Sunday, October 12, 2014

Artist Tips: How to Sell Custom Ordered Paintings!

Selling Custom Ordered Commissions
By Annie Strack 2006©
(First publication:  March 2007, Art Calendar Magazine)
Creating art on commission can be a significant source of income for any artist.  However, most of the artists that I know routinely turn away commissions, fearing that the work is either too difficult or just not worth the effort.  We’ve all heard horror stories from other artists about commissions gone bad, clients from hell, rejected paintings, etc., but often these situations arise from misunderstandings and lack a of communication between the artist and the client.  Successful commissions are the result of clear understanding of the process and requirements by both the artist and the client. 

When customers initially inquire about commissioning a custom work of art, I start the process by giving them my sales brochure, which shows color samples of my work and describes the commission requirements and benefits.  Prices are clearly listed according to the size of a piece of art, and the brochure clearly states what is included and what is not, such as framing or matting.  Other pertinent information and limitations are also stated in the brochure, including the clear statement that the price includes a single subject and simple backgrounds, and the invitation but clarification that surcharges are added for multiple subjects or complex backgrounds.  Having this printed information readily available helps to introduce the client to the commission process, and clearly spells out the basic terms of the commission agreement.  The brochure allows the client to take this information home with them to review before making a final decision, and it also alleviates any confusion that would ultimately arise later if the commission prices and terms had been relayed verbally.

Rather than following a set contract, I prefer to work out the details of each commission individually with each client.  Although my prices are firm, I may offer to adjust the schedule or stretch out the payments to better suit the needs of the client.  I avoid the use of the word “contract” when discussing or writing out the terms of the commission, preferring to use the friendlier term “sales order.”  I try to make the process comfortable for my clients by avoiding the use of terms that the customer may find confusing or intimidating. 

To write the sales orders, I use a separate order book that is larger than a regular sales receipt book, and allows for plenty of room to write down all the necessary details of the customer’s order.  I write down the specifications for the painting such as colors, size, subjects, perspective, background, in addition to price, payment schedule, etc.  While talking with the client during this process, I write every detail down in the order book.  After the customer confirms and agrees to the written order form, we each sign it.  The client receives the original as their receipt, and I retain the duplicate for my reference.  Before the client leaves, I know exactly what they want and they know and understand exactly what they will be receiving.  I don’t start the painting process until we are both in total agreement of expectations. 

I prefer to shoot my own reference photographs for my paintings.  I let the client select the final reference photos before I start the painting, but I don’t allow him to to view the painting in progress.  Occasionally I will work from photos provided by the client.  When the client provides photos, I record these on the order form to alleviate any confusion that might later arise concerning the number of photos that later need to be returned, and I make sure we’re not violating someone else’s copyright. 

I don’t start a painting until I am confident that the client and I are completely sure we understand each other.  Since my paintings appeal to a specific audience and I’m known for a particular style, my clients know that they can expect a painting reflective of my established style and they have always been happy with the final product.  Many become repeat customers and send me referrals. 

A useful tip -- I don't call these works "commissions," I refer to them as "custom-ordered commissioned paintings".  My paintings for general sales and display are priced much less than commissions; for instance, some of my 12x16 spec paintings start as low as $395, but my 12x16 commissions start at $600.  Sometimes I have to remind clients that it’s like ordering custom made drapes from a decorator, versus buying curtains off a shelf at Walmart.  Anything that is custom ordered costs more because it is custom tailored to the client’s individual specifications, increasing the degree of difficulty and requiring more time for production.  When I explain it this way, customers are more likely to understand why the prices are different.  Women especially understand the drapery analogy.  We've all been there, and we all know what custom made drapes cost!  I also remind them that spec paintings are priced lower because they are merely generic samples of my work, and are created to appeal to a broader audience rather than to any individual collector with more specific expectations and taste.  These lower priced works of art do not contain the same level of detail and perfection as the custom ordered paintings.  I gently suggest that if the price of a custom painted original is currently beyond their reach, then perhaps owning one of these less expensive paintings would be a more affordable alternative for them at this time.

Custom ordered commissions account for 80% of my sales of original paintings.  Because I do so many commissions, I am usually fully booked a year or more in advance.  

When I inform potential clients of my waiting list, I also remind them that I raise my prices after the first of each year, however if they book their custom ordered painting now, they will lock in at the current price rate.  This strategy helps me to maintain a steady schedule of commissions by encouraging potential customers to book well in advance, and not procrastinate.  Additionally, the client gets excited at the prospect of purchasing a work of art from a “hot and popular artist”, and is pleased by the idea of saving money by ordering in advance.  They also like the fact that my prices are pre-scheduled to rise annually, and therefore their purchase will likely also rise in value.  Telling clients they are going to be on a waiting list often clinches the deal!  
I usually schedule around four paintings for each month, but some I schedule with more or less working time due to the size or complexity of the painting.  For example, I have a couple of large commissions scheduled for January and February, and they are very complex so I scheduled each of them in a month all by them selves.  I also figure into my schedule extra time to create paintings for juried shows, time to sell at art festivals, etc.  For instance I know that October and April of each year I can't work in the studio at all because of my hectic seasonal exhibit schedule, and I also need to dedicate at least two solid months to creating paintings for juried shows, so I schedule the commissions around these times.  If I finish a painting ahead of schedule I use the free time to either get an early start on the next scheduled commission, or to paint spec paintings to build up my inventory.  

The primary keys to guaranteeing successful commissions are clear communication with the client, advance agreement of services, and realistic scheduling.  There is nothing inherently scary or mysterious about the process, nor is there any need for either the artist or the client to be confused by the proceedings or disappointed by the results. 
Commissions not only provide a reliable and steady source of income, they can also be downright enjoyable. 


Annie Strack earned Signature Membership from 8 artist societies and she’s an Official Authorized Artist for the U.S. Coast Guard. Her art has received hundreds of awards and hangs in collections worldwide. She’s a popular juror for art competitions, and is a much sought after lecturer and workshop instructor. Annie draws experience from her former career in corporate management to build a successful art career, and she shares her knowledge of business and marketing in her articles for Professional Artist magazine. Visit her at

posted by Annie Strack @ 8:56 AM   1 Comments

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Vineyard Plein Air!

Raw Wine, 8x10 oil, $195.
I've been so busy with art shows and classes this month that I forgot to show you my recent painting! I painted this with Rembrandt Oils on an 8x10 Fredrix Canvas Panel last weekend, at Wilson Vineyard in Nottingham, Pennsylvania. I painted 3 paintings in two afternoons there, along with chatting with visitors and sampling the wines. I'll be back there later in the year, exhibiting all the paintings that I painted there en plein air this summer. Here's a tip on finding the winery -- if your GPS system can't locate the address, try typing in "Oxford" instead of "Nottingham." Both my Garmin, and the built-in GPS in my Mercedes couldn't locate the winery in Nottingham, but both worked just fine when I typed in "Oxford."

posted by Annie Strack @ 12:55 PM   0 Comments

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Featured Artist for Stillman & Birn!

What a wonderful birthday suprise from Stillman & Birn! I'm thrilled to be featured on their blog for my birthday! 

"Annie Strack is an art educator and a master of marine paintings. This is Annie’s report about her drawing of the historic Rigolets Lighthouse, destroyed by Hurricaine Katrina. “I used to live in the New Orleans area, and one of the best things about living there was the diverse and numerous subjects nearby that make for interesting maritime paintings.
I was tidying my studio the other day when I came across..." Read more!  

posted by Annie Strack @ 4:04 PM   0 Comments

Monday, September 8, 2014

Painting Demonstrations with Rembrandt Oils and Arches Oil Paper!

New freebies have arrived! I'm unpacking boxes full of samples of Rembrandt Oil Colors trial sets and Arches Oil Paper that I’ll be giving away to artists at one of my upcoming painting demonstrations! Be sure to follow this page closely to find out where and when! 

posted by Annie Strack @ 7:00 PM   0 Comments

Monday, September 1, 2014

Art Tip for September!

My "Art Tip" of the month:

Don’t be afraid to use more paint. You’re going to waste a lot of paint while you’re learning, but the more you use it – the better you’ll become. I find that students generally reach the intermediate stage when they’ve completely used up an entire set of paints, regardless of how frugally they used the paint. 

posted by Annie Strack @ 12:35 PM   0 Comments

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Painting in the Vines

Come join me at Wilson's Vineyard in Nottingham, Pennsylvania for a weekend of art and wine! The gallery at the vineyard is hosting an artist reception on Saturday and Sunday, September 6&7, from 2-6 pm each day. Many of the artists will be there to talk about their work, and I'll be painting en plein air at the vineyard on both days. Besides the great art to see, there are several great wines to taste! I hope you'll come out to see me there!

Also, don't forget -- you can stop in an visit me in my Kennett Square studio on the 1st Friday of every month!
See ya later!

posted by Annie Strack @ 4:08 PM   0 Comments

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Giving Away more Brushes to Artists!

Well, color me happy! Dynasty Brush has sent me a case of #24 round Orange Ice brushes to give away to everyone who signs up for the Philadelphia Watercolor Society workshop with Sarah Yeoman! These brushes are totally awesome, and perfect for the techniques that will be taught in this workshop!
I've been using these brushes for quite a while now, and find them to be perfect for watercolors. The brush is large and holds a huge amount of water and paint, and keeps a fine point to paint details. The synthetic hairs have spring and bounce and yet have a wonderful softness that is perfect for painting watercolors. I will personally be at this workshop to hand out these brushes to everyone who attends and demonstrate their use!
Workshop is Oct 1-2, sign up now to reserve your space, and your brush!

Beginning with a morning demonstration of an original artwork, Sarah will lead you through the step by step process she uses to create paintings with strong colorful darks and shimmering lights no matter the choice of subject. We will learn to simplify the subject matter by creating value studies in pencil, marker or paint moving on to color studies and finally to a finished painting. Sarah will share her years of knowledge on materials, paint application, composition, life as an artist and "finding your light" in watercolor.

PWCS Members may sign up for $200 (non members may sign up for $250) by sending a check to PWCS Workshop, P.O. Box 197, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010 by September 1st. Please include your name and address, phone number, and e-mail address. The first 20 people will be accepted. Non members may join PWCS at the time of registration by paying an extra $40 for one year’s dues. They will receive membership materials in the mail shortly afterwards. Additionally, all workshop attendees will recieve some fantastic new brushes from our sponsor, Dynasty Brush! Questions? Send me an e-mail , or call 215.569.3955.

posted by Annie Strack @ 7:28 PM   0 Comments

Monday, August 18, 2014

I heart these watercolors from Senelier!

I'm proud to be one of the artists featured by Sennelier on their website! I've been using the honey-based Sennelier watercolors ever since I assisted them with the product testing of their new formulas several years ago, and found them to be superior to all other watercolors. The pigments are more saturated and the colors are more pure and vibrant than other brands of paint, which makes my paintings even more beautiful. Check out the full line of art supplies on their website!

Labels: , ,

posted by Annie Strack @ 9:38 AM   0 Comments

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Step-bt-step Process for Painting Gulls in Watercolor

Step by step tutorial of my latest painting! 
I'm working from a photo I shot of some gulls at the end of Lake road (Lake Pontchartrain). To begin, I masked out the gulls and the wood and then also sprinkled masking fluid randomly on the background.
For the background, I painted wet-in-wet using granulating colors and added salt for extra texture effect. I sprayed with water to create some blooms, splattered paint, and tipped the paper to create some drips and runs.
After I peeled the masking fluid off of everything, I reapplied it to a few areas where I want to preserve the highlights. Then I painted the first layers of shadow colors on the gulls and initial colors and values on the wood.
 I added some more layers to the wood, and used a damp large flat synthetic brush to lift out some grain patterns in the wood.
I painted in the dark tail and wing feathers and some shadow details on the feathers, and then I lifted a few highlights with a damp brush.
painted a faint hint of color to the legs and beaks, and finally got around to painting the eyes. I left the eyes until near the end because I was afraid of screwing them up.
Ok, I think I might be done. I tweeaked the shadows and lighlights a little more, but I don't want to over paint it so I'm going to have to put it away for a while. In the meanwhile, I need a title for this one -- any ideas? Tell me your suggestions in the comments -- thanks!!

posted by Annie Strack @ 7:55 AM   4 Comments

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Art Show Etiquette: Professional Behavior Will Garner More Respect than Hissy Fits.

One of the Watercolor Societies of which I am a Board Member has published their list of artists who have been juried into their annual exhibit, and once again, it has become apparent that some artists need a reminder about professional artist etiquette. Most importantly, artists need to remember that the person they send a "poison pen letter" to today, might remember that letter the next time their artwork comes before them for a review.

Art Show Etiquette
By Annie Strack ©2008

The spring season is upon us once again, and for artists it’s often our busiest time of the year.  The season brings us pleasant weather, and with it comes the stacks of entry forms for art shows, festivals, and other events.     

Over the years, I have chaired or served on the committees of dozens of art shows.  Every time, I hear complaints from artists, and I hear longwinded explanations about why the show’s rules shouldn’t specifically apply to them.  You’d be amazed by the complaints I’ve listened to from some of the artists. 

At a regional juried show I recently chaired, I received up to a dozen phone calls a day from artists complaining because they didn’t hear about the show sooner.  It wasn’t enough that the call to artists was published in several newspapers and dozens of artists newsletters months before the deadline, or that thousands of entry forms were prominently available at all the local art supply stores and galleries, or that the prospectuses were handed out at every art show, art festival, and art club meeting within the region for the last two months.  These artists were complaining that they weren’t personally notified and asked to enter the show.

(Annie Strack receiving a special plaque commemorating her decade of service as Show Chairman and other Offices in the St Bernard Art Guild)
Other artists called to complain that they didn’t like the juror’s credentials.  One of them told me that she believed that all art shows, in general, always choose the wrong jurors.  She qualified this by saying that she knows her art is good, because all of her friends tell her so, and yet she never wins any awards at any art competitions.  She didn’t think it was fair that well-known top artists were consistently winning awards at various shows, and that art shows should try to find jurors who had taste more akin to hers and her friends.  She went on to tell me that she felt she should have been the juror because she knows what good art is. 

Other artists complained about the scheduling of events.  Some were too busy to deliver their entries on the allocated days; others complained they would be too busy to pick up their work at the end of the show.  My advice is simple; if the schedule of events is too much of an inconvenience, then don’t enter the show.  Every artist needs to make their own arrangements for the delivery of their artwork on time, and exhibit calendars cannot be changed to accommodate the personal schedule of every artist who wants to enter. 

Then there’s the artist who asked me about the framing requirements for the show, and wanted to know if he could bring his artwork in unframed because he had a lot of other things to do and he didn’t have time to go out and buy a frame.  At least he called and asked, and he did end up bringing his paintings properly framed.  Another artist wanted to enter an extra painting by claiming that the two of his entries were actually one diptych, despite that the two paintings were obviously separate and were even priced separately.   Other artists, who couldn’t be bothered with rules, were sent away from the show for bringing unframed paintings.  

At one recent show an artist entered a three dimensional artwork but demanded that it should be included in the two dimensional artwork category.  Naturally, the exhibit committee ignored her demands and the artwork was placed in the 3-D category for judging (which by the way, had far fewer entries and therefore gave her better odds of acceptance and winning, anyway).  When the artist found out at the reception that she didn’t win any awards, she thought that it was because her piece was judged within the larger competition of the larger 2-D category.  So then she changed her mind, and complained that her artwork should have been judged against the smaller 3-D category.  

But the best one is the story of the gallery owner, who wanted to enter paintings from her store’s inventory.  Not only were the artworks not her own original creation and created prior to the date allowed for recent works, they were also created by an artist who was deceased.  Sounds surprising, doesn’t it?  And yet, this is not the first time this situation has come up.  A few years ago I was on the committee of a juried exhibit that was only open to artists who lived within a local zip code.  One woman came in and wanted to enter the artwork of her friend, who had passed away years ago.  When the rule was pointed out to her that only local residents could enter, she replied that her late friend is a local resident, she resides in the cemetery down the street! 

Now that you have a better understanding of what the exhibit committee has to deal with, I’d like to offer a few tips about artist etiquette.  First off, I can’t stress enough the importance of reading the show’s rules before you enter.  If you don’t understand the rules, either call or email the organization for clarification. 

Please don’t complain because you didn’t hear about the show earlier.  Most show committees send out press releases and put a call to artists in various art newsletters, magazines, websites, and emails.  They really do try to get as many entries as possible, and it’s not the fault of the show committee or chairman if some artists choose to live under a rock and not read these announcements. 

Don’t complain or whine if your art is not accepted because you didn’t follow the rules!  No saw tooth hangers means no saw tooth hangers.  It is not the responsibility of the art show committee or chairman to frame your work or make adjustments to your framing so that it can be accepted.  You must make sure that your art is within the guidelines of the rules before you enter it.

Rules that state that the entries must have adequate picture wire and screw eyes for hanging mean just that, and if you send an artwork with two thumbtacks attached to the frame and a shoestring stretched between them, you can expect it be rejected.  Same goes for bits of yarn attached with tape or paperclips, fishing line, staples, string, and other odd bits and pieces that are not screw eyes and picture wire. 

Shows that have weight or size restrictions have them for a reason.  The facility might not accommodate artworks over a certain size, or the hanging system may not hold items over a certain weight.  This restriction isn’t in the rules just to annoy some artists, it’s there because there are genuine physical limitations to what some shows can accommodate. 

(Philadelphia Watercolor Society  Show Co-Chairmen Annie Strack and Wendy McClatchy)
The rules often require that artwork must be dry.  This means that paintings with wet paint may not be entered.  Please, don’t even try to sneak them in.  In the last three shows I hung, wet oil paintings with gallery wrapped painted edges were entered, despite the printed rule in the prospectus which clearly stated wet paintings were prohibited.  Wet paint tends to get everywhere, including the floor, walls, and on people.  I don’t like to get oil paint all over my hands and clothing when I install an exhibit, and neither does anyone else.    

Rules and restrictions regarding the age of the artwork are common.  Art competitions are generally meant to showcase current or recent works, and works that are old and have already been in several shows over the course of many years are rightly discouraged.  Those paintings that were done in art class fifteen years ago need to be retired!  Also, the rule stating that all work must be original means that an artist can’t copy someone else’s painting or photo out of a book, magazine, or anywhere else, and rules that state that the work must have been created without supervision means that you can’t enter something you made in a workshop or class. 

You may think that you or your artwork should be granted an exception to the rules because of your special circumstances, or that the rules don’t specifically apply to you for some reason.  Think again!  You are not entitled to special treatment, and arguing with the show committee or chair is not going to get you anywhere. 

If your art is rejected by the juror or doesn’t win an award, please don’t whine to the show committee or chairman.  They did not make that decision, the juror did.  Nor will they override the juror’s decision, no matter how loudly you complain or how many of your friends agree with you.  Not everyone will get accepted to every show, or win an award.  The juror merely liked other things better than yours, this time.  Rejection eventually happens to all of us; accept it graciously, and move on.

I know many of you are shaking your heads in disbelief, thinking that surely these scenarios must be few and far between.  You’re probably thinking we are all professional artists, and we all know these things already.  If that were the case, then everyone would be following the rules and graciously accepting the occasional rejection.  Unfortunately, these shocking scenarios are more common than you think.  In my experience, I’ve found that at least twenty percent of the artists entering a show try to get around the rules.  That may not sound like a lot, but in a show with 200 entries, that’s 40 artists.  That’s way more than any show should have to deal with. 

One thing I’ve noticed from chairing all these shows, is that the more experienced and professional artists are the best at following the rules, and they are the least likely to demand special treatment or complain when they don’t win an award.  One amateur artist recently stomped towards me at a reception with her nose in the air and barked at me in a huff, “How could my piece have been rejected!?  It’s been well received elsewhere!” 
(Louisiana Watercolor Society Show Chairman Annie Strack handling out awards)

In a juried show, the entry fee is for the opportunity to have your work considered for inclusion by the juror.  It does not guarantee acceptance into the show, and it is not refunded if the entry is rejected.  There are plenty of small local shows around the country that are not juried; these shows are less prestigious than juried shows, but they are the right choice for artists who may be offended by rejection.  Remember, our behavior affects how others perceive us.  If an artist wants to be perceived as experienced and professional, then they must behave in this manner.  Plus, one will gain more respect in the art world by being polite and gracious, than by being a sore loser. 


Copyright 2008 © Annie Strack. The edited version of this article was first published in Art Calendar magazine in 2008, and the original version was published 2008 in the book (The Artists Guide To) Art Business and Marketing by Annie Strack. Visit the author at  
A modern master of maritime art, Annie Strack is an Official Authorized Artist for the U.S. Coast Guard and has earned Signature Membership in 8 artist societies. Her artwork has received hundreds of awards and hangs in more than 1,000 public and private collections worldwide. In addition to being a highly acclaimed juror for art shows and popular workshop instructor, she is the producer and host of Painting Seascapes in Watercolor, which is broadcast on television stations worldwide and also available on DVD. Annie draws experience from her former career in corporate management to build a successful art career, and she shares her knowledge of business and marketing in her articles which are in many publications, including Art Calendar, Professional Artist, and The Crafts Report magazines. 

posted by Annie Strack @ 4:30 PM   3 Comments

Fine Art Tips
Excellence in
Art & Social Media
All images and content copyright Annie Strack 2008 Although I occasionally receive compensation for some posts, I always give my honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experiences on those topics or products. The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely my own.