Art Commission Guide for Beginners: Step-by-Step Tips and Strategies

Jan 24, 2024

On the journey of turning artistic passion into a profession, many artists find themselves drawn to art commissions. In this guide, we illuminate the path for beginners, offering insights into creating and pricing commissions and navigating the commission landscape.

From building a strong artistic identity to mastering the delicate art of negotiation, this post is a comprehensive handbook for artists seeking to monetize their creative endeavors. You'll be inspired by artist Dimitra Milan's honest reflection on her experience with creating commissions and find out about a proven step-by-step program to establish a thriving art business.

Artist Dimitra Milan's Commissioned Art Journey

Before we look at practical tips for success in commissioned art, watch Dimitra Milan candidly share her experiences in creating commissions for clients, including her least favorite and most favorite commissioned pieces and mistakes she made along the way. Her story provides an excellent framework for the guidance provided in the rest of this post.

Read on to find out how to apply Dimitra's lessons to your own art career.

Set the Stage for Success in Commissioned Art

Art supplies and a blank canvas

Before diving into the specifics of pricing your work or preparing a contract, it's important to lay the groundwork for success first. This starts with establishing your artistic identity and building a strong portfolio.

Your artistic identity sets you apart and attracts clients to your work. This identity doesn't develop instantly but evolves through study, experimentation, practice, and continual refinement.

Your art portfolio should showcase your distinct style and highlight your best work. Here are some key elements to include in your online portfolio or artist website:

  1. Detailed descriptions of your work highlighting your unique style and technique

  2. High-quality images that accurately represent your art

  3. Clearly displayed contact information, making it easy for potential clients to reach you

Check out Creating the Perfect Art Portfolio: Essential Strategies for Artists in 2024 for a comprehensive tutorial.

Market Your Commission Services

Even the most gifted artists must market their services, and this is where the role of social media and networking becomes prominent.

Especially if you have low traffic to your website, developing a strong online presence is crucial. Use social media platforms to exhibit your skills and professionalism to a broader audience and make a lasting impression through well-curated, strategic content. Regular posts on Instagram, Behance, or the Milan Art Community can boost your visibility and attract potential clients.

Networking and collaboration provide opportunities to expand your reach and increase commission opportunities. Participate in art events to connect with other artists and build a solid community. Collaborate with other artists on joint exhibitions and projects to increase exposure, create new opportunities, and combine skills.

Price Your Paintings Confidently

Calculating art commission fees

After laying the groundwork for success, the next step is to tackle pricing your artwork. This requires a careful balance of understanding your costs, assessing the project's complexity, and conveying your fee structure transparently.

The first step in pricing your art is understanding your costs. This includes the cost of materials and the time you'll spend on the commission. Factors such as the piece's size, style, and complexity will all impact your costs and, ultimately, the final price. Check out our step-by-step guide to pricing paintings to help you develop a pricing formula or strategy for your original art.

To price your commissioned art, use your original art pricing strategy as a baseline, then set the price for commissions slightly higher. For example, if you price your original artwork at $2 per square inch, your commission rate could be $2.50 or $3 per square inch.

Being transparent about pricing is essential in building client trust. Clearly outline your fees and ensure your clients comprehend your pricing structure, including the cost of the painting itself and any additional expenses, such as shipping or rush fees.

The Commission Process: From Inquiry to Delivery

A commission contract signed by a client. Photo by Romain Dancre on Unsplash

The progression from the first inquiry to delivery offers a chance to demonstrate professionalism and impress your customers. Every stage impacts the commission experience for both the artist and the collector.

Respond to Commission Requests from New Clients

A commission is all about what's sentimental to the collector—it's deeply personal—so professionalism is vital for establishing and maintaining trust. Your response to a potential client's initial contact or request sets the tone for the entire commission experience. Here are some tips for responding professionally and effectively:

  1. Acknowledge their interest graciously.

  2. State your availability and ask for project details.

  3. Establish clear expectations.

  4. Be bold and politely decline if a request isn't a good fit for your skills or schedule.

Following these tips ensures that your response to potential clients sets the stage for a successful working relationship.

Think of a commission piece as a collaboration. You can take direction from your customer about subject matter based on your previous work, their desired color palette, or specific elements the client wants included. However, avoid giving the client a specific visual expectation. Maintain ambiguity so they won't be disappointed, and try to avoid allowing the client to engineer the painting for you.

Draft a Clear Written Contract

After agreeing to a commission, a comprehensive, clear, written agreement is crucial. This document should include:

  • the work's description

  • size

  • medium

  • the final price and a fair payment plan

  • a timeline

This document doesn't have to be fancy—it must simply include the details you and your customer agreed to. It ensures you're "on the same page". You "officialize" the document when you and your customers sign it.

Here's an example of a basic commission contract.

Sample commission form

Manage Project Timelines

Efficiently managing project timelines plays a significant role in the commission process. Set achievable deadlines and update the client about progress throughout the project to keep them informed and manage their expectations.

Include in your contract predetermined points when the collector can make adjustments. This assures them of a finished product that matches their desires and protects you from endless changes that may not be reasonable.

Consider offering a photo and/or video package with your commissioned painting so the collector can see their vision come alive. Let them know in advance when they'll receive visual updates on your progress.

Build Strong Client Relationships

Positive client communication

Converting a one-time client into a regular customer depends on building a relationship. This begins the moment you accept the commission and extends beyond the delivery of the artwork.

Open and honest communication with clients is vital for fostering strong relationships. Regular updates, clear explanations of your process, and a readiness to accept feedback can enhance the experience and foster trust.

Going above and beyond to deliver high-quality work and a positive experience can turn a one-time client into a long-term collector. Remember, delighted clients who receive top-notch work are more inclined to recommend you to others, resulting in a surge of referrals and potential new clients.

Feedback and revisions are part of the commission process. It's important to be receptive to feedback and handle revisions professionally. Always maintain a respectful and professional attitude throughout this process.

Financial Transactions and Follow-Up

Secure online payment

Payments are the most common reason for commissions to go wrong. Dimitra Milan cautions beginner artists to only accept a commission requiring the client to pay a deposit in advance. Always receive a deposit before you begin work! This proves the collector is serious, minimizes the risk they might cancel the job, and protects you from wasted time and effort.

Dimitra typically asks for 20% of the total price as a deposit paid upfront. It's acceptable to require up to 50% upfront. The deposit amount depends on the cost of supplies and the size and complexity of the painting.

Set a transparent payment plan and use secure payment methods. The final payment is due when the painting is completed and the collector has seen a picture of it. Only ship or deliver the painting once you receive the final payment!

Proper packaging and delivery of the artwork ensures its safety and can add a personal touch that enhances the client's experience. Consider including a handwritten note or a small gift—such as your initial painting sketch—to make the delivery special.

Following up with the client after the artwork delivery helps maintain a positive relationship and opens the door for future opportunities. This post-commission engagement could involve seeking feedback, asking for a testimonial, or merely expressing gratitude for their business.

Navigate Challenges and Setbacks

Despite careful planning and preparation, challenges and setbacks may occur. The key lies in recognizing potential red flags and applying problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills.

Spot potential red flags by noticing issues like poor communication, unrealistic expectations, and unprofessional behavior.

When challenges arise, approach them with a solution-oriented mindset. Maintain professionalism and seek resolution in the best interest of both parties.

As an artist pursuing commissions, you're not just a creator but also a business owner. This means adopting a positive and proactive mindset. You'll need to master communication, negotiation, and organization skills to manage and fulfill commissions successfully.

Remember, commitment, a strong work ethic, and kindness to clients can create a positive commission experience for both parties.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I start taking art commissions?

To start taking art commissions, find your niche, build a portfolio, and promote your work. You must be scrappy, creative, and willing to put yourself out there. Tell your audience you're accepting commissions. Tell them more than once! Share your process on social media.

How do I accept payment for art commissions?

You can accept payments for commission work by using online payment gateways, third-party marketplaces, email invoicing, mobile payment apps, eChecks with ACH processing, cryptocurrency payments, or electronic bank/wire transfers. Choosing the method that best suits your business and your customers is important.

How do I price my artwork?

Calculate your fees based on materials, time, and complexity while considering industry standards and your worth. Use your original art pricing strategy as a baseline, then set your price for commissions slightly higher. For example, if you price your original artwork at $2 per square inch, your commission rate could be $2.50 or $3 per square inch. This will help you price your artwork competitively and fairly.

Become a Commissioned Artist

Mastering the art of commissions requires creativity, business acumen, and interpersonal skills. But with the right mindset and approach, you can turn your passion into a thriving business. Remember, every commission is a learning experience that helps you grow as an artist and a professional.

Imagine a proven step-by-step program that empowers you to develop your skills, build your brand as an artist, and effectively market and sell your artwork. The Mastery Program does all that and more. Learn at your own pace and launch your art career! Find out more today.

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