase my photographs. Often they also become my friends. Running a sale later in the year to move art isn’t how I treat my friends who have already invested in me.
  3. I want to draw collectors of those who appreciate and value what I do through my photographs. Several years ago I asked myself, “Who is my target audience? Do I want collectors or bargain hunters?” Bargain hunters will more often only purchase sale items, or try to get a deal (I also don’t deal, my price is final). If you have a habit of sharing an end of the year sale, they will never purchase from you at full price. You lose business this way.
  4. Collectors purchase from you not only because they love a particular art piece, but because they also like you. Your collectors will start to be nervous about what is wrong with your pieces, or concerned about what they purchased, if a sale is announced.
  5. Collectors will be upset if they purchased from you in April and then in November you start to mark down your artwork, thus creating a lack of trust in you as an artist and business person. Refer to #2.
  6. Mark-down sales hurt the longevity of an art business. An artist might want to move work right now, but that is not a good reason to have a sale. This will not attract the right client for an art business to thrive and survive. See again #1. Sometimes an evaluation of the business, prices, art shows attending may need to be reassessed.
  7. Simply put, it’s just bad business for an artist and for your fellow artist. You want to see your business steadily grow. Sales end up hurting your business in the long run and also that of others in your field.
Delivering Green Pastures (24×36 HD Metal print) to patron and friend, Carolyn.

Everyone has works of art that don’t always sell right away. This is not a reason for a sale.

What do you do with pieces you’ve created that have been around for a few years but never purchased?

A few tips for struggling art pieces:

  1. Pull it out of your show selection, bring it home from the gallery and store for a little while. Reenter the piece a year or so later. I know an artist who did this with an older piece and she sold it after leaving the painting in storage for a time.
  2. Change the value, but do not advertise that you did so. It’s possible the value might be holding up a buyer, especially if you’ve had the impression a few times that it might be readily purchased. A reduction in value to move a piece is better business in the long run than having a sale, but sometimes an increase will also encourage a sale.
  3. Has your style changed? Does this older piece fit your current body of work? Be honest, is this old piece really up to the quality you currently are creating? Sometimes it’s ok to say good-bye. I recently trashed a few old canvas prints that weren’t to my current standard of printing and I’ve improved in my art. It was liberating! 😉

If some of my work just isn’t selling, there are two possible but not limited to reasons:

  1. Find the right audience for this piece.
    • Re-assess who to sell to and where to sell. Do these buyers frequent the locations in which your art works is being sold?
  2. Go back to the studio and step up the creative work.
    • Take another class, go on a retreat, reevaluate what you want to say and share with your art.
  3. Presentation matters. Maybe your art show booth needs a makeover? Check out My Tips on How to Improve Your Art Show Booth. 🙂

After all this I will tell you on a few occasions I do have a sale. Once a year in July-August I announce a Pre-order sale on my calendars at 10% off. I do this as a thank you to my repeat buyers for their many years of purchasing my annual calendar. This gives me an idea of what to order and my calendars are purchased in bulk so they can be discounted.

I offer my cards at a discount for purchasing in packets of four, but that is because when I purchase the card blanks I get a bulk discount. The same with my coasters.

I never have a sale on a specific card or coaster that doesn’t sell well. I start out printing only a few of each new photograph so if that image isn’t as loved by my audience as by me, then I don’t have too much of that inventory overhead.

Stella was gifted to one of her girls as a bridal gift by the rest of the bride’s family. Yet another joy of photography-preserving meaning family history (Stella was given by the bride’s grandfather to her mother as a calf. Both grandfather and Stella have since died, thus making this gift even more meaningful.)

An art business is not Hobby Lobby or Michael’s. We are entrepreneur’s, or better yet artrepreneurs. We are small businesses, working-from-home-studios-citizens. Art is not charity, unless that’s your business plan. Art is for profit, not non-profit (and that’s another share for another time on why Grandview Gallery is an LLC vs. non-profit).

Look at your business as such, a business. You can and should be making a profit and increasing your income from your honest selling of your valued creative works.

Artists should not be starving. Running sales on your body of art work will take you in this direction instead of building a business. In the first few years of business, I read Jeff Goins’ book Real Artists Don’t Starve. I highly recommend this read. From this I learned the value of artists being paid appropriately for their work.

So dear friends, I encourage, beg, beckon you to stand tall with your creative business. Do not give in to the wiles of fast fashion and retail gimmicks.

For what you have is not over ripe bananas or the previous season’s decor.

What you have, dear friends, is your heart and soul in creative expression. Don’t cheapen yourself for the sake of a dollar. Stand by what you have created in the full value of it’s worth!

For what you have is not retail, what you have is art!


*For some laughs, here’s a video where I picked up the phrase “for sale, not on sale.” A few years ago I came across Dale Brisby’s YouTube channel. In this video he’s selling his First Gen pickup. But as always, it’s for sale, not on sale. 😉

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