What do you do with paintings that don’t sell?

Posted November 26 2012

Originally Posted on: Jul 18, 2011 by: Carolee Clark

A working artist should be producing hundreds of paintings. We go into our studios every day and paint. Do you ever wonder what we do with the work that doesn’t sell? What about our exercises and sketches? Every artist is different, of course, but I’ll give you my current view.

Glimpse of the Ocean by Carolee ClarkAs a beginning artist we toss the absolute abysmal failures. However we recognize our steps forward so we hang onto those works that represent our better work.  As we improve, our family and friends tell us that we should be selling so now they have value! As we run out of room, or move (this is a great cleansing ritual), we need to rid ourselves of those works we outgrow. 
Most of my exercises, and this includes many of my figure drawings, go directly into the recycling bin. I have dozens of small sketchbooks which I haven’t thrown out (with the exception of a few of the very first). However, every few years, I will go through all of my old work and sketches and ruthlessly cull through them. If I died tomorrow, would I want those floating around?
Even the masters painted over finished work. Van Gogh is very well known for doing this. He sold only one painting in his lifetime and often struggled financially, lacking the funds for new canvases. I feel for him. As an artist, if no one was buying my work, I would absolutely paint over my canvases! And I do.
Sometimes, I do toss something or paint over a canvas that I wish I had hung onto, (and if I turn into a Picasso, Modigliani or Rembrandt my survivors will wish I had kept everything) but generally this cleansing is a good thing. We run out of space. Not only that, but ridding ourselves of older work, clutter of any kind, can free ourselves and allow new energy in.
When people hear that I have painted over canvases they are aghast. Sometimes, when I need a canvas, I look to the one that is the oldest or the one that I like the least and it gets repainted. In preparation for writing this newsletter, I looked at the images of paintings that I have recycled. There really are not a lot that I am truly sorry are gone. And frankly, as I have become a better artist, I hang onto the work that I like longer.
Artists grow over time and our work changes. At first it is significant changes in skill; later it will be changes in style as we find our voice. Skillfully produced older work doesn’t get shown, and if it doesn’t hang on our walls in our private collection, it becomes a storage problem.
Carolee Clark is an acrylic artist living in Oregon. To see her work visit her blog http://caroleeclark.blogspot.com/