Friday, October 14, 2011

Donating Your Artwork

The Ins and Outs of Donating Artwork

I just finished decorating this bowl for a local charity auction for the Colonial Theater outreach program in Keene. 

Since most of my blog readers are fellow artists -  I know that we all have been asked from time to time to donate our artwork to some cause or another. I have a confession to make.  Sometimes I feel a bit put out by all the requests that come in for donating artwork. Since I only work on my artwork 2 days a week (or less) it is a big sacrifice for me. Below are some thoughts of mine on donating artwork.

Wooden Bowl decorated with Derwent Coloursoft pencils
donated to the Colonial Theater in Keene for their outreach program

description for the donated piece: 
My colored pencil technique relies heavily on the paper I use, so when challenged to use my colored pencils on a wooden bowl I had to get creative with my techniques. On wood, the colored pencil can not be softly shaded, so I decided to exploit the characteristics of drawing lines. When thinking in "lines" the first artist who comes to mind is Vincent Van Gogh because of his use of thick lines in his work,which immediately made me think of a sunflower design. The background was cross-hatched with criss-crossing lines to fill in the blue sky. The petals are flowing curved lines that move with the flower's direction and topography.  The center of the flower was done with a sgrafitto technique: first I layered overlapping circles from  light to dark, next I applied solvent to soften the waxy pencil, and finally scraped into the top layers to allow the lighter colors below to show through. 

What Some People Don't Know About Art Donations and Taxes

First off, artists are not allowed to claim the donation on their taxes. They are allowed to claim their purchased supplies to make the artwork they are donating, but that does not include any of the artist's time. 

I just learned that people who own existing artwork can however donate the art from their walls and claim the full market value of that artwork when they donate it. Although this seems completely unfair, that is just the way it is and should be taken into account when deciding if you want to donate your artwork or not. 

Does Donating Artwork Get You Exposure?
Sure, it could, but  it doesn't usually give you enough to over-donate. When I first started out I was so honored to be asked to donate my artwork, especially if well-known artists were asked as well. I think I figured that if they were donating that it must be beneficial. Honestly it is hard to say how much exposure you can get from donating to a cause. I would suggest to ask questions from other artists about the auctions or do a little investigating. Does the organization make an effort to get out to the public the names and images of the artwork donated? If it is for a smaller less public group, is it a group that could have potential buyers in the future or is it a group that will probably only buy artwork when pushed to do so at a charity auction? Be honest with yourself with these questions!

Also exposure can have a double edged sword. If you donate artwork that is not a good representation of your art will it actually give you bad exposure? For example, let's say the Humane Society asked for a small artwork to auction off and you decide to whip up something quickly and don't put as much effort into it as usual because it is so small... will people at the auction think better of your work after seeing that piece? This is a tough one for us colored pencil artists since our artwork can take more time than other media. If you don't have time to do a good job you should turn down the request.

In the past I've donated artwork  to the Colonial Theater, the local Humane Society, the Historical Society, The Colored Pencil Society of America, Stonewell Farm, local schools... and there are more. Quite honestly I have probably donated to too many things some years. I know for me, I work part-time and only get 2 days for work on my art a week, and my family life does not allow for much work in the evenings, so my time is very expensive. If I have donated to 5 groups a year that is 5 weeks worth of work out of the year I have given away.

I'm not saying it isn't worth it, but I think artists shouldn't get into the habit of donating to everyone who asks for exposure. I think you have to think of donating in terms of wanting to help a cause or support a cause instead of the cause helping promote you. If you want to donate to the cause because you believe in the it, go ahead and donate. It also might be better to not give them your artwork, but actually donate a monetary amount. Its like the bake sale curse. I have been asked if I would give baked goods for the 3rd time this school year and I've decided to just give $ this time instead after the first one. Why? Because at the last bake sale I spent at least $20 on supplies and bags and tags to make the goods and they were sold for pocket change. I would have been better off just giving them the $20. The same goes for artwork - sure you can claim your supplies, but you can't claim your time - and a week of lost work is worth sometimes more than what the organization got for your work.

Here again is something you can ask the organization asking for the donation - how much has artwork gone for in the past? Then decide if it would be better to just the organization money instead.

Even if you like the cause I would suggest to limit the amount of artwork you donate a year to 2-3 donations? Why? Because if you have artwork constantly in charitable sales, especially in a small community, then you may have just sold to all your potential buyers and you didn't make any sales. If they can get your artwork at a discount AND make a donation to a good cause they will probably buy at one of your auctions and feel satisfied. If you do too many auctions will there be anyone left to buy from you at your full market value?

My friend and fellow artist makes some good points on this topic on her blog Durable Goods:

So to some up my advice:
- Limit the amount of artwork you donate a year.
- Do your homework on the the auction to make sure it will help instead of hinder you.
- Only donate to causes you truly believe in and would like to give to even if you weren't an artist


Crystal Cook said...

I first saw this piece and thought of how much it reminded me of Van Gogh. It's beautiful. :)

That is very, very good advice about donating. I think one of the reasons it is so hard to tell people no (other than the fact that we hate to tell people no) is because a lot of people have this eroneous idea that if you are an artist with a fairly hefty price tag on your pieces then you must be filthy stinkin rich! They don't realize that sometimes sales are very few and far between, not to mention all the years and hours spent training (with no sales coming in at all), supplies bought, framing costs, and THEN the actual time it took to create the artwork.

Not to vent or anything. . . ;) I adore helping charities when I can, but I have done the same as you and had to limit it to only those that I care deeply about and would want to help anyway, not just to get my name out there.

And I love your bake sale analogy. So, so true. :)

Wen Baragrey said...

You've made some great points there, Nicole. I'd never thought of any of that!

And that bowl is absolutely gorgeous! You can definitely see the Van Gogh in it (and you know how much I love him). Love it!

Carolyn A. Pappas said...

I would be more inclined to donate a print of my work than an original. Have you ever seen artists do that?

Nicole Caulfield said...

Yep Carolyn I've seen people do that too!

Thanks Wen!!!

Kendra said...

I love the bowl and the V VanGogh stylism! I just tried working with cp on wood but a flat surface. What did you use to varnish it? I agree with you on the donations part, we can only give so much.

Nicole Caulfield said...

Thanks Kendra. I actually used a Krylon that said super glossy and that it won't turn yellow. Here's a link

Alessandra Kelley said...

The law saying artists are not able to take the value of the artwork off their taxes, only the cost of materials, was passed in 1969 in response to President Nixon taking an outrageous deduction for donating his vice-presidential papers to ... well, wherever it was. As a result, artists' donations of their own works to museums plummeted starting in 1969 and have not picked up since.

Every once in a while there's a little noise made about fixing the situation, but nobody's really gotten behind it. It's probably caused a lot of harm to museums, and certainly to artists.