Why I've Decided to Dump the Collection Model (at least for now)

Updated: Aug 26

First of all, what is the collection model?

The collection model is when you create a whole bunch of art, let it sit around your studio and talk to each other for a while, and then release it out into the world all at once, while building hype around it, saying here it comes! Then you open the doors on your website, and everyone stampedes in to be the first to buy it.

But the thing is, it's not working for me. Not financially, not emotionally. Creating art and putting it out into the world is a vulnerable experience, then adding onto it the pressure that it must all sell out immediately is too much for my little sensitive heart to bear. I feel a tremendous amount of anxiety building up inside me before a collection, and a severe letdown afterwards.

The thing is, I do sell my art. And it almost always feels like a complete surprise, which, really, is lovely. There is nothing I particularly do, other than create it and put it out in the world. It's not that I told someone they MUST buy this painting before someone else gets it, it's more that they saw the painting and said to themselves, "Oh, that's my painting! I must have it!" And I'm happy to sell it to them.

Many artists are their own brand of superstitious and spiritual and I count myself among them when I feel a painting ends up with the person it was meant for. It's kind of like the dating game. You don't need to be the winner of a beauty contest to find a partner, you just have to put yourself out in the world and find someone who works well with you.

So, what was I doing before the collection model?

Well, quite a few things actually. I was doing gallery shows, which is kind of like the collection model in that you make a whole bunch of work, let it sit around and talk to each other and then release it out at once. But the difference is, when you do a gallery show, people come and look at the art and tell you how much they like it, and you can have a dialogue about a particular piece and you get paid back in emotion which is exactly the thing you put out in the world. Also, yes, selling is nice and also important because it pays the bills.

And then, when I was releasing artwork to my email list, it was one piece at a time because I like telling the story behind it or what I'm feeling and thinking about currently. And people would reply to my email and say things like, "Yes, I feel the same way!" And we both feel all warm and fuzzy for a moment even though our exchange was across the internet. And, yes, selling is nice and important.

How else did I sell art? People came over to my house. Please come over. I'm fully vaccinated, and I love talking to people. Also, I did art fairs, which was usually about meeting people for the first time, and they would get on my email list and eventually a painting might come along that was meant for them. Also, I sell prints. Also, I sell phone cases. Also, I license my artwork to other companies.

Who does the collection model work for?

From my unscientific observation, the collection model works for people who are making a bunch of the same things, like mugs or jewelry or paintings that look remarkably similar. "Oh, you like this painting? I have 16 of them available next week!" For most part, this is not my work except maybe the florals (more on that later.) They are for people whose work does sell out regularly. They are for people who want to batch their work.

Will I change my mind?

Likely. I'm going to recommend the book Think Like a Rocket Scientist by Ozan Varol. Here's the extremely short version: Try something. If it doesn't work, try something else. And here's what I've learned from 8 years of making and selling artwork: Making artwork is its own reward. Selling artwork is nice and keeps me from getting a different job. Having meaningful exchanges with people is lovely and is the heart of my life. Feeling shitty about yourself because you didn't sell is shitty.

What did I like about the collection model?

Well, I like creating work that gets to sit around for awhile, so I might keep that part. I have a childlike tendency to say, "Look Ma! Look what I made!" when really it's not ready for its debut. I also prefer to sell my work myself instead of through a gallery for both financial and relationship reasons.

Will I ever do a collection release again?

Probably. I actually think my last small works of florals should have come out together. And my shock was that I only sold a quarter of what I had sold last year. I thought people were waiting for my small florals. But, clearly, I was wrong. But there were other variables involved too. They weren't on sale. Yep. The world is clearly going through some crap, and perhaps buying art is not on people's minds. So many variables to test and try.

But I have several large paintings that are ready to make their entrance into the world, and to make them enter like they are a gaggle of hot girls in a music video is just too much.

Each has its story to tell, and if it doesn't find a buyer right away, well that's okay. You know, my husband is six years older than I am and he knew he wanted to marry me almost immediately. When my friend asked him how he knew, he said, "When you've been looking as long as I have, you know what you want."

I want to make art. And I want to sell art. But I don't think the collection model and creating a sense of scarcity is the only answer.

Mary James Ketch is a painter living and working in the woods outside Norman, Oklahoma. Visit her work at

photo by alexis austin

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