Whether you accept commissions for portraits (houses, people, pets), funerary urns, custom jewelry, or garden sculpture, you encounter situations that other artists don’t.
Commissioned artists must meet with patrons, communicate throughout the process, figure out payment schedules, and create documents that outline terms to the clients. All of this on top of making the client happy.
Commissions aren’t for everyone, which means there is plenty of room for artists who enjoy and are good at them. If you are one of those artists, follow these 8 steps to land more of them.
8 Steps for Landing Art Commissions
1. Add a prominent link for commissions on your website.
Include steps for commissioning a piece and testimonials from happy patrons alongside images of the finished work.
2. Provide at least two ways to contact you.
See that your marketing materials, including your website, have both an email address and a phone number. According to Matt Oechsli, the affluent prefer phone to email.
At least one artist has lost an opportunity for a mural commission because she didn’t have a phone number on her site and her email was down. How do I know? Because I was the person looking for an artist to help a neighbor with her project.
3. Understand your pricing structure.
Commissioned artwork should be priced higher than your other work because you are trying to meet someone else’s expectations.
Some artists charge as much as 50% more for commissioned pieces, which is on the high end. This covers the PITA (pain in the ass) factor that often accompanies the commission process. There will be numerous meetings or conversations, along with possible changes that will take you away from your other work.
This brings me to …
4. Develop a questionnaire for potential clients to complete before you meet with them.
Ask for their timeline, ideas, and expectations. This will serve as a way to qualify people – to make sure they are serious and don’t waste your time.
You might also be asked to create something that has nothing to do with your body of work because the innocent person doesn’t know any other artists. That’s when you really have to think about accepting a commission to paint Tom’s cat, Neptune, in a spacesuit on top of a mirror.
(Kidding. You don’t need to think about it at all. The answer is Hell No! unless you’re in the habit of painting feline astronauts on top of mirrors.)
5. Make clients aware of your pricing before you spend any time on the project.
When you respond to the questionnaires that are submitted, give an estimated price range of the project. Be clear that you will know more when you meet and have the details, but get their confirmation that they want to proceed.
6. Schedule a meeting.
If all is a go up to this point, schedule a meeting – even if it’s on a video conference. It’s important that you have this face-to-face meeting so that you can look into one another’s eyes and begin to build trust.
In the meeting you’ll discuss details and get a sense of what this commission means to the client – how they prioritize it in their lives.
Do not feel pressured to provide a firm fee or payment schedule at the meeting. In fact, I strongly suggest you don’t commit to anything at the meeting. Give yourself time to think about it and use the meeting to understand the entire scope of the work.
7. Check in with yourself.
Commissions require that you willingly work collaboratively with another person.
They also demand that you mostly enjoy the process – something most artists don’t think about. This is important because you will procrastinate projects you don’t like and end up resenting patrons (for asking you to do the job) and yourself (for accepting the challenge).
Do you feel good about working with this person? If so, you can proceed.
8. Put it in writing.
After the meeting, write a letter of agreement that spells out all of the details including timeline, deposit, and payment schedule.
Begin with this: “Thank you for meeting with me and for your interest in my work. I am delighted to accept this commission with the following terms, which are based on the discussion we have had to this point.”
In your letter, assure the patron that you can deliver what they’re asking for and that you can meet any deadlines. As the wise business advice goes: Under promise and over deliver. This means if you think you can have it done in 2 months, say it will take 3 months. When the client gets the piece in 2 ½ months, they’ll be thrilled to have it early.
Ask that the patron sign and return the agreement.
Yay! You landed the commission! Now the hard part begins. You must communicate clearly throughout the process and deliver as you promised on time.
What have you learned about doing commissions?