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
With commissioned art, they only have a vague idea of what
they will be getting in terms of hiring you to produce
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
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
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
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
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; dont be alarmed.
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
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:
cards - "I do commission art,
and pssst... I'm darn good at it"
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
All you need to do is express genuine interest in what
it is they want and you'll soon have a commission
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
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
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.
Another avenue you may want to consider is registering
your business details with google local and places like
your local business services directory.
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
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
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
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 didnt pick up on it
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
I would advise that you
avoid getting stuck in a project that does not inspire
Your client is hiring you to produce something that
requires a lot of creativity.
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.
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
Get To Know Your Customer Well and Precisely
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 dont 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
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
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
Just ensure it clearly stipulates the important details
of the commission art project.
Here are the key components you should incorporate into
A brief description outlining the project
and the result
to be achieved.
An agreement that a refundable or
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
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
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
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
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, dont 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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
I also give the client the option of having their
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
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, thats 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
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
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
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
As a result you'll secure more business- more commission
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
Final Thought On
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
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
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
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
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.