A Creative Idea for Unloading Earlier Art

There’s too much art hiding in studios, basements, and garages.

If you have a problem with overflowing inventory, especially a lot of earlier art that you aren’t excited about showing, how about finding new homes for that work? At the same time, you’ll create room for new art, support a good cause, and earn income.

A Creative Idea for Unloading Earlier Art | Art Biz Coach

Organize a Fundraiser

Yep, I’m talking about a fundraiser.

Now before you cut me off because you think I’m going to tell you to donate your art, hang tight. Just the opposite is true because you’re going to make money on this fundraiser.

There must be a cause that is close to your heart: animals, the environment, education, an art center. Pick one and ask a nonprofit organization to partner with you.

This partnership is key because the organization should have a solid list of members who would love to support the cause further.

The organization can help you publicize the fundraiser and perhaps, if available, even loan you a venue.

Your arrangement is to donate 50% of all sales to the organization and keep 50% for yourself.

3 Fundraising Formats

Here are three formats you could use for this process.

1. Hold a straight sale.

Install the work in a professional manner and put price tags on the work. Buyers make purchases just like at any other venue.

2. Have a silent auction.

Install the work in a professional manner with bidding sheets next to each one. Be sure to start with a minimum bid and require bidders to bid in increments that are reasonable for the item (e.g. $20 increments for higher-valued pieces rather than $1 or $5 increments).

3. Have a live auction.

Know an auctioneer? Take the bidding war to the stage. Just make sure that the auctioneer is sensitive to the art.

Of course there is much more to consider when organizing a fundraiser, but it could be well worth your time. In the end, a fundraiser will generate buzz about your art and the organization, nurture community connections, and … well … just make you feel good!

Talk Back

Have you ever held a fundraiser with your art that earned you money? Tell us what you learned in a comment here.

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41 comments to A Creative Idea for Unloading Earlier Art

  • Excellent timing. I have been shaking my head at some of my earlier stuff recently. From when I was more experimenting and not quite settled on my style… Lately, I’ve just been painting over these pieces, but some of them are decent enough to sell, they just don’t have my “look” to them.

    So here’s my question: would you “unload” pieces that aren’t congruent with your signature style? Or is that sending mixed messages to collectors?

    • Mandy (and others who are curious and posted below): I like that you’re painting over the not-up-to-par stuff. You’ll be fine selling the incongruent stuff. You can even give it a name. “Work from a Previous Life” or something like that.

  • I echo both Mandy’s response and her question.

  • I am interested in the same questions Mandy mentioned. I have plenty of good work that is not current and some that is not that far off from what I do.

  • I am currently setting up an auction that will raise money for a non-profit that is close to my heart. A quick google search shows a number of online auction setups. Has any of you used an online auction software that you would recommend?

    • Karen: I have only heard of artists using eBay for auctions. Sorry I can’t be of help. Maybe someone else will come along with more options.

    • If you have a WordPress site you might consider this: https://wordpress.org/plugins/ultimate-auction/
      It’s says you can host your own auctions similar to eBay style. I can’t recommend it as I’ve not used it, but may be worth considering. I do some eBay auctions for works that I sign under a different name and was thinking about having “special” auctions by using a plugin such as this and setting up an auction page on my blog.

  • Alyson- thanks for posting this I belong to an artist collective and we are thinking of doing a “100 for under $100 event. But I think if we can connect with a great cause, we could do even better for the not for profit and ourselves. I sent them your post and i hope they will jump on it. Thanks.

  • This is a great idea!
    I did something similar last summer with some of my older work.
    Most of the show sold and 100% of the proceeds were donated to a gofundme for a family member with cancer. (I asked the buyers to make their donations online as payment for the art)
    I produced a pdf catalog that I posted to my website and shared on Facebook.
    The majority of the pieces were sold through the Facebook posts and the rest at the venue.
    It was, by all measurements, very successful. I was able to contribute more than I could have by writing a check, I cleaned out my studio, and have some new collectors.
    I know a 100% donation is outside what most artists are willing and able to give up. But I thought I would share, it might spark and idea for someone wondering how they can help.

    • Wow! What a wonderful example! Excellent.

    • Thank you for sharing this, Leslie. Congratulations on the success of your sale.

    • Yes! Wonderful and inspiring, Leslie, an excellent example…like your art! Your comment inspired numerous impulses: first, to follow (wanted to know more about who this person was), and then to forward your website to a talented niece who’d also combined digital art into her painting, as well as an architect grandson artist, living in Austin, and now to rethink how I look at my own photography from now on!

      In the meantime, I also appreciate Alyson for always having inspiring messages to better an artistic world,

  • These are good ideas, but sometimes art doesn’t sell because it shouldn’t. Before you decide to sell earlier artwork, I think you should take a critical look at it. Is it something you would sell now? Would you post it on your webpage now? I do have some of my earlier works on my website but not all of them. If I am posting earlier works, it helps to post them with similar pieces. That way there is a context. Perhaps you could do this with a fundraiser. If you grow as an artist, there is a chance that your style will change. If the paintings pass your critique but are different from what you do now, you could use this as a motif for your fund raiser. A friend of mine works in oils on panels. He recently told me that if one of his had not sold in a specific period of time, that he would document it well and repurpose the panel. I think that sometimes we get caught up in the idea that every art work we make is valuable, when in reality, sometimes we should just move on. I read years ago that sometimes you should just have a bonfire.

    • Excellent point, Leslie. And I couldn’t agree more. I love the way you put it: “sometimes art doesn’t sell because it shouldn’t.”

      As I said to Mandy above, I am all for the “paint over it when possible” route. Of course, this applies only to painters. Other artists might be able to reuse parts of earlier work.

  • Dear Artist Practice people,

    I understand the wish to move the art out and also consider ways to do it, however after a 12 month seminar with Paul Klein talking with collectors and art museum people the synopsis seemed to be that to reduce prices of art in auctions and the like is not fair to the collectors who pay full price for your art. THis is one reason I would not swing far – maybe 10 to 15 per cent in studio sales to not undermine what my Gallery down the street was selling my art for.

    Storage, even destroying work seemed a better solution. I know, sounds cruel.

    best of all wishes to you,
    e tobin eckian

    • Who said to reduce the price?

      • In art auctions around here – newburyport, mass – my art has been asked to ‘donate’ for fundraisers (no money for artist and whatever the auction price goes for may be less than what is market value) and the Newburyport Art Association every year does a gala auction prestigious to be asked to be in – and also will sell paintings below market value – people get used to coming to these events in order to “get a deal” when other collectors are paying full price.

  • I recently did a crowdsourcing fundraiser for myself to get me through a personal financial crisis. I used mostly note cards and small prints of my work, and a few surplus 8×10 canvas panels. I raised $15,000 in a little less than 4 days. It was awesome.

    There is no reason why this couldn’t be done with “earlier art”, but I prefer to archive earlier works that represent a certain period in my artistic development or chronicle a line of artistic inquiry over a number of years. If a piece is damaged from improper storage, I’d rather not put it out there as representative of my work.

  • I like to repaint my earlier work, now I can see the mistakes I made and what to do, sometimes I over paint it with Titanium White oil paint. With pastels I just rinse them off a bit.
    IF they are not my style any more I paint over my signature and send them to the Good Will/ARC stores. I sent 50 one time about 10 years ago and they ended up all over, I would prefer that than a bonfire and if my name isn’t on it, who cares what they sell for? I like painting on panels because they don’t take up much room and when I revisit them sometimes they can turn out really well.

  • holy cow this is fantastic. I already took action and contacted an organization I want to support. so simple and obvious and brilliant.
    I like the way it is a bold 50%. this is a great win-win.

  • This is brilliant! I wonder if it would work online?

  • PS I would not try to “get rid of earlier work” I call it — art that hasn’t yet found an audience. Only the best stuff and why give 50% to a gallery owner when I can give it to my favorite charity.

  • Hi Alyson,
    As you know….me & my art [OK and excess: clothing, personal effects, and general no-need-for-household-clutter] etc.

    Have, now, via my lifelong support of just one charity [yo’ve got to concentrate the efforts] has now put two clean water wells in two African Villages to date.

    Donating the art clears the clutter in my art studio & home allowing me to make more art with that pile no longer demotivating me.

    PS th illustrations are coming along nicely!

  • I think this is a terrific suggestion in which everyone wins. I’ve seen galleries and non-profits using something called Paddle8 https://paddle8.com/ for small fundraising auctions. I don’t know much about them, but they do charge an 8% commission for consigned works. It would seem there are a few very viable ways to approach this. I don’t think you filed this under your “Deep Thought Thursday,” category, but maybe it should be! Lots to think about with this one.

  • What a lovely idea. I have been looking at my own older art thinking it not as advanced and maybe a bit childish. But my style is childish in nature, so I can let go of that criticism. What is interesting is that I never considered an auction as a way to bring in money to help support one of the causes I’m passionate about – preserving local farmland. While I would prefer the art I’m selling be reminiscent of farms and earth (as I feel it best aligns with the purpose and draws in aligned clients), I can see how if I am true in my support and earnest in my desire to raise money for this cause, using my older art might be just as viable as creating new art. Thank you for the inspiration.

  • The gallery that I’m a partner in is having a big party for the local Arts Council & its VIP list. The “fundraiser” part is a silent auction at the event featuring older but quality pieces donated by our artists. Catering has all been donated by a new hotel that wants to get its name out. Meanwhile, the VIPs see our gallery and a special show of our newest, best work and hopefully become new collectors and regular patrons.

  • Your email blast today reminded me that I’ve been meaning to tell you more about the Affordable Arts Festival. I had a similar idea years ago to do a fundraiser since I know most artists have old inventory, slightly dinged pieces or old styles that don’t mesh with their new style of work. It was a bit more difficult to put together than I thought and I dropped the idea. When I found (and exhibited at) the $100 show in Milwaukee that’s been around for 45+ years I knew this was the answer. The Affordable Arts Festival is now in its 4th year and already is ranked at #36 in the country (ArtFair Sourcebook) and only Downtown Denver Arts Festival and Cherry Creek are ranked higher in CO! This concept works because the artists only pay $195 for a larger than normal booth, it’s one day (6 hours long) and the lines to get in are growing every year. Plus, the proceeds from the $5 admission goes to the Arapahoe Community College Foundation for scholarships including one for Art students. The artists get to sell their work, keep all of the money and leave the promotions to me. We have KOSI radio, CBS4 and do well over $30,000 in promotions. I had many skeptics when I started it and was not talked about in a very nice way by some artists but now I’m seeing those same artists coming around and realizing we are not trying to ‘cheapen art’! Average sales last year were over $4,000 and one artist sold $20,000 and another had an empty booth within 2 hours of opening. I’ve done over 350 art shows over my career and now run two festivals (Downtown Denver Arts Festival and Affordable Arts Festival) and I can tell you that I’ve never seen so many smiles at a festival as this. The clients are smiling, the artists are smiling and the College is smiling. It doesn’t work for all artists but for many it’s like finding a few thousand dollars in the couch cushions since some of this art would have been thrown out just to make room in their studios.

    I just wanted to let you know more about the show’s growth since we last talked about it. Also, how it helps artists get rid of old work but interestingly some artists are now figuring out how to create a separate line of work just for AAF. Also, several artists have had follow up sales from clients for their full price and current work after the festival.

  • These are all such great examples of ideas to clear out inventory to create more studio space as well as help a good cause. We really don’t have much like this in my area, although I did participate recently in a small works show at my local library. While there was no entry fee, it was a juried show and I actually ended up selling all 4 of my pieces (and donated 25% to the library).

  • This is perfect timing. I have been working on my “Clear the Studio” show for April but the deadline came up to soon so it’s been pushed to May! I did this in May of 2010 and sold a ton of pieces. It was a very successful event but it was at my home and I had to have a shuttle for the parking, plus I had to invite strangers back to my home address. This time I’m holding it at a small gallery who will either charge a flat fee or a commission but I can market it to a more mass group. I love the idea of bringing in a charity who can help me promote and give them a percentage of the sales! My problem is there are thousands of charities, and I don’t know who to choose. I care about everyone’s cause so it’s hard to know where to start. Maybe I should just choose an Arts organization. Afraid to open the gates and ask for suggestions on my personal Facebook page. I have donated paintings and painted items before but this is for a specific event.

    • If I might offer a suggestion… Get quiet or get out and move (like walk or dance), ask the question, then follow your heart. You know exactly who to choose. And, whatever charity you choose this time will be the right one.

  • I am planning a porch sale in the spring.
    I have early and late work that I will offer.
    The paintings are my shoebox art 5×7-6×8 inches unframed.
    Prices will be $50-$100.
    PS- See me on Youtube , I talk about the shoebox paintings.

  • This is a great idea. I asked a follow artist and she did not seemed to be interested in it but I might not explained it right. But I do have old paintings just sitting in my basement and not a place to put new ones.
    I would like to give to the Alzheimer’s organization. My mom has it.

  • Cindy Osborne

    This is an amazing idea! I moved in the commercial art direction when I found myself suddenly the single mother of two. So, while I’ve not created art for the sake of art in many years, I’ve produced eight lovely children while running a successful graphic design business from home, and logged countless hours (and projects) as a volunteer for several organizations near and dear to my heart.
    At this very moment my mind is whirling with ideas on how to make this work with one of those organizations and a local artist who also has a ton of fabulous but not current art. Thanks for the post.

  • Great idea . I just cleaned out my storage and threw away 4 or 5 pieces I know most of them someone grabbed because they were gone less than an hr after I left them. After reading this I should have at least donated them. Oh well next time.

  • Dawn Petrill

    Wouldn’t you know it- I just received this blogpost in my inbox about how to build an auction site in wordpress: http://www.elegantthemes.com/blog/tips-tricks/how-to-build-an-auction-site-on-wordpress?utm_source=Elegant+Themes&utm_campaign=4fc711d759-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c886a2fc0a-4fc711d759-50604641

    Isn’t that uncanny?! Great post and comments- I’ll have to file this one away!! Thanks, Alyson!:)