Commissioned art holds a special increased value for artists.
Normally, we create what we think might eventually sell, but now you are being guaranteed earnings on your future work, by someone who came to you on their own. Someone out there has seen enough of your work to contact you, request a specific original piece that is personalized for them – which matches your already known style – and then negotiates payment and delivery of that art. There is an intuitive trust involved here. They believe in you.
Therein lies some pressure. We definitely don’t want to disappoint. If you know them, it can be a little bit easier. A stranger? Whoa, double that stress.
Nonetheless, we still want to enjoy the process, since we got into this gig for a higher purpose – to love our jobs, right? Here are a few tips for when your art is being commissioned.
Ask about their budget.
I used to run my general specs by a customer before asking what they can spend. Not any more. I have learned that asking them what they are able to spend is a better place to begin, so I can jump right into what they can afford, instead of scaling back later, in order to get paid.
Be able to refer to a flexible range of prices based on size or amount (in my case, the size of the canvas, as I am a painter); this price increases with the complexity of the image.
For example, I might say they can get this smaller size for a range of $125 to $225 depending on the details. Also, I am sure to clarify if shipping costs will be added. I will deliver a piece up to 20 miles, but after that, they either pick it up or pay for shipping. Shipping costs should be something you have generally researched with your local post office or UPS store. Don’t forget to add in packaging materials as well. Now my smallest piece costs more like $225 to $350.
If I really want this opportunity, I might reduce my price just to offset some of the shipping costs.
Get the specifics.
Get to know the client’s story. Where will this piece be displayed, and is the size and content appropriate?
What are their ideas about this subject? Is it sentimental? Did they like a similar piece seen elsewhere? Does it match other decor?
What are two to three color preferences? If they say orange, you ask Burnt Orange or Orange Peel? Green – lime green, Irish green, or teal? Is it a daytime landscape or a nighttime city?
Do they want to see a sketch prior to the real work?
Identify your style; express your limits.
To set clear expectations, I tell my customers that I have a vaguely impressionist and sometimes abstract style, and that I tend to use unrealistic colors, as well as vaguely distorted perception.
I never promise an exact duplicate of past work. I have attempted this more than once and it is a ridiculous venture. I promise them it will have a similar vibe, but exactness does not happen with my intuitive process. I will not make the commission so difficult that I am struggling to do the impossible.
My best customers tend to say, “I trust your vision. Just do what you do.”
Reveal the results humbly.
The surest way to get an honest response is to ask the customer if they are prepared to take a look. I do not show it to anyone else (like social media) beforehand.
This first viewing often happens over direct messaging or via text, and the piece will never show as well as in person. I warn them of this fact up front.
I suggest that they give me honest feedback before payment. This implies I might be able to change something to please them before delivery. I once had to cover up some tiny birds in the sky because the client hated black birds. It was painful for me as I loved the birds, but the buyer – not me – would be looking at this for possibly years to come.
I never ask for praise. If I like it, I do not need them to tell me it is good. Some people do not emote as I would desire.
If I know the customer, I never ask for payment ahead of time unless I need it for materials or delivery- then just a down payment. I ask that they Venmo, Zelle, or Paypal upon delivery.
If the client is a stranger, a down payment and full payment prior to delivery is appropriate.
Ask your customers to write you a review – this is a great way to promote down the road.
If a customer ever ghosted me, or managed to scam me, or simply hated the piece – which has not yet happened – I am confident I would survive it and adjust accordingly. I have sold enough now to know a happy customer is truly my greatest success. I try not to let these possibilities keep me from serving my fans!