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How To Sell Your Own
Commission Art

© by Carl (CAKUart); all rights reserved


The difference between commission art and a piece of art for sale at a gallery or exhibit; is the buyer knows exactly what they are getting with a piece of art for sale at a gallery or exhibit. It's completed and in full view.

With commissioned art, they only have a vague idea of what they will be getting in terms of hiring you to produce the work.
Therefore, when it comes to commission art, it is a good idea, but not a necessity, to do some legwork in terms of building your potential client's confidence in you as an artist.
After all, your client will be buying a "site-unseen" so to speak. Therefore, your correspondence with a potential client should be honest, regular and punctual.
What you will essentially be involved in is an on going business relationship that will last for as long as it takes to have the work produced - or longer should the client wish to commission you for more work in the future.
As you will be keeping in regular contact with your client, there are some key factors you may want to consider before commencing any commission art project:

  • Keep an open mind to your client's suggestions – in other words; be flexible with the ideas they wish to have incorporated in the artwork.
  • You need to accept that commission art is kind of like a business partnership – therefore you do need to exercise your people skills.
  • Know your customer well and precisely what that they want produced as part of the commission art project.
  • Find out what they "don't want" incorporated into the piece.
  • Make sure your client is going to be rational and has realistic expectations about what to expect from you.

I will address some of these points in more detail further on. But for now, let's get to where it all begins...

How To Generate Commission Art Clients

If you have never sold a piece of art or never produced any commission art; don’t be alarmed.
If you're thinking; "I'm lost already – I get all this building relationship stuff, but where do I even find customers who will hire me for a commission art job – where do I start?"
OK, so you like the idea of doing commission art… its great you have a desire to make this work.
Desire is a major motivating factor – really.
So now… how do you find people who want their art personalised?
Firstly, you should make a point of mentioning that you do commission art on all your promotional material. I have a little message that accompanies all my promotional material and it reads, "YES, I do commission art, but only for you and no-one else".
Here are a few ideas as to how you can start getting the word out there:

  • Business cards  - "I do commission art, and pssst... I'm darn good at it"
  • Your promotional fliers or pamphlets
  • In your email signature file
  • In your press releases and articles
  • On a display notice at your next art exhibit
  • On your website or blog
  • Your Social Media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Stumbleupon etc)
  • In your online and offline advertising
  • In your gallery bio and information details

If you are selling your work in a booth at an art festival or market, then make sure you advertise that you do commission art.
What you will find is there are people who will really like your work but will "um and ah" because there isn't anything that they want to purchase right on the spot. Or they like the style but the size isn't big enough and so forth.
Never ever get disgruntled with these comments. In fact you should get excited because these types of people are great leads.
All you need to do is express genuine interest in what it is they want and you'll soon have a commission art client.

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Take a record of their contact details and follow up with them. That way you can point them back to your website or blog via email, phone or personal letter later on.
What tends to happen on occasion, is the person gets all excited when they see your work and the idea of having their own piece personally made for them. Then they go home and the excitement wanes. They lose the motivation to contact you.
So it is your responsibility to make sure
you follow up with these people. Don't be afraid to contact them. They want you to contact them.
They have simply been distracted with daily life and got a little lethargic about calling you in regards to getting that artwork produced for their lounge room.


Local Business

Another avenue you may want to consider is registering your business details with google local and places like your local business services directory.
If you don't feel "established" enough with your business as an artist, then there are additional means of promoting your willingness and ability to do commission art.
For example:

Consider getting friendly with your local furniture hire and supply company.
What you are looking for is a company that supplies furniture for cafes, restaurants, hotels, clubs, pubs, offices, hospitals, retirement villages and community halls.
These types of companies are often involved in the renovation process that takes place when business owners are updating the look and feel of their restaurants, clubs and offices etc.
There is always a good chance they may require the services of a local artist to help provide colour and life to the walls.
So why not attempt to get on their Rolodex of contacts.
If you can cater to what they are looking for, you could well be asked to join the team as part of the rejuvenation process.
Depending on your niche, you may want to consider also contacting architects and designers.
I'd advise that if you are going to pursue that route, consider taking an architect or designer out for a coffee so you can introduce yourself properly.
By doing that you'll show you have an element of professionalism. And besides, it is the designer's time you seek. So a coffee (or whatever their preference) is the least you can do to reward them for their time in helping you out and pointing you in the right direction.
If you can show a genuine interest in "them” and their work first, you'll get some good feedback - regardless if there is any opportunity for you to work along side them or not.
Although architects and designers have building codes and regulations they have to adhere to, essentially what ends up filling the empty space in terms of building "design and creativity" first originated in their mind. So essentially, they can be regarded as an artist.
So think of it as one artist speaking to another. Only one of you works on a much bigger scale that requires abiding to a lot of codes and legalities – and that artist isn't you in case you didn’t pick up on it (wink).
If the architect is good and is up with the times, they can potentially offer some great ideas and suggestions in regards to how you could distribute and incorporate your work into today's building and décor fashion.
If these types of businesses do not indirectly require your art services, I recommend you build a repour with them anyway. They will always have other businesses seeking their products and expertise.

Depending on how much of an impression you have made... the architects, designers and furniture supply companies you have built a repour with, may recommend you to their customers and clients.


Commission Art 101 - Keep An Open Mind To
Your Client's Suggestions

In some cases your client may well be hiring you to "personalise" a piece of art for them.
So my suggestion is to be flexible to their suggestions. This helps them build further confidence in you to add life to their home or office.

But...one thing I will say about this type of commission art...
I would advise that you avoid getting stuck in a project that does not inspire you.
Your client is hiring you to produce something that requires a lot of creativity.
If that factor is taken away from you because you are left with little control or input… then perhaps re-consider your options (I would. I do).
After all, in order for your art to truly shine, there has to be an element of “you” on the canvas. So if it feels like its somewhat of a "production line" type of project, you may want to let it go.
If you are producing some commission art because you need or want the money, then so be it. I'm in support of you paying your bills. But if you get caught producing commission art only to discover you are not really growing as an artist, then you will probably have to ask yourself if it is really worth it.
There is a flip side to all of this of course.
Sometimes your client's ideas can really help to push you out of your comfort zone. If you feel confident enough to incorporate their suggestions with some real heart, then go for it.
But be sure you recognise the difference between a great challenge …and a real headache.

Keep in mind; the idea is not so much about trying to impress your client, but about adding value to his or her life through your art. Simply focus on doing what you do well and accept the challenges accordingly.

Get To Know Your Customer Well and Precisely
What That They Want From You

In some cases I have found that after some investigation, what people actually wanted was a re-production of a painting they'd seen at an exhibit but missed out on because I had sold it.
This can make things a little difficult if you don’t do replicates, as I don't.
However, I am always prepared to do a similar style…but not a replica.
So what the buyer may be envisioning is, owning a painting that is no longer available.
If you do reproductions of your work then you don't really have an issue in this area of communication. But if you don't, make sure your client is going to be rational about what to expect from you.
Do they understand that their piece will not share a "reproduction" trait to the work you have already produced and sold?
If you can detect they have not made the connection here, then don't be afraid to be upfront about the issue. It will eliminate any potential disputes further down the track.
Try to get as much feedback as you can from your client. Find out if he or she is buying your art because they love your use of colour, your true expression, your depth and texture and the way you use light etc.
If he or she is swamping you with too many details as to what they want incorporated into the piece, they could well be setting themselves up for disappointment – particularly if what they want is not a style or technique you specialise in, nor have any interest delving into.
So ask yourself as to whether they are buying from an overly ambitious or unrealistic point of view rather than buying because they are in awe and feel very connected to your work.
Hey… but don't think I am suggesting that you walk away from a project because your client only wants your art to impress his dinner guests. I am simply saying to be aware that he or she has realistic expectations about what they will receive from you in exchange for their money.

The Commission Art Agreement

Depending on size, price and the time you are allocating to produce the work, I recommend you have a contract available for both parties to sign.
It need not be complicated or filled with legal ramblings. 
Just ensure it clearly stipulates the important details of the commission art project.
Here are the key components you should incorporate into the agreement:

  • A brief description outlining the project
    and the result to be achieved.
  • An agreement that a refundable or
    non-refundable deposit is to be paid before commencing work on the piece.
  • An expected time of completion.
  • Any fees associated to the client for not paying on time.
  • Shipping or delivery - Associated costs and who is responsible for transporting the work.
  • Agreement that the client may be allowed to inspect progress of the work

In most cases, a commission art project is going to be quite self-explanatory in terms of what work has to be carried out.

So therefore you may find the project description does not need to be loaded with too much detail. But there are some basics you may wish to incorporate into the agreement.
The project description should cover things like:

  • Total Price (including shipping and taxes)
  • The size and dimensions of the artwork
  • Materials that will be used
  • Subject matter if there is one
  • Colours that will be incorporated
  • If the artist or the client will be responsible for mounting the artwork
  • How the artwork will be treated for protection
  • If the artwork will be accompanied by a signed certificate of authenticity
  • Estimated time required to produce the artwork

Secure a Deposit To Kick Start The Project

The reason why you want to incorporate a non-refundable deposit into the agreement is to cover the cost of your start up materials.
Additionally, you will be putting in some preparation work, so you need to be paid for your time.
You'll find that most clients are happy to pay a deposit.
I generally request a 20% non-refundable deposit.
Each artist varies, but at least make sure you have a base minimum to kick-start the project.
If you are just starting out, sometimes you may not always secure a non-refundable deposit agreement.
However, you may not be too fussed because you are happy to be getting some momentum with the whole procedure of producing commission art.
But as you build momentum, just remember the "getting to know your client and what he or she really wants" rule.
If your client feels like you really understand what they want, he or she will have confidence in you. Therefore, they will trust you completely and won't be too concerned about the idea of losing their deposit.
If your client doesn't want to go through with the deal based purely on the idea that he or she won't be able to recoup their deposit, don’t feel rejected. This is a common attitude that a lot of artists receive when they first test the water with commission art.
Just look at it this way - if you can afford the materials to produce the work then go ahead and do it anyway.

If it turns out that the client is not happy with the end result… you still have a piece of artwork in your portfolio to sell at your next exhibit, art festival or to sell in a gallery.

Estimated Time Required To Produce The Artwork

You already know how long it takes to produce the work you do on a regular basis.
However, your client does not.

One tip I will give here is to always overestimate your time instead of underestimating it.
Don't feel you need to impress your client with how quickly you can produce the artwork for them.
Remember, this is not about "trying to impress" but trying to add massive value to your client's life.
So if it takes you a day to produce a piece of artwork, tell them you need a week to produce it.
If it takes you a week to produce a piece, tell them you require 2 weeks.
If it takes you 3 weeks, tell them you need an entire month.
Leave enough time to allow for incidentals that may slow your working schedule down.
If you are being paid well for a piece of commission art, then ensure you allocate good breathing space. What I mean is, allow yourself plenty of leeway so you can really sink your time and energy into the project without having to keep one eye on the clock.
Prepare a daily working schedule and stick to it as best as you can.
The Commission Art Preparation Process
Each artist has his or her own way of approaching preparation work. What I like to do is spend some time talking with the client in the area or room where the art will be hung.
I like to really get a good idea of what they are seeing in their head. I also spend a lot of time getting to know their interests and passions in life. You'd be surprised how ideas will surface just by chatting with the client about "them".
Expressing some genuine interest in your client truly opens you up to so much potentiality.

It opens the boundaries of understanding who they are enough to paint without hesitation because they suddenly feel like a friend.
However, having said that, I have done a complete transaction with a client and not even met them nor seen the home they wanted the art for. In that kind of scenario you can simply request that they give you some colour and subject ideas over the phone or by email.
Just one thing: If you are going to be communicating via phone or email, try to keep it regular. Even if you have to contact them over something that may seem minor it is worth it in the long run.
The reason why I mention this is because I once had a client who I was producing a piece of musical art for. I spend some hours on conceptual drawings only to send them through and receive a reply that they didn't want it that way – despite them requesting it initially.
Frustrating? Yeah. But that's how it goes sometimes. That is why getting to know your client and what they want is critical. Keeping in regular contact with them is important to avoid any misunderstandings.
If you are dealing with a couple, sometimes one of them will have a different idea to the other. So you have to try and incorporate what they are both visualising into one piece.

That can be fun - seriously.
But if I am making a personal visit, I like to take a couple of photos of the area where the commission art will be mounted. Incorporating some of the existing colour furnishings can really enhance your work and give added expression to your client's room.
After all that... I generally do some rough concept drawings. I sometimes ask if my client wants to view these concept idea drawings. If they do I simply scan them then send the drawings via email.
Once you have established a price, be happy if you exceed your expectations rather remorseful because you didn't charge enough. Don't make your project a money issue.

Instead, bring your client into your studio and allow them to share in the your excitement and progress. Let them comment and express their opinions openly.
Some artist's feel that by allowing their client into their domain to inspect the progress of the work... it intimidates them and stifles their creativity.
I've found the opposite to be true.
If your client appreciates your work enough from the get go, there is no need to feel intimidated. They have already trusted you enough to hand over money for something that doesn't yet exist. As an artist you should appreciate the faith that been installed in you by your client.
Additionally, your client will feel the excitement of your progress. This can actually create a great energy for you to work even more passionately and to concentrate less on the insignificant details that you may have been putting too much emphasis on.

Shipping Commission Art

If your client lives locally, then arrange to personally deliver your commission art to their home or office.

Not only is this a really nice addition to your presentation as an artist, but it also allows both of you to inspect the artwork properly.
If there is any transit damage or unexpected errors that need to be addressed, a solution to the problem can be arranged while you are both together inspecting the work.
If you have to ship the artwork out of town, interstate or even to another country, then depending on the size of the piece, I would encourage you to seek the help of a professional shipping company.
One thing you will have to take into consideration with a good shipping company is that their packing and sending fees can often be considerably higher than your standard post or courier service.
One thing you can do however is to give your client shipping options.
For example: If the size of the artwork is within the guidelines of my standard post and courier service, then what I tend to do is give the client the option of regular courier or regular post service.

Therefore I arrange packaging of the artwork myself and have the courier ship for me. I also make sure there is a base insurance cover on the artwork in case anything goes wrong.
I also give the client the option of having their commission art shipped by a shipping company who professionally package the artwork for me and then ship it to its destination. This generally costs more due to fees associated to labour, materials and insurance.
Having your artwork insured is not an option – you must do it. For one, it shows the client you have integrity. Additionally, it is piece of mind for both you and your client in the event that the artwork gets lost, stolen or damaged.
Fortunately, I've never had to experience my artwork being damaged or stolen during transit. But I've had my artwork shipped to the wrong address.
One day I received a phone call from my client enquiring as to where his guitar painting was. He was due to surprise his partner with that very painting within 24 hours. It was going to be her surprise birthday present. The painting was already 2 days late.
Needless to say, the first thing I did was contact my shipping agent to "politely" enquire as to where my artwork had gone.
It turned out that the shipping company arrived on the doorstep to deliver the artwork only to be greeted with a: "Hey, that’s not my name – I didn't order no artwork," from the homeowner. To which my artwork was then re-routed back to the main shipping terminal. 
To cut a long story short, my artwork was tracked and quickly dispersed to its rightful owner. The shipping clerk had simply invoiced the artwork with the wrong street number.
Another time I had a painting shipped interstate, only to have the artwork taken off one plane, moved to another plane and then re-directed back to its original destination  - ME! - 3 days later.
So rest assured that things do happen, good things, bad things… things happen. So it's always GREAT when you are prepared. And while my artwork ended up being ok and found it's destination, if I had lost them and not had any insurance then it would have been quite frustrating to say the least.
Get your artwork insured for shipping. It will give both you and your client piece of mind.

The Follow Up

If you value your business as an artist, then you'll always make a point of contacting your clients from time to time to see how they are getting on.
Following up with your clients 1 week, 2 weeks, a month or 6 months after you have delivered or shipped the artwork, shows you actually care for your art and your client's happiness.
Not only does it show that you have a lot of integrity in what you do, but if there are any problems, they can be addressed so adequate action can be taken to provide a solution.
Additionally people will notice the manner in which you operate your business. The result will be people expressing how impressed they are with your level of professionalism. You'll also be highly recommended to people's friends, business colleagues and their families.
As a result you'll secure more business- more commission art.
Don't underestimate the opportunities that may come your way with doing art by commission. By being flexible and offering your services as an artist openly, you'll be exposed to a lot of great challenges and a lot of great people.

Final Thought On Commission Art

Unfortunately, some artist's who claim, "No way, I'm NOT selling out by doing commission art"  - as in making art and getting paid for it – are really just making excuses…
…and expressing their inability to take real action for fear of realising their true potential.
But don't get me wrong. I know there are artists who are motivated by money.
What I am saying is… you certainly don't have to seek success as an artist at the cost of losing your credibility. However, you can make some money from it as well (wink). Commission art is conducive to that.
I don't believe that you should compromise your morals and integrity in exchange for money or mass appeal. That is ugly.
But what I do believe in is; an artist being able to produce an income stream from their gift so they can put money back into their craft, contribute more to their family and contribute more to their community.
I agree that working purely just for the sake of money and acclaim is lame.
Despite what you may think – money is simply no more than a "tool" which allows us to express ourselves more freely.
Essentially, money is a vehicle for us to grow and give more of ourselves to others.
So in saying that… this is simply a guide for you to discover ways to distribute your art and get paid for it.
If you are prepared to break out of your comfort zone, meet people and incorporate other people's ideas into your work, then chances are you will find some great opportunities in doing commission art.
Power to you and your commission art projects!

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