How to run your own study sale

How to run your own study sale

First off, a warning! Using a sliding scale isn’t recommended for your polished studio work. Most artists price by square inch or linear inch and maintain consistent pricing for their original work. So an 8×10 painting would be the same price, whether it is for sale through a gallery partner or your own website. It is rare for artists and galleries to discount polished original work, as most collectors hope their pieces go up in value over time.

But you can do creative pricing with your studies and sketches! And a sliding scale has advantages for both you and your new collectors.

So many studies after 30 days of painting!

What is a sliding scale?

It’s a method of pricing where the seller sets an acceptable range, with a minimum and maximum price. Then the buyer chooses a price within that range.

For example, I sold my recent 8×10 studies on a sliding scale of $50-$150 CAD. Buyers could pick any price within that range. The average price my studies sold for was $75, in the middle of the range. I would normally sell a polished studio painting for $200 at this size.

How do I pick my price range?

Set your minimum price – think about the cost of time and materials that went into creating your study. Now add in the cost of fulfilling orders and the time you’ll spend on promotion and online shop updates. The minimum should be a price you are comfortable with, while still offering a bargain to new collectors.

Set your maximum price – think about the highest price you’re comfortable with getting for a study. Your maximum might be close to the price you’d normally sell your polished studio work at this size.

And think about the average! Most collectors will pay close to the middle of the range. So you can also think about what average feels like a fair price.

Doesn’t everyone pay the minimum?

Most collectors pay somewhere in the middle of the range. They recognize that the sliding scale is intended to make art affordable and are motivated to pay what they feel is a fair price to the artist. However, you must be prepared to set a reasonable minimum price as many collectors will go for it.

Does anyone actually pay the maximum?

Rarely. Collectors still want to feel like they’re getting a bit of a deal. The highest payers will hit around 70-80% of your price range.

What are other flexible ways of pricing?

  • By donation – you can also sell studies by donation or “pay what you want”. This is another method to make your work affordable, but with no minimum price you risk giving stuff away at the cost of your own time and materials.
  • Auctions – an auction may have a minimum price like a reserve bid, but no maximum. That’s the excitement – the price can get driven up or collector’s can get a bargain. Auctions rely on collectors returning to bid again and again, and that may be less appealing for acquiring rougher work like studies.

How does a sliding scale help collectors?

There is something special about holding an original painting with brush marks and texture! A sliding scale allows new collectors to get an original piece at a bargain. Having one of your small paintings is often a gateway to future art-collecting. It’s exciting and unique!

A sliding scale invites new collectors in and makes your art accessible.

How does a sliding scale help artists?

Last summer I participated in a home studio tour where I opened my doors for the first time to the public. After all the cleaning and staging was done, I looked around and realized most of my artwork was over $500CAD. There was nothing for visitors with a bit of cash in their pockets.

Then I remembered the bins and bins of plein air studies stacked in a corner. These were pieces that I had done for practice and were slowly piling up in my studio over the years. I poked through and noticed some decent paintings in the mix. Did I need to keep it all?

So I put the bins out on a table with a sliding scale of $20-$100CAD. I hoped for the best. And I made over $1500 by the end of the weekend on these small studies alone.

So, the benefits to artists include:

  • Making extra income from work that would otherwise be tricky to sell.
  • Freeing up space in the studio, by clearing out old work and studies.
  • Getting feedback on your pricing (it’s interesting to look at the data after!)
  • Reaching a new audience of collectors, including growing your email list for online sales.

Online vs In-person Study Sales

It’s fairly easy to include a bin of studies if you directly sell your work at events like markets or open studios. But online…

  • Extra time to photograph your artwork
  • Extra time to create listings on your online shop or manage sales through social media
  • Extra work to pack and ship orders.

So some extra tips for selling online:

  • Set a higher minimum price that reflects the extra time needed to set up product listings or post each piece.
  • Consider shipping costs and packing materials. Shipping could be a flat-rate fee added to your orders or worked into your minimum price. If you plan your studies to be standard sizes, you can buy mailers in bulk to make shipping easy!
  • Use the opportunity to grow your email list! Offer a preview or early access to your newsletter subscribers.

Case Studies

Study Sale 1: In Person

Study Sale #1 was simply a few boxes of studies on a table during an open studio tour. Visitors riffled through the boxes and could pick as many as they liked! I had a mix of sizes and styles of work. Most paid with cash and it was very simple!

Sliding Scale: $20-$100CAD
Pieces sold: 41
Average price paid: $36
Minimum price paid: $20
Maximum price paid: $72.50
Total revenue: $1605.00

Overall, a big success with extra money made and a studio clear-out.

Study Sale 2: Online

Study Sale #2 was online and I knew I’d have to raise the sliding scale to compensate for my extra time. It took approximately 15-20 minutes on each study to get it photographed, listed, and eventually packed up with a shipping label. That adds up to extra hours of work.

All of my studies were 8×10 on flat canvas panel. This meant I could ship them in bubble mailers without too much packing time. I also added a $10 shipping flat rate shipping charge per order in North America. Some shipments were a little more, some a little less, but $10 was about the average shipping cost.

Sliding Scale: $50-$150CAD
Pieces sold: 29
Average price paid: $75
Minimum price paid: $50
Maximum price paid: $100
Total revenue: $2135.00

Note how a higher sliding scale lead to a higher average price paid. Even though I sold less studies in Sale #2, I made more money with the higher price range. Overall, another success! The studies I sold was from a series of exploratory work and would have been tricky to market otherwise.

Go for it!

Got studies and sketches piling up in your studio? Want to embark on a month of exploratory painting but still make some income? Host your own Sliding Scale Study Sale!

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