Blog / 2020 / How To Love Your Art #10: Give It Away

April 8, 2020

So far in the “how to love your art” blog series we’ve covered emotional things like talking about your work and finding little love connections with it, and we’ve broached more practical matters like documenting your art and inventorying it. Today, we are diving into the money stuff, beginning with the no-money part!

If you’re smart about how you give away your art, it can help you build confidence in your work.

Don’t be the artist who refuses to charge money for their work because they don’t truly value what they do. And don’t be the one who is severely underpricing their art and therefore essentially giving it way for free. Instead, consider how avoiding attaching money to a particular piece can benefit your creative process or your marketing plans.

painted pet portrait
Gwenn Seemel
Lauan
2011
acrylic on panel
8 x 8 inches
(For prints and pretty things with this image, go to my print shop.)
My main reason for giving away art is trying something new without the pressure of a client.

This was true when I started doing double portraits and making You Bags, but also with cat portraits. In 2011, I’d already been a pro for eight years, but I had never painted a kitty. Something about the feline face intimidated me, so I asked someone who was both a patron and a friend if I could make a portrait of his cat for free. Painting Lauan not only helped me figure out felines unencumbered by the stress of a commission, but the gift also solidified my client-friend’s desire to support my work.

family portrait painting
Gwenn Seemel
Robert, Victoria, and Chris
2019
acrylic on panel
20 x 20 inches
(You can see the making of this painting.)
Which brings us to the major marketing benefit of giving away your art: recruiting super cheerleaders for your work.

Making a gift of your art is a delicate thing because you are basically asking someone to take responsibility for a piece of you, but, when done well, the gift can transform the recipient into your art’s most dedicated champion. In general, friends like the people in the painting shown above make the best partners for this strategy, but you might even make a new friend via a gift, as I did with the subject of the portrait below.

portrait of the president of Emerson College
Gwenn Seemel
Lee Pelton
2003
acrylic on canvas
38 x 30 inches
(You can hire me to paint your portrait.)
Portraiture provides artists with the unique gift-giving opportunity of making connections with famous people.

Though you could use any kind of art to try to network with celebrities, painting their own faces for them delivers an extra something special, particularly when, like me, you have to meet people before painting them. Lee Pelton was the president of my university and the first famous face I ever approached, but I’ve since made friends with marketing guru Jeffrey Gitomer via this method.

a colorful crosshatched drawing of chicken with her wings spread
Gwenn Seemel
Chicken-hearted
2016
marker on paper
12 x 9 inches
(For prints and pretty things with this image, go to my print shop.)
Of course, there is still room for the occasional gift whose sole purpose is to bring joy.

As long as you are careful about how much you give away, there is great value in giving art to someone who will be moved by the gift. Their appreciation can help bring home just how much your art matters.

This is precisely what happened with Chicken-hearted, which I made as part of my process for this painting. I wasn’t feeling confident enough about the drawing to put it up for sale, but, when I posted the image to social media, the friend of a friend started gushing about it. When I realized that this acquaintance appreciated Chicken-hearted more than I did, it made me want him to have it. His love of this image and his delight on hearing I wanted to give it to him still give me joy today!

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