Not all artists like to work to commission, for some artists it is a constraint and compromise. For others it is an inspiration, a discipline and an enjoyable collaboration. It is worth experimenting with working to commission to find out which category you fall into before committing to it.

The key difference between a commission and a non-commissioned work is the patron’s part in the creative process. It is hard to generalise about art commissions but the one consistent thing with commissioned work is that communication and the management of expectations are key elements for a successful outcome.

The level of collaboration that suits an artist differs; some artists like their work to be truly collaborative throughout, whereas others reveal their work only once it is finished. There is no right or wrong way, but you do need to work out where you are on that scale and set some up-front ground rules on the level of engagement accordingly. 

Before you begin a commissioned work, the parameters of the commission and a pricing outline need to be agreed with your patron. Size and medium are usually the easy part and can be established by email. The subject matter and its treatment are more subtle so is best done face to face if possible. For a portrait, you will need to have discussed what the sitter is to wear and the environment in which they will be set as well as the practicalities of sittings.  Because the language people use to describe art is not well developed, it can be difficult to communicate a concept. It is important to listen to your brief very carefully and to stick to it unless by agreement. I find that sketches are a good way to ensure that the ideas in your patron’s mind are close to those in yours.  

Preparatory drawing by Andrew James

Copyright belongs to the artist unless it, or part of it, is assigned to another person. This is not something that a client is often aware of. It means that they can’t reproduce the work they commissioned without your permission.  Commercial reproduction would rightly carry a fee but you may however wish to encourage other forms of reproduction because it is likely to be in your interest if your client were to promote you by putting your work up on their Facebook page or create personal Christmas cards.

Copyright and the broader rights enshrined in intellectual property law should be discussed early in the process.

Once the details are established, the client will need a quote. As an emerging artist, it is good to remember that each happy patron and each work hung on the wall is an advertisement for you, so it is best not to overprice. There are usually two elements to the pricing, your fee and your expenses.  Framing, delivery, travel and accommodation are usually itemised separately at cost. Contracts are very useful for agreeing what the expectations are and preventing problems due to misunderstandings.

Many artists take a deposit before starting work, partly to make sure that their patron is serious about the commission and partly for cash-flow reasons.  Others prefer not to be tied so that either party can walk away from the commission if they need to.  Three staged payments can be made for larger works but a single second final payment on completion is more normal.  

James Lloyd starting a portrait

Portraiture is one of the most frequently commissioned genres.  Broadly speaking for ‘from life’ work, six to ten sittings of 1 and 1/2 to two hours would be normal. If you use photography you are likely to need fewer sittings. These can take place either in the studio or at the client's location. It is wise to employ basic safety precautions for lone-workers, such as letting somebody know where you are going, whom you are with and when you are expected to return.

Once the work is finished, it can be useful to manage expectations by showing the client a .jpg of the image for approval before delivering the work. 

An artwork commission is a personalised experience that is different for everyone, at Mall Galleries we employ Commission Consultants to guide you through the process of commissioning an artwork from choosing an artist to choosing an artwork that is suitable for your home or business.

If you would like to find out more information regarding commissioning an artwork or book a private consultation, click here.