Give Away Your Art ???

Free art can lure people in the door and lead to sales. IF you do it right.

David Castle’s “Flapjack” paintings.
David Castle’s “Flapjack” paintings. ©The Artist.

I was alarmed when I saw this subject line in my inbox:

David Castle Art: FREE Flapjacks This First Friday to Kick Off Denver Arts Week!

“Flapjacks” is the name David Castle has given to 3″x3″ watercolors that he gives to visitors at his open studio during a citywide gallery night out.

He planned to give away 1 Flapjack to each of the first 40 people who visited his studio that night.

The Confrontation

I quickly wrote him back: HOLY COW! You’re giving away 40 paintings?!
I thought he might be just a little crazy.

David said (my paraphrase), Yep, that’s my plan. He further explained that he gives away 40 at the event, 5 to commenters on his blog, and 5 to fans on Facebook.

Why It Works

David Castle’s partially painted “Flapjack” paintings.
David Castle’s partially painted “Flapjack” paintings. ©The Artist.

But, and here’s the key, people don’t walk out of the studio with one of David’s miniature watercolors in their hands.

Instead, they select an unfinished painting and write their name and contact information on the back [see image at right].

David adds the names to his contact list, finishes the painting later [see examples at top], and sends them the finished painting along with information about him and his art.

If people grabbed a painting and left, the promotion wouldn’t help him out much. David wouldn’t know anyone’s names or have their information.

Why Do It At All?

David said he wouldn’t give away his art if it weren’t fun for him. Each one takes about 5 minutes to paint, and he enjoys giving gifts to his studio visitors.

He can help cover his costs by offering to frame each painting for the low price of $25.

Most importantly, David can attribute $1000 in sales directly to this one promotion!

David has not only made sales from giving away his art, but he has also expanded his contact list and undoubtedly made a lot of fans for life.

David just might be crazy: crazy like a fox!

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66 thoughts on “Give Away Your Art ???”

  1. I like the idea! Properly thought through and definitely a worthy promotional tool.
    I understand that he doesn’t mind giving them away as it doesn’t take that long and he enjoy the process, it’s the same for me for some of my simpler drawings.
    I will definitely keep it in mind.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Tania: This is so important to him: that it’s FUN. He was afraid I was going to try to talk him out of it and that he shouldn’t do it anymore. I’d never try to take the fun away from an artist.

  2. It looks like David has done it the right way. The free pieces don’t make his proper pieces look worthless, since they are a lot smaller and take a very small workload. As long as he keeps enjoying this strategy, I don’t see a problem with this sort of promotion. The up-sell by adding a frame is smart.
    As for me, I haven’t given away free art. I haven’t thought about the right way of doing it yet, and even if I want it to be part of my marketing strategy.

    1. I forgot to say I use Moo cards as my business cards and they let you put any image on one side. I use that side to show off my photos, sort of like a mini-portfolio when I’m out and about.
      If you look at it that way, I’m sort of giving away some of my art for free as a little momento, but nowhere near the quality of a real print.
      I’ll be sure to let you know if I ever do anything with free art.

  3. Currently I have a promotion that I will give away a sculpture to one of the fans on my facebook page on Dec. 15th. I’ve been wanting to do some sort of raffle for a long time but wasn’t sure whether to do it at a gallery event where I get contact information or try to expand my presence on facebook. I’m trying the FB route right now.

  4. It seems like a really good idea. Many artists make ATCs so this is just a variation, but one that is closer to the conventional idea of a ‘painting’. I will certainly think about it and possibly modify the idea for my blog.

  5. I started painting in earnest 6 years ago and have given away my art right from the beginning….to be nice, to show I care and sometimes because I didn’t have the funds to buy a gift.
    It has alway blessed me with sales in return. Sometimes immediately and sometimes not for a year or two, but these recipients alway came back to buy. You have to give to get…right?

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Dorothy: Sounds like giving has made you happy. I worry when artists ONLY give and never see return on it. It’s important to keep an eye out for that.

  6. I had an “Arty Party” in my home where everyone who came along got a free Christmas gift. Heres the invite on my blog
    The gift was a folder of 12 images titled The Joureny of Soul. you can see it this page:
    I currently sell it for €10 or give it away free when anyone buys a print.
    It worked very well with good sales. In fact it was the best exhibition I’ve every had as far as sales are concerned. I had a calendar for sale at €15 which most people who didn’t by a picture bought.
    The results could have been better but on the Saturday and Sunday we had several inches of snow which stopped people traveling.
    After the event I put up a video on the blog so people who couldn’t make it could see what it was like.
    At the entrance people were required to sign in, so we could keep tabs on who came and collect their contact info too.
    I look on the folder of images as a way of letting people see more of my art. They may even give it to a friend as a gift so others get to see my art.

  7. What a great idea! I had my first art giveaway on my blog a few months back. My goal was to get more traffic, more followers to my blog and more fans on fb. The turnout was amazing! I had a blast doing it and am looking forward to the next one!

    1. Reveille Kennedy

      I think this is exactly what you have been preaching all along. It is so important to give away something you have made. From PBS to church, friends and relatives, to drawings for people’s books who could not afford to hire someone, I have learned to be flexible and have fun. Many rewards from this, as Dorothy and Stephanie said.
      I love the way David did it. I may have to innovate and motivate at our co op gallery. Read the book “Choke” by Sian Bellock and you will find out that we limit ourselves all too often for various reasons.

    2. Alyson Stanfield

      Reveille: Thanks for the book recommendation.
      As I wrote above in a comment, I don’t believe in giving and giving without seeing return. That can lead to bitterness. Unless it’s part of your heart and valuable to your personal growth.
      I think it’s critical to take care of yourself first.

  8. I have done many drawings and paintings that I gave friends and family, and one in particular resulted in a huge commission later on. I participated in a Mask project in Denver (you design a mask to be auctioned) and my name is now etched in the website– for free. Someone did buy my mask for a relatively large sum, so it helped boost my confidence as well.
    As far as getting names for email list, I did a “FREE Drawing of Your Loved One”- a raffle that would have people leave me their info, and I picked the winner in a raffle the following week, and contacted the winner- the winner would provide a photo for a simple portrait. It was helpful, but takes more time. David Castle’s idea is just awesome. I will try that for a studio tour next year.

  9. I give art away on a regular basis. Sometimes for a charity auction, sometimes just to give to someone. I make mosaics to share them in any way I can! I am having a contest on my blog right now giving away a mosaic plus other things each week for 3 weeks this month. It is a great way to introduce myself to new people and in turn I’ve gotten a few new customers from it along the way. David is a perfect example of the typical artist attitude. Give without expecting anything in return and it comes back to you in ways you’d never imagine! Good for you, David!!

  10. Yep, a great idea I am getting ready to launch a big sale on classes myself. I have a friend who auctions a piece of art at his show for a dollar he usually raises quite a bit doing this. Who doesn’t want a piece of art for $1.00 or $5.00 even!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Claudia: How does that work? An auction usually implies incrementally increasing the price. Is $1 the starting bid?

  11. I do a lot of demonstrations where I use a plein air sketch as reference material for producing a larger, studio work. At the end of the demo, I give away the original, small plein air sketch. People pay for the demo, have a chance to win the sketch by registering with their name and email address, and often the studio piece sells as well.

  12. I did an art giveaway on my Facebook page. I gave away a free postcard print of my work as part of a contest. I did an abstraction of an animal and whomever correctly guessed what the animal was first got a free print. It generated a lot of intereste and the person who won the print also went on my online store and bought a few more prints to complement the one that she won.

  13. This is brilliant! A unique idea where he’s not only sharing his art but also receiving new collectors information (and new collectors). Absolutely brilliant! Do we have awards for forward thinkers like this? If not, we should.

  14. When I first started my art and mosaic making business twelve years ago I used to give away hand painted watercolour cards to anyone who did something nice for me, as a way of showing appreciation. They didnt take long to do with my quick fire techniques.
    Three years ago I became very busy and stopped doing it. Now because of the econonomic downturn I am less busy. I think I will resurrect this practise, as well as consistently add to my database.
    Good post.

  15. Wow! Lots of great feedback on my flapjack giveaway… thanks everyone.
    I should add that a big part of the fun is the looks on people’s faces while they pick out their favorite color among the unfinished flapjacks (like kids in a candy store). Also fun is some of the feedback I’ve received from folks after they receive their finished flapjack – some as far away as Austria!
    Finally – after the past few weeks, I can directly attribute some new sales of other artwork to this marketing action!

    1. David: I just can’t imagine how I would choose a color. They’re all like gems. Thank you for sharing your story with others. It’s a huge gift — as you can see.

  16. This sounds like a fun, a well thought out plan, more than a free for all.
    Against all business advice and instinct, I have given many custom paintings away. But not just to any dude on the street .. . . ., and not to people who ASK for free stuff. I select people who are connected to a market I want to attract, or people who will use my art to promote their business, or people who will engage others in a blog or social media to promote ME. Usually the recipient is so appreciative, they will cover material cost, or offer me a trade, or even hire me for another project.
    In this way it’s more like advertising, and it also establishes a relationship with someone who might not acknowledge you otherwise.

  17. That’s a really cool idea. For artists that can produce work quickly that’s a great marketing tool. I’ve once tried giving away a promotional piece of work at an exhibition by drawing a name from anyone that bought a piece.
    But now I’m thinking David’s idea it would probably have been more beneficial, like drawing a name from anyone who signed up on the mailing list. Neat! Will have to give this more thought!

  18. I had really exquisite business cards made for the holiday season, with one side of the painting I want to sell…Really nice recycled linen paper…People love getting one…It is a tiny gift painting…

  19. Has anyone given away an electronic image of their work to be used as a screen saver? Although if you go this route it would be like giving your work to the universe and public domain. Recording artists now do this. What do you think would happen if artists also shared a little??????

    1. Jane: I can’t tell you who or when, but I know I’ve seen artists give away screen savers. Just be sure your name is visible. My 2 cents.

  20. Wow what a brilliant idea David!! I’ll be trying something similar to this but as my style is quite detailed (I am envious of people who can paint fast, beautiful and fun art!!) I’m going to offer bookmarks and fridge magnets that only contain a character or piece of a larger work. Fingers crossed this is enticing!!
    Jane I’m planning on offering iPhone and PC desktop art. BUT I’m creating pieces that are specific for this purpose. That way I won’t mind how many people use them because it’s all free promotion for me and my larger sale pieces are still safe 🙂 hope that helps?

  21. Linda Summers Posey

    Great idea from David. I’ll have to see how I can adapt it for my next show coming up in 10 days! My only added suggestion would be not to mail the finished painting, but to make the winners come back to the studio to get it (unless they’re just visiting in town and going home soon). Surely the return trip wouldn’t be too much to pay for a free painting — and would generate some return traffic for the artist’s studio or gallery.

    1. Linda: Now that’s a twist worth considering. But I do like that David is providing a service as part of the gift.

    2. Linda Summers Posey

      Yes, as long as he enjoys making the delivery as much as he does making the little paintings. I like the idea that if the recipient has to return to pick up the painting, then he/she has an investment in the process and will presumably appreciate the painting more.

  22. Another great post Alyson, well done David – I love your work by the way!
    I’m planning on putting an editorial in my local paper with info such as the new website, exhibitions throughout the year I’ll be involved in and to announce a competition. Whoever subscribes to my blog before a certain date will get to choose an available painting from my website to keep.
    I get subscribers to my blog, people checking out my website, exposure in the media and I get the pleasure of seeing someone choose a piece they really love. It would have been a great Christmas gimmick but I missed that train! It could also work for Valentines Day, or any other day really.

  23. This is a great post! David, what I like the most is that they have to leave you their address and info before you give them the finished product.
    And of course I Love your work!
    I do encaustic and melt wax on a skillet and at the end of my sessions I have a combination of colors. I have been taking some nice paper and laying it on top of the hot skillet getting beautiful encaustic designs. I have been cutting them up into 4x4s 5x5s and use them as cards. I finish them up usually with oil pastels.
    But…I think that this could work as a giveaway. They are very colorful and fun!
    I have to think about this…

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Dora: I’m sure the cards are beautiful. I remember using melted crayons to make cards as a child. So fun.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Phillippa: Don’t need a gallery. Use your studio or garage. David held his at his studio.

  24. Great post! I have been considering ideas such as these for awhile and it’s great to read all the feedback. At my last gallery opening I “hid” a very small piece and sold it for $5. I wanted someone with a keen eye to find it and notice the cheap price tag. The thought was that my openings would be known for the hidden piece and attract visitors, but David’s idea seems like a much more up front option that will actually get people to the opening.

  25. Kate Townley Smith

    I love these! I’ve been giving away some art card sized paintings of houses as a thank you, but this idea is wonderful!

  26. This is a really interesting idea, something I never thought of as targeted marketing. On a related note, I’ve been approached twice by galleries in the past month and asked to donate several “high-quality works” which will be used to begin a conversation about commodities/value, and then given away to patrons for free at the end of the conversation. The conversation is the transaction. This seems to me that the artist is getting the short end of the stick. Am I being short-sighted?

    1. Dear Maura, It is the Galleries idea, let them purchase from you and do what they will with the artwork. Artists are always expected to give artwork away. To me this is disrespect to the artists and the creative process. Let us know what you end up doing.

    2. Thank you Catherine and Sari–now why didn’t I think of that?! I had already declined the “offer” but didn’t spell out the reason why…I think in the future I’ll be more of an advocate for myself and the work!

    3. Maura: I think I may be missing something because I’m just incredulous at this suggestion.
      “Begin a conversation about value”? And then given away???

  27. Maura- tell the gallery that is a great idea! They can BUY the work from you & then give it away for their experiment in conversations…

  28. David’s idea is brilliant both for its ingenuity and for his holding it in the right venue. Some of the other suggestions and variations on this by others commenting are also interesting and thought provoking. I may have to reconsider “free art.” The two times I did drawings were complete busts. I didn’t know what I was doing and it turned out the venues were wrong: a bank just before Mother’s Day and some small business networking conference the state was sponsoring.
    My plate is overfull at the moment but this is definitely going into the “to be returned to” stack.

  29. I am currently giving away all my work, what about public sculpture is that not free art or free experience. Art is all about the experience. My work is about the experience of generosity and fellowship of Mankind. I probably gain as much from the experience as the recipient.
    Hey Neha going to have a look now.

  30. About once a year, during a slow month, I do a give-away “event” on my Facebook Fan Page. In order to register for a free painting, the entrants must comment on my Fan Page what their favorite painting is on my website. This greatly increases traffic on my site. The entrants start imagining the paintings in their own homes (in case they win), and it always seems to result in follow-up sales from some of them. Also, the chatter on Facebook as the entrants rave about their favorite (while they’re registering) creates quite a positive stir.

  31. I give away a small painting or small original print of art to collectors (bought more than one painting) or to people for whom (even though I might have already made an accommodation for them) it was a bit of a sacrifice to have bought one of my paintings. It is a special acknowledgement to them as well as a way of building a continuing relationship.

  32. Pingback: When Giving Away Your Art is Smart Business

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Get a transcript of episode 182 of The Art Biz (Rethinking Mailing Lists for Artists) followed by a 3-page worksheet to evaluate the overall health and usage of the 3 types of artist lists.

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