THE WORKING CREATIVE | TO COMMISSION OR NOT TO COMMISSION?

So you have a client who loves your work and wants to you to create a special new piece, just for them. Exciting! Or maybe a consultant wants to include your work on a fun new hotel project...but they really need a BIG piece, in a whole different color scheme, and they'll need it fast. Great! It sounds like there is a market for commissioning your work. But where to start? I have had so many questions from other artists about taking commission work-how to go about it, price it, what are the expectations, challenges, rewards, etc. Most of my work is commissioned based, meaning I have had lots of opportunities to learn about what makes a commission successful and would love to share a bit of that for my fellow artists. 

CONSIDERING COMMISSION WORK:

If you enjoy creating something with a specific customer in mind, would consider working outside your existing range of sizes, colors, etc, and are comfortable opening your art process up to client input and feedback; commission work could be a great part of your portfolio. Not all artists are comfortable working in this way and THAT IS OKAY! Knowing your strengths, limitations, and where you want to focus your energies and work is important . 

The main requirement of an artist considering this type of work is that they be great communicators. Clear communication is absolutely key to successful commissions. Let's talk a bit about some of what should be considered for commission work so that you can decide if it is something you are interested in.

ART + DESIGN DIRECTION:

With custom work often comes additional expectations from clients that they have design input or can request specifics on format, size, etc. How much or how little you want to open yourself up to this sort of direction is totally up to you and should be carefully considered at the outset of your project. Establishing a clear policy ahead of time that your client can reference will help educate them about how you work and save you time and hassle down the line. If you are going to take design direction take care to get it all in writing in advance of starting your project. Will you be referencing previous work, color swatches, or including specific materials? Are you open to providing progress shots for feedback? Include any and all of those details with as many reference visuals as possible in the commission agreement.

SKETCHES, MOCKUPS, SAMPLES, COLOR SWATCHES

Depending on the type of client, some commission projects may require additional materials to get the project approved and in motion. This is less common when working with a private collector but is pretty common when working with designers and consulting firms. The scale and budget of the commission will often dictate what type of sample is required.

A small, hand drawn sketch for a potential custom painting.

A small, hand drawn sketch for a potential custom painting.


More straightforward work that is based on existing pieces can often simply be tweaked in photoshop or accomplished with a quick sketch. Scaled drawings are invaluable for this type of work. I use a good old fashioned architect's scale most of the time, but definitely utilize Photoshop or Illustrator when applicable. 

Sometimes a sketch is quick and simple, and just helps to clarify concepts and details for the client.

Sometimes a sketch is quick and simple, and just helps to clarify concepts and details for the client.

I have found my Pantone book to be invaluable to make certain my client and I are on the same page for custom colors. Sherwin Williams paint swatches are another common color reference tool I have been asked to use. I like creating color swatches that I cut in half, so I can retain one set for my records and can provide them with the other.

This sculpture sample included a color swatches of the range of colors the client requested for the project. I kept half and sent the other to the client. 

This sculpture sample included a color swatches of the range of colors the client requested for the project. I kept half and sent the other to the client. 

Many artists charge additional fees for mockups, especially if the client will be keeping the physical sample. If the materials are something I have to custom order, I will often charge for materials and shipping but not mark my costs up.  If possible I don't charge for the sample but require it be returned to me after review. This has helped me create a sort of sample bank, a great resource to have on hand to sell concepts and get additional work later down the line. 

Small portion of my sample stash

Small portion of my sample stash

I like to think of this part of the process not as a hassle or barrier to getting a project underway but as a way of communicating clearly with my client, providing top notch service, and it gives me extra confidence that the commission process will move forward smoothly and successfully. 

PRICING, PAYMENT TERMS, DEPOSITS, KILL FEE:

Establishing general pricing guidelines for commission work is a great idea. I have worked with a number of artists who charge 10-20% more than their standard prices for commission work. What you charge will be specific to your work and should reflect the additional time and energy taken up with custom work. Many times a client will have a set budget and that can help guide you to what can be achieved at that price point. Regardless of how you arrive at your price it should be clearly communicated and agreed upon with the client ahead of starting the project. 

Once you have established a price for the commission you need to nail down the particulars of getting paid. Specify the form of payment accepted ahead of time. Never start a commission without at least a 50% non refundable deposit. This gives you some protection from the possibility that a client could decide they don't like the finished piece and don't want to pay for it and deters people who aren't taking your work seriously. Sometimes a "kill fee" is written into a commission agreement, which is a fee that the client agrees pay if they decide to cancel the project once its underway. A timetable for payment should be included in your terms. Something along the lines of "50% deposit to start work, balance due upon completion of artwork" is common. I have found it is a good policy not to release completed work without final payment. 

Consider packing and shipping costs for the commission-will they be included in the price, billed separately, or arranged and handled entirely by the client end? Those costs add up quickly, and it is important to determine what makes the most sense for your work and your client.

TIMELINE

Every project should have a set date for completion clearly communicated with the client and included in the commission agreement. Consider your entire work load and set realistic deadlines. Honor agreed upon deadlines-when in doubt the old adage "under promise, over deliver" is a good one. Clients are always happy to see their completed piece earlier than expected!

GET TO IT!

If communication and expectations are clear and professional the commission process is likely to go smoothly, and you will have a happy client and a fabulous piece of art to add to your portfolio when the project is completed. There is a lot to consider for commission work but don't let this intimidate you if you are interested in the work! Commissions have allowed me to have my art included in collections all over the world, to form relationships with many talented, fabulous, art loving people, and have been a steady source of income.

Have any questions about commission work? Burning questions for a working artist you want answered? Hit me up! I'm happy to give you my input.