*This is a copy of my original blog post at ThePonderingKreative.com on 1/30/23.
Art commissions are one of the most common ways that artists earn money. Since I started accepting custom projects several years ago, I have found that many clients have either: never contacted an artist before about a commission, or had a poor experience previously and were apprehensive about the process. In this blog post, I wanted to share my thoughts from both the client and artist point-of-views to help anyone looking to contract an art commission or for those creating the artwork.
First point to keep in mind is that art is a business and should be approached as such. Whether an artist is working out of their home or in a gallery, they should have a registered business name, address, phone, email or some type of contact information for clients to reach them.
Prompt communication is one of the best ways to build trust with a client – even if you don’t have a project update. Your clients will appreciate you taking the time to reply even if you are just saying, “Thank you for reaching out! I am working on your project and will get back to you on [this date].” From the client side, I would be wary of any contractor that doesn’t respond to you in a timely manner – It could be that this person is busy, but could also indicate other issues.
Last November, I had a sudden death in my family, and I had to take time off to travel for the funeral. To compound the issue, I had gotten very ill and was struggling to recover. At the time, I had several commissions started and wasn’t sure if I could meet my clients’ expectations for the project deadlines. So, I contacted each of my clients explaining that due to circumstances out of my control, I was going to be at least 2 weeks behind schedule. Each of them was understanding, then as soon as I recovered, I started production again.
Bottom line is that life happens, and most people are empathetic. It is important to handle these situations honestly and directly – don’t ghost your client.
My second point is to research, research, research. This is for both the client and artist. For example, there are hundreds – if not thousands – of artists that do pet portraits, but each artist has their own unique style and process. Before contacting any artist, I would review at their work on their website, social media, at a gallery or art show, then ask “does this artwork speak to me? Is it my taste?”
If so, contact the artist directly to inquire about their process – how they create their work and how long it takes. This is a good time to also determine if the artist accepts commissions; some do not at all or only take commissions based on a certain dollar amount. I always share base prices with potential clients before investing too much time into inquiries, because your art may be out of their budget. In cases where clients may be asking for art that is either not in your price range or style, I try to suggest other artists or services that may be more suitable for them. No bad feelings – always keep it professional.
I had a recent client that told me a story that they were looking for a pet portrait artist for over a year. They had lost hope of finding the right artist, and just left the project for “the universe to sort things out and find that person”. This client stumbled upon my profile online, reviewed my website gallery, and was inspired for me to take this project. I am so glad that they did! It was a wonderful experience for both of us, and now, they have a beautiful piece of art to memorialize their pets.
Since my painting process is a very involved, I like to start every new commission with a preliminary drawing. It is a quick sketch based off of the client’s feedback and/or reference images to clarify their expectations. Usually, I created these drawings on tracing paper that can be easily applied to the canvas. It’s much easier to erase pencil, than to repaint an entire canvas.
My third point is to always ask for a written quote before work begins. This helps establish an outline of the project as well as payment terms. In some cases, artists may require a deposit ranging from 10-50% or more – each is different. Until this year, I didn’t require a deposit, but with the inflationary price increases, I’ve had to change my payment requirements.
Some key items to have in a quote:
Today’s date including date that quote expires (typically, this is 30 days from the date written).
Artist’s name & business name plus contact info.
Client’s name & contact info.
Detailed description of project. Include all materials used, size of final artwork, number of pieces.
Cost of artwork (per piece) plus additional costs such as taxes, shipping & handling, etc.
Payment types accepted.
Copy of artist’s business terms and conditions.
Project terms and conditions can vary greatly from business to business. My Terms & Conditions are fairly extensive detailing everything from copyright to revisions to overtime. In addition, legal requirements from state to state – even city to city – can change. I advise to do your research or hire an attorney to assist with composing your contract terms. It is worth the money. For clients, I recommend requesting a full copy of all T&Cs from the artist to review thoroughly before agreeing anything.
My final recommendation is to have integrity with your business. If the project or client doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. If the artist is ignoring you or not giving you the results you want, discuss the terminating the contract and move on. Art commissions are an investment, and it is worth to have it done right – by the right artist!