Navigating Commissions

We’re talking commissions! This blog posts helps prepare you to navigate commissions including laying out expectations and having good communication to encourage the best outcome.

Before You Accept a Commission

Have clear expectations for what you will or won’t do. If you are a landscape plein air painter you probably wouldn’t want to accept a portraiture commission. Or if you are an acrylic painter, you probably won’t pick up an oil painting commission.

Media and subject are two great ways to help frame your commission limits but aren’t the only ways you can limit our commission scope. Its easier to say “no” when you previously decided what you will or won’t do.

Contracts help sticky situations. If you have had a number of difficult commissions, its time to draft up a contract to make all commissions easier to deal with. While you can always reach out for legal support when drafting a contract, there are many free templates and resources you can use for contract writing yourself. You can use your contract to agree on timeline, payment, amount of alterations to the piece, and more. This way your in the drivers seat!

Don’t make empty promises. If you know beforehand that the size, scope, or scale of the commission or project is out of your league, just say no. The stress and pressure of big projects and tight deadlines sometimes works for artists but doesn’t work for others. This isn’t about the fun of the pressure and the anticipation of deadlines. If this commission is out of your ability, do not make a promise you can’t keep. This ties back to your credibility and professionalism.

When Negotiating with the Client

Know what you need from your clients. If you are making a work to honor someone or something, you may need photos or inspiration from your commissioner. If you need something from the client make sure you get what helps you make the work.

Be clear with you client about the details. Decide how much input you want from the commissioner. If you give them too much freedom and ability for input, they may control the entire piece. I’ve experienced a commission that almost doesn’t look like work I have created. The client slowly requested parts of my work to be changed to the point where I didn’t want my name on the work. If you give them too little they may not trust you.

Talk money up front. Be willing to ask for a down payment too as a commitment to the work. This allows you to have a financial base to begin the work including buying supplies. It also pays for the initial hours of the piece. Don’t be afraid to ask for half of the cost of the work upfront. You can also use this to talk about additional fees that you may request. If a piece needs to be rushed for a deadline and take considerable time and effort, consider talking about rush fees.

Talk time too. Keep the commissioner in the loop on time. Sometimes you will have a deadline and other times you won’t but that doesn’t mean you can drag out the piece. If you are needing time because life is busy (let the commissioner know). Or if they need a work completed in a time crunch talk about the feasibility.

Mid-Commission Tips

Allow for some flexibility and feedback. Trying to capture someone else’s vision and create it in your style of work is all about communication. The better the communication and the more understanding of the expectations, the better the piece will come out. Be wiling to sit down and get some progress feedback from your initial beginnings of the work. Make sure you are heading in the direction that the commissioner is wanting and you are not wasting valuable time. Balance with this is needed because its also important to know when input and alterations are not helpful to the process. Be willing to talk about your creative process and tell your client when you need to focus and not have any additional changes.

Maintain professionalism. Some commissioners will be difficult. Some will be a dream. You may hate all commissions or accept a few here or there when money gets tight. Regardless of when or why you do (or don’t do them) always maintain your professionalism.

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