Blog / 2011 / How to Commission an Artist

July 21, 2011

Commissioning art is an excellent way to get art that’s just a bit more special. These are just a few things to keep in mind when thinking about entering into a commission relationship.

  1. Figure out what you want.
  2. If you want to commission an artist but don’t have a specific idea or can’t communicate what it is you’re looking for, it makes it hard for an artist to work with you. In order to commission a work of art, you should be able to answer these questions:

    • What is the subject matter?
    • What is the size, materials, colors, and style?
    • Why are you commissioning the piece? Who is it for? Is there a special occasion?
    • What is your budget?

    If you are looking for some quality that a particular artist’s work has but are fuzzy on what exactly you are after, a good way to figure out what you want is to sit down with the artist and talk about specific works with them. By looking at examples, it will be easier to talk about what you like, what you like less, and maybe even suss out what you’re really interested in.

  3. Research, research, research.
  4. Choosing the right artist is paramount to the success of the work. Since not all artists know how to say “no” to a commission that isn’t right for them, it’s up to you to do a lot of research.

    An artist is a good fit for you and worth commissioning:

    • if they already make work that resembles what you’re after.
    • if you like their oeuvre as a whole.
    • if you like them as a person.
    • if they are friendly and easy to communicate with.
    • if they do a good amount of commission work and seem to enjoy it.

    A lot of artists hate commission work. I tend to think that if an artist hates it, they are doing it wrong, but there it is. Needless to say, if an artist isn’t happy doing commission work, they will not be doing the best possible work.

    All in all, commissioning art should be fun and fulfilling, so when you’re looking for an artist to work with, you’re looking for someone who can be trusted to make the experience just that. In the end, you are not just hiring a skilled hand to give your vision form: you are commissioning someone who has the ability to give you what you imagined and more.

  5. Sign a contract.
  6. Written agreements are the only way of ensuring that everyone is on the same page—making certain that the artist knows just what you expect and making certain you will be satisfied.

    If the artist does not already have a contract for you to sign, it’s very possible that they don’t do a lot of commission work, and that can be a problem in itself. Still, if you’re committed to working with an artist who doesn’t have a standard agreement for commission work, providing one yourself is important. A contract should include specifics about:

    • the materials used and the size of the finished work.
    • whether or not the work will be framed or how it will be presented.
    • the subject matter of the work.
    • the style of the work.
    • whether or not you want the artist to use images of it in future promotions.
    • when the work will be completed.
    • how the work will be delivered.
    • how and when the work will be paid for.

    For more information about why contracts are crucial, check out this vlog. There’s an example of what a commission agreement might look like.

painted portrait of little boy
Gwenn Seemel
Oliver
2011
acrylic on panel
7 x 5 inches
(To see the making of this piece, go here.)

The artist-patron relationship is an intricate one, blending business conventions with the artistic sensibilities of both the artist and the patron, but it is well worth it for both parties. You can commission me to make a custom artwork.

“This portrait is so amazing! ...I really feel like you nailed [my son’s] personality, which is fascinating, since at 3 months I don’t think I had a great handle on describing his personality.”

- Madeleine

UPDATE

September 11, 2017

There’s a video version of this article here, and this video explains why people commission portraits.

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