How to Have a Sale of Your Art

Have a sale of your art? It’s possible! But you might also want to run a sale on products such as calendars, note cards, books, catalogs, or prints.

Before we get too deep into the specifics, I acknowledge that having a sale of original work is unpalatable for many artists. Sales are associated with discounts, and this seems like it cheapens the art. I get it!

Eve Jacobs piece
©Kristin Link, Portage Poppy 1. Watercolor and pen on historic ledger paper, 11 x 14 inches. Used with permission.

But I also think it's critical to acknowledge, if it's important to you, that you need to make money from your art. You might even need to earn a living from it. That means more sales.

In this article, I share 7 ways to have a sale (promotion is probably a better word). You will have to decide which is best for original work and which is okay for other items. You'll also have to decide what feels right so that you don't regret taking the action.

Stick with me to the end and I'll share the biggest mistake you can make when having a sale of your art.

Count Your Inventory (Step 1)

Conduct a detailed account of what you have in stock.

How many pieces are there?
What is the monetary value of the inventory? That's right, total up the value of your inventory.
How many/much would you like to sell? Set a goal!

Nail Your Offer (Step 2)

There are two primary options for a promotion: discounts or bonuses.

Heather Ernst painting
©Heather Ernst, Headed To Olympia. Acrylic and charcoal on canvas, 30 x 40 x 1.5 inches. Used with permission.

3 Options for Discounts

It's always preferred that you use discounts for items other than original art, but we must acknowledge that there is a lot of art in the world that needs to find homes. It's not doing you any good taking up space. (Besides, gallerists offer discounts all of the time.)

  • Flat discount on everything.
    This is the default tact for a sale and is absolutely the easiest way to go. Marketers say that 30% off is a good motivator. Anything less doesn't move people to act as quickly.

Figure out the costs that were involved in making those reproductions and see that you recoup as much of your investment as possible, but also get rid of as much as you can.

  • 2-fer.
    Buy 2 for the price of 1. Sounds great! But is it something that people will want two of? If not, a 2-fer isn't a motivator.
  • Declining discount.
    Encourages early buying and looks like this: 70% off the first day, 60% off the second day, and so forth.

4 Options for Bonuses

Buy 1 and get these bonuses.

This works great when you have digital products that can be downloaded, such as special reports, audio interviews, or a video lesson. It could also work if you have reproductions or note cards that you could include with purchase of the original.

Eve Jacobs-Carnahan piece
©Eve Jacobs-Carnahan, Knotweed: Not Safe. Handspun and commercial wool yarns and wire, 14 x 18 x 15 inches. Used with permission.

For the first <5, 10, 15> buyers.
This promotion encourages fast action and rewards those who take it.

I've noticed my favorite baseball team does this but with much bigger numbers. “The first 15,000 fans receive …” It never dawned on me before why they did this, but I'm pretty sure it's so that people come to the stadium earlier and buy lots of food and beverages.

Free shipping.
Seems to be a good incentive for many buyers, regardless of what you sell.

Free frame (pedestal, display, etc.) included.
To make this cost-effective for you, you'd better buy in bulk and tell them that assembly is required.

Of course, there are many variables within these options, and you can even combine them.

Whatever direction you take, I urge you to keep it simple. The worst sale results I've had were when I offered 3 different packages for buying my book.

It hard to explain complicated options clearly enough that people can discern the value in each. When people have to make a decision based on too many variables, many of them will abandon the idea. Make it easy for them to decide: Yes or No.

Trust me. Simple is best.

Stick to a Schedule (Step 3)

Decide on beginning and ending dates for your sale and stick with them. Long sales get tiresome and people (especially you) lose interest.

Dennis Rhoades painting
©Dennis Rhoades, Bright Before Sunset. Soft pastel, 15 x 30 inches. Used with permission.

People need a compelling reason to buy NOW, so the sale has to end within a relatively short period of time.

Make it no longer than 1 week and end it on a weekday when people are more likely to be checking email. With that time frame, you can concentrate your promotions and then get back to work when it ends.

Create a schedule for sending emails (yes, multiple emails) and posting to social media.

Don't Make These 2 Mistakes!

I can't let you have a sale without first cautioning you to avoid these two mistakes. The first is not mentioning it to your gallerist. In order to maintain your strong relationship, be forthright. Discuss how the sale will be handled with your gallerist.

The second big mistake you want to avoid is neglecting those who have purchased from you previously. Extend your offer to previous buyers first, perhaps even giving them a little bit extra (of something) because they purchased at a higher price.

Always take care of those who have been supporting you first.

This post was originally published in a very different form on January 21, 2013. It has been updated significantly with the original comments intact.

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20 thoughts on “How to Have a Sale of Your Art”

  1. I have tried 30% off and free shipping, both in my Etsy shop, but neither of these has worked. Perhaps I tried them at the wrong times or for the wrong products?
    I like the idea of 8. Send me money and I’ll send something terrific back. LOL! That would take curiosity and bravery on the buyer’s part if they’ve never dealt with the artist before, though.

  2. This is great and has been on my mind. In fact I was waiting to post a comment in hopes that there would be more comments and ideas to add that I could use.
    I was thinking of having a sale or more specifically of sending coupons to people who purchased paintings from me in the last year as a thank you and incentive to purchase another work. Any thoughts on that? I was only thinking 10-20% though, that seems to be too little according to this post.
    Any time I’ve offered sales to my email list, I’ve never once had a bite and afterwards didn’t really feel good about having offered it.
    I’ve really been thinking about free shipping on small and medium sized works and am in the process of redoing my pricing structure to include this.
    I’ve decided to do this becasue as a consumer I often times do not complete a purchase when I see how much shipping is, I no longer feel excited about getting a “deal”, it just somehow psycologically pushes me to the “I’m paying too much” edge.
    I’d love to hear more thoughts and creative sale ideas that people have had.
    Thanks for these idea Alyson, they’re very valuable!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Kelly: I don’t think people buy art because it’s on sale – especially at 10-20% off. I think there has to be a BIG brouhaha around the sale – a really big deal. So I wouldn’t mess with coupons.

    2. Natalie VonRaven

      I agree! My flash sales are 50% off and they are usually quite successful however I feel like I’m undermining my work and maybe causing my customers to question it’s value. It’s a tough call… but I agree the discount has to be significant in order for anyone to bother.

  3. Thanks for the feedback Alyson, just what I was looking for.
    Maybe to reward or thank collectors I can give them something as a bonus instead of a discount on their next purchase. I’ll be working in this, thanks again.

  4. Every november or early december , I do a “Make me an offer.” on my paintings. This is usually pretty successful. I tell them to make me an offer on their favorite paintings, and if it’s not too ‘silly’ i’ll probably go for it. Sometimes they buy two or three….sometimes I counter offer. It’s fun and I usually sell quite a few paintings that would otherwise be sitting around in my studio.

    1. Natalie VonRaven

      I really like this idea but for myself personally (and therefore I assume my potential customers feel the same), I would feel uncomfortable spitting out a random offer without having any sense of what was “reasonable”. I’m always afraid I’ll insult the artist if my offer is too “silly” or low. If you’ve had success with it maybe I should blow past my self-consciousness, assume my customers will do the same and give it a try!

  5. Last year I decided to switch to an every other year model for my open studio. I also decided I needed to move some older inventory so I offered a 20% discount to all my VIP’s during my annual pre-open studio VIP-only brunch. It was a wild success! People went nuts and my sales exceeded any open studio I’ve ever had. I am still not sure what did it — the 20% discount or the fact that I wasn’t having another open studio until 2020? I was so hesitant to offer a discount but wow! I may do that every open studio from now on.

    A few VIP’s didn’t get that it was only for the two hours during the brunch so of course I extended the offer to them for the two days of the open studio. One person contacted me months later expecting the offer to still be in effect so I guess I need to make that clearer. She is a big collector and I was able to split the discount with the gallery she purchased from so it all worked out.

  6. 50% off is way too much – it hurts your integrity as an artist and other artists in your community!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Kathy: Normally I would agree. But if you give a venue a 50% commission AND you have been sitting on those works for too long, something has to be done. I would, however, never label it as “50% off! Everything must go!” It must be done tastefully and quietly if only to your list. If to the world, it has to include only artwork that doesn’t look like your current work.

  7. Alyson Stanfield

    Heather Ernst: It depends how you do it. Maybe just 1 week prior to start date. But, as I say that, there might be reasons to start earlier.

  8. Thank you for this post. It’s such a good idea to thin out your inventory and regain storage space. Those of us who paint every day appreciate ideas to deal with this.

    I have been very successful with Studio clearance sales. Rather than a percentage discount, I lowered prices on each piece in the sale depending on how long I’ve had it, my connection to it, etc. I don’t have these sales often, otherwise buyers would wait for the sale rather than purchase though shows.

    Betsy Glassie

  9. Many years ago I had my pieces in a shop who never had a sale or offered a discount. When i asked why, she said it was because people would wait for the sale to purchase. I think of my own experiences with that mentality…i will NEVER SHOP at Kohls without a coupon! They send them out so often that if I ever needed to shop there without a coupon i would think I was being cheated. And I always wait for the 30% off coupon.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      I understand, Dani. And I acknowledge that this is the right thing for you. Some artists, however, need to unload inventory. I know that sounds crass, but I’d rather it find a home than be left in an estate for survivors to deal with.

  10. My art critique group holds a ‘Big Art Sale’ every other year. We offer work on sale as well as full priced art. We rent a lovely old house in the middle of a garden (a city park), have a cocktail party on Friday evening, then sale extends through Saturday. Some years I’ve done very well, other years were terrible.

    I have toyed with the idea of coupons, a private sale for my clients, but don’t want to give too many opportunities to get my work at a discount. It’s a real balancing act.

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