Collectors buying art blind

Art collecting is an expensive and time-consuming hobby, so few customers will buy art that they’ve never seen. An Ottawa company challenges that notion.

“Art Delivered is catered to people who are slightly more adventurous in their art because they’re not seeing the painting beforehand,” says Catherine Gutsche, owner and curator for Art Delivered.

Gutsche’s customers aren’t necessarily looking for the next “Girl with a Pearl Earring” or “Mona Lisa,” but rather the excitement and joy that comes with opening a mystery present.

Members of Art Delivered buy a one-year or two-year subscription, and over the course of a year, subscribers are mailed four pieces of work from local artists, one each in January, April, July and October.

Art collecting is an expensive hobby and occupies a very niche market in retail. Few buyers walk into a gallery committed to buying a painting, and even fewer will buy a painting they’ve never seen. Not only is Art Delivered going after a specific demographic, they’re going after a demographic within that demographic.

Art Delivered was launched last year and not only has the business survived its first year of existence, a hump most entrepreneurs can’t get past, it’s been successful.  “It surpassed my expectations,” says Gutsche. “It certainly is a lot of work to get people to know about it, to get the word out and get the customers coming in.”


All that work is paying off because the customers are coming in, both locally and overseas, including one customer who lives in Abu Dhabi. Gutsche gets four paintings from each of eight artists she keeps on her rotating roster. “Each of the artists in the program have sold almost all of the paintings they’ve brought to me,” says Gutsche. Art Delivered declined to quote specific numbers, but of the paintings Gutsche curated last January, she estimates 90 per cent of them were sold.

Art Delivered is an online store rather than an online listing service like eBay. With increases in rent and online shopping, many stores with are making their stores digital, especially ones that don’t have a particularly large amount of foot traffic, like vintage music or clothing stores. Traditionally, artists would sell most of their work through galleries, fairs or group shows.

But over the past couple of years, at least three prominent galleries in Ottawa have closed, including the Dale Smith Gallery in New Edinburgh, the Artguise Gallery and the Snapdragon Gallery in the Glebe. Snapdragon was in business for 30 years before closing its doors in 2011.

“It’s a huge change, in terms of marketing yourself,” says Sue Marsden, an independent artist who runs her own online studio and shop, Dragonhead Studio. In previous years, Marsden, who works as a comic book artist, painter and writer, would have to package portfolios and manuscripts to potential publishers and often wait 6 months before a reply.

“You can get yourself out there in a much faster method and ultimately, you don’t have to share profits with a third party,” says Marsden. “The [Dragonhead Studio] website itself was put together to host a physical comic book. It was, like, 400 bucks for a print run. It was crippling trying to make money off a black and white comic. With digital, you can have a smaller print run and still have a nice contribution.”


The preference is for artists to buy their own website for a more professional look, but those who don’t can still market themselves on free blogging websites like WordPress. Marsden is one of the few success stories of independent comic artists moving from print to digital. Getting a comic strip published is still tough, and while digital and online galleries save time and money, most artists still prefer having a physical copy.

“It’s not really based out of necessity,” says Gutsche about starting up Art Delivered. “But in terms of exposure, the longevity of selling online is a bonus.” Unlike stores and galleries on the streets, online stores are open 24/7/365. There’s no time limit either, as galleries often exhibit new paintings every month. That’s not mentioning the unlimited amount of virtual space for listings, pictures and captions, compared to the inflexibility of having four walls.

“A show is also exhausting,” adds Gutsche. “You’re lugging [the paintings] in and out and doing the travelling.”


When Gutsche first offered subscriptions, paintings came only in 6×6 inch square canvases. Most of Art Delivered’s customers are on a one-year subscription, which costs $200 for four works of art. A two-year subscription costs $390 for eight works of art while individual works cost $60 apiece. A two-year subscription is available, but it doesn’t offer a lot of savings. It works out to just $1.25 in savings per painting when compared to the one-year subscription.

Art Delivered’s website was also re-launched in January and offered two new subscriptions, an 8×8 inch option and a 10×10 inch option. The new options are more expensive, but offer bigger paintings and better savings per painting.

A one-year subscription to the 8×8 inch option works out to $90 per painting and $87.50 per painting for the two-year subscription, saving $2.50 on each painting. Buyers who have enough wall space for a 10×10 inch painting save the most if they go for the two-year option, which comes out to $125 per painting, $15 cheaper per painting than the one-year option.