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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  1. The article makes several excellent points about the business of commission work. In my experience with commissions I find that an even larger upfront payment, up to 50%, is desirable because it requires a true buy-in from the customer and ensures that the artist can work with a sense of certainty about the level of commitment. Of course, as mentioned, communication and clear mutual understanding is the most important factor. One are that is also a challenge is creating commissioned work for abstract art. It is difficult to show work in stages or in progress on some abstract work since the final result may be very different that early abstract layers of a painting. Not only does showing early stages of abstract work tend to limit the potential range for the artist, it may also be very misleading to the customer who begins to envision the final work in a way that may differ from the direction that the process take the artist. I’d be interested in other views on the topic of the commission process for abstract work.

    • Mark, Your points are well-taken. Commission work on a portrait, for example, may involve several “in progress” shares so that they client understands exactly where the artist is going with the planned work. At other times, on an abstract as you mentioned, there is a lot of trust involved. There’s nothing worse than having a client insert themselves into a piece of art in progress, insisting on changes that make no sense and will only produce an inferior piece of work. As an abstract artist, perhaps your agreement should focus on the collector allowing you to work your magic, with an initial discussion of color palette and size, for instance.

      When you create an abstract commission, do you allow the client to refuse the piece if it does not suit their needs?

  2. Yes I agree Marcus I would take 50% deposit first. Would you refund them any of the money minus art materials if they did not like it?

    Would the powers that be mind giving me some afvice about including all info in a business contract if I was to create four images for an interior design business who also owns a shop online and in my county.

    Many Thanks


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