Recently, Linda Menke of Sarasota, Florida, asked, “Is it expected or appropriate to send a thank-you note to the person who buys your painting? A local artist did this for us when we bought one of his. It felt nice. On the other hand, I have never sent one to a buyer of my own work. Is there an artists’ etiquette in this matter?”
Thanks, Linda. This may seem a bit smug, but while collectors have been very kind to appreciate my art and keep me in bread, I’ve always thought I was the one doing them a favour. I don’t think I’ve ever written and thanked a person for a purchase, even when it was the Queen. Maybe it’s an artists’ etiquette I’m not aware of.
On the other hand, something of genuine and permanent interest tucked in the back of the painting when it leaves the studio is often treasured by the buyer. Further, it gives the gallery a talking point and adds long-term value. All works of art don’t lend themselves to this, but when there is something to say, it’s an artist’s way of thanking the Universe. Sharing that with a buyer is thanks enough.
I know it’s a bit limp-brained and sentimental, but it’s even fun to include “stuff.” I’ve been known to tack a small zip-lock bag to the stretcher with a few pebbles from the stream in the painting, a feather from a passing grouse or a spare limpet (complete with the sniff-factor) from the beach.
One of the best items to find tucked into the back of a painting is a map. A photocopy, with an “X” where the work was painted, adds a treasure hunt to the art-buying event. Not a few buyers have tracked down the source of their paintings, even travelling to foreign countries.
Your works of art are an ever-changing record of your personal interests and growth. You don’t want to trivialize or monetize the progress of that growth. Sensitive collectors know this. A genuinely-felt thought or observation–without going overboard–tucked away with the art, cements you to your vision and shares with others your hours of joy and struggle.
PS: “Nothing is worth more than this day.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)
Esoterica: Connecting with the general public should be neither a condescending sneer nor a grovelling supplication. You have your pride and your independence. Maintaining those two is crucial to your life as an artist. A workmanlike mentality, an easy-going personality, a philosophical outlook and ready friendships at hand keep everybody happy. As Brett Busang says, “The ideal is to foster not isolation, but connectedness.”
Good business sense
by Frank Boros, New York, NY, USA
I disagree with you about sending a note to those who have purchased a piece of art work. It is relationships that build sales and appreciation of one’s work and the artist. Keeping in relationship with those that have purchased one of my pieces has lead to their buying more and bringing friends and buyers to my studio. It may not be “artists’ etiquette” and it is good business sense.
Simple common courtesy
by Carl Richards, Cape Cod, MA, USA
Thanks for the letter on thank-you note etiquette for artists. While I agree with almost everything you said, I do make it a practice to send a quick note of appreciation to clients whenever it’s possible and practical to do so, and for the same reasons you gave for tucking a “souvenir” into the back of the piece. It creates an extra bond of connection between purchaser and creator. Sometimes I even get replies saying how much the note (or the painting) is appreciated in return. All this is just a way of making nice and keeping channels open. After all, it’s simple common courtesy in western culture to say “thank you.”
(RG note) Thanks, Carl. As a painter who sells almost exclusively through galleries, there is often a problem in contacting buyers after the fact. Many galleries guard the names of their customers. It’s fair to say I don’t know the names of most of my collectors. While many artists will see this as a tragedy, it does have the effect of keeping one’s muse somewhat private, untrammeled and un-influenced.
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Like free conditioner with the shampoo
by Jim Cowan, New Westminster, BC, Canada
Thank-you notes and attached rocks… Not for me. I would like the purchaser to think they came close to stealing the painting from me. Thank-you notes don’t fit with that thought. Rocks and things remind me too much of a bottle of free conditioner with the shampoo.
My son, looking at one of my paintings the other day (Tuesday) asked, “Where’s that Dad?” “Where would you like it to be?” was my answer. I thought that rather smart.
Fostering good will
by Carolyn Edlund, Poughkeepsie, NY, USA
I’m not aware of any precedent for thank-yous… but, when a buyer of my work is known, I generally send them a thank-you. In it, I will include the geographical location of the painting’s subject and what about that spot inspired me in the first place. That acknowledgment may or may not encourage additional purchases, but certainly it fosters good will. I have, on rare occasion, attached to the painting’s back information about the title’s derivation or some other little snippet of information. Your inclusion of bits of material gathered at the site depicted is a lovely idea that I’ll take to heart, although at some galleries that material might be lost with handling.
Subject information attached
by Jan Ross, Kennesaw, GA, USA
As I have focused on paintings of people from foreign places, that I have either visited myself or, on occasion, have family members who shared their photos as references, I find my buyers like to know a little more about the people/place as well as what my thoughts were when I created the painting. As you have little treasures attached to your oil paintings, I have attached my information in an envelope on the backs of my watercolors. Also, I have tried to keep a list of the names/addresses of the people who have purchased my paintings, not only for my own records and curiosity, but also for future notifications of exhibits where my work is being displayed. (In fact, I receive postcards from other artists whose work I have purchased, too.) So, as a marketing tool, a note is a good idea. If nothing else, a business card with a phone number/e-mail address is beneficial to add to one’s work or forward to a buyer.
Brown paper backing
by Edward Abela, Markham, ON, Canada
Seeing the back of your painting, it appears that you do not seal the back with a brown paper covering. Most framers seem to do this. It is handy when pasting your resume or other info on the back. Is there any rule about closing up the stretcher at the back?
(RG note) Thanks, Edward. Those photos were taken before the work went out to dealers. They go unframed. My various galleries use different levels of professionalism when work leaves their premises. Some seal, others do not.
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Adds to pleasure of ownership
by Alex Nodopaka, Lake Forest, CA, USA
You mention to incorporate something tangible to the back of an artwork is a superb suggestion. In human nature there’s this collector-phobia that adds a rush when the artist has signed not only the front of the painting but also the stretcher frame.
I wholeheartedly agree that owning such artwork adds to the pleasure. It is the personal touches like writing something, anything, in pencil on the back of the canvas that adds to the rapport with the artist. Such personalization becomes an intimate relationship with the artist. I would even suggest for the artists to write a few notes about either the painting or the mood at the time and if not during its execution then subsequent feelings. These notes may even be unrelated to the subject matter but always, always must be initialed and signed and dated with the day and month and year.
No specific reference
by Janet Burns, Farmington, New Mexico, USA
My daughter and I just recently talked about the influence of e-mail and other Internet options on community and how we stay in contact with others. While appreciating the immediate satisfaction the computer gives me in keeping in touch I also have a stack of written letters and cards that I have kept over time. I certainly get fewer written expressions nowadays. Not to inflate the depth of a thank-you note, but a personal contact seems like a polite thing to do, and may be a smart business tool also!
I love your idea of including objects, maps, and other personal reflections with your paintings. Painting is a process of discovering the image as I go and leaves me without specific references. Maybe the music I listen to, quotes that inspire me, or my intentions as I paint, are things to send off with the painting and will give that bit of connection that makes painting a part of how I make community.
Treasure in the story
by Stefanie Graves, Paducah, KY, USA
I’ve been writing thank-you notes to those who purchase my art for some years now. I began through advice from an art marketing coach as a way of making the connection to patrons and helping to establish a relationship with them. I’ve seen the suggestion in different articles as well over the years, so it seems like a recognized marketing tool in establishing one’s collector base.
Your idea that you have done them a favor is an interesting take on the sales part of art. I would agree that by portraying the beauty or different vantage point of the world around us that we share with others our sources of inspiration. And maybe in the process opening others’ eyes to things missed as they scurry about their hurried lives. So that’s a gift. As for putting treasures on the back of paintings, I instead try to tell my patrons the stories behind the paintings. That’s part of the conversation, usually, that happens as they look at my work, and many times it’s the story that gives the connection. That’s the treasure I leave them with, together with my paintings.
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Thanks is a ‘given’
by John D. Stevenson, Gatineau, QC, Canada
Regarding the question of ”Thank you” to the person that has fallen in love with one’s art work — I think it is not needed. Remember, the person who loves your art work has your ”Thanks” by the fact they have spent their own money and given your art work a place of honor in their home or office. I love it when someone says, “I must have that painting” and are willing to pay anything to have it. That’s something now.
Company will print, fold, stamp and mail
by Lauren Everett Finn, Oxford, MI USA
I am one who does write a thank-you note (just like my mother taught me). I understand from patrons that the notes are appreciated, and unexpected. When treating my art career as a business… it just makes sense to me to thank someone for their purchase. I use an online card sending service that allows me to put one of my paintings on the front (sometimes the one that was purchased) and I use a font created with my handwriting. The company is called Send Out Cards. They print it, fold it, address the envelope, stamp it and mail it.
I love your idea of the map with plein air work! Don’t think I’d appreciate the stinky thing in the baggie though! I usually include some writing about the painting as well.
Confidence earns 20% discount
by Hans Mertens, The Netherlands
Recently I almost sold a painting (attachment) for $1800. I asked $1900 and we (a lady from New York and I) couldn’t make an agreement. But because she had confidence in me, believing in this painting, I told her, “Thank you for your confidence in this particular painting and I offered her and her friends 20% discount on my website.” I don’t know if there are rules, but it felt so good, doing this.
by Norman Ridenour, Prague, Czech Republic
When living in California, I did very large pieces, both sculpture and furniture. Five or six sales a year would support me. I certainly sent thank-you notes, holiday messages and other greetings. Repeat business kept me going. I got clients coming back time and again even if I did not get their friends. Now I am doing smaller turned work and live in a society where people are reluctant to give out addresses; real or electronic. (This is a legacy of communism and a need for privacy.) Still I try to get a contact, say thank you for special or large purchases and keep contact. IT WORKS!!!! The same drive to keep privacy isolates people and turns business into something cold, formal and often even rude. Putting it onto an informal friendly personal level is such a surprise for most people that strong positive reactions are generated. Saying thank you is a part of that.
Artists seen as smug, arrogant and narcissistic?
by Lynda Bass, Cambria, CA, USA
My husband is a dentist. When someone refers a patient to him, he sends flowers and a thank-you note. (So far all his referrals are from women, so the flowers are always a great surprise). People are pretty stunned. They are also very, very impressed, grateful, and endeared.
I used to work for doctors, and I can tell you that even though they ask for referrals on the intake forms, they don’t even remember them or acknowledge them most of the time unless they are from a VIP in the community or one of their own friends. It’s thousands of dollars in their pockets, but I suppose they feel that the patients are the ones that should be thanking them, not the other way around.
But doctors are accepted as those who have a right somehow to be smug, arrogant, and narcissistic. But artists? That’s a new one. I thought artists had this wonderful quality of being unsure about themselves which adds, in my estimation, to the utter beauty of what they do. Art is a business; I think it should be treated like one. And in all the businesses where I have worked, the person making the money thanks the customer or patron first and is the one to send the thank-you notes.
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The 401 III
watercolour painting by Edith Dora Rey, Montreal, QC, Canada
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Lillian Wu who wrote, “Thank-you notes are etiquettes of ‘culture.’ While thank-you notes are an added value to your painting and the collector, it also touches the heart. They are similar to “party favors” in a birthday party, you give something back to the collector. You gave us some good ideas, Robert. Everyone loves to have a little souvenir of sentiment.”
And also Brooke Robinson who wrote, “As a gallery owner, I can tell you that our clients appreciate a thank-you note from the artist. Greatly. There is never ‘thanks enough.’ ”
And also Rae Aeberli of Mt. View, AR, USA, who wrote, “A thank-you note may not be necessary, but it is never out of place.”
And also Paul Kane of Bloomington, IN, USA, who wrote, “How precisely an artist forms his or her relationship with audience or potential audience is, in some ways, as much a part of the work of art as the art-making itself.”
Enjoy the past comments below for Thank-you notes…