Making Art on Commission: Tips for Artists

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Courtesy of Alan Bamberger at

Pretty much all artists are interested in either working on commission or are presented with offers to produce works of art on commission at various points during the course of their careers. While most commission arrangements progress to completion with no problems whatsoever, many artists have also had what looked to be a golden commission opportunities turn into unmitigated nightmares. The following tips and pointers on how to approach commissions and on what to expect when commissioned to make art will not only increase your chances for successful outcomes, but will also help you identify situations when the best approach is to just say no rather than take on the job.

To begin with, working on commission-- creating a specific work of art that someone asks you to make-- is completely different from working for yourself where you make whatever you want to make without any input or influence from others. Making a work of art for yourself is solo act; producing a work of art on commission for someone else is a relationship-- a partnership between you and that person. Never confuse the two.

From your end, the key to successfully working on commission is your ability to be flexible and communicate with whomever hires you. A commission relationship only succeeds when you respond effectively to the other party's concerns, requests and needs (which hopefully aren't too numerous or demanding). Put another way, if you don't work well with people, don't take commissions.

The number one commission pitfall by far is taking one on without knowing who you're dealing with. No matter how badly you need the money, how much they say they love your art, how well your initial contact goes or how much you both like spumoni, if you haven't worked together before, do due diligence. Many commission disasters can be avoided before they even start.

Meet with the other party in advance to discuss the project, preferably at your studio or wherever you make art. Make sure they see a variety of work so they get a good idea of the range of your skills. Some people say they want to commission a work of art when all they really want is an exact duplicate of one particular piece, or something that looks like one of only a few pieces of your art that they've ever seen. The more of your art they see, assuming they continue to like it, the better they understand the scope of your work, the easier it becomes for them to accept the finished product, and the less you'll have to worry about having to produce a very specific composition or be given directions or instructions at every step of the way.

Watch how the other party reacts to your art; find out which pieces they like the most and the least. Politely ask questions and encourage them to do the same. Tell them you want to make sure they're satisfied with the finished product. The two of you have to imagine the creation of the art in pretty much the same way for a commission to work. Differences in initial perceptions of how the process should proceed could lead to problems later. Answers to questions like the following will help you understand what you're in for if you take the job...

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