by Carolyn Edlund
Art commissions can be an important income stream that adds versatility and collaboration to your creative business.
Private commissions can be a major source of income for an artist, or an occasional project. Some artists prefer not to pursue commissions as part of their business model. It’s all up to you. Taking commissions isn’t for everyone; it requires a mindset where the artist is excited about the collaborative effort involved in producing a personalized piece of art.
Some art businesses are a natural fit for commission work, such as portraiture. Painters and sculptors who specialize in portraits often build their careers using this business model.
To be successful with commissions, you must be willing to accept input from your client regarding their needs and wants. And you should be able to translate this into a work of art that bears your own particular signature style.
How to gain commissions
If a potential collector expresses an interest in a piece of your work, but they want something a bit different, you may want to start the conversation with them about a special commission to meet their needs.
If you want to make commissions regularly, make this service part of your marketing strategy, and let people know that you are available to work with them on a project. Create a system for taking commissions and producing them that puts your customer at ease. When your presentation is professional, you’ll inspire confidence and increase the chances of getting a contract.
The commission contract
Be sure to get the commission agreement in writing. An online search will turn up sample contracts for artists that contain terms and clauses you will want to become familiar with. The contract should be specific to the project including materials, size, and price. Specify whether framing or installation is included. A notice that the copyright belongs to the artist and is not conveyed should be in the contract. And there may be a clause that allows the artist to borrow the work in the future for public exhibition, if that is a concern.
Commission contracts contain language that spells out the obligations of each party. Will the client provide photographs or even materials to be included? Will the artist report on progress, and if so, how often? A deadline for completion should be stated. There may be a fee incurred for termination of the agreement after the work has begun, and provisions made for work that is refused upon completion.
It is standard to require a deposit upon signing a commission contract. A 50% deposit before work commences is not unusual. Some artists have a schedule of payments to be made at stated times during the creative process.
Pricing art commissions
If you have a consistent pricing system worked out ahead of time, you will more easily be able to quote a price for a requested commission. Charging an additional fee for custom work is fairly common. After all, working with clients on a special piece just for them requires more time and risk for the artist. Calculate an upcharge for commissions and be consistent. When you can clearly explain your prices to a prospective customer, its much easier to come to an agreement.
When working on a commission, be sure to keep in touch during the creative process. Many clients like to be involved, and a work of art in progress is always exciting. Part of building strong relationships with collectors is communicating with them about the work you are doing for them. When you are working on a very personal project, it gives you the opportunity to become friends with your customers and develop relationships that can pay off in repeat and referral business.
There are several websites that connect artists with potential customers who are looking to have commissioned work created for them (look for sites in the “Commissions” category in our directory.) On those platforms, the artist presents images of their work that show their materials, technique and signature style. This may be an option for you if you intend to make commissioned art a significant part of your studio practice.
Commissions may also be created for business customers. Art consultants, advisors or interior designers may work closely with the client and the artist to coordinate a custom work of art that is perfect for a corporate setting. Colleges may be searching for a sculptor or painter to honor a past president or important donor with a commissioned portrait. Architects may want a customized mural incorporated into a building project. The possibilities are endless, and only limited to your imagination.
If you want to accept commissions as part of your studio practice, you can maximize them by making decisions first. What percentage of your work are you willing to do as commissions? Who is your audience for this type of work, and why? Locate a commission contract, read it thoroughly and adjust it to fit your needs. Create a page on your website for commissions that spells out the terms, timeline, etc. Show examples of previous commissions with testimonials from happy customers. And make it easy to contact you for further discussion. Then you can accept commissions that fit your interests, artistic style and schedule while creating memorable artwork that your clients will love.
Artist credit: Susan Patton