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Artist Donations: Would You Give a Gift of Your Autographed Art to a Stranger?

One beautiful Sunday afternoon, I looked out my office window to see three unexpected visitors coming up the driveway: two nuns and a priest. No, they were not soliciting donations. In fact, one of the nuns was carrying a tray of sushi - my favorite food! Was I dreaming?

Had the trio not been dressed as they were, I might not have responded to the doorbell invitation. Their attire was a signal that it was probably safe to at least open the door to a conversation. We quickly established that what they had to offer was not for me. Sadly, the sushi was for a neighbor, so I redirected them to the correct house. Still, I had enjoyed the prospects of a delicious snack.

One of the myths about artists and fame is that one day they will be discovered. When an e-mail shows up full of praise for your art, of course you feel good because someone likes your work.

In A.C.T. Featured Artists: How Professional Artists Create Opportunities I said, "When opportunity knocks you must be ready or luck will slip through your fingers."  I want to add a note of caution about making sure that whoever is knocking is offering an opportunity for you and not just for themselves.

Here's a simple example that one of my clients recently brought to me:

Dear Lady,

I collect authographes and letters from very important artists in the world.  Now I have Internet and find your e-mail.

Please very much to send me (not with e-mail please) a photo from a work with your dedication and a short letter in your handwriting. My address: (was included in original e-mail)
Thank you very much and all my best whishes and continuous success

Yours sincerely
(Requestor name)

Yes, this seems like an innocent request - and an ego boost. If you have the time and inclination, you might just pop a photo in the mail.

The autograph collection may be legit but who knows?

While the e-mail was addressed to my client, a web search revealed that this is a form letter. The sender simply changes the type of autograph collected to other professions. I also found the sender's name and location on social media but no profiles, photos or web site.

That sent up a red flag, so next I went to but I could not find any reference to indicate that this request was a scam. The sender could be a bona fide autograph collector.

If you are careful about how you spend your time and share information or art, you might ask yourself four simple questions before you act:

  • How does this request fit into my goals to become better known or sell my art?
  • What assurances do I have that the autographed image won't be used for any other purpose than to add to a collection?
  • If the image is used to generate income for the requester, will there be any money shared with me?
  • What if the photo is misappropriated and used for a purpose that could damage my reputation?

Forgive me if these questions sound cynical - after all the person was only asking for a photo and an autograph. It's your choice, of course. Please just do a quick assessment first, especially if there is any remote chance that you might have regrets later. I'd hate for something bad to happen when you started by feeling so good.

If you've been the recipient of a similar letter, what did you do and how did it turn out? I'd love to hear that you were the recipient of good things from good people.

Please comment here, or, post your replies on Facebook and Twitter.

And if you want to send me sushi, drop me a line...

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Reader Comments (4)

Thank you for posting this alert. Also a request to purchase paintings can be a scam. If the writing isn't exactly correct, and appears English is the writer's second language, that's a flag. If they email several letters, lots of praise, then send a money order way over the amount that you billed them for and they want you to cash the money order and return the balance, that is a very big flag. The person who was to handle the shipping of my paintings to England was located in another country. That's possible, but a flag. Curious, my husband called our local bank explained and they said they probably wouldn't have cashed the money order. Each email they sent we grew more suspicious and went along for awhile to see how far they'd go. The warning you sent is good for all artists. It is not cynical, just, wise.

September 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMarilyn Weimer

Aletta, I don't think you're being cynical at all. Just smart! Reading this reminded me of the occasional weird request for cash to save someone in a supposed dire situation, often from Nigeria. The really bad grammar and faint whiff of fawning are signs to me to ignore this request. There are too many events dangling out there that you listed, that are out of the artist's control. I think it's important for an artist to see that any situation in the art market has to be truly a win-win for all.

September 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKate Klingensmith

Hello Marilyn,
Yes, I agree with you that there are often many signals, like use of language and unusual requests that should send up red flags. I am glad to hear that you were alert and did not take the bait.
Thanks for adding your example for other artists to learn from.

September 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAletta de Wal

Yes Kate,
I’ve had those too. Sometimes they switch it up and phish your e-mail for people you know, and then tell you they’ve been stranded in a foreign country and need money to get home. I had a friend actually send money on that one. has most of these but not everyone knows to check there.
Thanks for adding your example for other artists to learn from.

September 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAletta de Wal

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