The Surprising Reason Art Giveaways Can Make You Money
Whether you’re a designer, a digital artist, a painter, or an artist of any kind, you’ve been asked at least once (probably many more times) to give away your artwork for free, in return for “exposure”.
This wouldn’t be acceptable in any other field, and asking for free work is just plain unethical, right? Well, I recently spoke with two artists who managed to change my mind — at least partially — on this. The key is, if you’re an artist giving away your work, you have to have a strategy and make sure you’re giving it to the right people.
While that statement is deceptively simple, it’s a major challenge for artists to put into action. Who do I give the artwork to? Why is this a good idea? When is it a good idea to give away artwork? And when is it enough? After all, you have to start making money off your artwork at some point!
If you’re struggling with this concept, don’t feel bad. You’re not alone.
Those two successful, full-time artists I spoke to gave answers that were seriously surprising.
“The people that fund charities, the people that help nonprofits, the people that have free time to go to these things, are also the people that support the arts because they have the time and money to be able to do it.
I didn’t think about that at the start. People would say “thank you so much for coming out for our cause” and then in the same breath they’re saying “hey, by the way, I like your art and I want to commission a piece”. I think that’s a great way to get started.” — John Bramblit, read the full interview here.
John Bramblit is a blind visual artist who paints using his sense of touch and “cane skills”. When he started painting, he didn’t have a network of galleries supporting him or any big contacts in the art world. But with each charity event he volunteered for, he got commissions in return.
By giving away something for free, he gained access to people who were interested in the arts AND had the money to pay for it.
He went on in our interview to say that pieces at charity art auctions often sell for prices that far exceed your normal range. While art galleries and collectors are aware of this, it still places a higher value on your work, which you can use to your advantage.
“You have to talk to people! Beyond that, it’s all about self-promotion and putting yourself out there. Set up a portfolio, make postcards with your art and go to your local city hall to request public space. Donate art to benefit nonprofit organizations. Use your art to make a difference! That’s something I’m very passionate about — it’s just a bonus that it also happens to be a great way to promote your work.” — Michael Dergar, read the full interview here.
Michael is devoted to creating equality in art. He regularly donates 50% of his exhibition sales and has founded a charity that helps disabled artists make a living. Like Bramblit, he suggests you donate your art to non-profits. By doing this your artwork will either be auctioned or displayed in a prominent public space raising your profile.
Beyond whether or not a gallery owner ‘likes’ your art, they also want to know that your work has an audience that’s willing to pay for it. At the end of the day, a gallery only has so much wall space — and they have bills to pay. By showing that your art has been bought at auctions or displayed by charities, you also prove that you’re a good investment of time.
So to answer the original question, yes, giving away your art for free can make you money. Especially if you donate it to a worthy cause. It’s a win-win situation and proves that if you go into it with a plan, giving away artwork for exposure really can be worth the investment.
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