Commissioned Art – Tips to make it a Success!

At first being asked to paint a commission seems like the ultimate compliment. A prospective collector of your work requests and pays you money to create a personal piece of art.

This sounds simple and seems like easy money in the bank. Unfortunately, many artists have had what looks to be a dream job turn into the dreaded commission!

Recently, I finished and delivered a $12,000 commissioned painting to its new home. This project was a challenging, but successful venture. My gallery acted as a buffer in negotiating the commission price, sale and delivery date, but I had to communicate directly with the clients concerning the creation of the artwork. While the experience is still fresh in my head, I thought I’d share some tips and suggestions to help you avoid any potential problems.

First of all: You must understand that the successful commission is collaboration between the Artist and the Collector.

  • The success of the project hinges on the success of your working relationship with each other.
  • If you have difficulty working with others, you may not want to accept a commission.
  • It is your (the Artist’s) responsibility to be willing to listen to and clearly communicate with the paying customer.
  • Keep a positive attitude that makes the Collector feel confident in choosing you.

Meeting #1:

  • Meet with the other party to discuss and conceive the initial project.
  • In my case, ‘the collector’ consisted of a young husband and wife team. They were intelligent, very organized, and had impeccable taste. I needed to be on my toes, so I made sure they agreed on the subject matter, color and design before I began the painting process.
  • I was commissioned to paint an oil painting on four separate television cabinet door panels. I originally met the collectors at their home to see the décor of the room. They wanted a nature scene complete with birds and an aspen tree.
  • I took digital camera notes about the color of the room for reference.
  • During the meeting, I used my laptop to show them a selection of my nature-art portfolio. This helped me see their likes and dislikes about color and design. The more familiar the client is with your work, the more likely he/she will be comfortable with your finished product.
  • Ask questions and encourage them to tell you what they envision:
    • What is their initial perception of the project?
    • What colors do they like to live with?
    • Is there a mood they want to capture?
    • Assure them that they will be satisfied with the finished product.
    • Explain to them about your artistic working process.
    • Make them feel as though ‘you are in charge’ otherwise, the client may try and micro-manage you throughout the project.
    • Do they have any questions or comments about the commission?
  • The Contract: Unless you know the clients well or have worked together before, it is wise to write and sign a contract. Many an artist has been burned by the ‘good-ole-boy’ handshake. In my case, the gallery handled all the contract and money issues for me.
    • If needed, who will pay for shipping costs?
    • Please see ‘Sample Contract’ at the end of this article.
  • The Payment: Require an advance, usually about 1/3 the total cost of the commission. My gallery requested 50%. The advance is non-refundable. If the clients back out, they need to understand and agree to the fact that the advance pays for your invested time, labor, and art materials.

Meeting #2:

  • Show the clients thumbnail drawings, rough sketches or preliminary paintings
  • I created three 8×10 color pencil drawings of compositions for the clients to choose from.
  • Don’t give them too many choices!
  • Once we all agreed upon the concept, I began the under painting. I emailed the clients images – they were happy.

Late Summer Gathering under painting

(center panels – under painting)

Meeting #3:

  • Invite the clients to view the painting about midway through the project.
  • At this time you can still easily edit or make adjustments.
  • The Collector can get a clear picture of your vision and you can address any concerns. (Luckily, my clients were happy.)
  • If they are dissatisfied or have criticisms, try not to let artistic temperament get a hold of you! Stay business like and remember – you are a professional. Otherwise, you run the risk of them becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the art

Late Summer Gathering center panelswestern tanager pair

(Midway through the project)

  • Communication is key: Encourage communication at all times. I chose to communicate via email. At one point I had my gallery contact the clients when I had not received a response. This was a little unnerving, but it turned out that the family had been sick with the Swine Flu!
    • If the clients are happy with the way things are going, do not change the look of the art without consulting the Collector.
    • Finally, the Collector will obviously own the artwork but the Collector will have no rights to reproduce the art without written permission from the artist who will retain all rights. This should be clearly spelled out in your contract.
    • Remember, you are painting a commission for the Collector – not for you!

Late Summer Gathering

(Late Summer Gathering – by Lori McNee)

P.S. this painting was difficult to photograph – in person, the branches all line up! click image  to enlarge:

Painting a commission can be a very rewarding experience. Most collectors love working with artists and feel as though you are a celebrity of sorts. But, every now and then you might get the snobby client who sees you as a service provider. Ultimately, it is up to you and whether or not you are up for the task. Following the tips above will help to insure a smooth experience and money in the bank!

*****

*The below “Sample Contractis an example of what a contract between the artist and collector might look like. If you have legal questions or complications, please seek professional legal advice.

———————————————————————————————————————

Custom Art Commission Contract

This Agreement is made the _________ day of _____________ (month), _____________ (year), by & between:

(The Artist) Name: ____________________________________________________________
Address: ________________________________________________________________
Phone: ___________________________ Email: _________________________________

And

(The Collector) Name: _________________________________________________________
Address: _________________________________________________________________
Phone: ____________________________ Email: _________________________________

Agreement between Artist & Collector as follows:
1. The Artwork:Collector is commissioning artist, Lori McNee to paint a series of 4 oil paintings on panels for the collector’s television cabinet
2. The Concept: The Artist will paint an aspen tree with green leaves. Colorful birds gather in its branches.
3. Payment Schedule: A non-refundable deposit of 50% is required before artwork commences. The payment is due in full upon delivery of artwork.
4. Payment Amount: The artist and collector agree upon $12,000.00 USD selling price. Collector will pay any taxes due.
5. Copyright: Artist retains the copyright to all works commissioned by Collector that was created by Artist, including all reproduction rights and the right to claim statutory copyright. No artwork may be reproduced or altered without the written consent of the Artist.
6. Right of Refusal: In the event that the Collector does not wish to purchase the commissioned artwork, the Collector may refuse. In that case, the Artist will retain the refused artwork and the non-refundable deposit. This is free of any claims or interests of the Collector and the Collector will not owe any additional fees to the Artist.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF the Artist and Collector have executed the Agreement on the day & year written above.

____________________________________
Artist

____________________________________
Collector

*****

I hope this information helps you with your next commission! ~Lori

You might like to read:

10 Tips to Bring Visitors to Your Art Fair Booth or Open Studio

7 Creative Ways to Approach an Art Gallery for Representation

3 Steps to Find Art Gallery Representation

Visual Artist’s Challenge II – Balancing Self Promotion & Gallery Representation

You Are in Charge of Your Art Career!

Commissioned Art – Tips to make it a Success!

Create a Powerful Portfolio

The Right Art Gallery – How to Find One

 

59 Comments

  1. Miranda November 9, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    Awesome article! This is great advice for anyone interested in selling their work. Thanks for sharing the sample contract as well!

    • Lori McNee November 16, 2009 at 2:40 pm

      Hi Miranda, thanks again for visiting and taking time to comment!

      • Steve Urwin March 12, 2014 at 2:51 am

        Lori,
        I just wanted to say thank you for your advice on essential knowledge to sell and ,how to form a professional package for clients.Much appreciated.

        • Lori McNee March 23, 2014 at 6:26 pm

          Hello Steve,

          I am so glad this has been useful to you. Many thanks for letting me know. Good luck with your commissions.

          cheers,
          Lori

    • Lori McNee December 7, 2009 at 11:06 am

      Hi Miranda – Thanks for replying to the ‘Commissioned Art’ article. Glad you like it!

  2. chris November 9, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    Great article! Appreciate your tips which are applicable to art and so much more. Sometimes the obvious is most often overlooked.
    Communication & Documentation!!!

    Thanks again!!!!!

    • Lori McNee November 16, 2009 at 2:57 pm

      I appreciate your nice comments, Chris! Hope you visit again soon.

  3. Connie (Hosslass) November 10, 2009 at 5:39 am

    Thank you for a fine article, as I am presently working on my first commissioned painting, it is really timely. I have a “handshake” contract with a family member though, but it’s all good! Congrats on such a deal well done!

    • Lori McNee November 16, 2009 at 2:59 pm

      Good luck with your commission! Let me know how it goes 🙂

    • Lori McNee December 7, 2009 at 11:04 am

      Hi Connie – let us know how it all works out for you! I am sure it will be a great experience. Good luck!

      • Connie (Hosslass) December 8, 2009 at 10:05 am

        Hi Lori,
        Thank you for being so kind and asking about the commission! My buyer is very happy and pleased, but the real test will be after Christmas as the painting is for a gift. I believe it will well received though!! I would love to do more commissions too.

        • Lori McNee December 8, 2009 at 11:33 am

          I am so happy to hear that the buyer is pleased with your commission! Who could not love the gift of art for Christmas??? Congrats and thanks for letting us know. Best, Lori

  4. Adelaide Damoah November 13, 2009 at 11:03 am

    Thank you for sharing this very useful post! Congratulations on a fantastic deal also 🙂

    Your blog is now bookmarked and subscribed to..

    Best wishes

    Adelaide Damoah

    • Lori McNee November 16, 2009 at 3:00 pm

      Hi Adelaide, thanks for sharing your comments. I am glad you are a subscriber now too!

    • Lori McNee December 7, 2009 at 10:58 am

      Hi Adelaide – I truly appreciate you taking time to read, bookmark, subscribe and comment on my site. I apologize for the delayed response…I have been traveling. Let me know if you have any questions. Best – Lori 🙂

  5. age beauty November 26, 2009 at 1:18 am

    I really like your site , it’s filled with great information. You just got one constant visitor and a fan of your blog.

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    • Lori McNee June 15, 2010 at 6:02 am

      Hi Miranda, thanks for the RT on Twitter!

  9. Paco June 13, 2011 at 8:44 am

    Lori thank you for your advice, extremely helpful! Gracias, Paco

    • Lori McNee June 13, 2011 at 2:27 pm

      You are very welcome Paco!
      Gracias, Lori 🙂

  10. KYLIE FOGARTY August 28, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    Fantastic advice Lori, thanks for sharing the Contract sample too, its great to see what formats can be used. Cheers Kylie

    • Lori McNee September 4, 2011 at 5:51 pm

      Hello Kylie,

      I am glad this article was helpful to you. Contracts are important, especially if you are not working with a gallery who is there to protect you.

      Good luck!
      Lori

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  13. Adrienne Brown November 8, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    Thanks for the info on artist contracts and copyright info.
    I was asked to create a digital artwork based on a book cover illustration which will be printed onto canvas and hung on the client’s wall. As far as I know this will be for their private and personal use only, in other words it will not be reproduced for sale or profit. I want to make sure that I am not violating any copyright laws by creating this art reproduction for my private client. I am being paid only a very small amount as the printing onto canvas and stretching are very costly. I would appreciate any reassurance or advice.
    Thanks

    • Lori McNee November 9, 2011 at 10:04 pm

      Hello Adrienne,

      Thank you for your comment and I am glad this post is helpful to you. Technically, anytime you are getting paid for something that you recreate that is NOT your own intellectual property, that is a copyright violation. Most likely, you will be ok. It should never be reproduced or published. Good luck with the project.

      Best-
      Lori

  14. Vanessa van Eeghen February 24, 2013 at 10:40 am

    Thank You Lori! Long time artist, first time commission with non-“life long” freinds. Excellent advise.

    • Lori McNee February 27, 2013 at 6:02 pm

      Congrats on your first commission! I hope it all goes smoothly. Glad you got some good ideas from this post.

  15. Catherine Martha Holmes May 22, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    Lori, thank you kindly for posting that super information on commissioned works and retaining copyright, sincerely appreciated!
    Catherine

    • Lori McNee June 10, 2013 at 3:35 pm

      I’m happy to help! Thank you for letting me know this post was helpful. Good luck 🙂

  16. Mary Skrenta July 1, 2013 at 10:17 am

    Thanks for sharing your experience freely for the benefit of those of us new to the commission/contract process.

    • Lori McNee July 16, 2013 at 10:20 pm

      You are very welcome Mary. I hope it is helpful to you.

  17. James November 24, 2013 at 4:13 am

    Hi!

    Thanks for posting this info 🙂 Very helpful for budding commission artists.

    James

    • Lori McNee December 1, 2013 at 11:07 pm

      Hello James, good luck with your commissions! I just finished one myself. It is always a good feeling to make something special for your collector.

  18. Amanda November 29, 2013 at 10:37 pm

    Hi Lori
    can I ask for clarification about reproduction when I have commissioned some artwork to use for my corporate branding and website launch from a world renowned illustrator/artist. I have some limitations from how and where I can reproduce, particularly if it involves manufacturing and profiting from the artwork… however I have just discovered that the artist is selling an uncoloured version of my commission as part of an exhibition which she is profiting from. Can she does this without my permission?

    • Lori McNee December 1, 2013 at 10:39 pm

      Hello Amanda, if you are the original artist of the artwork, you retain the copyright unless you sold it with the sale of the painting. No one can make reproductions of your art without your approval. Did I answer your question?

  19. Carla June 7, 2014 at 11:43 am

    Lori, this is very helpful. Thank you! Carla

    • Lori McNee June 15, 2014 at 10:37 pm

      Thank you Carla!

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  21. Jeff Hulsizer June 25, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    You answered my main question and even provided a contract. My first few commissioned worked have worked out fine but I wanted something to protect me (and the customer) in the event something went wrong. Plus I wondered about a deposit/materials allowance being charged up front. Thanks!

    • Lori McNee July 20, 2014 at 3:24 pm

      Hello Jeff, yes you can ask for a deposit up front. I usually ask for a 50% deposit. Good luck 🙂

  22. A. McD August 12, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    HI… So glad to have found your site with useful tips. My daughter (a college sophomore) has just been approached to do a major commission for a client who has seen her work. The only issue I don’t recall being addressed that we still need help with is TIME FRAME. Can and do clients/artists specify a timeline & deadline by which the piece is expected to be completed? Is this a common – or even “best” – practice in the professional fine art world?

    • Lori A McNee May 1, 2016 at 2:55 pm

      Many thanks for your comment and my sincere apologies for the belated reply!! The timeframe is an individual choice. How long will it take you? When do your collectors need the piece? I have taken 6 months at one point when my schedule was overbooked. People will most likely wait to receive a good commission. You can negotiate the timeframe. It is up to you!

  23. Ela Jamosmos November 14, 2014 at 9:36 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this… It really answered my questions about commission work and the agreement is a great tool. I just finished one and the collector is a friend. Thanks so much for taking the time to help other artists like me.

    • Lori McNee February 12, 2015 at 12:04 pm

      You are so welcome Ela. Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts here 🙂

  24. Courtney January 4, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    Hello! So I too have a question, regarding the tax clause you have listed. This is my first commissioned mural painting, and it is in the five figure digits after its all said and done. The purchaser has agreed to pay a set amount each month for 12 month until the total price has been reached. My question is, what taxes are involved with a commissioned artwork? Especially a mural on a wall? I’m not an employee, nor am I an independent contractor signing up to complete a “job”. So can you give any insight or direction on this matter. I’m only 23, so this is big news for me and I really am seeking all the help I can get.
    Thanks, Court

    • Lori McNee February 8, 2015 at 1:02 am

      Hello Courtney, and congrats on your big commission. Generally, artists are required to collect and report State Sales Tax. That percent varies from state to state. If you decide to charge a flat fee, and not apply sales tax to the final price. You will have to pay the taxes out of the commissioned price yourself. It is up to you. I hope this helps! 🙂

  25. Gowtham August 18, 2015 at 5:52 am

    This is exactly what an artist needs to read before heading into commissions. Thanks a lot for the useful post!

    • Lori A McNee September 17, 2015 at 5:09 pm

      Great! Yes, this is often an overlooked detail when artists accept commissions.

  26. Ayasha (Pari Chumroo) February 3, 2016 at 9:11 am

    Hello Lori,
    Thank you for sharing. You have provided some excellent tips for producing commissioned art. I appreciate you detailing the steps and procedures as well as providing a sample contract.

    • Lori A McNee April 1, 2016 at 12:35 am

      Great Ayasha! Thank for taking time to let me know. Cheers!

  27. Lenore February 8, 2016 at 12:47 pm

    Hi Lori, I get so much useful information from your tips and advice, thank you. I have a question that may or may not be commonly asked, but I wondered if it is customary to give a discount to someone who commissions two or more works, and if yes, what would be considered a common percentage. I realize there is no hard set rule, but a “ballpark” idea would be helpful.
    Thank you -Lenore

    • Lori A McNee April 1, 2016 at 12:25 am

      Hello Lenore, this is a great question. And the answer is, yes! It is quite common to give a repeat collector a discount…usually 10%. But, if you are self-representing the choice is yours! Good luck!

  28. Lindy Whitton February 11, 2016 at 5:28 am

    Great article! I found it very helpful. I hope you don’t mind but I would like to leave a link to this post in a blog post I’m doing on art commissions at lindywhittonstudio.com.
    Thanks again for such a useful post.

    • Lori A McNee April 1, 2016 at 12:35 am

      Hello Lindy, thank you for asking. I am glad you linked this post!

  29. Ian March 4, 2016 at 2:36 pm

    Excellent info for artists, brilliant. I have just been commissioned to paint for this company: https://www.lovecustomart.com/

    • Lori A McNee March 31, 2016 at 11:11 pm

      Ian, I’m glad you found this post helpful! Good luck with your commission.

Comments are closed.