THE 3D CONUNDRUM: Decisions about Discounts and Donations, Part 1

Luann Udell discusses discounts and donations on your artwork
Luann Udell discusses discounts and donations on your artwork

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

It’s your choice, there are pros and cons, and it’s okay to do what’s right for YOU!

I have to admit, I’m totally at sea about discounts.

First, I love to get them, but I hate to give them. (Human nature, people, don’t judge!)

Second, my experience with them was problematic at best, and humiliating at worst. And rarely satisfying.

My first art donation was to an art auction in Boston many, many years ago. It was an annual event, and for the life of me, I can’t remember who benefited from it. It started as book illustrators donating work–for which they’d already been paid. This year, they opened it up to other artists and fine craftspeople. I put in one of my early art quilts, hoping for good exposure to a crowd of buyers who presumably appreciated art work.

I drove two hours from Keene, NH to attend the reception. I was surprised but delighted to see many people from the law firm I’d worked at before we left Massachusetts: Lawyers, the firm’s office manager, partners. (Don’t get excited, I was a lowly member of the secretarial pool, sent to new lawyers to the firm to transcribe/type their tape-recorded briefs.)

I chatted with several of them, but quickly realized they were having a hard time switching from seeing me as “lowly office worker” to “artist.” It got worse.

There was a “minimum bid” on the artwork but it was pretty low. Maybe one-fourth of the retail value. One person, viewing a beautiful, handmade child’s bed quilt (and I mean beautiful, quality sewing, pattern, and use of color) fell in love with it. But they said they just didn’t want to pay for even the minimum bid for it. (Trust me, even at full price, it was underpriced.)

This person made a lot of money. A LOT of money. And they were complaining at purchasing this high-quality work for $150.

I was so angry, but I pulled myself together and gave a little presentation on the piece. “This is an amazing work,” I said. I pointed out all the marks of quality, and gave an estimate of how many hours had probably gone into the piece. “It’s worth every penny of the FULL price, and would bring your child many years of enjoyment. But….” I added, “I get that handmade fiber art is not for everyone.”

And then I left.

When I looked back, they were looking at the quilt more carefully. I drove home fuming, but glad I’d said my piece and at least stood up for that artist’s work.

Years later, my first exhibiting at a high-end retail fine craft show, two people came into my booth, and one of them fell in love with two of my fiber works. They wanted a discount if they bought both.

Fortunately, the show had a strict policy about sales, discounts, and seconds. As in, NO. I shared this with them, and again did a brief summary of my process.

And my heart fell as they walked out the door.

I was devastated. But after talking with another artisan, I realized that, hard as it was to lose a sale, any sale, I would not have been happy with taking that offer.

And a few hours later, they both returned, and the person bought both pieces! Full price! Their friend had waited til they left my booth, and cajoled them into coming back. “You love them, they are reasonably priced, and they will look amazing in your home!” Hallelujah!

A few more years later, at the same show, a (problematic) acquaintance came into my booth, looked at all my work, and declared, “I want a piece of your work. But I’m disabled, so I’ll need a discount, or we can trade for my work.” (Actual quote, and no, not all people living with disabilities say stuff like this!)

I said I couldn’t do that, and did a brief recap of everything that goes into my work. I also said I had huge expenses that year, as my child was starting college, and I couldn’t afford to trade. (BTW, you can steal this quote, or your own version of it, if you don’t want to trade with someone!) “But I have some lower priced work over here, that might fit your budget.”

They bought the lower priced work. Hurrah!

A few years later, a couple came into my booth (same show) on opening day. They fell in love with a big work. After much discussion, one of them said, “Will you take $$ for it?” It was amounted to 25% off.

I was desperate for income that year. My fiber work doesn’t sell quickly. So I offered 10% off, and they took it. I wasn’t happy about it, but at least I had a sale!

As I wrapped it up, I mentioned that I don’t offer discounts very often.

“Oh,” said the husband, “I’ve never asked for one before. But I read in the (famous newspaper) last weekend that it never hurts to ask for one, even at stores! So I thought I’d try it, and it worked!”

So the guy was willing to pay full price, decided to try out a discount offer, and I, insecure artist, accepted it.

I did not like the taste in my mouth. Still don’t. (I did not say anything to them along these lines, just smiled, ran their credit card, and thanked them for their purchase.

This last bit hurts so much, it’s hard to write about. Same show, years later. A couple walk by, see my work, and chatter excitedly together. They come in and share their story:

“Did you have a piece at such-and-such a show in Boston blank years ago?”

Yes, I did.

“We bought your piece! We love it!”

My heart started to lift as they raved about it. Maybe they wanted another???

“When it came up for bidding, no one bid on it! Absolutely no one! We couldn’t believe it! We bought it for $25!!” (I’d had it priced around $500, which was still underpriced.)

“We got such a bargain! Well, we just wanted to let you know!”

And they left without even signing up for my mailing list, or taking a damn postcard.

So here we are, between a rock and a hard place.

Tune in next week to read about the boundaries and strategies I turn to when I’m asked for a discount or donation.

Author: Luann Udell

I find it just as important to write about my art as to make it. I am fascinated by stories. You can tell when people are speaking their truth--their eyes light up, their voices become strong, their entire body posture becomes powerful and upright. I love it when people get to this place in their work, their relationships, their art. As I work from this powerful place in MY heart, I share this process with others--so they have a strong place to stand, too. Because the world needs our beautiful art. All of it we can make, as fast as we can! Whether it's a bowl, a painting, a song, a garden, a story, if it makes our world a better place, we need to do everything in our power to get it out there.

10 thoughts on “THE 3D CONUNDRUM: Decisions about Discounts and Donations, Part 1”

  1. Dear Luann! How i empathize with you! The art of medicine had the saame probleemsed. Still does, but complicated BH insurance companies these days. Dr. Sauerbruch, the #1 surgeon in Germany in the Olsen days of pre-ww2 and a friend of my dad’s, told an incident in his autobiography…a prominent and wealthy patient needed partial amputation of a diabetic leg, and before the anesthesia, he asked the doc for a discount. Dr. Sauerbruch, very friendly and courteous, agreed at once, and asked the patient which part of his gangrenous leg he wanted to discount from the surgery. Keep working and keep writing! Sandy and I look forward to your posts. Cheers! Kay Steen

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

  2. I acquired one of my favourite pieces of art from a ‘silent auction’ at a fundraiser. I had seen the piece, while uncompleted, on exhibition for $800. The artist completed it and donated it to the fundraiser and I saw two bids, the top bid being $200. I doubled it, bid $400. My double bid may have scared off others.

    In terms of value, I probably wouldn’t be able to find a buyer for the piece because it is very personal, it is a portrait of the artist’s dog. I knew the dog personally and always stopped for a pat when I walked past the artist’s house. So for me, the painting means a lot.

    I haven’t asked the artist how he feels about me getting the painting at a much lower price than it had first been offered. If he was unhappy he wouldn’t tell me.

    If I hadn’t bid, the painting would have gone to someone else for $200. Probably someone who had no connection to the subject of the painting.

    It’s not easy to know what to do, when asked for a donation. I crocheted a complex tea cosy for a local fundraising stall. It took me a week to do it, it was a lovely thing. I was happy to donate it, but very unhappy when they sold it for twenty cents. I did make them another one and asked them to raffle it. They made $20. I was much happier, but I stopped making tea cosies for them when they kept making pointed remarks about me being too ‘precious’ about my donation. It was one person mainly, but I sent my tea cosies elsewhere to other organisations who could make more money from them.

    I accepted that once I donated my work then it was entirely up to the organisers to dispose of it as they saw fit. But if they failed to make a decent effort, someone else would get my donation next time.

    I look forward to your next instalment!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Helen, I think you did an honorable thing with that auction, and you could only have lifted that artist’s heart with your actions. And many artists feel differently about donating art. A gallery owner recently wrote an article not only encouraging artists to donate, but to donate their best work, for the exposure. But another author famously said, “Artists die of exposure every week.” Selling a crocheted piece for twenty cents??? WTF??? That’s less than a thrift shop would sell it for! And anyone who would make a snide remark about our work (quality, price) when we are donated the article should not be working with the public, IMHO. I’m glad you found a way through that worked better for you. And YES, check in next week for Part 2!


  3. Why are artists expected to donation pieces? I used to do it for the “exposure”. I am not sure it ever helped sell any of my work, so I rarely do it now. I think it actually devalues your work. I don’t mind so much if lots of other local tradespeople/crafts/businesses are making a donation.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I had one moment of satisfaction when a particularly obnoxious long-time acquaintance of mine asked for a discount on my work. I told him “We’re not that close.” And I went on to say that he had had his chance all those years before when I was cheaper and not in museums. Did my heart good. I’m generally considered to be a kind person and not usually that way at all, but we both know sometimes someone just needs to hear that.


  5. “We’re not that close….” OMG, that’s a good one! And isn’t it usually the case, the people who do know us and do care about us, are not the people who try to insinuate our prices are too high? Thanks for your comment, Michael!!!


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