…. I just had a phone conversation with another student who had called me for advice. She found herself in a pickle.

A year or two ago, she gave two friends small original watercolors. Now one of these friends is planning on printing the paintings and using them as cards, “Because she liked them so.”

TG2_5What!!!!! YOU are going to print MY paintings?

Have you found yourself in a similar situation? Did you feel a friend or acquaintance was taking advantage of you and you didn’t know what to do? You felt undervalued, a little insulted.

Let’s talk about this problem.

When you first start painting you are so thrilled when someone likes a painting enough to hang it on their wall you are happy to give it to them. Everyone is happy.

Then you begin to have some professional success. You make a juried show. A painting sells and it is to someone who doesn’t know you.  Perhaps you make cards at Christmas and are amazed at the positive feedback. You make up packets of cards for a sale and they sell out at a fund raiser or a small gift shop. People like your work and are willing to pay for it! And then someone you know insults you by saying something belittling. How long you have worked for these successes!!  And doubly insults you by not even knowing they insulted you.

What do you do?

Now — from now on, you put a copyright under your signature.


How do you do that?

I write my whole name in watercolor, two value steps but the same color as the area I chose to put it (usually lower left) using the smallest brush I own. I am a signature member of the NWWS  so that has to go aferwards.

AND, underneath the signature, I make the small c in a circle: © that signifies copyright.  After the © I write the date.

You do this, not the year you paint it but when it goes before the public; when you finally have it framed.

DO IT!!!!

You do not need to copyright it.  You can “pefect the copyright,”  i.e. register it, as you go to court. Hopefully you never have to do that.


In addition, put this information on the back the a painting and  on the back of cards Plus I would recommend an Inventory number.  This is my standard format:

Inventory # 20113
© 2011, Caroline Buchanan, all rights reserved
Buchanan WatercolorsLtd.
Obstruction Island, PO Box 218, Olga WA 98279

This tells us that the painting on the other side is the 3rd painting that I put before the public in the year 2011. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

All rights reserved. What that means is that even if they own it, they can never reproduce this painting without your consent.

DO It!  If my student had this on the back of her card, she could simply point out that “all rights” were reserved and that she controlled the right to reproduce it.

Why do it? We have one example.  Another:  you sell a painting to a real estate office.  They are putting together a brochure, look up and say, “That painting captures our area better than any of our photographs. We own it. Let’s use it on our cover.”

Oh no!  You have “ all rights reserved” on the back.  You tell them that you would love to have them print it but they will need to pay you.( You might check with a local photographer for how much he or she expects commercial images to sell and quote that price.) But you will not find your work splattered across ads without you being paid or, at least, acknowledged.


  • Sign any painting before you take it to the framer or before it is scanned for a card or print. Date it with the year and the copyright sign under your signature.
  • Inventory each year’s paintings that “graduate” into frames or print. Assign each a number. Keep a list. Later art historians will thank you. So will collectors, your kids, and even you – as the years pass. Even you forget.
  • On the back on your bio piece or a short description of the work or just an identifying tag, have the pertinent information any collector would need, including “all rights reserved.”

Smile like a sphnix when your friends say, “Oh, I didn’t realize how professional you have become!”


© 2013, Caroline Buchanan