7 THINGS ARTISTS MUST KNOW BEFORE TAKING COMMISSIONS
Accepting and making commissions as an artist are an incredible way to increase your skills, confidence, portfolio and clientele. However, there are many key things to keep in mind when doing so because commissions can easily turn into sour experiences. This is especially true for less experienced emerging artists who are just starting out their businesses, as they are prone to taking more commissions, especially more unfavourable commissions. Even when accepting work from close friends, these tips are crucial when it comes to making the commission process as smooth and seamless as possible.
It is so unfortunately common to see inexperienced artists (definitely including my younger self) taking ridiculous commissions for illiberal prices. I started taking commissions at the age of thirteen, and it saddens me to think about my younger self as I slaved away at paintings making little over a few bucks an hour, if I were lucky. Commissions took me longer than I expected, and I did not have complete faith in the full value of my work. So in turn, I was accepting crappy jobs and agreeing upon very little money at the start because I was not aware that more and better jobs would come around. I finally realised that stating the full price of my work without budging from the very beginning would never scare away the good customers; it would only scare away the bad, and that saying what you need even if people change their minds, is always a blessing in disguise. A good way to determine the value of your work is to estimate how many hours will be spent on a piece, and charge a good amount of money per hour. Working on artwork is a job like anything else and artists deserve to get paid a fruitful amount for our hard labour.
There are exceptions; however, most people purchase artwork impulsively when they are consumed in lust with what they see. Once they do invest in your artwork, clients will definitely be joyful and grateful that they have done so, especially once they have a tangible, magnificent piece to see everyday. So that is why it is imperative to follow up as soon as possible when people express interest in your work. Ensuring that you take down the information of potential clients and contacting them the same day, or the very next day, will put you ahead of the game by catching them whilst they are still infatuated with your work, which will make them super excited as well. Beware, though, as this infatuation will quickly fade. There is no doubt that a room will look a thousand times better with artwork in it, however, if they have gone years without seeing your artwork in their space, they can move on and continue living that way without realising the true beauty of which your art is capable of inducing.
An example of a time I utilised timing to my advantage was when I had been live painting at a Christmas market. I was painting a large acrylic scene of a European street during Christmas time, and one fellow came along, claiming that he would consider purchasing it once I was finished. I took down his information right away and sparked a lively conversation with him in order to build rapport and ensure he remembered me well. Though I still had plenty of work to do on the painting, I worked as hard and fast as I could and managed to send him a message with an image of the final piece that same evening. I caught him whilst he could still feel the magic effect that my artwork had upon him and the setting in which we met. If I had waited a couple more days, I am almost certain he would have changed his mind. Not everybody walks into a Christmas market expecting to drop hundreds of dollars on art, but after seeing my painting light up his living room, he was ecstatic and now he will never turn back.
This is something that I had neglected to do for the first five years of accepting commissions, and in hindsight, it could have saved me a ton of stress and troubles over the years. I strongly suggest including this in an invoice or to even write a contract that both parties need to sign. The first factor to include in the artist agreement is the invoice with a set payment amount as well as your business information, to ensure that you get paid, and it builds trust so that the client feels secure as to where their money is going. You must also include your terms of service. The more your business grows, the more people will take advantage of you and find ways to screw you over. There will be times when people will try to take your work and profit off of it by selling merchandise based on your design, even your closest friends. They will go as far as to take your name out and steal the credit of your hard work. In the artist agreement, always set boundaries as to whether or not clients can be licensed to use your work, and establish exactly what is included in the set price. Furthermore, in many cases, clients will want to change their ideas and add things to their piece midway through (this is especially true in specific commissions such as family portraits), and you absolutely must set the boundary that any changes and additions to the original idea will be an additional cost. Like I said, the best guideline as to how much to charge is by calculating how many hours it takes to complete the task. The last factor to include is the deadline agreement, if a client inconveniences you and needs their piece finished sooner than anticipated, be sure to charge a premium, because your time is incredibly valuable.
There are only two good ways as to how commissions should be paid: either 50% upfront and 50% at the end, or in instalments. I strongly prefer the first, as it shows trust and commitment on both ends. Never ever start a commission if somebody is not planning to pay at all until the end, even if this person is your closest friend, unless you are willing to do favours and free charity work. When it comes to business, unfortunately, even with friends, your trust and patience must be thin because business owners are incredibly susceptible to being taken advantage of.
There are plenty of amazing clients out there who will trust your vision and want you to embrace your full creative expression. That could very well be the reason they hired you. Always cherish these clients and maintain a good relationship with them, as these are the people who will be your biggest supporters and make you fall in love with your job. However, there are also difficult clients (especially with specific clients) who will micromanage your work, change their minds and add things at random times. Be sure to set boundaries from the very beginning. In my experience, generally checking in with a client more than once every one-two weeks on a big piece is unnecessary. When you do, though, always express enthusiasm since this will spread onto your client as well.
On the internet, there are hundreds of templates to use when creating a certification of authenticity. As an artist, you and your brand will grow over time, as will the value of your work. So, having a printed and signed certificate to give to your client along with the final piece will prove that the piece is authentic and that its monetary value will increase over time. Bonus points if it is creative, unique and memorable.
The commissions that I am the most grateful for are the ones that I was not sure I was even capable of making. The first one was at the age of fourteen when I had been hired to paint two wall murals at a trendy restaurant that my friend’s Mom owned. I wanted to make money and move to Canada, so I pushed through the resistance, pain and challenges, although I was deeply afraid they would be disappointed in the final result. Two months later I was on an aeroplane and the painting had turned out even better than I had expected it to. I did not take any incredibly challenging commissions again until the age of seventeen, when I was hired to paint in a house three large wall murals of specific musicians. Once again, I was afraid that they would regret choosing me to trust with their vision; however, in desperate need of cash, I accepted the job, and after that, there was no turning back. Upon completion, they loved the results and the paintings had turned out a hundred times better than I could have ever imagined. All I did was follow my own process and have trust in myself. Trusting yourself is the number one foundation when it comes to making commissions. If you do not trust yourself, the trust that other people have in you will never last.
Once I had developed this sense of trust within myself, I moved cities again and began accepting riskier commissions, starting off with a family portrait of over twenty people. That piece was the second largest learning lesson I have ever had in terms of commissions so far, and through two months of pressure, stress and difficulty, the only thought that kept my candle lit was faith that it would turn out better than I expected. I had severely lacked boundaries during this time, not to mention that I was living in the basement of my client’s house, so they were able to critique my progress every single day. Though it was one of the biggest challenges I have ever faced in my art career, I am endlessly grateful for that experience as it gave me a fantastic portfolio piece and it taught me countless incredible lessons. I am also overjoyed that I was able to bring their vision to life in an even better way that they had pictured. If I had known what I know now, the process would have gone much more smoothly, which is why I am here to educate other learning artists. After that experience, I realised that people are definitely capable of pushing through challenges and making any painting idea come to life, no matter how difficult it may seem. Nowadays, the confidence I have in my own work and my own ability is unmatched, and for any artist it has to be, if you want to produce the finest work you will ever produce in your life. You are and always will be your own biggest supporter. Even if a commission seems risky, part of being able to grow your business and improve your artistic ability is by always living outside of your comfort zone and adapting to it.
However, there are definitely commissions which will be setbacks and wastes of your time, especially once you are further along in your art career. The more successful you become, the more opportunities you will have to say no to. Being able to choose opportunities with a higher return on investment, and declining those with a lower return on investment, is one of the greatest and most beneficial skills to acquire. If you are not able to do this, you will spend years of your life slaving away and having no control over your own art career, growth and improvement.
An example of when I accepted a commission which put a major setback in my career, as well as my personal life, was when I was hired to do an unusual commission in which I was unknowingly severely allergic to the material I had to use. It was no ordinary painting or drawing; it was an incredibly outlandish project with the strangest medium. When I read the offer, I wanted to decline it; however, I accepted it anyway due to the fact that I wanted to get paid.
By having too much confidence and pushing my boundaries far too much for a project that was hardly worth it, I had severe allergic reactions and experienced anaphylaxis like never before. My face and body suffered greatly, and it almost made me hate art. I cried everyday for weeks, and I could not recognize myself in the mirror. The pain I felt was beyond anything I had ever felt and I needed sleeping pills just to fall asleep. My entire face had gone puffy, my nose and ears were busted and bleeding and my body had broken into wounds. It was simply the most painful job I ever had to do. I felt as though I must have hated myself for being willing to go through such great pain and torment simply for a paycheque. This was the commission that made me drastically cut the amount of opportunities I accepted, and it truly taught me my worth.
Overall, commissions are an incredible way to add to your portfolio, network with other people, build relationships and improve your abilities. With the right clients, they will have trust in your creative flow which will make your soul sing and open hundreds of mental doors. They will also treat you greatly which will motivate you to pursue business in your passion more than ever before. Commissions will also challenge your skills, forcing you to adapt and have faith in yourself which is essential to every aspect of life. Falling in love with your job and making a living off of what you love to do will provide a sense of fulfilment unlike any other, but it will not come without hard work. Always keep the factors I have listed in mind when accepting commissions so that you and your client will both benefit from this experience, and so that your passion remains untainted.