Some artists do it, some don’t. Some like it while others loathe it. It’s a double edged sword that can work well for some artists or not so well for others but if you want to make money from your art there are sometimes things you may need to sacrifice in the process when doing commissioned work. It can be a trap where you end up painting things you don’t want to paint but if you are careful and pre prepared you can avoid these obstacles and enjoy painting things for other people.
To keep some sense of control over the process, you need to make it clear to the person commissioning you, just what your boundaries are and be clear yourself what you are happy to do and what you are not. The final outcome of your work and whether it has the heart and soul in it that people like about your work (Whether they are aware of it or not, its what usually sells your work.) depends on this.
Having quite a large web presence, I often get asked to do commission work, and I think the fact that I advertise I do such work makes a difference! On the positive side it means I am often in work and that means I have a regular income, but on the negative side, it also means I get a lot of requests for paintings that are not the type of thing I would normally do. Therefore I have to weigh up whether or not Ill be happy departing from my normal style or if I should pass it on to another artist who I know would find it more appealing. Examples of this are a messy abstract of beige on beige where I usually work in bright colours and prefer a more structured if not realist concept. One request that always sticks in my mind was for a semi naked female warrior/sailor in a fantasy art style, and although I’m sure that it could have been fun to attempt, I know I wouldn’t have been able to complete it in the style that the person wanted, or worse yet, ending up feeling frustrated and unhappy if Id attempted to do it exactly how he had wanted it to be, so I gave that one away to an appropriate artist who specialises in fantasy art!
So here’s some advice for those of you are keen to do commission work-
- Let your clients know how long it is going to take to do, i.e. if you are booked up with work for 6 months you need to add that onto the time it will take to paint the picture for them.
- Agree on cost at the beginning so theres no misunderstanding at the time of completion. I often get asked by artists how much to charge for a piece they have been commissioned to do, but its usually at the end of the process and as is common, its normally a friend who has commissioned them so they feel they cant charge what its worth or wonder if the person is expecting it for next to nothing or worse yet for nothing! If they don’t like the price then simple, don’t do it, no one feels put out and you are not stuck with an unpaid for unwanted artwork or wasted time if you sort this matter in the first place.
- What about pricing too, well you should set yourself an average price for the and a ‘guesstimate’ of hours at ‘XYZ’ per hour so you can give them an idea of what its going to cost. The more you do it the easier it gets and you can give an accurate figure right off the bat.
- Take a non refundable deposit if you think they are likely to muck you around. I usually make this 20% of the final price so my time is covered. If they have no intentions of buying the finished painting they wont pay a deposit so again, time isn’t wasted if you don’t need to start on it. It also helps cover material costs for an artwork you may never be able to sell if they renege on the deal. Some artists prefer to not take a deposit as they feel it forces the buyer to buy an artwork they may not like in the end, but I feel if they are familiar with your work and you create what they agreed on it shouldn’t be an issue.
- If you can do so, make a sketch (Preferably coloured.) so they can visualise what you are going to do for them. Often a buyer and an artist’s vision can be complete worlds apart so this step helps remove some of that doubt. It allows you and them a chance to change things before it makes it on to a canvas. You can both be more comfortable that each of you are seeing what the other does, lessening the chance of the buyer not liking the final artwork. At this stage I also provide a card with strokes of the colours I intend to use if appropriate, using the actual paint Ill be using so they know exactly what shades to expect.
- If your client wishes you to paint from a photo, you need to check that they are allowed to use the photo, i.e. that the photo is theirs or they have permission from the photographer for it…and don’t just take their word for it if its clearly a professional shot, ask for it in writing.
- Its upto you if you wish for the buyer to see progress pictures of the artwork, I personally don’t like to do so but if its requested I do. Its just reassurance that you are actually doing it for them. It is also a chance for them to see if you are heading in the wrong direction and you can revise the course of action. You as the artist need to make it quite clear where they can change things and where they cant. Last thing you want to do is have to scrap off the sky when it will affect everything in front of it for instance!
- Copyright law says that the person commissioning the artwork holds the rights to the artwork and any reproductions of it. If you wish to retain the copyright for the artwork you need to have a contract in place stating as much.
- Have your buyer sign a contract that you also sign, agreeing on what you are to paint for them, what price you have agreed on and any copyright issues as well as deposit issues like whether or not it is refundable. Its best to be pre-prepared than find that it all goes pear shaped later on. Keep a copy for yourself and give one to your client also. Here’s a checklist of what should be on it -
- Your name and the buyer’s name
- Date of the agreement and expected time of completion
- What the artwork is specifically of eg. a portrait or illustration, realist scene or abstract, a diptych or triptych, dimensions, format and colours to be used.) and things like does it need to be sent in a jpeg format for printing also etc.
- Copyright issues
- Delivery details (You take it to them or if it is to be couriered or they pick it up.)
- Price, including any fees like GST, framing and shipping charges etc which should be itemised as such.
- How and when the final payment is expected. (I expect clients to pay when they receive the artwork, where some think they can wait until the 20th of the following or month or whenever they feel like paying or simply not at all and you have to chase them up causing grief for all involved, so you need to be very clear on this aspect.)
Remember that a contract is a legally binding agreement so you need to keep your side of the bargain also, professionalism goes a long way to gaining our profession respect.
Last but not least, the key to the whole process of doing commission work is ‘communication,’ as this is usually where most artists and buyers fail in the process. It’s important to keep in touch with your buyers during the whole time of the project. You should be updating your buyer regularly on the progress as well as letting them know if any situations occur that might delay finishing the artwork. It makes the whole process so much more enjoyable if you know where you stand and it’s the same for them!