Tips for Taking Art Commissions

You may sell your artwork retail, wholesale, or on consignment, but chances are that at some point you will get a request to work on a commission. Here’s how to make it a painless process.


"Kody" colored pencil, 11" x 14"

“Kody” commissioned pet portrait by artist Sandy Brooks.


Art commissions can be a lucrative income stream, or may even be your primary source of revenue. If you specialize in portraits, for example, you should focus your web presence and marketing message on the commission process.

On the other end of the spectrum, you may have rarely taken commissions, but want to get started. Either way, the most important things you need to keep in mind are providing information and communication to your client.

Commission work is custom and one of a kind. That means, of course that commissions should naturally be more expensive than your usual body of work or your production line of products. Calculated the time involved for these special projects and price accordingly.

To solicit commissions, make sure that your art website has a separate page which specifically lists how you work on commission. A detailed, step-by-step procedure should provide enough information for a website visitor to feel comfortable contacting you and moving ahead. Here is an excellent example of a Commission FAQ page on a sculpture site.

Your brochure and signage at events and in your exhibit booth may also explain that you are open to commission work. Make sure your contact info is available – and be prepared to field phone calls and questions about this topic.

Before you agree on a commissioned work, you should meet with the customer, preferably in your studio. They need to clearly understand and like your style and technique, and agree that you will interpret their ideas for the piece. If you cannot come to a meeting of the minds, decline the commission. It’s not worth the hassle and headaches of taking on a job that will end in disaster.

During that meeting, you should be prepared to ask questions to understand their concept of the commission, and be prepared with answers for them. If the other party has never commissioned art before, go through the commission process in detail. Talk about the timeline, how much contact you will have with them during the process, shipping costs, etc. Will you be working from photographs provided by the client?  Will you will submit sketches for approval? At what point you will share images of a work in progress? How many decision makers will there be? Make sure everything is explained, and then have your agreement finalized in writing.

The initial deposit should be at least 25% of the total price, and be nonrefundable. This ensures that your customer understands it is a serious commitment, and also that you will get paid for time and work in the event that they back out before it is finished.

Patience and flexibility is key to creating commissioned work. If this isn’t your style, then working with customers on commissions might be a bad idea.

You will probably find that if you plan to take commissions, you will have many clients who are neophytes. They haven’t done this before, which means that as the artist you must be upfront and clear about everything, and willing to be very communicative during the process. As you get more experience with commission projects, you will become very comfortable guiding your clients through them.


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