Commissions: THE TRUTH (and some other strong opinions)

I received SEVERAL requests earlier this month for a write-up covering my take on commissions. And even better, I was asked by artists and COLLECTORS about the process and expectations. So buckle up tight because I’m going to hit the high points and low points. But mostly high points!
Let’s go.

  1. Does any artist actually WANT to make commissioned work?
    In short, no.
    Personally, my dream as an artist is to make freely and have my artwork be sought after enough that it sells on its own. No commissions needed. I think a lot of us creators can agree with that. However, for this version of an artist’s life to come true, you have to have the time to make enough work to satiate that need that deems commission work unecessary (this can take years so don’t beat yourself up.) So if you’re just starting out or still navigating commissions and your inventory is low, PEOPLE ARE GOING TO ASK YOU TO MAKE THEM SOMETHING. So why is that so bad??
    Skeeeeeeeerrrrrrrt. Pump the brakes everyone and switch that perspective! You should be grateful someone with more than $1.00 to their name entrusts you enough to make them something and hang it in their home. I mean, that’s pretty cool. That’s a form of validation which we all secretly care about. It’s human nature. Be grateful for the work even if it’s not your long-term goal.

  2. Wait. I like commissions. So what if I want to take on more commissions but don’t know how?
    You need to create a system and a rhythm. I do an email blast at the end of each season to create my commission list for the upcoming season. Depending on the time of year, how many shows I have coming up, what’s already set on my calendar, the amount of pieces I open up for commissions fluctuates. Ask yourself how much profit you’d like to have coming in every month (or at the very least what you need to survive on) and create space for that many commissions. Remember, YOU have the power. YOU have the control.
    This is my method but it doesn’t necessarily have to be yours! Experiment, try out different methods and you’ll find one that fits your business.
    HOT TIP: Save a little room in that commission calendar for a fun project with your favorite designer or when that dream gallery finally reaches out to you and you need to create a handful of stunning, new paintings ASAP. Don’t let a scarcity mindset stunt your growth and clog your calendar with too many commission spots. Once you’re committed, you’re committed. And I don’t want you to miss out on something HUGE!

  3. What do I do if I keep getting requests for commissions that aren’t my style? Or that I know I’m going to be miserable making??
    Of course I want to say ‘just stop’ but we know that’s not realistic to implement immediately. I’ve had some rough commissions that never saw the light of day because they were SO beyond my normal scope I was embarrassed to claim them. How shitty is that? All of that work and you don’t even want to tell people about it. After a few months of this I said ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! And whenever a wonky commissions request came in, I politely said ‘thank you but no thank you.’ Ok, so then what? I kept working! I kept honing in my style. I kept posting. I kept working with my galleries. Life went on. And after asking God, the universe, Mother Nature, and all of the other folks who make the world go round to send me clients who aligned with my business, boom. It happened. It’s HAPPENING. I haven’t had to turn anyone away or say ‘thanks but no thanks’ in over a year. But you can’t just make this happen by asking for it. That’s ridiculous. You have to do the work to make it happen. Help yourself.
    I truly think refining your style helps so much. Once you have that down, people will either gravitate towards it or they won’t. And when they can’t possibly live without your work (DREAM CLIENT, HELLO!) they will request a commission. And the process can be fun!

  4. Mmmm, I’m not a fan of this whole commission thing. When can I stop doing them?
    Some artists simply don’t take commissions. Some only open up 4 for the entire calendar year. Some use this consistent form of income as the lifeblood of their business to ease the pressure off of their regular portfolio work. YOU get to make these decisions. Sit back, ask yourself what kind of calendar year you want to have (fiscally and as far as your workload goes) and make a plan. If commissions aren’t your thing, find something else that makes more sense for you to fill that void, whether that’s financially or creatively. YOU NEED A PLAN.

  5. What are the main benefits of commissions for an artist?
    Commissions are a FANTASTIC way to get out of your comfort zone - normal processes, normal color palettes, normal sizes. They also hold you accountable and teach you more about your business than you’ll find just from painting for the sake of painting. Once you’re handling someone’s money for a finished piece, you take yourself more seriously and you get excited about your biz. It’s really gratifying seeing the process from beginning to end pay off!
    Another huge benefit is consistent income. Any entrepreneur can relate to this stressor. With a set commission calendar, you can have funds headed to your bank account like clockwork to take off stress from the rest of your year. And enjoy painting!

  6. What are the benefits as a client/designer?
    You get EXACTLY what you want. I’ve had clients and designers love my work but simply need something in a different size. How easy is that? I’ve also had requests for paintings I never would have dreamed of that made me excited to paint. Projects like this are a great way to create something collaborative that can reflect as cutting-edge for you as a designer and boundary pushing for the artist. We are all creatives in our own way (yes, even clients + collectors!) and working together helps us all spread out our feelers and get inspired.

  7. As a client asking an artist for a commission, what are some things I should know/do for the process?
    First off, you guys are a Godsend. Artists could not survive without our patrons. So let me go over a few points on what makes us love you even more during this journey working together!
    - Send us emails! We love talking to you. Sometimes radio silence is scary and we want you to know we haven’t forgotten about you. You’re busy, we’re busy, but hey if you have a question, ask us. You are not bothering us!
    - Get excited! We love when you love what we are creating for you. We can have big egos and hide them well. So having a client cheerleader is never a bad thing. And on the flip side, if you hate something, tell us. We would rather know now rather than 3 months down the road.
    (The communication leading up the to beginning of the process should have made this absolutely, 100% never happen!)
    - Ask as many questions as you want. You’re paying us for a service (if we reaaaaaaaaally are breaking it down here) so you get to have opinions!
    - But, as a total caveat to that last point, you must trust us. Something made you love our work enough to want something exclusive, right? So let us do our thing! If we feel off about something or are unsure of the direction, we will ask. Scouts honor.
    - Send us photos of the room you want the piece to live in! Even photos of fabrics, other art in the room, tile, all of it. Be descriptive and specific! We want it to be perfect for the space and the more information, the better.
    - Send us photos after it’s installed! Seeing our work in a home/office/any kind of anything with 4 walls literally makes my world go round. But please, for all that is holy, photograph in natural light. Make sure it’s not blurry. Or grainy. Don’t edit the photos (we have that part down to a science) And maybe take your dirty yard shoes out of the photo!!! (has this really happened to me?? yes or yes.)

  8. How can I make sure my clients get exactly what they want? I always get so overwhelmed!
    ARTISTS. BE THOROUGH AND UPFRONT.
    We get excited. Our inbox sends us a ping and, what! Diana from Austin wants a commission! Hell yeah! Done and done, Diane.
    No. Do not do this. Do not blindly say yes. We’ve been over this! But even beyond saying yes to the project (Diane has great taste and her vision totally aligns with my painting style) you need to ask detailed questions to make sure you + your client are on the same page about everything. Timelines, size, color palette, process, payment, shipping, everything. Ask as many questions as you want until someone with an accounting degree could read the last email’s correspondence and know exactly what’s going on. (My husband is in insurance so I can say this.) This will alleviate any commish anxiety you’re feeling because all communication has been taken care of before the paint has even come CLOSE to touching the canvas.
    If you think you’re being annoying or going to turn someone off by asking questions, get out of your head. And get a better client.

  9. What else do I need to think about when it comes to commissions as an artist??
    I think the biggest thing is creating a system that works for you. I’m talking from beginning to end.
    - How much do you want to charge for your commissions?
    - What kind of payment options are you comfortable with?
    - What kind of payment platforms do you use? Should you invest in a Square account or is PayPal sufficient? Will you send invoices and reminders?
    - How many are you going to take a quarter?
    - What sizes are you going to accept? What sizes aren’t mathematically worth your time? Can you offer sets as commissions for smaller sizes?
    - Consider shipping once you say yes to larger work.
    - Always request the client/collector/designer pays for shipping or transportation of the piece. Always.
    - If you are delivering, how much do you want to charge per mile? Your time is not free!
    - Do you deliver for free within a certain mile radius?
    - Does this project truly align with how you are trying to become as an artist?
    - Are you spreading yourself too thin? Is the work still really amazing? Would you want a gallery director to see this piece with your name attached to it?
    - Is your website set-up to accept commissions? Are there questions to prompt your potential client to answer before the process begins?
    - Do you have a pricing sheet? Is it clear and easy to understand?

    Remember, a commission isn’t always a dinky work on paper that took you 80 hours and you only got paid $45 for (BTW, if you are doing this STOP IMMEDIATELY.) Sometimes commissions are entire walls in a boutique restaurant. Sometimes they are a full body of work for a designer’s showroom. And sometimes they call for more pink than you’d like but it’s for your best friend’s nursery. So why not. Be open-minded and create the type of commission portfolio that makes the most sense for YOUR business. This is only one wedge out of a very large pie that is being a professional artist. All of these things I’ve learned over years of working with clients. And a lot of these things I had to learn the hard way. So I’m hoping I can save you a few growing pains throughout your journey!

    Remember: There are millions of people waiting to have your art in their home! Now you just have to find the right people who align with your business and painting style. Simple.

    Now get to work!

    Xx, Allison