If you have been an artist for any length of time, you have probably been asked to create something especially for someone. Maybe a friend or a relative, someone special. It is always difficult to decide if that is really what you want to do. Here are some concerns for you to think about.
1. What is a commission? This is basically when someone asks you to create something special for them. Frankly, commissioned artwork was the norm until a few hundred years ago. Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel. At that time, the artist was primarily a sculptor and didn’t want to do the job but was persuaded one way or another. That turned out well.
2. Know your style and what you are comfortable doing. If you have been an artist for any length of time, eventually someone will ask you to make something for them that just doesn’t fit your comfort zone. Maybe they want you to copy another artist, or perhaps paint an abstract painting when you paint only in a realistic style.
To be totally honest, I was asked early on in my career to copy another artist’s painting and just was not comfortable with it. Although I eventually I complied (it was a relative), it never sat well with me and I haven’t done it since. Be true to yourself.
3. Don’t compromise. This hooks in with the paragraph above. Know your style and stick with it. If the client wants something different, you may just have to pass on the job. It always helps if you can steer them towards someone else who can help them.
4. Take notes. I have several notebooks which I have filled over the years with notes for commissions. Obviously, the client’s contact information, but more details about what they want. You might even have a list of questions before you meet. For instance, size, materials, deadlines are obvious. Less obvious are what they want in the commission and what they don’t.
5. Come to an agreement. If you really want a formal agreement, you may need to draw up a contract. I don’t usually do this but it is a good way to cover yourself should any misunderstandings occur later. Are they agreeing to your style? Will you submit sketches or mockups? When do they want the final?
6. Arriving at a price and getting a down payment. You should do a little research ahead of your meeting or perhaps you will have to get back with the client later. Remember to include your materials, time, driving time or shipping. Condition for submitting the final product. Don’t forget your overhead. And don’t be afraid to ask what you deserve. Do some research for your area and medium. What are other artists charging for similar commissions with a similar level of skills and background?
7. Ask about a deadline. Is the commission for a special event or doesn’t the client really care when you complete it? I really like to get the commissions done and off my plate. If there is a deadline, do you have time to meet it? Is it around the holidays when everyone else is clamoring for work that must be done yesterday?
8. A commission is work for hire. Get comfortable with that idea or don’t accept the commission. Maybe you’ll be excited by the first few commissions you have, but perhaps by the 100th, you’ll be so tired of doing them. Raise your prices! I did house portraits for many years until I became annoyed with them interfering with the work I was really interested it. After awhile, I kept raising my prices until I finally just had to quit doing them.
9. Do your best. If you have agreed to accept a commission, then you owe it to your client to do your best. Maybe you’re getting a little tired of work for hire, but get this one out of the way. Then decide if you still want to keep doing them. But remember that your reputation is on the line and a disgruntled client can be a real pain. If you can’t make it right, maybe you can refund their money and aim them in the direction of an artist who can better suit their needs.
10. Ask your client for input. Most people who commission an artwork are thrilled with the prospect of having something made especially for them. Ask for their input and a written recommendation. Develop a thick skin in case they have some criticisms. It might prickle at first, but you can always learn something from a good critique.
To see a step-by-step demonstration of how I created this painting, go to the Artworks tab or click here.
I passed this along to my daughter who is just beginning to sell her art.
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Thanks, Ruth. I hope she finds something she can use on my blog.
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