About Commissioned Art
The following is not presented as being a comprehensive document, but is a general overview and should not be take as legal advice. It is a guideline and you should consult with a professional legal adviser.
At first being asked to paint a commission seems like the ultimate compliment.
A prospective Client 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!
Projects can be challenging, but successful ventures. A gallery with commissioning experience can act as a buffer in negotiating the commission price, sale and delivery date, but sometimes you have to communicate directly with the client concerning the creation of the artwork.
First of all: You must understand that the successful commission is a collaboration between the Artist and the Client.
• 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 Client feel confident in choosing you.
Meet with the other party to discuss and conceive the initial project.
Make sure they agree on the subject matter, colour and design before beginning the artwork process.
During the meeting, if you do not have actual examples of your work, use a laptop or iPad to show them a selection of your portfolio. This helps you see their likes and dislikes about colour 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 colours 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?
Unless you know the client 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.
◦ If needed, who will pay for shipping costs?
◦ Please see ‘Sample Contract’ at the end of this article.
Have a method for pricing your work.
This will prevent panic when an opportunity comes up. Most artists price their work based on a per project rate ($ = estimated hours to completion x hourly rate) or based on size ($/sq 30cm) but there are four variables to keep in mind:
Time – Will you be working weekends or long hours? Or can you do this leisurely in a couple of hours? Is it due immediately, or can you take your time?
Size – Larger pieces require more paint, materials, handling, shipping costs, etc.
Skill Required – Portraits and figurative art generally require more skill than landscapes, so they are priced higher. Is the subject complex, like lace or patterning that requires a lot of detail?
Creative Integrity. Will this piece enhance your portfolio, or will you never show it off after it’s complete? Is the project interesting, meaningful, and fun to work on?
It’s fair to ask for as much as 50% up front to cover the cost of your materials and time.
Some people prefer 30% down and a couple of installments.
The usual recommendation is taking between 30 – 50% up front, unless the commission is for a friend or somebody who has good standing credit with you.
For larger commissions, consider a monthly payment plan, where you send your client monthly progress updates. Making a payment will help both the patron and the artist stay invested in the piece, and build a credible professional relationship.
Basically you need to have any commission IN WRITING if you are commanding more than a $100!
If you aren't GST registered you should also consider having a statement that says as follows - 'Please note no GST has been charged on this invoice as the supplier is not GST registered'. This can often be an enticement!
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.
Know exactly what you’re being asked to do.
Be clear in your descriptions and check in with the client at certain intervals.
Remember why the client chose you to begin with, and don’t doubt your ability. DO take creative license — this is why you were hired! DO start with concepts or sketches for them to approve before moving on to costly or large scale work. DON’T check in too often, or seem unsure of yourself or ideas, as this is an open invitation for your client to suggest their ideas, or perhaps drag you along a creative journey that isn’t your own.
Show the clients thumbnail drawings, rough sketches or preliminary paintings
Don’t give them too many choices! No more than three.
Once all agree upon the concept, begin the under painting. Emailed the clients images – for them to email back their thoughts.
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 being paid for your work like any professional. Otherwise, you run the risk of them becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the art
If the clients are happy with the way things are going, do not change the look of the art without consulting the Client.
Finally, the Client will obviously own the artwork but the Client 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 Client – not for you!
*The PDF “Custom Art Commission Contract” (can be read online or downloaded by clicking here) is an example of what a contract between the artist and Client might look like. If you have legal questions or complications, please seek professional legal advice or visit the legal arts Australia website at