The Art Biz ep. 110: An Unusual Path to Finding Art Commissions with Leisa Collins

A lot of artists make a good living, or at least a significant part of their income, from commissions. You know how it goes. Someone approaches you to repeat that piece you've already sold, but they'd like it in more neutral shades, 40% larger, and vertical instead of horizontal. Don't judge.

Or they want a drawing of their beloved pet, and you consider yourself an abstract artist. Leave the pets to Sema Martin who, in episode 68 of The Art Biz, walked us through the exact steps she repeats for each commission—steps that ensure she stays organized and meets her deadlines.

What would happen if you turned the whole commission process on its head? If you got to make whatever you wanted and found the perfect buyer in advance?

Independence Hall pen and watercolor painting artist Lesia Collins | on Art Biz Success
©Leisa Collins, Independence Hall, Philadelphia. Pen and watercolor on paper, 11 x 9 inches.

In this episode of The Art Biz I talk with Leisa Collins, who started her art business by targeting people whose homes she wanted to paint. Her attempt at the flyer-on-the-doorstep thing was met with crickets, save for some abusive language by one recipient.

Then she got more specific and went to direct mail. That's when her career as a house portraitist took off. To date she has painted more than 2,500 house portraits and has a waiting list for commissions. She no longer has to send direct mail, but maintains that the personal relationships with clients are paramount.

I'll let Leisa explain how she did it. She'll also share her quest across the country to paint a house in all 50 states, that following up with prospects results in 85% more sales for her, and how she has partnered with realtors to provide closing gifts for their clients.


artist Leisa Collins sitting on step of house | on Art Biz Success
Leisa recently published a coffee table book highlighting her paintings in all 50 states.
  • Combining a love of art with architecture and advertising in effective ways. (4:36)
  • The details of direct mailings that lead to collectors. (9:45)
  • Leisa recently published a coffee table book highlighting her paintings in all 50 states.
  • Hand selecting the demographic you want to work with. (13:05)
  • The business process and price range of Leisa’s untraditional approach to commissioned art. (16:10)
  • Selecting, photographing and painting houses in all 50 states. (22:26)
  • Creating 250 pieces a year means Leisa gets two or three new clients a week—and has to keep careful track of them all. (30:50)
  • Selecting images, marketing, and selling a book. (36:50)
  • The importance of following up with prospective clients—without being too pushy. (39:31)
  • The details of Leisa’s spreadsheets help her maintain a personal relationship with her clients. (45:10)
  • Creating relationships with clients through realtor closing gifts and phone calls. (48:51)
  • A look at what is coming up next in Leisa’s very busy holiday schedule. (53:25)

Leisa Collins Quotes

“I exchanged my art for everything.”

“I could choose my demographic very carefully by looking at the house.”

“I now get tons of commissions every week because they told their neighbor … by now it's just word of mouth.”

“If you love what you’re doing, it’s not so much like work.”

About My Guest

artist Leisa Collins standing in front of painting of townhomes holding art brushesLeisa Collins, a native of New Zealand, eventually settled in the U.S. and became interested in the people and cultures that defined architecture throughout the country’s history. She was inspired to drive from coast to coast, creating original paintings of homes in every state plus the Nation's capital. She selected 650 of these architectural paintings—as well as the fascinating stories behind many of them—for her coffee table book, Hand-Painted Homes: An Architectural Artist’s Pen and Watercolor Journey Across America (May 2021).

In 2013, Leisa established the Leisa Collins Historic Preservation Award to honor exceptional individuals committed to saving and restoring old buildings across the country. Her work has been featured in publications such as the New York Times, Huffington Post, and Los Angeles Times.

Follow Leisa on Instagram: @leisacollinsart

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8 thoughts on “The Art Biz ep. 110: An Unusual Path to Finding Art Commissions with Leisa Collins”

  1. This was so interesting – and it gave me an idea for the future. I think there is a market for commissions with the work I’m doing now – and I’ve had several, I just haven’t pushed it because there is so much other stuff I want to do. Hmmm – but this got me thinking of something to approach in the next year.

  2. Loved this episode! Fascinating (as all of your episodes)! Thank you. I would love to know more about the wording of her letter to people whose homes she wanted to paint. I just imagine the home owners responding with “how great! … Yes, please paint it for your series!” … my question is: how does she let the people know she’s not going to paint their home unless they commission her?

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Glad you enjoyed this and others, Matthew. I’ll see if I can get Leisa here to respond.

    2. Hello Mathew, Leisa here. Alyson referred your question to me to answer.
      Start locally, i.e. where you live. First select a series of home that would make great portraits. Create a note card with your house portrait art on it and say you are doing a series of paintings of homes in your area and you have chosen their home to be part of it. You can include the size and price if you like and tell them to contact you if they are interested in seeing the painting when done
      Give them your website and make sure you have good house portrait examples on there.
      Once they contact get back to them and find out any special details about the house, it’s history etc. Then get back to them when the portrait is done. Hope this helps. Leisa

  3. Thank you Leisa for sharing your story and business.
    I learned so much with the many great strategies that have worked for you.
    Thanks so much for this podcast Alyson, such great info shared.

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