How do I decide what to sell and what to keep? A deep dive into how I make decisions for selling work and for my practice.
How do I decide what to sell and what to keep?
This question came to me from a survey I ran in January and I thought it was a good one to answer because my first response was well, I’ll sell any of it! But as I was pondering it more and the list of “but not this” “and not always” became longer and longer I realized what to sell was slightly more nuanced than that.
The early years
Imma go ahead and blame my start at selling my work on my friend Jessica. The reason I sell anything at all is because she liked something I made many years ago and wanted to put it in her office at work. I mean I would have probably gotten around to selling things eventually but she made it easy to start. Thanks friend! Having people around you who cheer you on in this way is invaluable. It’s a confidence builder and a nice win to be able to mark down with very little effort.
Since I wasn’t interested in really selling anything back then, I only sold stuff if someone asked to buy it. Often, I gave stuff away.
Art journaling has always been only for me. I share pics and videos from my books but don’t want or need to sell them. I’ve been asked for prints of certain pages occasionally and I handle that on a case by case basis. But I don’t ever intend for the pages to be anything but what they are in the moment. They are a way for me to explore my thoughts or feelings or just to smear around some paint without any expectations.
Work in shows
The work I release for shows is always for sale. In previous shows, it’s been an all-hands-on-deck sortof situation. I have needed everything I make up to the opening date to fill it up.
This past year things have shifted though. Not everything I’ve made as I’ve been exploring this new fiber space needs to be in a show. It’s too exploratory and janky. The works I leave out are where I am working out ideas and sometimes those don’t sing. I’ve finally gotten to the place in my work that I am able to (and have the volume of work) to be able to edit and show only the next level stuff.
But even as I say that last bit about editing I also hold that showing a group of work is about being able to see the progress through the process. And that argues to include some of the janky stuff. So that’s going to be a process I move through every single time now. Because nuance.
The work that I will be showing in February are actually from two different collections. I have stuff from the Ground collection and stuff from the Walk Softly and Carry This Stick collection. It’s a bit unusual to show two collections together but because they’ve evolved together, I want to show them together. And I think it’s fairly easy to see the links between them. But not all of the pieces will be in the show and not all the pieces I’ve completed made it to my webpage collections. I even sometimes leave stuff off the internet. Seems impossible, doesn’t it? But here we are.
I have an Etsy shop. I attempt (somewhat poorly) to keep it stocked with items that cost $200 or less. Every so often, I stick a few new things in there if it’s going to be a while between shows or if I make a one off thing that particularly tickles me. After a show closes is a great time to check out my Etsy because that’s usually when I put new things in there. For a while I was trying to build collections specifically for Etsy but art galleries often feel some kinda way about it (as in they don’t like it) so I’ve been fairly hesitant to build up that space for fear of needing to shutter it if a gallery ever does come a-calling. Big talk for sure!
Secret giveaways that now aren’t so secret anymore
And now I’m going to tell you a secret that will only matter to a handful of you but it entertains me so much that I have to share it. Sometimes when I finish a crocheted shawl or scarf and it has no planned recipient, I will post it to my Instagram Stories and the first person who comments that they like/love it I will offer to send it to them for free. I don’t say in the Story what I am doing so you never know which piece I will give away but if you love something in my Stories definitely comment because you just never know. I’ve never done this for art pieces because they are always on my main feed but I could change my mind about this at any time. Because I like giving gifts. It makes me super happy.
A sidebar or a digression or what have you ( I am not a lawyer, I am an artist)
I think there’s a real conversation to have here about my guiding principles. I’ve talked about them a bunch on this site. They are: to make art and have people see my art. Notice what’s not on that list? Selling falls as a subcategory under have people see my art. Seeing my art can happen in many, many different ways. If you are on this page right now, you are seeing some of my art. Goal fulfilled! Go me!
People don’t buy art unless they feel a connection to the art or the artist. That takes time to build. There’s a period of time when people need to just see it a LOT before the selling ever happens. Seeing can happen in person, in a class, on a blog, on Instagram, in a newsletter, so many different ways! It’s an unfolding of space and connection between the artist and the buyer. My part of the equation is to keep putting things out into the space. The seer (maybe someday turned buyer) gets to decide how much of that space and connection they reach out for.
So selling is not ever my main interest, which lots of people would probably say is a problem. Capitalism, what are you gonna do? But hey, no one becomes an artist to get rich. I’m privileged that eating my next meal isn’t tied to what I sell. I talk about some aspects of this in Why I don’t have a Patreon or other paid services in depth.
That said, If you are feeling that connection, please shop! If you see something I am making as I post pictures on Instagram or here on the blog, ask if it’s for sale! I can typically give you some idea of how much it will be and we can work out the details. I’ve done all sorts of pay structures and configurations so if you are interested, just ask. I will never not be excited if you want to purchase my work! It is essentially the ultimate in validation for me, that you want to buy something I made and then look at it on purpose every day. Dang that makes me all teary eyed for both of us!
It’s always about the making
The more work I do, the more I have come to understand that the experience of making is the most important part for me. When a making has been particularly meaningful to me, I will hold onto the piece for a while. Several of the pieces from Modern Icons I’ve held back for months or years because I have needed them as a touchstone. I know exactly where each of those pieces are now. But eventually I let go so that I can make room for making new things.
Pieces that never see the light of day often get recycled into other things. I deconstruct and reconstruct with pieces that have been hanging around for a while. (Another reason to buy something if you love it! If it doesn’t sell it might get recycled!) I essentially treat all the pieces in my house as a library I browse and pull from for more making. I asked my partner recently if I could recycle a piece in our bedroom that hangs over his dresser and he didn’t want me to mess with it. Another day perhaps. When works feel tired and old and I look at them and see the things I would do differently, those are always first in line for remaking. I get now why canvases in museums often have several layers of paintings on them. I get it with my whole being.
So that’s it. My complicated feelings on selling things. Shout out to Heather for the question, which turned out to be a much meatier topic that I thought at first glance. As always, I’d love to hear from you! Tag me on socials, email me, or comment below.
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