5 Questions to Consider BEFORE You Take Art Commissions

I’ve seen many new artists jump into taking art commissions shortly after completing a piece of artwork because their friends and family ask them too.   It’s exciting to have your artwork loved and it’s that excitement that leads into what can be very stressful if you are not ready!  What started out as a creative outlet becomes a pressure induced desire to please someone else for money…that probably doesn’t sound right - but I think you know what I mean... 

Before you jump into taking commissions, let’s discuss some pitfalls and really evaluate whether you are ready by answering a few questions. 

5 Key questions to ask yourself before you take on an art commission

  1. Have you completed several paintings like this before? 
  2. Do you know how long this type of commission will take you for the given size? 
  3. Are you confident in your technique? 
  4. Do you have a consistent style? 
  5. Final question, do you want to paint for someone else? 

If you can answer yes to all of the above, then take on an art commission.  However, if you are not sure, then read on and explore what happens if you are not ready and some additional considerations. 

#1. Have you completed several paintings like this before?

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I am currently more known for my pet portraits, but I have completed people portraits, landscapes and many other commissioned projects as well as projects of my own free will.  It is from this large portfolio that I can show and know what projects I will and will not take on.   

So, and this is a real example, I have been approached several times to complete boudoir paintings, I turned them down because: 

  1. it is not my style 
  2. I don’t want my name associated with it and 
  3. I don’t want too. 

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Now that was an extreme example I think, because if they looked at my body of work, there is not a naked person among the lot! But in a less extreme example, I get asked quite frequently to do people portraits and rarely do I accept.  It is only with experience that I’ve learned that:

  1. I hate the selfie type of pictures people take and want a painting made from.  
  2. Most adults have fake smiles. 
  3. Most adults really don’t know or like how they look.   

But again, this is all from experience of doing paintings for myself and evaluating what I really enjoy doing.  

There are 3 pitfalls of taking on a commission when you haven’t created a similar piece:

  1. Stress.  The client won’t know what to expect because you haven’t proven yourself in the subject.  
  2. Timeline.  If you haven’t painted something like this before, you won’t be able to accurately provide an estimate to the client for completion.  
  3. 1+2 = 3 Communication.  You won’t be able to accurately communicate the process, timeline and expected results to the client.  

So before taking on a commission ask yourself:  

  • Have I completed several paintings like this before?
    • If no, don’t take the commission and paint it for your experience and growth. 
    • OR, if you are interested and all the other answers are yes, then paint it for yourself with the option for the client to purchase after it is complete (that removes the pitfalls of stress, timeline and communication). 
    • If yes, then move on to the next question, 
  • Did I enjoy painting it?
    • If no, then stop and continue to paint what brings you joy. 
    • If yes, then move on to the next question. 

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CLICK HERE TO GET THE FREE EBOOK 

Ebook includes: 

  • A checklist of questions to ask yourself before you take a commission.
  • Workbook to fill out so you can outline the key points to communicate to the client.
  • Sample invoice

#2. Do you know how long this type of commission will take you for the given size?

 
 

One of the top questions I get asked by someone who is commissioning me for a portrait is “How long will this take?”    The answer to this question varies with experience, medium, and subject is only available to the individual practitioner based on experience. 

For example: What takes me two hours may take another four.  When I started painting a pet for myself in 2003 it took me 40+ hours to complete a painting, now I can paint one in way less time…time is dependent on the artist’s skill level. 

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There are 3 pitfalls of taking on a commission when you don’t know how long it will take: 

  1. Stress.  The client won’t know what to expect in terms of timeline, and you’ll stress yourself out if the client requests it to be complete by a specific date. 
  2. Timeline.  See stress above.  Not meeting a timeline makes you appear flakey, amaturish and you’ll have a dissatisfied client.   
  3. 1+2 = 3 Communication.  You won’t be able to accurately communicate the process, timeline and expected results to the client.  

So before taking on a commission ask yourself: 

  • Do you know how long it takes YOU to complete X subject(s) in Y size?  
    • If no, then don’t take the commission and continue to paint and practice 
    • OR if you have a guesstimate and all other answers are yes then add 2 - 4 weeks to your standard timeline. 
    • If yes, then move on to the next question. 

#3. Are you confident in your technique?

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I have literally spent 10000+ hours in my studio completing painting after painting, some have been awesome, some have been trashed.  I have received instruction from many artists in oils and in other mediums.  From each hour, each painting, each instructor I’ve finally come to a technique that is mine.  But here is the thing, my approach to a painting, mediums and color palette varies based on the subject.  This knowledge comes with experience.

 

There are 3 pitfalls of taking on a commission when you are not confident in your technique:

  1. Stress.  When you can’t find the path to take with a painting, it will create work and rework, which then in turn increases your timeline, which then in turn increases stress…and suddenly this painting gig is no longer a joy.   
  2. Timeline.  See stress above.   
  3. 1+2 = 3 Communication.  Clients love hearing at the beginning what colors you see in the painting which allows them to become part of the creative process.  If you aren’t sure and change directions on them that leads to their discomfort in entrusting you with their money and what will become a treasured possession. 

So before taking on a commission ask yourself: 

  • Do you know how you would start the painting?
    • If no, then don’t take the commission 
    • OR, if you have an idea, and all other answers are yes, then offer to provide quick color studies to work out the flow of the painting.  
    • If yes, then move on to the next question 
  • Do you know what colors you would choose and why?
    • If no, then don’t take the commission 
    • OR, if you have an idea, and all other answers are yes, then offer to provide quick paint color studies to work out the color palette.  
    • If yes, then move on to the next question 

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4. DO YOU HAVE A CONSISTENT STYLE?

Painting style is like handwriting, you can tell two peoples' handwriting from each others because they have different slants, loops, crossed t’s, dotted i’s etc.  The same holds true for painting.  Like with writing, it takes years of practice to create a consistent style and flow.  That’s what it means to have a consistent style.

There are 3 pitfalls of taking on a commission when you do not have a consistent style:

  1. Stress.  Part of the joy of painting is finding yourself and knowing what you are capable of.  If you are not consistent in your style, you will be worried about whether your client will like the end results or not.   
  2. Timeline.  Consistent style leads to a faster timeline.  When you have a consistent style, you are also comfortable with the color palette, the approach and have done this before.  
  3. 1+2 = 3 Communication.  When you have a consistent style, you can show your clients in the beginning, here is my style and ask, do you like it?  If they say they’d like something a bit different, then you can politely excuse yourself and recommend they commission another artist that meets their eye.   

So before taking on a commission ask yourself: 

  • Can you tell your painting from another or your teacher's?  
    • If no, then skip the commission and keep painting to find your style 
    • If yes, then move on to the next question 
  • Do your most recent works look like they came from the same artist?
    • If no, then skip the commission and keep painting to find your style 
    • If yes, then move on to the next question 

5. Final Question: Do you want to paint for someone else?

I know many artists who avoid painting for any one else because of the stress, timeline and communication issues I outlined above.  They would much rather paint what they want to paint and let the people come who are interested in their work.  That is a perfectly acceptable approach as well. Because here is the truth of it, just because you can doesn’t mean you have too or should.   

The number 1 pitfall of taking commissions when all of the above is not yes is: 

  • Stress.  People pleasing is a major creative blocker.  If you cannot answer yes to all the previous questions, then the level of stress you will have will steal your joy.  

Before you take on a commission for someone else, ask yourself: 

  • Do you find joy in painting for someone else?
    • If no, then skip the commission and paint your dreams. 
    • If yes, then take the commission and paint other's dreams. 

Final Note about Commissions

Regardless of whether you are on the path to taking commissions, you are on a path to create joy in yours and someone else’s life.  Download this free Are You Ready For Commissions.  

Ebook includes:  

  •  A checklist of questions to ask yourself before you take a commission.
  • Workbook to fill out so you can outline the key points to communicate to the client.
  • Sample invoice